Sunday, December 10, 2006

A few good hours, maybe

"Impressions," TV Times, 28 January-3 February 1979


Again, and not just for the second time since the start of the year, I find myself sadly stymied. After being greeted by such glorious promise, I get thrown again into the dumps of discontent. The new year, trumpeted with so much noise as a watershed year for Philippine television, will bring back more of the old stuff. It is not good news for tired eyes.

I still expect some good hours, of course. Phyllis is totally disarming comedy, with the charm, spirit, and easy-does-it amiability of light farce. Blansky's Beauties, coming right after Phyllis, is a little like plopping down to earth after ricocheting among the skyscrapers--the comedy is a little too heavy--but it is still good enough for a half hour of eyestrain. I caught one episode of Love Experts and would certainly like to catch more. And I certainly promise friend and fellow columnist Julie Y. Daza a fair (and fearless!) review of her Star Games some week soon.

But of the serious stuff--the kind that I can write ecstatically about, the ones that challenge because, at times, the pen finds itself less fanciful than the screen--what? Very little, certainly. Not here yet, definitely.

The other week, I made sure to catch Alamat. The title itself promised fare more important than any sex comedy, local or foreign, and touched a sensitive nerve deep within: Had I not campaigned, unsuccessfully it always seemed to me, for shows that would bridge the gap between the past and the present, especially for a young generation that cannot possibly know itself until it knows its past?

Not that Aurora Salve and George Estregan, in that alamat about the sampaguita, are especially equipped to make our past clearer to us. Nor is Alamat history. But within its own limited sphere, Alamat can provide precious glimpses into the wealth--and absurdity--of our cultural heritage. Indeed, with the same painstaking and careful work that went into the production of Fort Santiago, Alamat could be a worthwhile addition to our television fare. That is, except for a few misses in that episode I watched.

For one, the casting. The maiden Guita should be fragile, pure, innocent. The sampaguita is such--fragile and delicate, almost unnoticed in the parade of more showy blooms, but hardy and steady, its roots firmly grasping the dry earth. Aurora Salve, however, is invulnerable and too blooming thick by half. She may have a firm grasp of the acting task, but there is more petulance than poetry in her steely eye and heavy stance.

George Estregan, on the other hand, suffers not only from a name that is more Germanic than Spanish (Frederick, in Spanish, should be Federico), but also from that brooding reverie that goes very well with the image of George Estregan the actor, but not with wounded Spanish pride nor genteel Spanish hauteur. And those Spanish soldiers had none of the height, the haughtiness, nor the visage of true Castilian types. Or should not a legend work with the more mundane stuff of types, prejudices, images?

The cinematography, though, is worth noting--competent, at times even inspired. The mood comes across beautifully in many instances, caught by the camera lens, mist before my eyes, seemingly motionless, like all true legends of the heart. But at other instances, I am a little uncomfortable, disturbed by the reckless and too-quick jump-cutting, by cinematic techniques that do not blend with the timeless and the poetic.

Fortunately, the use of a simple plot--much like that of a short short story--balances the effort at cinematic complexity. And the use of the ermitanyo character, while a device as old as Lola Basyang, ensures the attention of children who can never resist a story told by the old. The device also suffuses the show with the patina of the imperishable and the interminable.

All in all, Alamat is a project worth pursuing. A minor matter--at least, for me: Need the music be jarring and loud, as in the early sequence when Estregan was found, wounded, by the natives? I suppose that music was chosen to illuminate both the uncertainty of Estregan's condition and the strangeness of the tribal approach. Unfortunately, it came out a little distracting for the purpose.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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