By Vince Ragay
In my childhood during the early ’60′s, I went around Dumaguete City shining shoes and making about two pesos every weekend. To give our young readers an idea of its value then: my mother would give me 22 centavos for a movie ticket, 10 centavos for my merienda of fried bananas and drinks and the rest she took to the market to buy some food for the family. Unbelievable! I considered myself rich. And why not? I was a weekend worker who had the luxury of watching a movie once a week all by myself.
You don’t actually need someone with you to enjoy a movie. Company diverts your attention although it helps you enjoy the movie more. But as a boy, the movie was enough enjoyment and escape was totally assured, what with my unaffected imagination and unblemished conscience. In truth, I must have gotten many negative and corruptive ideas from the movies. Of course, I didn’t know that then but I am almost over their ill repercussions after having struggled hard to overcome them.
What really stands out among the hundreds of movies I saw since then is the effect of music upon my personality and my life, in general. Being a musician and composer now, I can only say that movies — apart from what my dear late father passed on to me — did so much to develop my love for music and to enhance my appreciation for various forms of music.
There was Rock ‘n’ Roll courtesy of Elvis Presley. Not only did my father buy his records, the whole family sang his songs and danced to them as well. Our Saturday afternoons at home were dance-party time for our family and relatives for we were blessed with a stereo phonograph and a fun-loving, rug-cutter for a father. Elvis’ ballads also filled our lungs so that as a kid I learned to imitate his baritone renditions of Blue Hawaii and Love Me Tender . All his movies I watched and learned to imitate his gyrations and to comb my hair with a tiny pompadour. Although the Beatles did not make movies until later, their music was another big influence in my increasing musical awareness.
Faddish. And childish for sure. But it was the beginning of a new era in music; no, it was a revolutionary period in terms of musical norms. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s many Broadway musicales reached the movies at the proper time to complete my view of the whole spectrum of musical diversity. And I am glad to have gone through such a formative education brought about by the movie and recording industries.
The biggest early influence though to my evolving musical taste was a movie which defied all norms of movie-making then and now. When I first saw it, I was so enthralled I must have felt like I was in Wonderland for a long time after. The movie? Fantasia, an animated feature by Walt Disney. It showcased some of the best and most popular classical pieces by great composers like Bach, Beethoven, Tsaikovsky and Wagner and interpreted by animation artists in a way only Disney Pictures was capable of doing.
For a long while that movie stuck to my conscience like a vision of an angel in the middle of the night. After so many years I forgot about the movie and the title although glimpses of its memory would recur now and then especially when listening to classical music. But I couldn’t explain what it was or where it came from. It only came back gradually while watching with my kids some sequences of it on TV cartoon-time. Still, it did not return in its entirety until a friend gave me an original VHS copy of it. And when I saw it again, the whole boyhood experience — engendered by the magnificent, colorful visual display and the glorious symphonic music — came back and left me as mesmerized as before. Even my children could not fathom the way I behaved during and after watching that tape. It was like unearthing a treasure chest you had buried a long, long ago and forgotten about it.
Yes, it was that way with Fantasia. The second Fantasia is equally appealing and entertaining but not as deeply meaningful as my boyhood one. And yet, it is almost that way with most movie musicales even though I watch them minus my youthful innocence. Even non-musicale movies with great soundtracks ( A Knight’s Tale and Star Wars ) would invariably bring supreme enjoyment. And I can pledge my undying admiration for such movie greats as Sound of Music, Camelot, Oklahoma, Prince of Egypt and Fiddler on the Roof because they fill the soul with music while they hypnotize the mind and the heart with the story and cinematography. I can even shout my praises for recent movies like Chicago, Phantom of the Opera and Be Cool. But my bias for Fantasia arises from the fact that animation, with its unlimited and even abstractive and hilarious possibilities, suits the nature of music perfectly that no other movie provides the ultimate escape into a musical Paradise.
You see, I have learned to appreciate pure music — when you merely listen and not watch musicians play. But watching exploding colors or Mickey Mouse drowning while listening to energizing classical music is another thing. Perhaps it’s the Sensurround speakers inside the theater that makes the difference but I suppose the mind requires both the ears and the eyes to complete the human dimensions involved in movie-watching. The process is almost idolatrous in nature it has led some to fall for it heart and soul even after the show is over. They end up making MTVs.
Of course, such a phenomenon as this juvenile fancy or fantasy of mine (the title says it all) comes only once in a person’s lifetime. Everything else is a shadow or a replay of the original childhood discovery. And whether you are watching Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon? or Lord of the Rings, the soundtrack is there to provide that timeless and inscrutable power of music aided by realistic sound effects to bring about the unique total movie experience.
I only wish someday a Filipino producer will come upon a novel and entertaining way of using this phenomenon to showcase our own rich musical and cultural heritage. Perhaps, a movie that will showcase the music of such personalities as Lucio San Pedro, Nicanor Abelardo, Levi Celerio, Mike Velarde and others, with a story taken from part of our historical experience. It may not make much money — the two Fantasias were not box-office hits, I think — but how it will certainly awaken the senses of our viewers, particularly the children. With many such movies, who knows, we might just see the birth of a new fine-music-loving, historically-aware and nation-caring generation of Filipinos. Or is this just another fantasy?
Donald Duck over there rolls down, laughing and saying, “Whheck, whheck, whheck… you mushk be kidding!”