This article is the second in a series of research studies about Philippine communication environments. See Part 1 for an introduction to the topic of the communication environment and its relationship to culture.
For his field trip requirement for our Communication Environment class in the second semester of 2010, College of St. Benilde’s Professor Rod Rivera revealed to us a nearly forgotten venue for films.
Quiapo’s Adult Theaters: Exposing the Underbelly of Philippine Cinema
From the premiere shopping area of prewar times to the 1950s, Quiapo has declined into a melange of depressed stores selling cheap merchandise. Here one browses for new and used goods on dusty shelves, rubbing elbows with working folk seeking bargains and the dressed-down middle class rooting out new-old stock items for collections and vintage gems like vinyl records and ukay clothes.
The surroundings are grim and depressing. Yet it is a vibrant and thriving hub of buying and selling, of coming and going.
Somewhere in this maelstrom of commerce are the decayed remnants of a once-thriving entertainment center – the cinemas of Manila.
The old movie theaters in this area have seen their glory days come and go. Many, judging from the style of architecture, date back to the 1950s and ’60s. To pull in the pesos and keep financially afloat, they screen R-rated movies that border on the X.
The facades,though dingy, are colorful, trying to attract with hand-lettered banners, printed promotional posters, and old-fashioned painted billboards. The latter are a surprise; I didn’t know they are still being made, as they are laborious to make and the art died out when the technology for computer-printed tarpaulins became more cost-effective.
One theater was tucked into a crumbling building. To reach it, one must walk a narrow passageway, subject to the scrutiny of people outside and inside the place. Thus, watching a film there involves making a conscious decision exposed to the public eye.
We ended up buying tickets to watch a film at Vista Cinema, a fairly decent place considering what the others looked like. The prices are not too far off those charged in malls, yet still less expensive by twenty or thirty pesos. By this tactic the owners hope to draw in people who might otherwise patronize the bigger chain cinemas.
As befits the surroundings, the clientele are those looking for cheap thrills in the afternoon, or a quiet snooze in an dark, airconditioned cave. From what I could see in the flickering light, they were all men. It was quiet inside; no babies whining, no teenagers laughing. The silence was broken only by the drone of the film’s soundtrack, the hum of the airconditioner, and an occasional soft snore. It was a place for titillation, but also for relaxation – at least while we were there.
The posters displayed outside the theater (see gallery pictures) bore the conventional double-entendre one-word titles reserved for what were called “bold” or “bomba” films – “Booking”, “Binyag”, “Pitas”. Most of them were indie-produced. Surprisingly, the film we saw was well-acted and well-written, the narrative rife with riveting twists and turns, for all that it was a formulaic tearjerker, with dark elements of poverty and homosexuality and death. Heterosexual lovemaking scenes were inserted almost at random, to satisfy the urges of its target audience. Were they edited out, the film could have been shown in any chain moviehouse.
Yet it is precisely the carnal content that keeps films like these confined to screenings in cold dark caverns like these in the heart of the city, ironically trapped by that which makes them profitable.
Click on a photo, and click again to see a full-size image.