This Moviegoer Has Not Been Rated
by Cynthia Buiza
Filipinos and the movies. Bicolanos and the movies. What would one do without the other? Film, when she was growing up, was considered the Philippines’ national pastime, second only to watching basketball and perhaps, predicting where the next typhoon was going to land and which region would get the worst storm signal. We have been known to stand all the way to the exit and entrance of movie houses just to watch our favorite movie stars enchant us, make us laugh, and make us cry. And make us hope. Bicolanos tended towards the participatory when watching films. We hollered, hooted and screamed when a character seemed clueless, when the bad guy was about to stab or shoot the main protagonist and he or she, a deathbed away from knowing. When that fight scene seemed too good for this life, we just had to bang on the wooden seats and curse and dig our fingers mightily into that bag of popcorn!
She was very young when she began going to the movies. Since the ratings system at the time in the Philippines was existent but barely enforced, she went to films that would land a parent in the Western world in jail. She does not recall the very first film she saw. But she remembers watching many comedies by famed actor Dolphy when she was seven years old and the karate films of Bruce Lee. She remembers occasionally hands trying to grope for her legs and her puny, little thighs in the dark and telling her grandmother who was beside her, about it. A year later, an aunt who was single and tended towards the solitary, began taking her to the movies, movies for adults. There began a journey to the world of celluloid, seen through the eyes of a ten-year old girl.
She remembers watching the movie Brutal, starring the splendid and mysterious Amy Austria. It was a movie about retribution and the place of women in Philippine society. She recalls the color, almost sepia green, the way it was shot, the close-up, tracking shots of Amy Austria’s face, frozen in stoic suffering, the rest a blur. She remembers the sound of the wheelbarrow crunching gravel under its weight in Karnal, as actor Phillip Salvador dragged the wooden beast, a latter-day Dionysus with an endless tragic task. She remembers the lust in Rolando Tinio’s eyes as he watched Cecille Castillo rub red hibiscus on her tiny, smooth ankle and all its subtle, ironic implications.
She remembers the cat that used to mew and scratch the floor in the orchestra, during climactic scenes inside the Rex Theater in Legazpi City, especially the scene where Vilma Santos miscarries while gyrating to the music of Burlesque Queen, blood oozing from her thigh like red hibiscus flowers. Soltero confused her – how sadness and beauty could exist in the same frame, and the quiet, creeping, menacing and ever-present violence in Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag. When Nora Aunor finally exclaimed and exhorted the throng of faithful who believed she was God’s messenger in the film Himala: “there are no miracles!, it is people who manufacture miracles!” she fell in love with her country’s cinematic heritage all over again. She never reacted in any dramatic way to any of these films, in all those years of watching. Only later, very much later did she react to movies: Movies that no longer evoked nor deserved such deep longing and desire and yielding. Only later when she began to fully understand the implications of the many stories being told about her, her secrets, about her village, about her city, about her family and about her country. Only then did it matter to weep in the dark.
© Cynthia Buiza