Thursday, January 17, 2008

No dark nights there

There was one significant aspect of local television production that was never more than mediocre in the late '70s and even into the '80s. I don't know if it has improved today, as I don't watch local TV dramas anymore. But at the time, the totality of the mood communicated to the audience, always through multiple factors--set design, lighting, costumes, camera angles and movement, environmental elements, blocking--never quite came across as one would have expected it to.

In fact, during my involvement with local television, one thing stood out in my mind: the emotional mood of an episode was not a concern for most production people, perhaps not even for many TV directors. The most appreciated settings were the busy, literal ones, with as many objects and things as the production staff could fit into a taping studio.

As for the intricacies of mood-setting, forget it. Television is neither theatre nor cinema. Add more flowers here, place another faux blue-&-white there; what else, for God's sake, would the camera focus on when the script is only a storyline and the actress cannot cry?

"Impressions," TV Times, 8-14 July 1979


Theoretically, the dramatization of the story of Rowena Galvez holds one of the most potentially powerful combinations available on local television: a story of contemporary angst, a competent cast, Alma Moreno in the title role, all under the direction of Mario O'Hara. In actuality, the production was a cursory effort, better than many local dramas because a mediocre effort by O'Hara can still result in something better than some local television directors' best, but short of power and passion.

Which saddens us much. When we see the rare elements of art--all so manifestly there, within grasp, just waiting to be realized--left unrecognized, untapped, we feel deep regret. At its best, the story of Rowena Galvez on Alindog could have been a lighter but equally gritty evocation of O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night, or a bantam version of Bergman's Cries and Whispers or Allen's Interiors. The seeds are all there.

The story is honest, lyrical, touching, a story of the conflict between two generations. It begins with robust spirit, turns to profound conflict, ends in internal anguish and defeat. The tragedy is right there in the ominous, oppressive atmosphere in the Galvez home, in the years of shared despair and mutual disappointments, in the jealousy and envy, in the disastrous efforts to make up for what one was deprived of in favor of the other, in the young's growing intolerance for the mistakes and weaknesses of the old, in the old's hell-bent insistence on obedience and respect from the young. The human situations the situation exposes, the human truths it presents, are as gapingly fresh as open wounds.

There is Alma Moreno, giving the whole episode a persistent, nagging pulsebeat--of indecision, of love, of responsibility, finally of torment. Hers is a taut performance, only very obscurely hinting at a father fixation that shall be her undoing. She is essentially an innocent: walking away from her father is something she can neither comprehend nor manage. She is more hypnotized than radicalized by her father's blind rages and her mother's nervous attacks. She allows the old to devour her life, retaining her sanity the way our women have always done in the shadow of emotional blackmail--by gritting her teeth and putting on her mask. As many of us still do, she accepts emotional violence and duplicity the way she accepts rain and fire--as aspects of life, matters of luck, tests of patience and perseverance, stepping stones to salvation. In the end, she is doomed and defeated, her pain truly palpable, almost excruciating, as she is caught in the final scene, sitting alone at an empty table, looking at nothing, caught in the pain, the loneliness, the reality.

There is also a supporting cast that truly supports. The father is Tony Santos, Sr., a frustrated personality whose need to control his family springs from his own insecurities and a very personal cruelty. Is he stupid or tragic?

The mother is Anita Linda, a confused, ineffectual, sickly wife trying to assert herself in front of the dragon. Within her limited role, she lends flickering pathos and tender poignancy to the episode.

The brother is Ricky Sandico, the delinquent son, out of step with society, delivering strained broadsides against another generation as if he were at his own wake. His decision is, however, the most liberating of all: he wrenches himself from the womb of place to seek rebirth through unbirth. Unlike Aeneas, he is not going to carry his father through their burning Troy.

With Alma Moreno delivering a creditable performance, with Tony Santos, Sr., Anita Linda, and Ricky Sandico acting with competence if not excellence, with a story that strikes a raw chord in contemporary nerves, why is the story of Rowena Galvez on Alindog less than a television event?

Because while the story is powerful, the dialogue is melodramatic, ridden with ghastly clich├ęs, in some parts banal. Because while the substance may be tragic, the form is prosaic. Because while it may be dark night in the soul of Rowena Galvez, it always seems to be high noon in that studio set. Because while the pain may indeed go deep, the scenes look curiously flat, lacking mood, ambience, highlights--lacking soul.

-- NBT

No title in original published article

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