PEOPLE POWWOW: The dying Philippine movie industry


AS an entertainment reporter in Manila in the 1970s, I remember the stiff competition that Filipino movies were giving their Hollywood counterparts.

For example, Tony Ferrer as Agent X-44 was as popular as Sean “James Bond” Connery. Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III were the most-mobbed teenage “love birds”.

It’s a completely strange niche that Filipino movies now occupy. All it takes is an visit to any cinema multiplexes in the malls to realize how hard-pressed it is to find a Filipino movie being shown. Scan the titles and they’re mostly Hollywood blockbusters, with a sprinkling of European and Asian films. Sometimes, Pinoy films carry English titles.

Today’s generation, I am sure, would like to see a bird’s eye view how it was in our childhood days.

The 1950s and ‘60s were the golden decades for the Philippine movie industry. The major studios like Sampaguita Pictures and LVN were bursting at the seams with star talents, while fans seemed to have an insatiable appetite for drama and comedy. Dolphy was already making us laugh in those decades.

But it seems that there were always forces that conspired to clip the wings of this nascent industry and prevent it from ever soaring. First, there was the United States. American culture pervaded every facet of Philippine Society, showcasing Hollywood movies as the best of the best. The most any Filipino movie could ever hope to rate was as copycat.

The second reason the Philippine movie industry was doomed from the start was because of the highly stratified Philippine society. The rich and well-off, including the middle class never really patronized the local movie industry. Thus box-office receipts came mostly from those in the lower strata of society – the so-called “bakya crowd” who enjoyed  Tagalog movies.

Third, because the movie industry had to cater to the tastes and standards of the “bakya crowd”, the quality and content of its products reflected that bias. Storylines were unimaginative and predictable, comedy was slapstick, and the acting was either mediocre or overly dramatic.

Fourth, since the late seventies, the industry has become a magnet for all sorts of unsavory characters – pimps, gangsters, cross-dressing homosexuals, and the like – further diminishing its chances of gaining acceptance from the more respectable segments of society.

Lastly, much of the industry’s bad practices in those days have now exacted their toll. Most Filipino movies today are cranked out in a week or two, with  a predictable mixture of comedy, sex, drama and star-value so as to do well at the box-office. Producers are averse to innovation or risk taking.

The serious movies today that are labeled “indie films” do not win the commercial patronage they deserve.

The “bakya crowd” has become so poor they could no longer afford a movie ticket, now costing at least a hundred pesos. So they make do with old or free movies on TV and on websites.

Add to that the proliferation of cheap pirated thirty-peso movie DVDs that sell like hotcakes. It is no surprise then that this industry is dying. Will it be born again?/PN