(Reprinted from the 25th Luna Awards souvenir program)
(Lugging a tape recorder on a Saturday morning last November 24, this editor and Director Felix Dalay met Director Celso Ad. Castillo at the Goldilocks branch of the National Book Store on Scout Borromeo st. We were ready for a longer-than-normal interview session and were, therefore, surprised when Da Kid handed over a long brown envelope full of manuscripts. We rummaged through the files and were assured we have enough materials for an article in our souvenir program. We dispensed of the interview and spent the following hours talking about the past and future of Philippine cinema That lively exchange of banter will be a good source of another full-pledged article which can come later for our FAP website. Following are some questions addressed to Direk Celso in various interview sessions and his forthright answers.–Editor)
When did you first become interested in cinema?
I started to become interested in cinema when as a young boy, my father used to bring me to watch movies in second-run movie theaters in Manila in the early 50s. I was not going to school yet and my father was still a student of law. My father was a movie buff and his entire family as well. My aunt, my uncles, etc… They all enjoyed watching movies and talked about them. I guess it runs in our blood. They were all crazy about movies. And as a movie afficionado as well, I guess I was born at the right time. I saw the original King Kong with my father before entering grade school and by the time I was in elementary school, I was a witness to the grand MGM musical movies of the 50s—Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain, Brigadoon, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; the action movies of John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Sterling Hayden, Van Heflin, Alan Ladd, Gary Cooper, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Gregory Peck, Robert Wagner. While my classmates were enjoying watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by Walt Disney, I was into more serious films of Marlon Brando with Elia Kazan as director.
I could hardly understand English and American slang then but I was being mesmerized by the lights and shadows, the framing and composition, the rhythm and editing of Kazan movies: On the Waterfront, Viva Zapata, A Streetcar Named Desire and East of Eden later on with James Dean. Those were the days of drama and romance like Love is a Many Splendored Thing, An Affair to Remember, Sayonara, The World of Suzie Wong and A Magnificent Obsession.
Then I became a witness to the transition of movies through the 60s, 70s, 80, and the 90s through the different eras of Alfrd Hitchcock, John Franken-heimer, Vicenti Minelli, Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray, Federico Fellini, Luis Bunuel, Costa Gavras, Claude Lelouch, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Stanley Kubrick, John Casavettes, Robert Altmann, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese,Steven Sodenberg, Ridley Scott…I really think I was extremely lucky for being a witness to these very significant transition of events in the history of filmmaking.
How did you get to make your first film? Did you have training as a filmmaker?
I started as a scriptwriter at the age of 18. The first four movies I scripted were box-office successes that at the age of 21 I was offered to direct my first full-length feature film. It was a James Bond kind of movie, the fad then being secret agent 007. It was called Dangerous Mission. It was a mild success and it was shot in black and white. The year was 1965 and I had graduated with an English Literature degree in college and was studying law at the time.
The first movie was followed by six more half-baked movies that I decided to stop law school and concentrate on making movies. On my eighth movie, I got my first critical success. The film was Nympha, still shot in black and white. The movie was my first real struggle to become a serious filmmaker because I sacrificed my studies of Law in choosing to become a movie director.
I did not have formal training as a filmmaker. I guess besides being passionate about watching movies. I was also enjoying them. I believe that good or bad movies help one become literate on what movies are all about. I started as a comics writer which is somewhat like scriptwriting in form and style. I started drawing and illustrating at a very young age. I played the piano and the guitar. I acted during my high school and college days. I sang with a band during the 60s. And I was doing oil painting.
I believe these are the traits that make a movie director because one must have the talent to tell a story, to transform it into a dramatic form which is the script, to know how to act, to understand music because even the rhythm of editing depends on the harmony of music and, best of all, the ability to visualize what he has in mind. I believe movies are moving images that must tell a story and do not necessarily need to have dialogues. My passion in these different forms of arts made me a movie director.
How important was your background as a comics writer?
I think I can say I started my career as a movie director by being a comics writer first. The stories I wrote were part of my childhood memories. Dragons, mermaids, vampires, the supernaturals…these were the subjects of my stories. Being a comics writer for so many years taught me how to visualize the frame I would like the illustrator to capture as I had wanted it to be seen by the reader. It was just like looking at the viewfinder and instructing my cameraman how I wanted the camera to capture the particular drama and emotions of a particular scene.
It was sort of a storyboard because I was not only writing the script of the story but was also instructing the illustrator to create the images of my vision. My career as a comics writer also developed my skills to write dialogues of the scripts whenever there is a need. I realize that directors should not be assertive to their actors. The director should discover the
actor’s real persona and let him work out the character he is portraying from that perspective. By doing so, dialogues are modified according to the actors’ real character and the character he is portraying becomes him-self…My long rendezvous with comics writing taught me how to choose commercial materials for stories. People read comic books to escape reality. And that’s what movies are all about too: escapism. The audience wants to escape from the realities of life when watching movies.
What kinds of films were you making in the 60s and what was the industry like in those days?
I made my first movie in 1965 at the age of 21. And like a small boy who had a new toy, I wanted to play with it. I wanted to direct all type of movies. I was like a painter who wanted to create images through all media available like watercolor, oil, pastel, acrylic or charcoal. The tools were not important. What was important was the ability to create images with creativity. I believe a director must not be good in only one genre. A good movie director must be able to direct any type of movie. The bottom line is it must be a good movie.
I experimented doing all kinds of movies during the early days of my career. I did drama, action, comedy, fantasy, horror and the so-called bold movies which were otherwise known as adult dramas. The Philippine movies in the 60s were dominated by the star system. It was the period of cultism. Never mind about the quality of movies…what was important were the movie stars starring in those movies. That early I knew I needed to come up with my best or otherwise I wouldn’t survive in an industry where the movie stars were the ones commanding respect.
(Continued next week)