Three weeks ago, Archivo 1984 gallery at the La Fuerza compound in Makati screened the documentary Happy Days Are Here Again. It’s a Cirio Santiago production that weaves together many musical numbers from our big studio films from the 50s to the 70s, each segment introduced by the biggest stars of the day, from Gloria Romero to Nida Blanca to Tirso Cruz III.
But before some guests made it to the screening, they noticed a small space across Finale Art File that displayed some arrestingly colorful movie posters against a very green wall. A closer look revealed that the movies starred Filipino actors, but the posters were all made for a foreign audience—except for one: the poster for Noli Me Tangere (1930), the Rizal novel turned into a movie by Jose Nepomuceno, father of Philippine movies. According to Marti Magsanoc of Archivo 1984, it is the oldest existing Philippine movie poster. (Nepomuceno directed Dalagang Bukid, by the way, shown in 1919—the reason we’re celebrating Philippine cinema’s centennial this year.)
Except for Noli, Magsanoc says “all these films were exported abroad and shown and had theatrical release and hopefully archived abroad, too. All of these films are lost films except for Zamboanga and Forbidden Women and Atrocities of the Orient.” The collector and film conservation advocate says that the only way these films are seen again is if we retrieve them from their caretakers abroad. “It’s actually good that these films were exported because at least they were archived and there’s still a chance we may actually watch them again.”
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Magsanoc says the retrieval of these cinema gems and a campaign for film preservation should be the thrust for our 100th year celebration of local movies. “We don’t have any existing silent film or any Nepomuceno so I hope this year everyone will be more aware regarding the importance of film preservation, and our lost heritage, and all the films we have lost.”
Magsanoc’s Archivo 1984, which occasionally screens old Filipino films, is planning to unveil a lost prewar film produced by Nepomuceno Productions in the 1930s. “We are in current negotiations with an archive abroad to at least get an access copy to screen at the gallery before the centennial ends.”
Meanwhile, the La Fuerza poster show, called “Ticket to 100 Years of Philippine Cinema,” also exposes us to how foreign artists depicted our films. Clearly, there’s a lot of sensuality put into the interpretation—perhaps more than when when they were interpreted for local audiences. There’s Jose Padilla Jr. and Anita Linda in the thrall of a passionate embrace in the poster for Il Serpente Sulla Croce (Sawa Sa Lumang Simboryo by Gerry de Leon). There’s Pancho Magalona and Rosa Rosal in deep smooch in the poster for Cry Freedom. There’s the half-naked Fernando Poe Sr. eyeing a Rosa del Rosario wrapped in a tapis in the poster for Zamboanga—the oldest existing Pinoy film (1937) discovered by the film scholar Nick de Ocampo at the US Library of Congress.
“These posters are also so rare and were released on a limited basis—around 100 copies—in Europe and the United States (Atrocities of the Orient),” says Magsanoc. “These have never been shown in the Philippines. People were actually surprised to know that a large Noli me Tangere poster existed. Film scholars only saw the movie ad but never the poster.” Magsanoc says the difference between a poster and a movie ad lies in the size.
There are two films in the show released in Europe in 1964, hence the Italian posters. One is directed by Eduardo de Castro (director of Zamboanga) starring Fernando Poe Sr and Mona Lisa. It’s original title is Forbidden Women from 1948 but it was released in Italy in ‘64 as Tictaban L’ isola dell amore proibito. The other film is Il Serpente Sulla Croce, directed by Gerry de Leon and released in Manila in 1952.
What was happening in Italy in ‘64? And how did the Filipino films get there? Magsanoc’s explorations also revealed to him that another year Filipino films were shown in Europe was in 1948.
The NCCA’s Teddy Co, a film archivist, has two theories supplied by Magsanoc from their correspondence: “Marco Muller, who became director of Venice Filmfest later, was corresponding with me back in the 80s and sent me xerox of an old Italian film catalog, which listed films from the Philippines. The titles included Gerry de Leon's horror films, but also IL SERPENTO SULLA CROCE (1954). That's SAWA SA LUMANG SIMBORYO. A handful of other titles listed too. I now remember Ben Pinga telling me that he had managed to connect [film producer] Cirio Santiago with some Italian distributors, and Cirio did some business, but never gave Pinga any reward or commission.”
His second theory: “My guess is that Remy Monteverde of Regal, which was already in operation as a film distributor, may have been selling Pinoy films there. I interviewed him once and he mentioned a certain Francesco Fele as his Italian contact or business partner. Later he released a lot of spaghetti westerns in Manila, starting in the mid 60s, and even produced co-productions with Italian directors like Antonio Margheriti (Anthony Dawson) during the 70s. I remember him say this names, Fele and Margheriti, back in 1990. More research needs to be done, but i've given you an initial lead.”
The Archivo 1984 show also serves as an exercise in movie poster preservation which is not existent in the Philippines. Sadly, the sole purpose of movie posters in the country ends in the movie theater window together with—when they were still in fashion—lobby card stills showing scenes from the feature being screened. The only reason Magsanoc was able to put together the poster show of Vic Delotavo last year at the Vargas Museum was because he bought the collection from the designer himself. Delotavo is essentially the most prolific movie poster designer in our history, with a career that spans three decades—decades which also happens to be the most prolific in local film.
The Archivo 1984 show happens to be up at the same time that the CCP is showing a collection of posters of its productions through the years, making another case for posters to be considered art. “For the Pinoy collector, a poster is not an art; it is just pop culture or memorabilia. In Europe and the States, posters are considered fine art, and art displayed together with artworks,” says Magsanoc. “Pinoys have an aversion to collecting paper. Wala daw value at mahirap alagaan. Gusto ng Pinoy oil on canvas lang. Many of us don’t understand how beautiful and elegant paper works are.”
We only need to look at the posters in this feature to be convinced of what Magsanoc is saying.