A candid and personal examination of the Philippine comics scene from a social, cultural, economic and business point of view.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Romanticizing Martial Law

Though media censorship was prevalent during martial law in the 1970s, one always seems to imagine that this decade produced MANY critically acclaimed Filipino movies. Some even go so far as to dubiously claim that the number of such films is an indicator of just how many the more creative and logically written Filipino komiks were made at the time. Former Media Specialist of Imelda Marcos' public relations office and part-time komiks writer and illustrator of the 1970s, Jo Mari Lee, wistfully shares that view:

Komiks and Tagalog movies were linked since time immemorial, and the Tagalog movies are the best gauge on how good or bad the komiks were in that decade. The 1970s were the best years of the Tagalog movies, and I dare say that, that decade was also the best times in komiks in terms of more logical and creative writing.” (Source: Jose Mari Lee, “A Komiks Sojourn During the Martial Law Years”, from the book: Komiks sa Paningin ng mga Tagakomiks collected and researched by Fermin Salvador and Randy Valiente, Central Book Supply, 2007)

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In his 1986 article appearing in Clodualdo Del Mundo, Jr.’s “Philippine Mass Media: A Book of Readings”, Film director and Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino movie critic, Pio De Castro III, gives a more factual assessment of the Filipino movie industry of the 70s recalling that out of 156 movies produced every year, only 5 or 6 films were excellent:

Metro Manila produces an average of 156 movies a year to fill its 81 first-class theaters—which means that some 13 movies are produced every month, or approximately three new movies are shown every week when the theaters change their schedules. Out of the 156 movies produced every year, only five or six reach an acceptable standard of excellence—which means that only 3% of the movies produced every year is worthy of note.” (Emphasis Mine) .“(Source: Pio de Castro III, “Philippine Cinema (1976-1978)”, from the book: “Philippine Mass Media: A Book of Readings” edited by Clodualdo Del Mundo, Jr., Communication Foundation for Asia, 1986).

He continues by giving concrete examples:

In 1976, only five movies won critical acclaim: Eddie Romero’s GANITO KAMI NOON…PAANO KAYO NGAYON?, Lino Brocka’s INSIANG, Mike De Leon’s ITIM, Lupita Concio’s MINSA’Y ISANG GAMU-GAMO, and Ishmael Bernal’s NUNAL SA TUBIG.

In 1977, only six movies won critical acclaim: Ishmael Bernal’s DALAWANG PUGAD…ISANG IBON, Robert Arevalo’s HUBAD NA BAYANI, Mike De Leon’s KUNG MANGARAP KA’T MAGISING, Lino Brocka’s TAHAN NA EMPOY, TAHAN, Celso Ad Castillo’s BURLESK QUEEN, and Eddie Romero’s BANTA NG KAHAPON.“
(Source: Pio de Castro III, “Philippine Cinema (1976-1978)”, from the book: “Philippine Mass Media: A Book of Readings” edited by Clodualdo Del Mundo, Jr., Ibid.).

Fellow Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino film critic, Mario Hernando, continues by giving more concrete examples:

In 1978, Celso Ad Castillo followed up his relatively low budget drama BURLESK QUEEN with an ambitious romantic and social drama, PAGPUTI NG UWAK, PAG-ITIM NG TAGAK, both starring Vilma Santos. The movie was named by the critics’ group as best picture of the year. The Manunuri also named Bernal’s IKAW AY AKIN and Danny Zialcita’s HINDI SA IYO ANG MUNDO, BABY PORCUNA, as among the year’s best. The other films worthy of mention for 1978 were Bernal’s ISANG GABI SA IYO, ISANG GABI SA AKIN, Brocka’s RUBIA SERVIOS, Eddie Garcia’s ATSAY, and Romy Suzara’s BOY PANA.

In 1979, the year of JAGUAR, Brocka did two other melodramas that deal with family feuds—INA, KAPATID, ANAK…and INA KA NG ANAK MO…both films were box office disappointments but the performances by the cast earned critical acclaim, nominations, and awards. (Source: Mario A. Hernando, “Against All Odds: The Story of the Filipino Film Industry (1978-1982)”, from the book: “Philippine Mass Media: A Book of Readings” edited by Clodualdo Del Mundo, Jr., Communication Foundation for Asia, 1986).

Other notable films of 1979 were Bernal’s BAKIT MAY PAG-IBIG PA? ALIW, and SALAWAHAN, Maryo J. Delos Reyes, HIGH SCHOOL CIRCA ’65, GABUN and Celso Ad Castillo’s ALIW-IW and ANG ALAMAT NI JULIAN MAKABAYAN.

If the number of critically acclaimed 70s Tagalog films determines, and is the best gauge, of the number of Tagalog komiks that were “creatively and logically written”, then from the very few quality Filipino comics works enumerated by Jo Mari Lee, i.e., TUBOG SA GINTO, OO, AKO'Y LALAKI, ANGELA MARKADO, MGA IYAKING PARU-PARO, BRUNA BANGENGAK, AZTEC and TANIKALA,
it follows that only a select FEW Tagalog komiks were creatively and logically written during martial law. There is even no showing that the aforementioned number of quality Filipino films were adapted from Komiks stories or that any of the few "serious komiks works" cited by Jo Mari Lee were made into critically praised films of the period. On other hand, if what is meant is that there were many Tagalog komiks works that were made into Tagalog movies during martial law, and that this mere fact of moviemaking morphed the product into a "serious komiks work" many fail to see the connection. You mean, if one just writes a komiks script and its turned into a Tagalog film, its already a "SERIOUS komiks work"?

Pio de Castro III, gives a more credible evaluation of the state of the Filipino movie industry during that repressive era in Philippine history:


"In the last two years, a stench of commercialism has engulfed the moviehouses in Metro Manila, leaving film enthusiasts gasping for breath. Government taxes have not eased up, the prices of raw stocks have gone up, the salaries of movie stars have shot up astronomically (in Lino Brocka’s ANG TATAY KONG NANAY, the combined salaries of Dolphy and Nino Muhlach totaled one million and two hundred pesos), the Interim Board of Censors uses a maddeningly arbitrary code of standards for censoring movie titles, storylines, treatments and scenes of sex and violence in finished movies. Scenes of nudity and excessive violence in American and European movies are allowed to be shown to the public, but equivalent scenes in Pilipino movies are drastically cut.

xxx xxx xxx

These are the reigning formulas. Due to a cultural clean-up as fostered by the administration after the declaration of Martial Law, the Filipino western—a cultural anomaly for a long time—has been abolished. The full-length musical and the war picture have not been in vogue due to expensive production costs. Budget consciousness has also eliminated the fantasy and the horror genre which involves trick photography, costumes, special effects, long shooting schedules, and optical effects in the laboratory. The whodunit genre was never in vogue in local cinema due to its need for an elaborately-plotted screenplay requiring wit and sophistication which the quickie scriptwriter lacks.

Filipino producers are in search for the quick buck. They are not interested in improving the quality of Philippine movies. They will always opt for the formula plot rather than gamble on an original screenplay. The quest for technical excellence is ignored completely. One evidence is disparity in the salaries of superstars and artists, and film technicians like directors, scriptwriters, cameramen, editors, production designers and musical directors. There is no concern for film as art. There is no attempt to standardize film techniques. Producers have no ambition to produce films of quality which will call international attention to Filipino films. Yes, there is a dream to break into the foreign market, but this dream is a fantasy because they want to break into the foreign market without working their backs off in improving the technical quality of their films.” (Source: Pio de Castro III, “Philippine Cinema (1976-1978)”, from the book: “Philippine Mass Media: A Book of Readings” edited by Clodualdo Del Mundo, Jr., Communication Foundation for Asia, 1986).

Clearly then, if we are to properly substantiate the claim that most, if not all, 1970s komiks stories during martial law were more creative and logically written, we cannot, with much regret, subscribe to the bare proposition and ill-conceived syllogism put forth by Mr. Lee. To repeat, Jo Mari Lee in his same article, only gives (in his personal opinion) seven (7) alleged “serious komiks works” that were created during the martial law decade, i.e., TUBOG SA GINTO, OO, AKO’Y LALAKI, ANGELA MARKADO, MGA IYAKING PARU-PARO, BRUNA BANGENGAK, AZTEC and TANIKALA. Yet, he continues to opine that these bare seven (7) are already MANY. Recall that in 1978, it was hypothesized that about 2 million commercially produced komiks magazines bore FORTY FOUR (44) different titles. (Source: Danny Mariano, “In the Name of the Masses”, article appearing in TV Times Magazine, September 10-16, 1978 issue).

As to the number and identity of the serialized komiks stories within these forty four komiks titles, we do not know. The same remains a mystery to this day. There has thus far been no scholarly or objective tally as to the number of “serious komiks works” within these forty four komiks titles properly evaluated by qualified and reputable literary critics to support Mr. Lee’s rather dubious proposition. Them’s the cold, hard facts, Jack.

Indeed, how in heck can one expect to have varied, diverse, competing and thriving “artistic” activity during martial law when in the first place, media freedom was repressed and controlled by a select, elite few? Only seven (7) “serious comics works” during martial law? How privileged. What about the rest that were not given the chance and opportunity to see the light of day? And people are so blissfully nostalgic as to make an imaginative sojourn back into this dark era and pine: “What’s really funny about the martial law years, was that, despite the constriction by the censors, many new ideas emerged. That’s why I consider the 70s the milestone in Philippine komiks. It was on this decade that many serious komiks works were created.” Yet, no voluminous catalog of these so-called “serious komiks works” is presented.

The mainstream comics industry of the martial law era was not only dominated by a resuscitated monopoly of the Roceses, but also mind-controlled by a modified comics code that was broadened to “make the komiks-magasin industry a more effective partner of government in the national developmental effort.” Where is the independent artistic creativity, the logic, the diversity and plurality of "serious comics works" that could possibly flourish from such a scenario? None. (Source: Self-Censorship in Philippine Komiks”, anonymously written article appearing in the book: “A History of Komiks of the Philippines and other countries” by Cynthia Roxas, et. al., Islas Filipinas Publishing Co., Inc., 1984 ed.)


To make matters even worse, the self-censoring body of the mainstream comics industry during martial law was again dominated by personages from Don Ramon’s group or “family” of comics companies now calling themselves: the Kapisanan ng mga Publisista at mga Patnugot ng mga Komiks-magasin sa Pilipino (KPPKP) which was really a reformed APEPCOM, the former Roces and Catholic church dominated, self-censoring body of local comics from 1955 to 1972. The KPPKP administered the revised KPPKP comics code under strict watch of the Marcos conjugal dictatorship.

In other politically and economically repressed societies of the world in the 1970s, you don't see a widespread flowering of independent and excellent artistic works either. Where, pray tell, were these serious artistic (or comics) works in the Soviet Union, Cuba, Mexico, Vietnam, Laos, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Iran, People's Republic of China and the Philippines of the 1970s? What is the ratio between the good and bad artistic works in such a censored and repressed atmosphere? Compared with relatively free and prosperous countries of the 1970s such as France and Japan where you see MORE serious comics works than the bad ones, the ratio is pretty much in favor of the former.

Indeed, nostalgically romanticizing about the past often makes one feel so deliciously aged and sad. It is at this point that we find application of this phrase most apt: Nostalgia is a seductive liar”. To quote Brooks Atkinson: “In every age “the good old days” were a myth. No one ever thought they were good at the time. For every age has consisted of crises that seemed intolerable to the people who lived through them.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mukhang di yata tama ang sinabi ninyo na walang serious literary work na sumibol sa mga politically repressed at poor countries. Meron hong magagandang pelikula ang lumabas noon sa Mexico, China atbp.

4:04 PM

 
Anonymous aklas isip said...

I did not say that no serious literary, film (or comics works) arose out of politically and repressed societies (especially of the 1970s). If you check, I said there was no WIDESPREAD flowering of independent and excellent works:

"In other politically and economically repressed societies of the world in the 1970s, you don't see a widespread flowering of independent and excellent artistic works either. Where, pray tell, were these serious artistic (or comics) works in the Soviet Union, Cuba, Mexico, Vietnam, Laos, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Iran, People's Republic of China and the Philippines of the 1970s?..."

There is an obvious difference. In these politically and repressed societies, a lucky few independent and serious works manage to bloom. But opposed to more open and freer societies, these independent and serious works are MANY and WIDESPREAD.

Of course there have been a FEW excellent literary and film works that have risen from these repressed societies. But are they widespread and do they occur often? No. Why? Because of repression and censorship.

You will also notice that in these repressed societies, you don't see any free, fair, prosperous and competitive comics industries. If there is a semblance of a comics industry, it is most often controlled by a few or by one--a monopoly.

Same with our country during martial law. You will see that the ratio of bad comics, films and books outnumber the few good ones. Why? Because of repression and censorship which usually result in mediocrity.

--Aklas

4:24 PM

 
Anonymous R.V. Nunca said...

"Komiks and Tagalog movies were linked since time immemorial, and the Tagalog movies are the best gauge on how good or bad the komiks were in that decade. The 1970s were the best years of the Tagalog movies, and I dare say that, that decade was also the best times in komiks in terms of more logical and creative writing."

First, I agree. Bad, awful and commercial Tagalog films outnumbered the few good ones during martial law of the 70s (1972 to 1979).

Following JM's folksy logic of komiks following the progress of local movies, this means that EVEN IF 70s KOMIKS WERE LOGICALLY AND CREATIVELY WRITTEN, they were still bad, awful, commercialized and mostly mediocre like their film brethren.

I remember how they prevented "Jguar"from being shown in the country forcing Lino Brocka to show it internationally consequently winning the Berlin Film Festival. When that happened, Jaguar had a limited run in the local theaters at the time. Its the same thing with the few other local films that were really good. They were impelled by circumstances to first be shown abroad BEFORE they were shown here, and they usually had a limited run. The awful, commercialized sex/bold films, predictable action films and melodramas had longer runs.

On the other hand, there is some merit in the contention that these few critically acclaimed Tagalog films were better than (and probably outnumbered even) the few choice Tagalog films of the 1950s.

But claiming further that since Tagalog movies got better in the 70s, local komiks also got better? That's too much. That's bare unsubstantiated supposition. Where's the proof? Its wishful thinking plain and simple.

Secondly, if JM is claiming that the komiks of the 70s had MORE logical and creative writing, I wonder what specific komiks are his point of comparison? Could he possibly give examples of komiks stories from the 1950s or 1960s that were LESS logical and creative?

7:41 PM

 
Anonymous aklas isip said...

Funny you should mention Jaguar, R.V. Just watched it on PBO cable a month back. Guess who the villain of the piece was? A young, rich exploitative 1970s Filipino komiks publisher. I kid you not. Philip Salvador (the lead character) played a security guard of the publisher's firm. Its about Philip Salvador trying to reach the top by being too much of an asskisser to his boss until it kills him at the end.

8:02 PM

 

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