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A Masquerade without the Ball

Liberty Ilagan and director Danny Zialcita

The Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA) held the second installment of their monthly “Overlooked Films, Underrated Filmmakers” series with a screening of Danny Zialcita’s 1967 film, Masquerade.

As SOFIA Board Member Teddy Co noted — to the audience’s surprise — it was the first public screening of the film since its initial release.

Inspired by Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, Masquerade is a mystery/thriller set in a lavish estate on a private island.

Ten strangers are brought together ostensibly to attend a masquerade ball, but soon realize it is a ruse. They have been brought together for a far more sinister purpose, and one by one they begin to be picked off and killed, leaving the remaining guests and the audience guessing the identity of the killer. The cast includes Vic Silayan, Bernard Bonin, Marlene Dawden, and Liberty Ilagan.

The film boasts excellent cinematography. With tracking shots and dolly shots, dramatic lighting and shadows, internal framing that heightens claustrophobia, all these make for a very stylish, Hitchcock feel.

There’s even a shot that seems to tip its hat to the famous staircase shot in Suspicion, where Cary Grant walks up with the poisoned milk. I noticed that director Zialcita never used any zoom shots. The camera would move on an axis or tilt, pan and swivel, but never zoom in and out. When I asked him after the screening whether it was a stylistic choice or a technical one, he explained that zoom shots at that time were reserved for action films only, and he didn’t want his film to be labeled as such.

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The director attended the screening, as did Liberty Ilagan, who played a young alcoholic in the movie. After the screening a brief Q&A was held where behind-the-scenes stories were told and just as interesting as the film itself. The director apparently kept hidden the fact that the prop coffin they used was secondhand, so as not to freak out Ilagan when she had to climb in for a scene. It didn’t bother her at all; in fact she napped between takes inside the coffin.

I am truly grateful to SOFIA for unearthing these lost films, part of our rich legacy of Filipino cinema. To think that it’s the first time people have seen this film in over four decades! And it still holds up really well, craft-wise. The script is leaden and flawed in some scenes, but the direction is tight and the music by Demet Velasquez is sumptuous. I look forward to discovering more films with SOFIA, and encourage others to do the same.

The next installment of the SOFIA screenings will be on November 13, 2010 with a comedy, Efren & Johnny Reyes’ Kasal O Sakal (1964).

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The Kurosawa Film Festival’s still on at the UP Film Institute. A project of the Japan Foundation, an excellent sampling of Akira Kurosawa’s films is being shown on the big screen (with 35mm prints!). Included are classics like Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo, High & Low, The Hidden Fortress (which Lucas raided for Star Wars), plus some of his lesser-known work, including his first few films.

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Ramon De Veyra blogs irregularly at http://www.thesecuriousdays.com, but is more active on Twitter.

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