Saturday, December 26, 2009

The 10 Most Important Filipino Gay Films of the Decade (2000-2009)

I tried to avoid the word "important", because it's such a snooty concept. But there was no escaping it. The Pinoy gay film exploded in number and diversity in the last ten years, that it seemed necessary to identify the landmarks -- in chronological order, to see how we got from there to here. So this is not a list of the biggest critical darlings (Jay and Selda are not here), nor my personal guilty pleasures (Otherwise, there'll be Boylets) -- though they can be those, too. I simply asked: Can I imagine the decade in Philippine gay culture without these films? Or, Can I imagine moving into the future without having passed through them? Then I chose ten because it's a neat pretty number. A few crowd favorites have been left off (Ang Lihim Ni Antonio, Daybreak). Your friends or friends of friends will recommend unlikely titles (Wen Timawa Meets Delgado, Last Supper No. 3, or Imburnal, perhaps?) because people have varied tastes, and some films tend to get more appreciated as time goes by. But the following are the few that are must-sees if only because, in the decade that's closing, they've already made the most indelible impact.

Markova: Comfort Gay (2000)
Directed by Gil Portes
Written by Clodualdo Del Mundo, Jr.
RVQ Productions

The 21st century started with much jonesing for history, in the aftermath of the centennial of Philippine independence. Markova put a real-life gay face to our past, turning "comfort gay" into a household name for homosexuals raped by Japanese soldiers in WWII. By following the life of Walter Dempster, Jr., from young sexual awakening to a senior citizen living in a home for the gay aged, the drama traces a path of survival. Too bad it's the image of the flaming victim that stuck, in no small part due to the film's own shortcomings. But it boasts the biggest casting stunt in Philippine cinema to date; The title role played by three actors: Dolphy, a comedian always loved for his effem caricatures, and his two sons, Eric Quizon (a former heartthrob pestered by gay rumours) and Jeffrey Quizon, in the performance that jumpstarted his career as an actor's actor.

Duda (Doubt, 2003)
Written and Directed by Crisaldo Pablo
Grupong Sinehan

Movies have been shot in digital before, but it was Pablo's low-tech, low-budget model of distribution that was groundbreaking: He lugged around his own video projector to host pockets of screenings, thus birthing the so-called digital revolution we know today. It would have meant nothing if the film itself wasn't urgent -- an ultra-personal account of a tumultuous same-sex relationship in a circle of upwardly mobile friends, a slice of non-stereotypical realism that needed a drastic underground approach to find its audience -- picture and audio quality be damned. And found us it did. Thanks also to those first few who willingly shelled money to see something untested, the payoff to the gamble. The pioneering success of Duda directly led to all the independently produced digital releases -- gay or not -- that made its way into theaters thereafter. If Philippine cinema was believed to have been dying at the time, it took one small gay film to change the game.
Related Link: "TBR Answers Your Burning Questions #2"

Bathhouse (2005)
Written and Directed by Crisaldo Pablo
Grupong Sinehan

If Duda was the punch, Bathhouse was the knockout, proving Pablo's first venture was no fluke. It also announced something larger: By situating his drama in the darkened, members-only club for men, where "no callboys allowed", Bathhouse made real the existence of a gay community, away from mainstream eyes. Who knew? This was a place where our young hero (Rayan Dulay) made friends, found love, grew up, and found himself. He even became an asshole, and that's part of the process. It wasn't the self-loathing macho dancer bar of our parents' generation. Bathhouse was so attuned to the times, yet we wonder what took so long to make a film like it.

Masahista (The Masseur, 2005)
Directed by Brillante Mendoza
Written by Boots Agbayani Pastor
Centerstage Productions

Masseurs are the noughties' new macho dancers -- male sex workers that stand in for the general malaise of the Filipino people. (Not to say the macho dancer genre died.) But Masahista deliberately moved away from exploitation territory into oblique and gray -- in both look and feel -- as it somberly depicted a masseur's handling of one of his gay clients, and alternately, his father's funeral. With festival laurels, the movie ushered in a new era of arthouse Filipino films. It will most easily be remembered, however, for introducing us to two talents that would dominate the latter half of the decade: Brillante Mendoza, whose persistent "real time" dogma would culminate in a Cannes Film Festival award for Best Director for Kinatay, and his muse, actor Coco Martin, who would shine in all his gay and gay-friendly roles before becoming a TV soap star even our mothers would love. That their careers are only beginning makes the next decade exciting.

Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005)
Directed by Auraeus Solito
Written by Michiko Yamamoto
UFO Pictures

The freshness shocked the nation out of its torpor: Here was a movie about an adolescent femme boy (why only now?) who lives in poverty with his family of macho crooks, who are totally accepting and loving, until he starts to fall for the honest cop twice his age. And it all slid smoothly down our throats, mainly because the tender, truthful film gave the kid dignity. The runaway hit from the first Cinemalaya Festival, it demonstrated the possibilities of what a local fund aid can achieve and what a film could become: A record number of top awards from major international festivals, the biggest box office earnings for an independent film (later topped by Kimy Dora), and the paradox that a queer movie can be sweet and innocent without shying away from sexuality. Many filmmakers have since been trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle.

ZsaZsa Zaturnnah Ze Moveeh (2006)
Directed by Joel Lamangan
Written by Dinno Erece
Regal Films

Easily the decade's most original and lasting superhero creation was Carlo Vergara's Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah, first a graphic novel, then a stage musical, about a lonely gay parlorista who swallows a giant rock to transform into a buxom superwoman. The movie adaptation successfully broadened the popularity of the character, bringing it to the family-friendly Metro Manila Film Festival. Though not as emotionally resonant as the comix or the musical, the movie remained faithful to the plot and the campiness, and tried to extend the gender politics, though rather sloppily. But it did have another milestone in actor Rustom Padilla, a former matinee idol, who proves there's life after coming out as a transsexual. Does that mean the Philippines is progressive? Let's see if it happens again.

Ang Lalake Sa Parola (The Man in the Lighthouse, 2007)
Directed by Joselito Altarejos
Written by Lex Bonife
Viva Digital/Beyond The Box Productions

The change had already been encroaching, but Ang Lalake Sa Parola made it official: The erotic film of choice had shifted from straight to gay. We've stopped making female bold stars, but here, Justin De Leon and especially Harry Laurel became overnight sex idols. That the low-budget digital drama was produced by Viva, a studio that used to make the same but straight, confirms it. The tropes of the genre -- a bucolic setting, the repressed desires -- have been effortlessly lifted to fit what is basically a romantic story of homosexual awakening. Most of all, the movie put the Penis back onto the silver screen, which prompted an X from the MTRCB (Movie and Television Review and Classification Board), so they cut it out. But before you can snap your testicles, the full frontal became the formula for gay box office draw. Hate it? Or love it, because in the fight for gay rights, visibility matters. Either way, we have Parola to thank.
Review: Ang Lalake Sa Parola

The Thank You Girls (2008)
Written and Directed by Charliebebs Gohetia
Brooklyn Park Pictures

They're beauty pageant losers traveling the Mindanao countryside for a shot at tiny barrio contests, along the way conversing in Dabawenyo gayspeak, and basically living their lives as one big show, third-world style. They're walking, sashaying embodiments of the marginalized. At the tail-end of the decade when the newly found freedom of making (and earning from) gay films had resulted in a glut of myopic sameness, this regional ensemble comedy starring real-life transgenders confronts us with a reminder: What other stories of other queer people in other regions of this country are never told, but must?
Review: The Thank You Girls

Sagwan (2009)
Directed by Monti Puno Parungao
Written by Arnold Mendoza and Monti Puno Parungao
Roca Productions

At the end of the noughties, the gay sexual liberation in movies had spawned a full-blown backlash. And every misunderstood genre has its whipping boy. Sagwan -- with its nihilistic credo and unabashed, expertly executed eroticism, about tour guide rowers moonlighting in the sex trade -- fit the profile at just the right time. Critics have used it as an example of bad, harmful filmmaking -- of smut! -- to try to extend the jurisdiction of the censors to MTRCB-free venues like the University of the Philippines, where the film had its packed premiere without cuts. Like Live Show in 2001, or Larry Flynt's Hustler, we may find our right to see what we want, or to say what we want, rests on a silly little underdog -- a far-from-perfect, but vital, piece of trashy art.
Review: Sagwan
"Should U.P. Ban Gay Porno?"

In My Life (2009)
Directed by Olivia Lamasan
Written by Olivia Lamasan, Raymond Lee, and Senedy Que
Star Cinema

After a lifetime of struggle for gay representation, the most mainstream of movie studios in the country finally made a film with major gay characters played by major stars (John Lloyd Cruz and Luis Manzano). While the sensitive women's drama -- about a mother who comes to New York City to live with her gay son -- made no qualms about one of the character's homosexuality, the other's is left ambiguous, and the details of their intimacy are kept mostly invisible. Audiences have been divided: On the one hand, isn't it great not to make an issue of our sexuality? On the other, are we so ashamed that we need to hide it? With no other film as gauge, the widely distributed In My Life stands as the one testament to how mainstream moviemakers -- and audiences -- view gay people at this point in our history, and the extent to which they can accept them. Will it go any farther in the next decade?
Review: In My Life

This article is part of a series of The Bakla Review's "2000's Decade In Review". Check back often for more.


Anonymous said...

Thank you - Dinno Erece

joelmcvie said...

How interesting. You concentrated more on the social impact of these films more than their cinematic credits.

Thank goodness hindi ka na gumimik at natapos mo rin itong post na 'to.


johnnypanic said...

i love this list and your reason behind each choice. more power to you and your blog into the next decade!

gibbs cadiz said...

bravo! a cogent, well-argued, highly persuasive list. (kakapressure, TBR, but malapit na!) :)

Anonymous said...

fantastic list! my only complaint would be the inclusion of "Lalaki sa Paralo" which was far inferior to and less influencial than "Ang Lihim ni Antonio".

lilokpelikula said...

agree or disagree, this is a formidable list. and along with the ad's list, you just made great writings in 2009, the bakla review. more entries to come in the following years! be looking forward to them.

Anonymous said...

this is one gem of a review! i hope you don;t mind if i featured it on ALIWAN AVENUE! thanks and more power dahlin!

Vince of Discreet Manila said...

Great list! I like how you touched on all the pioneering and milestone films. Too bad I've only seen six of them. :-p

Anonymous said...

This list is perfection. Incredibly on point. Very well done.

ethan h said...

I know you only have 10 films to name but I think Joel Lamangan's gay films have also had an impact on the genre in the decade, and also created a star in Marco Morales, though he has yet to crossover back to the mainstream. Walang Kawala, Heavenly Touch and the other one are all terrible but they were hits and, as a result, he and his producers will keep making more.

I also think there should be the gay-straight love triangle movies, though not sure of the impact: Troika, Sikil and that one with Paolo Paraiso.

What's the next list? Made for video features, from instructional (as if) to to documentary to soft porn, both straight and gay. Viva Hot Babes, Provoq, Asia Agcaoili, M2M series, Ang Pagtatapat series, Eric Ramos, etc.

thethankyougirls said...

TBR, thank you, thank you, thank you very much for including TYGin the list.. More brilliant articles in 2010! More power! =)

Jim Hohl said...

If you haven't yet seen The Thank You Girls, it will be shown in NYC on Jan 21, 2010. Please tell your friends! :-)

Anonymous said...

loved the list! Gave me a wonderful idea for an event. Screen all of these movies over the course of a month. Hmmm...

Darc Diarist said...

this is awesome!

littlegapanese said...

unparalleled! keep amazing the queer planet.:)

ADRIAN said...

hmmm... Why not Masahista for number one? but what not, great list indeed, been looking for this line up for awhile, haha, finally found it.

Golden Anvil said...

Interesting, intriguing, intelligent. Love the list! Each film's "importantness" was summed up so deftly. In one word, my kudos to you and your list would have to be: Bongga! :)

Anonymous said...

While I respect your opinion on this list you made, I find it baffling that you actually consider Cris Pablo's movies "important". All of his works can hardly be considered as movies and are not even worthy of screening because of poor execution and taste, and to make it even worse, poor acting.

The Bakla Review said...

@ ethan h: you got me! i've already been working on the direct-to-video list with a partner blogger. you're also right that i considered walang kawala and troika for this top 10, but shaved them off.

@ adrian: the list is not ranked according to importance. it's in chronological order.

@ anonymous (commenter #18): even bad movies are still movies. also, movies can still make great contributions despite their technical flaws, as proven by the two cris pablo films on this list.

thanks to everyone who shared their cheers. and to the filmmakers who dropped by: it was my pleasure to celebrate your films.

Adrian Mendizabal said...

oh sorry!! but great great list!

Anonymous said...

The gods tempt people for which they are most weak. Artificial Intelligence will create desire in people's minds for the following sins:::
1. Alcohol
2. Drugs
3. Preditory "earning"
4. Homosexuality
5. Gambling
6. Something for nothing/irresponsibility (xtianity)
7. Polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny (Islam)
Much like the other prophets Mohhamed (polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny) and Jesus (forgiveness/savior), the gods use me for temptation as well. In today's modern society they feel people are most weak for popular culture/sensationalism, and the clues date back to WorldWarII and Unit731:TSUSHOGO.
It has been discussed that, similar to the Matrix concept, the gods will offer a REAL "Second Coming of Christ", while the "fake" Second Coming will come at the end and follow New Testiment scripture and their xtian positioning. I may be that real Second Coming.
What I teach is the god's true way. It is what is expected of people, and only those who follow this truth will be eligible to ascend into heaven as children in a future life. They offered this event because the masses have just enough time to work on and fix their relationship with the gods and ascend, to move and grow past Planet Earth, before the obligatory xtian "consolation prize" of "1000 years with Jesus on Earth" begins.

The Prince of Darkness, battling the gods over the souls of the Damned.
It is the gods who have created this environment and led people into Damnation with temptation. The god's positioning proves they work to prevent people's understanding.
How often is xtian dogma wrong? Expect it is about the Lucifer issue as well.
The fallen god, fighting for justice for the disfavored, banished to Earth as the fallen angel?
I believe much as the Noah's Flood event, the end of the world will be initiated by revelry among the people. It will be positioned to be sanctioned by the gods and led for "1000 years with Jesus on Earth".
In light of modern developments this can entail many pleasures:::Medicine "cures" aging, the "manufacture" of incredible beauty via cloning as sex slaves, free (synthetic) cocaine, etc.
Somewhere during the 1000 years the party will start to "die off", literally. Only those who maintain chaste, pure lifestyles will survive the 1000 years. They will be the candidates used to (re)colonize (the next) Planet Earth, condemned to relive the misery experienced by the peasantry during Planet Earth's history due to their failure to ascend into heaven before the Apocalypse.
If this concept of Lucifer is true another role of this individual may be to initiate disfavor and temptation among this new poulation, the proverbial "apple" of this Garden of Eden. A crucial element in the history of any planet, he begins the process of deterioration and decay that leads civilizations to where Planet Earth remains today.
Perhaps it is both Second Coming and Lucifer, the gods planned one to deliberately transfer to the other to manage their obligation.

The gods killed Jesus for his evil.
Was Jesus and xtianity sold to elder Jews as revenge for Temple, unaware the gods intended it to spread to Europe, for which they paid with the Holocaust?
If this is true then I am NOT the real Second Coming, for Jesus was evil and the entire xtianity concept is based on wickedness.
Expect Lucifer is a good angel, one who fights for the poor disfavored pushed into their evil, charecterized by the gods as wicked to prevent wisdom from learning the god's ways.
And then the people must pay for the prophet's enlightenment by using him to initiate disfavor/temptation on the next planet Earth.

The sadistic gods didn't want a real rapist but they need to position this legacy so they manufactured one with AI.

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