Posts Tagged ‘theater’

communication environment series part 2 – my manila: quiapo

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  Architecture

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.

Along the entryway was a girlie bar, the photographs of its dancers displayed on a garishly-lit notice board.

“Like attracts like”, it’s been said, and that is true of this environment, where forms of carnal entertainment, from the physical to the celluloid versions are housed together in one building.

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.

The Theater-Goers

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 Artifacts

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.

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pop goes the world: ‘orosman at zafira’ and divorce

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 19 August 2010, Thursday

“Orosman at Zafira” and Divorce

For its 35th season, the Dulaang UP of the University of the Philippines is putting on a series of productions kicking off with Francisco Baltazar’s “Orosman at Zafira”, running up to August 29 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater at UP-Diliman’s Palma Hall.

For those who remember having to slog through Baltazar’s epic poem “Florante at Laura” in high school, “Orosman” is the same in flavor; the dialogue is heavy reading in archaic Tagalog and hard to follow, although the narrative, as brought to life by cast members, can be comprehended from the talented and excellent performances.

Reed screens decorate the set and are moved around to create spaces, emphasize separation, and otherwise indicate location. At the beginning, the title of the play is cast upon the screens in light, which fades and shifts to a rainbow of coruscating lights.

Suddenly a woman’s low, husky tones ululate in distinctly Filipino cadences, followed by the doom-doom beat of tribal drums. At those sounds, something primal surges within, a call of the race deep within the blood that hearkens to the rhythm of forebears as the reed screens separate to reveal the singer/narrator, Zelima (played superbly by Tao Aves), clad in flowing robes, mourning the deluge that has overwhelmed their land: “Sa aming bayan, dilubyo sa aming bayan. Tatlong pacha, isang kahariang mahal; nagalit ba ang dakilang Allah, at nangyari na ang dapat na mangyari?”

Then unfolds the story of power and wealth, love and sorrow, life and death, played out in dance and song and words. The women of Baltazar’s “Orosman” are powerful: Tasy  Garrucha enchants as Zafira, princess of the Marueccos tribe, while Jean Judith Javier’s Gulnara, the beloved of Sultan Mahamud, Zafira’s father, convincingly portrays a complicated love. Both turn warrior upon the assassination of the sultan; do not be misled by the flowing gowns and the soft voices; the dulcet tones turn harsh with anger, the gowns stripped to reveal men’s clothing while staves and other weapons are waved at the moment of battle.

As the drama unfolded, I realized that the spirit of warrior women still lives in Filipinas today. Infidelity is endemic in our culture and is cause for much heartbreak in relationships. Our laws are biased towards men, who can only be charged with concubinage upon submission of proof that they have set up a household with a woman not their wife. Women, on the other hand, only have to fail once and be caught in a tryst with their lover to be charged with infidelity. Is that fair?

There are also no strict safeguards for battered women and children, despite the Violence Against Women and Children law which was only passed a few years ago. What recourse is there for Filipino women in the present day to escape from the trap of loveless marriages scarred by infidelity and violence, the wife-beating husband in the arms of another woman, often providing no support for the children?

House Bill 1799 is one such solution. Called the “Divorce Law” and proposed by women lawmakers who are among our modern warrior women, it provides a better option than the costly and lengthy annulment that is the only means at the present for unhappily married Filipinas to be emancipated.

Have you noticed how the proponents and supporters of the bill are women and progressive men, while its opponents are traditionalist men? The reactionary male lawmakers and their like-minded fellows who seek to keep women entrapped at their convenience are selfish and fail to take into account the feelings of the women who yearn for freedom and the chance to start life anew, perhaps find a man who will truly love and cherish them. Why can’t they let go?

These hidebound fogies see women as property, theirs to bind and loose at their whim, blind to the rights of women to live their own lives as they see fit, while they engage in affairs left and right. That is not fair or moral or right. If a marriage is not working, for whatever reason, why not accept that fact and take steps to set both parties free to start anew? That is better than for unhappy couples to stay together for the sake of appearance – that is hypocrisy.

Baltazar’s women took matters into their own hands when it came to love and war. Today’s women need to keep to the law of modern society; wielding swords and bows are not an option. Yet Filipinas are not without weapons – we have our brains to think and our bodies to act to support a law that is long overdue and that will give women that which are our rights and should not be withheld by those who wish to retain their power over half of the population.

As examples of strong and loving women, Zafira and Gulnara are inspirations. Some of the other cast members include Jay Gonzaga (Orosman), Kevin Concepcion (Aldervesin), Roeder Camañag (Boulasem), Acey Aguilar (Zelim), Neil Ericson Tolentino (Mahamud), and veteran Ronnie Martinez as Ben-Asar, Mahamud’s vizier. Directed by Dexter Santos with original music by Carol Bello, “Orosman at Zafira” is a must-see. Call Dulaang UP at 926-1349 for tickets and playdates. ***

Photos from Prof. Amy Bersalona of the UP-Diliman College of Arts and Letters/Dulaang UP.

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