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Just call me Machete

MANO-A-MANO - Adel Tamano () - November 14, 2010 - 12:00am

Just call me Machete. This does not refer to Robert Rodriguez’s current flick starring Danny Trejo. No, I’m going more old school than that. I’m referring to Philippine cinema’s Machete: Istatwang Buhay (1990), about the wooden indian statue that comes to life as played by Cesar Montano and later — it was so good they had to make a sequel — portrayed by Gardo Versoza. Now I’m not asking you to call me Machete because I embody the physical perfection of the iconic statue because, sadly, I don’t. Instead, call me Machete because of my acting. Yes, strange as it sounds, I was in two Philippine movies, One True Love (2009) and Katas Ng Saudi (2008) and my thespian skills are best described as wooden.

Why did I take small roles in those two movies? Well, candidly, since I had political ambitions at the time, I thought some exposure, however tiny, might help.  Thank God that I’ve regained my sanity and currently my only political aspiration is to vote wisely in the next elections. Secondly, and most importantly, I did it for the fun of it. I’m a person who enjoys these one-of-a-kind experiences; how many people can say they were in a big budget movie? Also, I did it because I love Philippine movies, particularly the old movies. And years from now, my grandkids will get a kick — and cringe — at my acting prowess.

Hopefully, when my grandchildren do watch, they will be doing so at a time of a revival or renaissance of Philippine cinema because for me — and I’m writing as a layman — the local movie scene is at a low point. This is not to disrespect the great new Filipino filmmakers like Quark Henares or Pepe Diokno because I see a lot of hope in these young talents of the movie industry; however, objectively, current local cinema is a far cry from the golden years of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, I grew up watching — on Channel 9, I think — the movies of Dolphy and Panchito, Fernando Poe, Jr., Rogelio Dela Rosa, Leopoldo Salcedo and Pancho Magallona. My first celebrity crushes were Paraluman, Susan Roces and Gloria Romero. Again, while I’m not an expert, the quality of the movies of the golden age of Philippine cinema, in my own biased opinion, exceeded the quality of the current crop of movies. Obviously, the technical aspects of current Filipino films, particularly the special effects, are vast improvements on the Jurassic movie magic of the earlier films. But in regard to story-telling, acting and the unquantifiable but vital “star quality” of the actors, I prefer the films of yore.

What happened to Philippine cinema? I remember, as a child, being just as excited — and lining up at the cinema — to catch FPJ’s Ang Panday (1980) as I was to see an American blockbuster like Superman (1978). For me, both movies were of comparable quality and they equally captured my imagination. Ask a Filipino child if they are as excited to watch the latest offering from Star Cinema or GMA films as they are to seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010) and the point about the comparability — or more correctly the decline in the quality of Filipino films — becomes clear. In fact, when was the last time you queued up to watch a Philippine film? Put another way, what is the last Filipino film that really captured your imagination? By capturing your imagination, I mean that you anxiously awaited the movie’s release and you invited your spouse, significant other, or friends to watch it with you. If you have to think very hard about it, then it only proves how long our cinema has been in a state of decay.

I will leave it to the experts of Philippine cinema and the arts to say how we have gotten to this point. For me, what I find unfathomable is how a country that has such a deep pool of talent in terms of actors and directors, a country wherein the people have such an innate knack for all things artistic, a country wherein we have such a treasure trove of culture and history — how can such a country have a dying cinema industry?

Moving forward, the government must take an active role in reviving the film industry. Not only is it a source of employment and income but, more importantly, it is an expression and embodiment of our culture and should thus be flourishing and vibrant. Here’s a crazy idea: since we automatically set aside part of our budget for payment of foreign debt — nearly 40 percent of our National Budget — what if we give priority to health, education and culture? (What a ludicrous plan!) What if we lower the amount automatically appropriated for debt and use — even half a percent of that — for culture and arts? (Atty. Tamano, you’ve lost your mind!) Let’s invest in scholarships for future directors, grants for independent films, subsidies or tax breaks for investments in the film industry.

Certainly, none of what I’m saying about reviving the film industry is new or original, except perhaps the automatic appropriation, but the point is that we, as a society, have to give importance to Philippine film. We cannot let it die. Let us recapture the excitement and glory of the Philippine cinema that I remember.

Hopefully, if our leaders get serious about culture and arts — and they put their money where their mouths are — Philippine cinema, like Machete, will come back to life.   

ANG PANDAY CESAR MONTANO CINEMA DANNY TREJO DOLPHY AND PANCHITO FERNANDO POE GARDO VERSOZA MDASH MOVIES PHILIPPINE
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