Thursday, November 9, 2006

Friends, wars, wheels

"Impressions," TV Times, 10-16 September 1978


When a friendship is illuminated by a film of depth, intensity, and perception, it becomes the perdurable stuff of human existence. It assumes the true touchstones of the classic: inevitability and immutability. One cannot imagine it happening any other way, and one cannot imagine a time when it was not.

The friendship between American playwright Lillian Hellman and her friend, Julia, is one such friendship. Its mood is like poetry on a rainy night; yet, it is as lasting as the tides. Its texture is like a dream across the ocean waves: nocturnal, echoing, haunting. And at its center is the only thing on earth that can defy time and change: the heart.

We cannot let Julia move on, unappreciated by many Filipino moviegoers, as evidenced by the almost empty moviehouse where we watched the film, without putting on record how this quiet movie touched us and how we would like to keep it close to our hearts, to hug it with all the childlike affection and wonder still in us on nights when we are most alone and most ourselves.


Fort Santiago, except for a few anemic performances and a few inconsistencies in the development of character and the flow of storyline, is generally an admirable effort on the part of local television to present something other than tired sitcoms and tiring soap operas. The episode that starred Leila Hermosa in the role of a guerrilla widow, for example, was well-constructed.

The acting, however, was another story--an area where a good casting director who really knows his craft and uses his head could do a lot to propel Philippine television forward. A good casting director would have known that Leila Hermosa simply does not possess (yet?) enough depth and life for the role she was made to tackle. Nor do the talents who portrayed the roles of Hermosa's husband, the guerrilla hero, and their daughter.

Besides, for all her classic features, Leila Hermosa looked too heavy to effectively embody a grieving ruin of beauty. In our mind, the role was meant for somebody transparent, one through whom we could see and touch a precious past. Leila Hermosa was as solid as a mountain of pasta.

Despite these flaws and the obvious need for tighter editing of some portions of the episode, however, Fort Santiago is singular enough because it puts a little more time and energy into the details of production, escaping the tight and limiting confines of static studio sets in order to play around with more exciting and more realistic locations. This places the series a few notches above other local drama efforts.


During our time, we had one word to describe it: mush. These days, the word is still being used. And why not? What word best portrays the sickly sentimentality, the saturated and saturating sponginess of it all, but--mush?

Mushy it certainly is, when Rock Hudson is made to crown a solid performance as Adam Trenton in "Wheels" with a final sequence filled with nothing more than cloying romance. Bestsellers serials are not remarkable for high drama and impressive satire, or for searing reality and unnerving tension. But they are, admittedly, provocative entertainment--precisely the reason why the series is called Bestsellers.

The stories are often transformed visually to the small screen with enough mastery of technique and theatrics to keep us glued to the series, week after week, until the final sequence. How sad, then, when a character like Adam Trenton, whose whole life had been a true and unremitting search for perfection and growth in his career, must in the end be made to mouth lines made only for young boys on the throes of first love.

Another Bestsellers offering, "The Money Changers," ended in exactly the same way: mushy. Here was a man who had won his long and often insulting battle with the worst types--the true types, a friend interjects--in the world of big business, and his final scene must be a balcony scene only two details removed from Romeo and Juliet. We never did like balcony scenes: they are much too artificial and scripted. The balcony scene in "The Money Changers" was also weak, a disappointing ending to a series that had expertly built up the action, and our expectations, from week to week.

We remember another serial, Holocaust, which could easily have been made to end with a lot of mush. Fortunately, it did not. The ending of Holocaust was not very powerful, true. But it was not melodramatic and sentimental. In fact, it was an ending that was unfailingly honest to the spirit of its tragedy and to the continuity of human life and aspirations.

We had hoped "Wheels" would--up to the final scene and within the limited framework of its plot and subject matter--be equally true to the spirit of its controlling theme. Unfortunately, it sank in the mire of mush.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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