Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Brides of Sulu (1934, John Nelson)

Good news:

At last, I’ve seen ample excerpts from a pre-World War II Filipino silent film feature. There is no mistaking it. I agree with Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA) member Teddy Co’s assertion that most of the vinta scenes from Brides of Sulu came from the 1931 silent film Moro Pirates, directed by Jose Nepomuceno. The newspaper advertisement for Moro Pirates showing a drawing of similar-looking vintas is important evidence.

Bad news:

I’m not convinced though that the film Brides of Sulu is of Filipino provenance, much less a Filipino silent film.

Brides of Sulu is about a star-crossed couple, Assan and Benita. The latter’s father, Datu Tamboyan, decides to marry off Benita to another chieftain, Datu of Dakor. Assan intervenes and flees with Benita to a neighboring island. A throng of vintas filled with Datu Tamboyan’s men takes off in hot pursuit. They eventually capture the couple. In front of her father and the Datu of Dakor, Benita declares her deep love for Assan. This act, along with the hasty departure of the insulted Datu of Dakor, convinces Datu Tamboyan to marry them instead.

The film is, depending on your interest, a romance story with scintillating footages of Sulu life or a documentary/travelogue with a love story hastily tacked onto it. The film’s dual nature led the members of the Filipino archive group SOFIA to suggest that Brides of Sulu must have been made up of two films, Moro Pirates and Princess Tarhata. The latter film has a story that has uncanny resemblance to that of Brides of Sulu's. Its lead female star is Daly Moreno (?), which is probably Adelina Moreno, the star of Brides of Sulu. The synopsis and lead cast info were all taken from a thesis by a University of the Philippines student. It is interesting to note that there is no director listed in the thesis info.

Teddy Co and company presented questions and evidences that they wanted us to hear, see, and ponder on. Let’s say there’s some iota of truth in the film being chunks of Princess Tarhata and Moro Pirates. But, how do we explain the existence of scenes showing together Adelina Moreno, alleged star of Princess Tarhata, and Eduardo de Castro, star of Moro Pirates? Those scenes, which are completely independent of the two silent films, suggest a third distinct film. And, isn’t there a magazine article quoting de Castro (or was it Nepomuceno?) as ‘having done a film titled Brides of Sulu’?

There’s also a need for SOFIA to uncover the Hollywood Reporter’s review of Brides of Sulu. Maybe the info from the review will help clear up the issue of whether the Brides of Sulu is originally a non-silent film.

Photo courtesy of Manila Times
Great news:

The best parts of the film are glimpses of Tausug traditions and dances, the amazing live music accompaniment by Rapista, and the incandescent beauty of Adelina Moreno (also known as Gilda Gales). With fiery eyes, agile body, and lovely European features, she is that rare local film star that sparkles and enthralls like a diamond.

I’d noticed that Moreno has two distinct get-ups in the film. The black get-up seems to fit the Princess Tarhata film (ie. without de Castro). The light colored get-up seems to be for the Brides of Sulu film (ie. with de Castro). Using Datu Tamboyan as common factor, both films appear to have been shot simultaneously.

SOFIA, under the leadership of Clodualdo del Mundo Jr., has done a wonderful job highlighting the importance of film preservation. Thank you so much for screening restored old classics and film gems.

Brides of Sulu may not be pure Pinoy, but it still contains footages from a Pinoy silent film feature and it has the luminous presence of the Virgo actress, Gilda Gales. Take a look at the picture and you’ll see the resemblance to another Virgo actress, Greta Garbo. The name Gilda is no longer the domain of Rita Hayworth. 'Gilda' will also be associated to our very own 'goddess' Gilda Gales.

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