“Wala ka bang passes ngayon?” My father’s casual query made me remember that I gave him a filmfest package pass last year which enabled him and my mother to see all the filmfest movies for free. Considering his dollar pensions, it was not an opportunistic volition on his part but just a sense of pride that his son is connected with the Film Academy and that a movie pass is one of the perks.
To prevent further interrogation, I shook my head and didn’t tell the truth that I’ve been away from FAP for quite a time due to my hectic work schedule. As I immersed myself on the Noche Buena table, my inquisitive mother perpetuated the subject matter, “Kaya wala kang passes kasi sabi sa balita sinolo daw ni BF.” She was referring to the allegation that the MMDA’s head, who is also the chairman of the Metro Manila Film Festival committee, had diverted a bulk of the printed movie passes to his constituents in Marikina. There were also talks that some MMDA people have been selling the movie passes. Worse, my parents alternated in harping about the intriguing selection process of the MMFF, specifying Mother Lily’s clout with the MMFF committee.
It was not an appropriate topic for a Christmas eve so I pretended to be a deaf-mute who was relishing the traditional Chinese ham and sizzling macaroni soup. “Iba na talaga ang showbiz ngayon, ibang-iba,” my father said in his usual casual tone which I ignored by presenting to them the nicely wrapped Christmas presents I had prepared. But my parents continued with their own monologues until it dawned on me that they were already reminiscing the good old days of the local cinema.
“Comedy lang ang kumikita sa festival, ano? Kung inabot mo sana si Pugo at Tugo. Ke raming magagaling na comedian noon, si Dely Atay-atayan at Andoy Balunbalunan, si Tulindoy, si Aruray, si Chichay…” My mother joined with “Si Patsy at Lopito ang pamatay, remember Gabi Ng Lagim?” My father joked, “Pamatay nga kasi pareho nang patay!” But my mother continued with her spiel, “Yang si Alex naalala ko noong maliit pa, ang lakas ng tawa niyan kay Menggay. Si Fernando Poe ang bida dun, sumilip siya sa banga yata yun, akala magandang babae tapos si Menggay ang lumitaw,” she ended it with a series of chuckles which failed to humor me because I honestly don’t remember the incident.
“Balik na ang mga fantasy ngayon pero wala pa ring tatalo ke Johnny Monteiro pagdating sa eskrimahan,” my father beside me was talking to no one in particular. “Napanood mo yung Tres Muskiteros, di ba?” No reply from yours truly because I’m not that old, hah! “Lintik ang mga costume, ginastusan talaga. Sana naitago nila, ano? Di ba sabi mo me museum sa Mowelfund, andun dapat yung mga lumang costume. Kumpleto ba ang mga litrato ng… alam mo na, yung mga namatay na artista?” Again, no reply.
“Sa mga kontrabida pala si Eddie Garcia na lang ang natitira kaso naging bida na rin ngayon. Sayang, wala na si Bruno Punzalan at si… si Martin Marfil, si Etang Discher, nanay ni Panchito yun. Tapos si… tila namatay na rin si Max Alvarado, ano, Nady?” My mother sat beside me before responding, “Ano ka ba, matagal nang namatay yun, bago pa yata tayo pumunta ng States.” My parents, who are American citizens, resided in the US for 10 years before coming back a few years ago. I should have added that Romy Diaz recently passed away and his brother Paquito is already out of commission.
“Nakakapanood ka ba ng shooting?” I refused to answer for the nth time. “Si Rod Navarro, naku, ang galing sa baril nyan,” my father exclaimed, “Nakakapagkasa ng .45 yan, isang kamay lang.” Our ancestral home in San Juan happened to be a favorite shooting location then which gave my parents the opportunity of watching a film shoot. The steel matting fence that separated it from the old municipio of San Juan had been used as a Japanese garrison countless of times. Tony Cayado was the best portrayer of a Japanese officer, chorused my father and mother.
Aside from being neighbor to the municipio, an aunt used to work there even before Joseph Estrada became mayor. “Naka-tsinelas lang si Tisoy nung ikasal sila ni Zeny Zabala sa San Juan.” Tisoy was the late Boy Garcia who, according to the accounts of my mother, was handsome and suave such that Zeny was head over heels in love with him. But history tells that Tisoy lived with Lucita Soriano until his last days.
Amid the flash of camera for the family’s Christmas souvenir shots, the showbiz talks persisted. My mother didn’t care about the rivalry of Susan Roces and Amalia Fuentes because she remained a die-hard Lolita Rodriguez fan. And it reminded me that my mother loved to watch movies and cry over her idol with plots complicated by Marlene Dauden and Eddie Rodriguez. My father quipped that the Susan-Amalia competition often caused spats among the several househelps of my rich grandmother.
My father was not really fond of action films but he greatly admired Fernando Poe, Jr. for the efforts that FPJ had exerted in the name of the local movie industry. My old man even mentioned the Big Four, a syndicate victimizing actors and actresses, which was bulldozed by FPJ and his buddies. Unfortunately, Pakners, FPJ’s last movie that featured Efren “Bata” Reyes as his sidekick, didn’t earn according to some insiders. Another icon for him is Erap. My father was jubilant when his “kababayan” Joseph Estrada became successful in politics. “Na-interview mo na ba si Joseph? Akala ko sasamahan ka ni Jesse sa Tanay?” I pointed to the aimed camera to evade the question.
It’s also in San Juan where an uncle met and married Patricia Ilagan, the youngest sister of Tito Arevalo (father of Robert Arevalo). “Ikaw ang ring bearer nun,” my mother chided me as if I had suddenly become senile. Liberty Ilagan was very famous at that time and a few years after, Jay Ilagan surfaced as the favorite child actor in the local movies. Of course, there were Robert Arevalo and wife Barbara Perez, one of the most durable showbiz couple we have around. I didn’t know that the woman I call Tita Honor, who had recently hurdled the 80-year mark, was a budding starlet before I was born. The name of Fernando Royo was mentioned but I didn’t care to ask who he was.
Suddenly the talks became a bit serious. “Dati my bagong pelikula every week. Parang kumonti na ngayon, ano?” That broke the dam of my defense so I shot back with my own litany that the industry used to come up with 200 or sometimes up to 300 films a year but in 2004 the number was down to a meager 50 or 51 films only including the festival entries. And sadly, there was no Manila Filmfest in 2005 with reasons not clear enough. The downtrend is mainly caused by the pervading video piracy but I hastened to add that it may also be due to the low quality of the films. “Eh kasi naman,” my mother proudly proclaimed, “Dapat kumuha sila ng mga bagong scriptwriter. Ipang-alok mo yung mga scripts mo, radical ang mga ideas mo, puro unique. Hindi ka naman yata lumalapit sa tao eh.” I finished the fruit salad on my plate to disable my answering machine.
“Ano ba ang ginagawa ng Film Academy?” my father queried in his usual authoritative tone. “Sabi mo created yan ng gobyerno para ma-uplift ang pelikula? Hanggang bigayan ng awards lang yata kayo eh.” Ouch! and a double ouch! for me. “Sabihin mo kay Leo, tumulong kayong mag-promote ng filmfest tapos mag-produce na rin kayo para dumami ang pelikula. Ikaw, bakit hindi ka mag-press release, di ba forte mo yan?” My mother tossed her own opinion, “O di kaya tulungan ninyo ang mga producers para kumita. Kasi pag lugi siyempre aayaw na ang mga producers, di ba?” My mind failed to process the barrage of queries and opinions because I got the feeling that I was somehow getting all the blame. And to think that I was only a Technical Consultant of the Academy. Talk of a happy Christmas!
It was nearing 2:00 am, Christmas Day, so I prepared to head for home. But before I could heave a sigh of relief that the reminiscing was finally over, my mother reminded me to give them a filmfest theater pass if ever I got one, to which my father joked with a matching grin, “Isama mo na lang ang mama mo sa Film Academy para makakita siya ng mga artista.” I replied with an empty smile to avoid giving a definite answer. We grew up in a simple home with simple wants but we were encouraged with decent ambitions and peppered with intellectual directions so it didn’t occur to me that entertainment was a big part of life that my parents savored.
As I shut the steel gate, shivers enveloped my whole being. Not because I felt negligent about the movie passes, not because of the wintry atmosphere either. I was shuddering from the thought that my 79-year old father and my 78-year old mother may even outlive the local movie industry. As I traversed the miraculously empty Ortigas Avenue Extension, my tired mind came up with its own query, “Quo Vadis, Showbiz, where are you headed to?”
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