Friday, October 27, 2006

Our kind of drama

"Impressions," TV Times, 26 March-1 April 1978


"And when morning came, they saw him hanging by his neck from a branch of the tree beside his house. Under this tree, he used to play as a young boy. Now, he hangs from it, dead."

Does not the imagery grip you, enrage you, swirl your whole self dangerously close to the drain of true human anguish? Of such beginnings, or such endings, are our kind of stories made. And such was the ending of the episode "Ang Pagbabalik" on the Palanca Memorial Awards Theater.

Technically, the episode was better than most, though not best by any measurement. The studio sets were too contrived and quite stiff. The sequence showing the children playing their games under the tree was too long. It could have been cut shorter but flashed onscreen more often than once, like a wispy memory that had stayed and cut grooves in Ronaldo Valdez's mind, like the other images that came on, strong and pervasive, as he anguished through the essential questions of his problematic existence.

The story is what raises "Ang Pagbabalik" above the level of most local television dramas today: the story, and the sensibility that saw it not as a cliché from which the last drop of blood must be squeezed, but as a deeply personal and human experience, replete with dignity and pride.

By the turn of the century, if and when human life--as sci-fi writers would have us believe--is put into a straitjacket and all of man's physical needs are satisfied, our writers may have to write of life in the raw, of decisions made under overpowering pressure, of causes betrayed and friendships lost because the heart was weaker than the head, of utter loneliness and utter poverty, with a liberal dose of tears and gore. From such a perspective, stories like "Ang Pagbabalik" would already have become part of a faint and collective memory, without power and without impact.

But from the view of the now, when men are still fighting the earth, the seasons, injustice, and other men--desperately--when they are still dying bent over, when they have to be straightened out to fit into their coffins, or be buried without so much as a coffin, "Ang Pagbabalik" is a story that must be told dispassionately. Fortunately, and for this we must cite the teleplay, the drama was built on a surprisingly calm and spare narrative.

There is no undue outpouring of emotions and tears, no voices raised in wailing sorrow or uncontrollable anger. There is only the hungry, insistent cry of the baby--adding its own layer to the already thick layering of tension over tension. There is only the genuine loyalty of two women, their lips sealed against their own misgivings, adding weight to the personal crisis that the dissident, on his lightning trips home from the hills, must suffer. There is only the quiet agony of the dissident himself as he looks for clues to himself within himself, in the codes that govern his family and his group. And when finally, he loses his edge and breaks, he does so with hardly a sound, hardly a protest. It is left to his wife alone to shout the one last cry of pain and protest at the cruelty of life.

If we sound unusually overcome by "Ang Pagbabalik," it is because, for once, we got the kind of story we should have been getting all along from television. From other Palanca award-winners, we expect to get more than the charming, vacuous pap that most local television dramas give us. This is why we have, more than once in the past, called for a Palanca series.

"Ang Pagbabalik" justifies our faith in such a call.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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