Remembering the Second Golden Age of Philippine cinema

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The Second Golden Age boasted of diversity in the works created by filmmakers who have since then become auteurs, including Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Mike De Leon, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Kidlat Tahimik, Eddie Romero, and Joey Gosiengfiao, the director of Temptation Island (1980).

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema was named so because of the rise of a new breed of avant-garde filmmakers who, at the time, were making films that presented the state of the human condition, and the ills of Filipino society. The 70s was full of the tension brought upon by the censorship and regulation decreed upon the media during Martial Law, which brewed an atmosphere of unease, as artists were churning out books and films that would later on be banned by the administration.

Nevertheless, the restrictions compelled these filmmakers to be more vigilant, to seek clever ways to send their message across, and to sneak subliminal cues that in hindsight turned out to be more poignant and profound. These directors went on to make films until the 80s, which now stand as masterpieces that continue to teach us lessons about oppression, tyranny, religion, and ultimately, our history.

The Second Golden Age boasted of diversity in the works created by filmmakers who have since then become auteurs, including Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Mike De Leon, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Kidlat Tahimik, and Eddie Romero. CNN Philippines Life talked to several filmmakers and writers about some of the most memorable films from the era.

                          GANITO KAMI NOON … PAANO KAYO NGAYON? (1976)

                                               Directed by Eddie Romero

Ganito Kami Noon … Paano Kayo Ngayon?” was a gamble: the most applauded films of the period dissected the social and political dilemmas of the time challenging the regime that sought to suppress any expression of protest. But Romero’s “Ganito” is an amusing picaresque — following the travails of the Filipino everyman in Kulas (Christopher de Leon) as he innocently stumbles into the changes brought by the colonizers of his country.

“Ganito” is Romero’s refined social statement about being Filipino, touching on the nuances of history without being pedantic. While the other masters sought to capture the anger of the times, Romero approached his questioning with quiet elegance and a reverence for culture and history so seldom seen, much less repeated in the stories of Philippine cinema. — Jose Javier Reyes, director

                                                            KISAPMATA (1981)

                                                      Directed by Mike De Leon

Monsters get less frightening once seen. The more hideous they’re supposed to be, the bigger the letdown afterwards. Once revealed, they become commonplace. Nothing special. Pretty soon, familiarity settles in and it doesn’t breed contempt as much as it does boredom, or even ridicule. After that, you can start putting their images on t-shirts. Make kids wear them.

But that only happens when they aren’t real.

When they are, they become only scarier.

In Mike De Leon’s “Kisapmata,” we meet Dado Carandang, a retired policeman whose passions include (in no particular order) worms, pigs, guns, and his only daughter Mila. From the looks of him, there is nothing fantastic about Mang Dado: he may be imposing, but he’s rather unremarkable. The way he’s portrayed by Vic Silayan makes him also very human, all too unmistakably so, and perhaps all the more terrifying because we realize how familiar we already are with his features.

Even after all this time, the film continues to unsettle, not only because de Leon gives us a very real monster that anticipates many of the paternalistic ogres that continue to dominate our lives — in one form or the other — today, but rather because it shows us a world where he can exist: our own. — Erwin Romulo, film score composer

                                                      PERFUMED NIGHTMARE (1977)

                                                           Directed by Kidlat Tahimik

Kidlat Tahimik’s “Perfumed Nightmare” (1977) stands as one of the most resilient masterpieces in Philippine cinema. Much like the character (written and played by the filmmaker himself) and the bamboo that is constantly alluded to in the film, the concerns still hold ground today — neocolonialism, globalization, hypercapital — but allegorized in such a whimsical, poignant and captivating way.

The main character, a jeepney driver who also happens to be president of a German-American rocket engineer’s fans club, leaves his rural town of Balian and heads West. There he encounters escalators, bubblegum machines, supermarkets, rockets, chimneys, costumed cognoscenti and more, a society of objects in italics, connoting progress, but for Kidlat soon turns into disillusionment and alienation. This is Third cinema at its critical and charming best, utilizing documentary and experimental approaches to weave a richly unique yet generous narrative form: tapestried sound (in Filipino and English, in and out of sync, diegetic and non-diegetic), non-professional cast, imaginative cinematography and editing, resourceful productive design, enchanting screenplay and visionary personal film direction. A small bamboo-gem, resilient and radiant as ever. — Yason Banal, film professor, UP Diliman

                                                           KAKABAKABA KA BA? (1980)

                                                                Directed by Mike De Leon

A pair of lovers (Christopher De Leon and Sandy Andolong, Jay Ilagan and and Charo Santos) find themselves caught in the crossfires of the Chinese and Japanese mafia when one of them unknowingly smuggles opium in a cassette tape. That’s basically the premise of “Kakabakaba Ka Ba?,” Mike De Leon’s Urian Award winning comedy — an irreverent and hilarious film that involves a fantastic tripping-out scene, nuns with guns, and a katana-wielding Johnny Delgado as a Japanese Grandmaster, who leads the Yakuza in a rip-roaring musical number that comes out of nowhere but fits right in the mayhem.

It wasn’t until years later, after reading more about the film, that it becomes clear that the farce is also quite political, making references to foreign criminal elements controlling the Philippine economy and not-so-subtle stabs at the Catholic church. But on first viewing, the ridiculousness of the situation and the fine, fine performances of everyone involved grab you instantly and you can do nothing else but laugh. — Wanggo Gallaga, screenwriter

                                                                 OLIVER (1983)

                                                        Directed by Nick Deocampo

Two years after Martial Law was lifted, Ninoy Aquino's death punctuates 1983. Change was coming then as well. That same year, Nick Deocampo released “Oliver,” a documentary on a nightclub performer's many metamorphoses. The persistence of transformation at the film's core was made more poignant by the billowing agitation underneath the so-called new society.

Reynaldo Villarama attends to his wife and child at home. He has a boyfriend at the nightclub where he is Liza Minelli, Grace Jones, and Oliver. Spiderman, too, spouting yards of string from his behind — Oliver fashions a web onstage. Oliver is all that and before all that, human.

The youth is accused of ignorance when old headlines have actually become history lessons. The folly is when textbooks bury human experiences deemed insignificant in the retelling of facts. To repeatedly identify canonical classics of the “Second Golden Age” is symptomatic of that foolishness. There are films and documentaries of that vibrant period that are seldom mentioned. That Deocampo himself is a noted film historian is the irony. His body of work, just as golden, is in a history repressed by the perennial spotlight on films that have headlined an era that glitters in our retrospective reverence. — Gian Abrahan, director

                                                             SALAWAHAN (1979)

                                                         Directed by Ishmael Bernal

It was in the dead hour of Cinema One's program lineup — late at night — when I first watched an iconic final sequence of a movie, which included five promiscuous adults, their missed encounters, a birthday cake, a child carrying a basin of hot water, all in one house. Hilarity ensued. What was meant to be idle channel surfing piqued my curiosity: this was not some forgettable film aired for me to fall asleep to. It took another chance viewing and a quick google of actors and movie quotes for me to find out that this was Ishmael Bernal's "Salawahan," a glorious and satisfying execution of camp, wit, self-awareness, and "modern" love.

What drew me in, really, was the dialogue; each scene, every exchange was meant to be transcribed for IMDB's Movie Quotes section. Take the famous exchange between two women (Rita Gomez, Sandy Andolong) fighting over one man (Jay Ilagan):

"Anong gagawin natin?"

"Hindi ba tayo magco-confrontation?"

"Huwag na. Nakakatamad."

Buried beneath the gems of its era, this is a movie that has its own imperfections and cringe-worthiness in plot and production value, but it is still so perfectly aware of its tropes; camp as it should be. — Anj Pessumal, screenwriter

                                                             TEMPTATION ISLAND (1980)

                                                              Directed by Joey Gosiengfiao

Whether it’s viewed as a Darwinian exploration suiting a Filipino context, or a quote-worthy camp classic, there’s no denying that Joey Gosiengfiao’s seminal masterpiece “Temptation Island” may have both defied and then defined certain aspects of studio filmmaking as we know it today. But really, aside from the life-size ice cream cone and chicken, an iconic number of hungry dancing, and the unexpected hilarious turn to cannibalism, what makes this cult favorite truly essential is its commitment to its queerness. To this day, the full scope of Joey Gosiengfiao’s imagination remains unmatched, this out-of-this-world filmmaking sensibility uniquely his. And maybe, just maybe, only his, for a little while longer than we’d think. — Petersen Vargas, director