Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Hollywoodization of Filipino films

 Nora Aunor in Mario O'Hara's Bakit Bughaw ang Langit (Why is the Sky Blue? 1981)

From pinoydvd, prompted by a 7/22/03 Philippine Daily Inquirer article "The Hollywoodization of Filipino movies:"

How to save the Filipino film industry? I say, tax Hollywood movies.

Japan is resisting okay, same with France, and India. All of these put restrictions on Hollywood films.Regulate those suckers. Down with Hollywood.

Flyderman: Shouldn't we just leave those who have no desire to explore the greatness of cinema to their mindless Hollywood shallowness?

Let the market find its level? Know what'll happen? The local industry sinks out of existence, this including the indies, and hollywood reigns supreme, forever and ever, amen.

I read and talk to people from these industries (Japan, France, India), seen some of em in action, and they work. They work with regulation, not a strict free market.

And it's not as if the local industry is without handicaps. We're taxed 26 to 30 percent--one of the highest rates in the world. The miracle isn't that we do one or two good movies in a few years, the miracle is that we have an industry at all.

av_phile: What is so patently wrong about hollywoodizing Filipino movies? Without a hollywood to ape, would pinoy films have flourished?

Nothing wrong with Hollywood that a tactical nuclear weapon can't fix.

That said, they have their place. Just keep it restricted and heavily taxed, is all I ask.

Flim: With the way filipino movies are going, are you sure we deserve an industry? Maybe a pushcart more like it.

Let's put the pushcart before the horse, if we have to. Kill Hollywood here in Manila, or at least regulate it down to size, then give more money to filmmakers like you...

If we're talking of influences, sure Hollywood is a huge influence, and it steals what it can...Ford Westerns influence Kurosawa who in turn influences Peckinpah...Disney cartoons influence Tezuka's big-eyed heroes, who influence Miyazaki, who influence post Little Mermaid animators to make their heroes big-eyed...

What I'm talking about is business. Hollywood has killed Hong Kong, it's killed Germany, it's killed Japan's live action fare, it's killing cinema all over the world. The only ones that are thriving if at all are tightly regulated--France, India, Iran, to name a few. Let's double the tax on Hollywood films, put a quota on theaters to show more Filipino films, etcetera, etcetera.

Free market? End result is, rich get richer, poor get poorer. How do you think the 1997 Asian crisis and current recession got started? World Bank is reviewing its policies, same with the IMF. Free market is fine for the big picture, but it wouldn't hurt to get Marxist (or at least Castro-ish) on Hollywood.

av_phile: Not if the IMF or the WOrld Bank has anything to say to that. Let's go protectionist in our movie industry. Like Frrance or Italy. I think it has been said that protectionisn breeds lousy products. And all the while i thought the movie industry is already protected.

No, the industry isn't protected; more like exploited.Mind you, I'm not advocating protecting the trapos (TRAditional POliticians) in the industry--I'd like to see them gone myself. But if you kill the establishment I can guess what'll take over, and it's not the indie artist, it's the one with the big multinational bucks.

Protectionism breed lousy products in France and Italy? Check out their protected cheeses and wines and stuff. American cheddar tastes like toothpaste in comparison.

av_phile: I guess it all boils down to attitude, with or without protectionism. How sure are we that protecting the local movie industry will churn out movies that can be nominated for an Oscar best foreign film award? Ok so you don't believe in Oscar. But i think it's a start.

It's chicken and egg, cart and horse. If we protect them, will they do quality product? All I can do is look around me at the cinemas that are successfully resisting Hollywood, have their own vibrant, viable cinemas, and that's France, India, Iran. All of em have protectionist policies.

France has always hated and been suspicious of Hollywood; they've never relented in their restrictive policies. India has always been an economy apart. Japan and Hong Kong used to be unaffected by Hollywood, then the recent blockbusters came, and Hollywood discovered the overseas market, these were the most open ones, and they were the ones that fell (okay, Japan had its problems, but making a live-action Japanese film is harder now than ever, not to mention making a hit that'll outperform Hollywood--anime is a whole other ball of wax).

It's a matter of looking around, seeing what works and what doesn't.

av_phile: Understandable. France is not only anti-Hollywood. It's anti-american and anti-british in general. It seems to be a history-based nationalist angst against english-speaking countries with a national memory of a terrible war with the americans in the 1700s. Latest evidence - their strong resistance against the US/Brit led coalition against Iraq at the UN.

Terrific cinema, innit? Terrific culture too...

av_phile: I think the Hongkong and Chinese cinemas benefitted form Hollowwod incursion when the latter exploited their martial arts traditions to box-office delight, there, in the US and elsewhere. It's sheer commercialization of a culture. But i suppose chinese talents, producers and crew got windfalls in the process too. Did the phenomenon produce art films? Now i don't know if suspending actors on wires flying around in a fight scene is one.

See something by King Hu. Blows Crouching Tiger out of the water.

The Hong Kong film industry never depended on American markets; that was strictly a niche. Their bread and butter was always Taiwan and the Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. The Philippines in fact was so influential that when distributors found Lian Jie Li's name too boring, they gave him a new moniker, one his Hong Kong studio liked so much they adopted it as his official name. This was how Jet Li was born.

av_phile: The same goes for Japanese films. Hollywood exploited japanese traditions of the ninjas and samurais and the jap military-like discipline to make box office hits worldwide. And while hollywood profited, am sure those jap movie moguls did as well.

True and true. But that was then, this is now. At that time, the foreign market wasn't seen as a major source of income, and Hollywood marketing wasn't geared towards selling to foreign markets. It was easier for foreign cinemas to flourish.

In the '80s, Hollywood discovered the world market, and now more than half their source of income comes from outside of the US. Hollywood NOW is a threat to our industry, and to industries all over the world. That's what happened to Hong Kong, and Japan. Hollywood killed their live action cinema. This happened around ten or less years ago.

av_phile: At this time and age, to me it doesn't seem to make sense to close doors and act as if we can make a viable cinema industry on our own with only the pinoy market as our audience.

By all means, watch other movies from other countries. But in a strictly ghettoized environment. And by all means sell to other countries. We can be open to foreign markets--Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, for starters. the rest of Asia to follow; that's what the Hong Kong cinema did in the '80s. Hollywood? They were never interested in us, and we don't need them to sell our movies. They can knock on our doors if ever they want us, which I doubt will happen.

av_phile: The audience must be the entire world.

Hollywood can stay out of the equation. They're the danger.

av_phile: The product must be world-class.

No problem with this.

av_phile: That's why hollywood and a few european, indian, chinese and jap films became known worlwide and their industry got the windfall because they were shown in many countries and made good box-office returns.

True, and here's the difference: Hollywood is doing it NOW, and to the detriment of every other foreign film--and, in the case of Hong Kong and Japan, to the detriment of THEIR native cinemas.

av_phile: we will remain with low budget films of little remark. The returns simply cannot justify a producer's nvestment.

Bubungang Lata, Pila Balde, even Insiang. They're not sufficient justification?

av_phile: But closing our doors with trade barriers to hollywood films, frankly i have grave doubts such an act willl even gash the knee of hollywwod, much less cut the legs below.

I'm concerned with saving our cinema, not hurting Hollywood. To paraphrase a classic: "To Hell with Hollywood..."

av_phile: And doing so will only incurr the ire of the IMF/World Bank

Not on cinema! That's a small fry industry. I've dealt with IMF and World Bank people. They're concerned with steel, infrastructure, agriculture, not movies.

av_phile: And one result is that our films would get the same treatment in the world markets and not be given a fighting chance out there. I don't see how our cinema can flourish when the country's economy is ruined.

Because we discriminate against Hollywood films? Not going to happen--like I said, movies are strictly small fry. Again, see France, India, Iran. They are doing just fine.

av_phile: To ask Hollywood to stay out of the picture, you might as well ask for the moon. They're too powerful politically and economically to stay on the sides.

We don't ask, we legislate.

av_phile: And there are new developments in all-digital movie production that we will need to revitalize our industry, rather than using or enhancing those old movie recording euipment.

We don't need Hollywood for that. Lav Diaz is doing a digital movie; so is Tikoy.

av_phile: For sure we can't beat 'em. Might as well join 'em.

Lee Tamahori, Geoff Murphy, Roger Donaldson. Sound familiar? Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark, Milos Forman, Roland Emmerich, Wolfgang Petersen. These are people who joined Hollywood, and ended up making Hollywood crap. There's the rare John Woo or Paul Verhoeven who succeeds--somewhat--within the system, but I much prefer their native product.

av_phile: Movies small fry? With each hollywood movie generating box-office returns about the equivalent of a brand-new Boeing 747 jet . I think worldwide, it's even bigger than the aviation industries combined.

Is wrong. The aviation industry is a multibillion dollar industry, you're talking about hundreds of Boeings, not even considering other planes, subsidiary industries, airports.

Movies are strictly small fry, and the Philippines is a small market to Hollywood--Japan is the biggie, and even then Jack Valenti has only so much say over how US should dictate foreign and economic policy to open up the Japanese market.

Oh, I forgot the Chinese. The US is droooooling over that market, but the Chinese are a hard nut to crack. They do pretty good movies too, and it's a successful little industry. Again, by tightly regulating the Hollywood imports.

The ADB, IMF, World Bank don't even look at Filipino movies, or movies in general. I know, I have talked to those people for years. Well, they've done the odd study or so, but that's as far as it goes.

av_phile: How old is the Filipino film industry? I think those post-war films were the toddler years of our cinema. Aping those hollywood movies was like what budding fine arts students do when copying artworks of the masters to sharpen their technical skills before their own individualistic artisitic styles can shine through.

Unfortunately, the aping continued to the 70s and uo to now. The problem is that hollywood has also been evolving in both technical, production, directing and artistic stykes. Starting with those glossy musicals and Greta Garbo films under the studio stable system of the 30s to the 50s, then to the adolescent rebel years of the 60s and 70s starting with those James Dean films and the French Connection-like films. The materials and the neo-realist styles and themes evolved. Along the way, pinoys have been mimicing one change after another, never really finding their own indivdualism or signature.

The first film was shown in the Philippines in 1897; the first Filipino film made by Filipinos was shown in 1919. Before World War 2, we were doing 60 films a year, and was the most advanced moviemaking center in Southeast Asia.

Arguably the greatest Malaysian moviemaker ever was Filipino Ramon Estella, who made films there and taught the Malaysians how to make films. We did musicals, horror, dramas, action, comedies--you name it.

After the war, we were doing neorealism (Anak Dalita (The Ruins)) and noir (48 Oras (48 Hours)). Manuel Conde's Genghis Khan so impressed film critic James Agee (ever read him? Classic volumes on film criticism, the scriptwriter for African Queen and Night of the Hunter, and a Pulitzer Prize winner) that he befriended Conde and championed his film to Venice film festival. Gerardo de Leon continues to dazzle film critics today (ask Pierre Rissient, ask Tony Rayns), and reportedly impressed even David Lean. De Leon was influenced by Ford, admittedly, but also Kurosawa, and he wrapped that great film style of his around subjects that were quintessentially Filipino.

Hollywood has influence--that much I know. But there are filmmakers then, filmmakers in the '70s ((Lino) Brocka, (Ishmael) Bernal, (Mike) de Leon, Celso Ad. Castillo, Mario O'Hara) who resisted that, and learned not from Hollywood but from de Sica and Fellini.

Today, O'Hara, de Leon (Mike, not Gerardo) and Lav Diaz have moved beyond that neorealist style into different directions. De Leon is inspired by Kubrick and Antonioni; Diaz by Tarkovsky and Kurosawa Kiyoshi and Hou Hsiao Hsien--admirable models indeed. O'Hara--well, I don't know where his influences come from. He's never seen a Godard, or Renoir, or Hou Hsiao Hsien or Wong Kar Wai, so I can't tell...but of the three his is possibly the wildest imagination. Check out Sisa or Pangarap ng Puso (Demons).

Tikoy Aguiluz carries on in the neorealist tradition, a la Brocka, but he has a canny commercial sense and sharp nose for a good story that almost helped him break out internationally with Boatman (he sold that to Warner Brothers) and with Segurista (Dead Sure). Still have expectations of him. And who knows, Celso might still surprise us.


This post is a part of andy horbal's Film Criticism Blogathon. Other entries include:

At Lost in Negative Space Peet Gelderblom takes a good, hard look at the film criticism of Armond White and discovers that this famously anti-hipster critic is, in fact, one himself (he must be one of them self-hating hipsters... ) in a fine piece called "The contrarian fallacy: Armond White vs. the Hipsters."
So you want to be a film critic, huh? Please, go to Last Night with Riviera and read Matt Riviera's post about "10 Thoughts on Watching and Appreciating Film." Film criticism cannot be simply about evaluating movies. It must be an active attempt to engage films on their own terms, to understand them and how they work. These ten thoughts describe an approach to film that is prerequisite for good criticism.
At Flickhead (home of the recent Forrest J. Ackerman Blog-a-Thon) you'll find an assortment of delightfully provocative statements about film criticism introduced with a wonderful quote from John Simon. There's potential for a great discussion here: I know I'll be spending time with this post with my morning coffee tomorrow!
Jim Emerson, who's supposedly on vacation, has posted his initial (!) contribution to the 'thon, a piece called "Pearl of the South: A tale of two reviews." This post functions not only as a fine appreciation of the late Robert Altman's masterpiece Nashville (1975), but also as a reminder that a good critic is more than simply someone whose opinion closely mirrors one's own. By accepting two critics' (Bob Strauss and Jonathan Rosenbaum) invitations to look at the new film Bobby (2006) in comparison to Nashville, Mr. Emerson pays tribute to the old idea of historically grounded film criticism (the role of the critic is to place new films in the context of film history) while at the same time exploiting the potential of the internet (by responding immediately and directly to these reviews) and pointing to the future.
Writing at his blog Critic After Dark, film critic Noel Vera shapes a messageboard debate into a fully-realized piece of writing on the state of Filipino film industry, specifically in regards to its relationship with Hollywood, called "The Hollywoodization of Filipino films." Like Jim's piece, this is an example of film criticism that utilizes the unique possibilities of the internet. And also like Mr. Emerson, Noel has suggested that more posts may be forthcoming!
The wonderfully erudite and prolific film writer/critic/blogger (but not necessarily in that order) Peter Nellhaus weighs in from Thailand with his thoughts on the recently-controversial critic and screenwriter Paul Schrader, specifically in regards to Schrader's book Transcendental Style. As Mr. Nellhaus mentions, religion is in in Hollywood these days, and now might be fine time for me to introduce myself to this book...


andyhorbal said...

Noel, I love it! Can I post a link to this as your contribution to the film crit blog-a-thon?

Noel Vera said...

andy: you likee, go usee! My pleasure!

chris--yep yep yep yep. Tomorrow I post two articles that, well I won't say I can take credit for what happened, but it's about time, dammit!

Noel Vera said...

This isn't an interview, by the way, tho someone mistook it for one. It was a debate I had--admittedly I started it--with a very dim bulb who just couldn't get his mind to wrap around the notion that Hollywood isn't the salvation of the Philippines, but its very opposite.

Actually the debate was about a third longer--I cut out a lot of repetition, and moments when I, for the umpteenth time, had to explain some point I already put across.

Later we had a more hostile discussion on The Passion of the Christ, where he declared that the film was hardly anti-Semitic and that he was more for religious faith than historical accuracy, never mind what more intelligent people might say. Shows you what wattage rating he was running on.

andyhorbal said...

I really do think that this is fantastic, Noel! I like to think of film criticism as a "conversation," and I'm always delighted to see this literalized into the form of an actual debate or discussion as you've done here. And, of course, as ever I enjoyed this latest lesson in my ongoing education on Filipino film and filmmaking!

Noel Vera said...

Well, it's a conversation in the sense that he set em up and I knocked them across the room. But an exchange between equals it sure ain't--leastwise I didn't feel it was. The feelings got really ugly when it came to the Passion of the Christ debate. That was a teacup-tempest of epic proportions.

Unknown said...

sir, i am currently doing a thesis on your topic, a critic on filipino mainstream movies using Friedrich Nietzsche's duality of art as somewhat is turned to slapstick than educational or somehow nonsense in nature. I do agree on your thoughts that our mainstream movies are mostly a copy of hollywood's films, try to compare the new version of petrang kabayo and the devil wears Prada and other films, you will find a lot of similarities. Sir, can I get some of your insights about my thesis... thank you sir