Epiphanies provoked by Pinoy art
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - August 27, 2012 - 12:00am

It seems I’m still in a listing mood. Not as in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or in failing a drunk driving test. But as in making up lists. 

I thought of titling this piece “Epiphanies on/over Pinoy Art.” And really now, it isn’t quite an epiphany that I mean, not all the time anyway, when I refer to certain… uhh… “seminal” (?) moments I’ve experienced upon appreciating creative works accomplished by Filipinos.

I don’t mean “epiphany” as in the Roman Catholic festival (in our youth) that used to commemorate the Sixth of January, also known as the Feast of the Three Kings. Neither is it “epiphany” as in “a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.” Rather is it “a moment of sudden revelation or insight”  as when a million NCR-ites and then some converged on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue in February 1986 and all together felt that collective swoosh (as in Nike’s logo) of “Let’s go do it and topple a ‘dictator’; it looks like we can!”

Actually, that was more of an ejaculation of sudden appreciation and understanding. And this is also what informs the roster I’m about to render below. But then these are sensitive times, and any possible return to a teaching post in the Ateneo may be imperiled by the use of that word as a column title.

So let’s stick with “epiphany”  which I now define as that blessed gasp of recognition… that what I behold at the moment is proof positive of the greatness of the Filipino… as an artist.

It’s like that feeling you get when you watch the video of the 25th anniversary tribute to the musicale Les Miserables and you swoon rapturously over the music and how it’s delivered. Especially by Lea Salonga as Fantine. So suddenly proud you’re both Pinoys!

Okay, so that’s one, of recent happenstance. But if I were to go through epic memory tracks to locate a similar moment, I’d say it was that day I sat in a moviehouse as a pre-adolescent, sometime in 1956, and heard the haunting melody of Anak Dalita  as the theme song of the movie with the same title.

Later I was to find out that it was composed by Dr. Francisco Santiago, way back in 1917. Per the website “Himig: The Filipino Music Collection of FHL”: “This is regarded as the first art song-kundiman, making Francisco Santiago as the “father of the kundiman-art song.” A cancion Filipina written in serenade style, ‘Kundiman’ (also known as ‘Ako’y Anak ng Dalita’) is based on Deogracias Rosario’s poignant poem.’

Jesus Balmori is also credited as a co-lyricist, so maybe he helped adapt the poem for Dr. Santiago’s composition. And it was certainly part of direk Lamberto Avellana’s genius to decide to use that music of four decades earlier as the theme for his gritty film noir starring Tony Santos and Rosa Rosal. It was the first “Tagalog movie” I enjoyed. I still recall how it opened my eyes, and appreciative spirit, to my countrymen’s can-do creativity, and helped wean me away from over-reliance on Hollywood fare.

Many other Pinoy “filmic triumphs,” as they say, should also be cited here. Henry Francia’s “On My way to India Consciousness I Reached China”  a 16mm B&W indie film screened at Café Los Indios Bravos in the late ’60s. Kidlat Tahimik’s “Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare)” as enjoyed in Baguio in the turn to the ’70s. Raymond Red’s “Ang Magpakailanman” in the early ’80s. These last three may be said to have “fathered” or inspired subsequent indie or short films, or what were previously called “underground films.” Toss in Mike Parsons’ efforts in the late ’60s. 

A pity that these days, with the exception of those made for filmfests, many of which prove exceptional, so-called indie films that are meant for Galeria’s special theater have mostly become exploitative homosexual exercises. To a man, they all begin with a banyo scene where two nude fellows more than soap one another.

Of the mainstream feature films, I would have to put Peque Gallaga’s Oro Plata Mata on top of the heap. I still recall watching it for the first time and exulting in and ejaculating over its triumph. I can say the same of the antic flavor of Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon…, as well as Ishmael Bernal’s Relasyon and Broken Marriage  the way Christopher de Leon and Vilma Santos so creditably paired off as an excruciatingly believable couple in realistic (dialogue and acting) confrontation.  

So many epiphanies have visited us by way of Pinoy filmmaking, but let me stop there, with those long-ago hallmarks. That way we allow Pinoy films of the past three decades proper vetting with the passage of even more time.

For theater, the singular moment that had me going goose-y pimpl-y even as I watched agape while standing at the back of the FGU Theater for a full-house reprise of Repertory Philippines’ Amadeus was Leo Martinez’s gripping monologue as the antagonist Salieri. To my mind that was the highest point ever of local stage acting I had witnessed. Then I’d have to add Cecile Guidote’s magical efforts with the orig PETA’s Bayaning Huwad and Larawan at Rajah Sulaiman Theater in Fort Santiago.

The first was magical because it was the first play mounted in that al fresco setting, while the second, a Tagalog translation of Nick Joaquin’s Portrait…, was made even more memorable with the presence of the author himself up on those ramparts, figuring in a climactic procession. And of course Lolita Rodriguez and Rita Gomez were superb as the sisters Candida and Paula.

Oh, I also felt very good indeed reading Alberto Florentino’s Oli Impan, and later seeing it transformed into a one-hour teleplay for Balintataw. In fact, curling up with a book, or hugging a particular page, made for momentous epiphanies during our youth. I will always be grateful for the thrill and the Big O occasioned by, again, Nick Joaquin with his poem “The Innocence of Solomon,” as well as many of Jose Garcia Villa’s lyrical verses, chief of these the one beginning with “I can no more hear Love’s/ voice, no more moves / the mouth of her…” And UP campus poet Jose Lansang Jr.’s lyric “Song”: “Yet sing now of beauty / which lasts not forever…” 

A couple of other Pinoy poets who enthralled me with their works on paper were of course my Mom Edith L. Tiempo (in 1968) with her “Rowena, Playing in the Sun” and Cirilo F. Bautista (in 1970) with his long poem The Archipelago, the first volume in his epic Trilogy of Saint Lazarus. For short fiction, apart from Nick’s May Day Eve and Summer Solstice, what gave me pleasure as a young boy of 15 were the stories of Wilfrido “Ding” Nolledo, most memorable of which was Rice Wine.

But there were seemingly mundane moments, too, when I experienced instant gratification, like stepping into the CCP cafeteria and noticing all the playbill and art exhibit posters collaged together on the ceiling and walls, the inspired product of Ray Albano who had designed most of them. Then there was an afternoon in a West Maya residence in PhilAm Village where, and when, Pandy Aviado applied some ink, wrestled with an iron wheel, and pulled out from a small ress a woodblock print he had worked on.  

Many other moments call for the smile of deja voodoo, involving visual art, performances, dance, song… Jaime de Guzman unveiling his mural in Liliw, Laguna. John Altomonte creating a charcoal portrait mural on a wall in an upper room at Café Hurri-manna in Ermita. Lester Demetillo essaying Cavatina in a classroom at the College of Music in UP Diliman. The first time I heard Gary Granada. And today’s Opera Belles. Listening to Joey Ayala’s “Walang Hanggang Paalam” from a CD in my workroom in Bellagio overlooking Lago di Como.

In Antipolo, traipsing through Gerry Araos’s “Garden of Two Dragons F**king” and marveling at all his woodcraft. Seeing and feeling up the exemplary furniture of Benjie Reyes, Claude Tayag, Karl Aguila. The sculpture of Impy Pilapil, Mon Orlina, Agnes Arellano, Rey Paz Contreras, and of late, my cousin Reg Yuson. My other cousin, the young Liv Vinluan, with her large dominatrix paintings. Other relatively recent ones  by Ronald Ventura, Igan D’Bayan, the Syjucos. Oh, decades ago, seeing Jean Marie’s installation chair glued to a ceiling at their home. Cesare’s early hieroglyphics.

Reading Ric de Ungria’s “Nova Blum” and Jimmy Abad’s “The Glass Man.” Joonee Gamboa and Junix Inocian onstage, mesmeric. Photographs by dear friends Ernie Enrique, Boy Yñiquez, Neil Oshima, George Tapan, Ben Razon, Joe Galvez, Sonny Yabao, et al. Powerful scenes in Tikoy Aguiluz’s Boatman and Erik Matti’s Ekis.

Amor Lamarroza’s stoned stony riverbed landscapes. Dominic Rubio’s Old Manila plazas. In the island of Negros, the distinctive works of Nune Alvarado, Charlie Co, Kitty Taniguchi. Bencab executing poets’ portraits in pastel at his old atelier in Baguio. Robert Villanueva planting ruño sticks to create a maze on the grass lot facing CCP. Santi Bose laughing while painting a portrait of his dad as policeman on Session Road.

So much more  in a hopscotch of memories. But I’ll leave the rest for later. Deja voodoo strikes at the most unexpected times. Maybe after this week’s blue moon, on the final day of what has been a momentous month where Filipinos found themselves very proud again  through storms and floods and deaths of good men  the parade of terrific Pinoy artists will start again in my mind’s and heart’s eye.

After all, we are among the most superbly gifted creative people in the world. And I’m so very glad that our artists walk  and dance and sing and thrive  among us.

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