History of Philippine Cinema

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A. The Golden Age of Philippine Films

The 1950s were considered a time of “rebuilding and growth”. But remnants from the preceding decade of the 40s remained in the form of war-induced reality. This is seen is Lamberto Avellana’s Anak Dalita (The Ruins, 1956), the stark tragedy of post-WWII survival set in Intramuros. The decade saw frenetic activity in the film industry which yielded what might be regarded as the first harvest of distinguished films by Filipinos. Two studios before the war, namely Sampaguita Pictures and LVN, reestablished themselves. Bouncing back quickly, they churned out movie after movie to make up for the drought of films caused by the war. Another studio, Premiere Productions, was earning a reputation for “the vigor and the freshness” of some of its films. This was the period of the “Big Four” when the industry operated under the studio system. Each studio (Sampaguita, LVN, Premiere and Lebran) had its own set of stars, technicians and directors, all lined up for a sequence of movie after movie every year therefore maintaining a monopoly of the industry. The system assured moviegoers a variety of fare for a whole year and allowed stars and directors to improve their skills.

Critics now clarify that the 50s may be considered one “Golden Age” for the Filipino film not because film content had improved but because cinematic techniques achieved an artistic breakthrough in that decade. This new consciousness was further developed by local and international awards that were established in that decade.

Awards were first instituted that decade. First, the Manila Times Publishing Co. set up the Maria Clara Awards. In 1952, the FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences) Awards were handed out. More so, Filipino films started garnering awards in international film festivals. One such honor was bestowed on Manuel Conde’s immortal movie Genghis Khan (1952) when it was accepted for screening at the Venice Film Festival. Other honors include awards for movies like Gerardo de Leon’s Ifugao (1954) and Lamberto Avellana’s Anak Dalita. This established the Philippines as a major filmmaking center in Asia. These awards also had the effect of finally garnering for Filipino films their share of attention from fellow Filipinos.

B. The Decline of Philippine Film

If the 1950s were an ubiquitous period for film, the decade that followed was a time of decline. There was “rampant commercialism and artistic decline” as portrayed on the following:

In the 1960s, the foreign films that were raking in a lot of income were action pictures sensationalizing violence and soft core sex films hitherto banned from Philippine theater screens, Italian “spaghetti” Westerns, American James Bond-type thrillers, Chinese/Japanese martial arts films and European sex melodramas. To…get an audience to watch their films, (the independent) producers had to take their cue from these imports. The result is a plethora of films…giving rise to such curiosities as Filipino samurai and kung fu masters, Filipino James Bonds and…the bomba queen.

The studio systems came under siege from the growing labor movement which resulted in labor-management conflicts. The first studio to close was Lebran followed by Premiere Productions. Next came Sampaguita and LVN. The “Big Four” studios were replaced by new and independent producers who soon made up the rest of the film industry.

The decade also saw the emergence of the youth revolt best represented by the Beatles and the rock and roll revolution. They embodied the wanting to rebel against adult institutions and establishments. Certain new film genres were conceived just to cater to this “revolt”. Fan movies such as those of the “Tita and Pancho” and “Nida and Nestor” romantic pairings of the 50s were the forerunners of a new kind of revolution – the “teen love team” revolution. “Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos, along with...
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