Friday, October 26, 2012

Blood of the Vampires (Gerardo de Leon, 1966)

I would have loved to see the original version of this film, which is also known as Curse of the Vampires and Ibulong Mo Sa Hangin. But with the sad state of the Philippines' film preservation efforts decades ago, I'll take whatever version is out there. At least the film didn't disintegrate like Daigdig Ng Mga Api, which is allegedly the masterpiece of maestro director Gerardo de Leon. 

The horror film's English-dubbed version, which I've seen, is from a video transfer. Blood of the Vampires is the video release title although I think Curse of the Vampires, its international release title, is the better and more appropriate English title. 

The Escudero family is under the spell of a curse. Every family member, excluding the patriarch, will become vampires. The matriarch, long thought to be dead by her two children, wakes up every night thirsting for human blood. A near death experience convinces the Don to modify his last will. In the event of his death, the evil-possessed mansion will be razed down to the ground!

There are some gaping holes in the plot. What triggered the intense hatred of Daniel for Eduardo? Who or what killed the matriarch? How was she killed? These gaps lead me to believe that the running time of about 80 minutes is a truncated one.

The dubbing is another matter. There's no dialogue that connects to the original title, Ibulong Mo Sa Hangin. In what context was the title line uttered? Was it uttered at all? The English dialogues don't amplify enough why Amalia Fuentes won the Best Actress award from the FAMAS group. The make-up though was a knockout. The transfiguration of the evil Leonore to the good beautiful lady is a stunning one. I can't help but noticed the resemblance between Amalia Fuentes and Hilda Koronel. 

The film Blood of the Vampires is unfairly lumped along with so-called B-movies of our national artists, Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero. It is more than a mere horror chiller. The script, by Ben Feleo and Pierre L. Salas, alludes to the Philippines' colonial relationship to Spain. The Spanish mestizo Eduardo Escudero (Eddie Garcia) commands utmost obedience from his indio wife-slave. The blood-thirsty Escuderos, bearers of the shields, are vanquished not by sunlight but by a cataclysmic fire. The resource-sucking Spanish colonizers, caught up in a sweeping conflagration of war among nations, eventually succumbs to the United States of America. 

The odd mix of disparate elements make the movie a unique viewing experience. The mise-en-scene reminds me of Francisco Coching's detailed illustrations. The use of authentic dungeons, and eerie lighting effects add a creepy feel to the proceedings. There's also a tinge of incest in the affairs of the Escuderos. The English dubbing, though, sticks out like a festering wound. I almost forgot the reprehensible use of black-faced servants. Why the need to portray them as blacks? 

A recent news article has a Japanese web site ruing the loss of a Filipino-made film titled Batman Fights Dracula. If the film is as good as the Dolphy starrer James Batman, then indeed it is a quite a tragedy. Film buffs are left with no recourse but to look forlornly at the poster. Meanwhile, they can check out James Batman and Blood of the Vampires. The latter may not be a top-rate de Leon film but it is good enough to earn a slot in movie scare-athon plans this Halloween break. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Harana (Benito Bautista, 2012)

Ang dalagang Pilipina, parang tala sa umaga
Kung tanawin ay nakaliligaya
May ningning na tangi at dakilang ganda
- Jose Corazon de Jesus

Documentary films are getting noticed here in the Philippines and the rest of the world. The absorbing Senna, about the three-time Formula One champion Ayrton Senna, was a box-office hit in the United Kingdom. It was shown locally during Cine Europa Film Festival 2012. Give Up Tomorrow created quite a loud buzz at this year's Cinemalaya Film Festival that it got a theatrical run in October 2012.

Benito Bautista's Harana also made an impression during the Cinemalaya festival. Audiences, primed up by exposure to Youtube videos and concert/music films such as This Is It and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, gravitated towards this film because it is stuffed with wonderful harana songs such as Dalagang Pilipina, Iniibig Kita, and Aking Bituin (O Ilaw). But, those songs are only as good as the ones singing them.  

The documentary takes a look at balikbayan Florante Aguilar's search for the best of these haranistas. Aguilar, a classical guitarist oozing with musical chops just like his tukayos Freddie Aguilar and Florante, finds these masters of the lost art of serenade out in the field, along the river, and on the streets. 

Every musical performance by the Harana Kings, composed of Aguilar, tricycle driver Felipe Alonzo, farmer Celestino Aniel, and fisherman Romeo Bergunio, is pure delight. There's a sincere feel to their direct, romantic declarations of love. You'll believe every word emanating from their hearts. Bereft of money to come in flashy cars or to buy expensive gifts, the three proletarian vocalists have only love to offer. They express this love with the help of a sturdy guitar.

If music be the food of love, play on 
- William Shakespeare

There's a memorable segment in this lovely documentary. A young man named Bryan is heads over heels over a schoolmate. The girl seems to be in a relationship but he is adamant to profess his love. He seeks the help of a few surviving practitioners of harana, an old-school courtship ritual. The serenade pushes through, and there's a fantastic medium shot of a giddy Bryan. With soothing romantic lyrics in the air, his beaming face is full of bliss as he eyes the girl of his dreams. And the reaction of the girl? Let's just say that she is not used to getting this profuse attention showered on her. But, one thing's for certain, she won't forget this harana night and the Rapunzel feeling of being desired. Ang haba-haba ng buhok niya. Parang Rapunzel.

Our elders may be onto something with harana. They know the power of harana songs to tame any lady. With glorious voices emanating from outside the house, no woman can resist taking a peek by the window.

Buksan ang bintana
at ako'y dungawin
Nang mapagtanto mo
ang tunay kong pagdaing

After viewing this documentary, I visited the web site of Aguilar. I've learned valuable things about a proper harana song. Not every local love song out there is a harana song. There's a certain beat and structure of a harana song. The lyrics should also be reflective of the act of serenading. I'm glad that at least three previously unreleased harana songs were given valuable screen time in the doc. Even better, these songs were eventually recorded by the Harana Kings. Iniibig Kita has the potential to become a hit in the hands of a popular singer. 

The documentary Harana has a strong middle portion. However, the book ends are not that good. The start showed various places but did not linger enough to show their relevance. I wasn't thrilled with the American Idol-style of showing horrendous performances. The time given to these performers should have been used in educating viewers about the differences of a harana song from a kundiman song. The end was not that elating, either. The stagy parting among the vocalists was not dramatic enough. The ending sort of rambled on and on. A concert scene or a recording session scene could have been perfect ending.

In the end, the emotional performances of the Harana Kings will remain with you. If you can't get enough of them, then grab a copy of the soundtrack, which is sadly the last album together of Alonzo, Bergunio, and  Celestino Aniel. The latter died in September 2012.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Give Up Tomorrow (Michael Collins, 2011)

For many of us who've closely monitored the Chiong sisters' rape-slay case in the 1990s, this documentary will shock and infuriate you. In just a matter of 95 minutes, the total running time of the doc, I've changed my stand that Francisco Juan Paco Larrañaga was guilty. All those years, I was led to believe that he participated in the murders of Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong. I was wrong. Maybe you'll get to the same conclusion that Paco is innocent after viewing the must-see documentary by Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco.

Media played a big part in brainwashing my mind. It kept repeating lies such as Paco being an admirer of one of the sisters, and that he was one of those who threw a corpse down a cliff in Cebu in July 1997. The articles were accompanied with nonflattering pictures of the teenager and his 6 other co-accused. The documentary showed a newspaper clipping with a photo of Paco, which eerily recalls a close-up shot of a doomed chubby soldier in the film Full Metal Jacket. Paco was heavily demonized in words and pictures by the press back then.

It had been 16 years since he was arrested and incarcerated, but Paco remains adamant of his innocence. There are dozens of witnesses willing to testify that he was in Manila on the day of the abduction. Constant acknowledgement of the truth keeps the young man in good spirits. He will not give up unlike the aforementioned young soldier who blasted his brains out.

“If you wanna give up, give up tomorrow. Today, do what you can to survive.” 

Paco's survival mantra is fantastic advice to anyone facing adversities. But then, aren't most of the impoverished Filipinos already practicing that tactic of living one day at a time? 

Another important lesson from the documentary is to take with a grain of salt every news stories and sensational headlines. With the coming national elections next year, we need to be more critical of stories coming out from news media groups and the grapevine.