It is notable that in his first book, Patrick Campos declares the “end of national cinema” – not to signal Philippine cinema’s death, but to revaluate “national cinema” in Philippine film criticism. Campos uses the term “end” in two ways. First, it refers to the limitations of national cinema as constructed by nationalist criticism, which emerged in the 1970s and 1980s during the period of Martial Law under Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship. Second, the “end” indicates the renewed purposes of the concept in the study of current Philippine cinema, which has been transformed by digital filmmaking. To elucidate these “ends” is the primary task Campos sets to carry out in this weighty, 665-page work, which contains a fresh approach to film criticism and historiography.
As he sketches the increasingly transnational characteristic of South-East Asian cinemas, such as those of Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Cambodia, Campos argues “it is now practically impossible to imagine cinema in strictly national terms.” He similarly contends “that cinema has in fact never been insular or merely national” (p. 12), implying a critique of how the dominant nationalist criticism in the country conceives it to be. At the end of the book’s introduction, Campos claims that “the end of national cinema is independence” (p. 24). To illustrate these points, the author focuses on the case study of Philippine cinema, which used to be one of the most prolific film industries in the world next to United States and India.1 With his innovative analytical method, he has successfully demonstrated the “ends” of national cinema. However, the theoretical discussion of his framework and its implication could have been more sufficiently fleshed out. Nonetheless, by demonstrating a paradigm shift – in both conceptual and methodological aspects –from earlier critics’ approach to Philippine film history and criticism, Campos’ work should be considered a significant contribution in the field of Philippine film studies.
Extensively revised from earlier published articles, the book’s chapters cover significant periods in the history of the country and its cinema: the Martial Law years in 1970s to 1980s, which produced the so-called Second Golden Age (Chapters 1, 2 and 3); the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, which coincided with the “death” of the Philippine film industry and the birth of digital cinema, reviving interest in Philippine cinema among critics and, significantly, foreign film programmers (Chapter 4, 5 and 6); finally, the last three chapters of the book focus on more overlooked aspects of Philippine film culture, tackling genre films (Chapters 7 and 9) or experimental historical films (Chapter 8). Because the rise of digital independent cinema dominated considerations of Philippine cinema at the turn of the new century, it is fitting that Campos has comprehensively mapped the discursive formation of “independence” and “national cinema” as it is constructed in the pioneering Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival (Chapter 4). Taken together, these seemingly disparate topics and themes illustrate the range of possible critical engagements in film criticism beyond the methodological confines of “national cinema.”
Without being dismissive of the critical contribution and value of nationalist criticism, Campos has revealed the “constructedness of the nationalist discourse.” (p. 106) Through his rigorous method, involving historical, discourse, and textual analyses, he adeptly demonstrates that there is a lot to be gained in transcending the nationalist framework. The author examines the ways old and new films produced in and outside the country are linked, traces discourses relating to auteurs and films, and combines these discussions with thorough textual and contextual analyses. Such a method entails a consistently meticulous historicisation and contextualization, resulting in some unconventionally long chapters – particularly those about two of Philippine cinema’s independent auteurs, Mike De Leon and Kidlat Tahimik (born Eric de Guia). Unlike more known auteurs, such as Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal, these two directors work mainly outside the industry and, in Tahimik’s case, outside the capital city. As such, they have created their own alternative cinemas that engage with “nation” differently.
Campos analyses at length the oeuvres of these two film artists. In Chapter 2, his novel retrospective reading of De Leon’s films (both the mainstream and the more “serious” ones), reveals the continuity of the director’s discourse on cinema and nation. In Chapter 3, Campos uses his critical reflections from his experiences of living with Tahimik to enrich his analysis of the auteur and his films. By providing the wider historical and social contexts of films made by De Leon and Tahimik, Campos revaluates these directors as artists and advocates. In both analyses, illustrations and their captions effectively aid in convincing the reader of his arguments. In Chapter 2, for instance, shots from De Leon’s films give us a sense of how the director cinematically represents his views on cinema and nation. Additionally, Chapter 3 contains photographs taken by Tahimik’s and stills from his films. These provide visual references to Tahimik’s cinema, one that, as Campos argues, is incomplete in the sense that it is always in the process of being made (p. 179).
The author once again demonstrates the gains to be made in resisting the strong pull of nationalist readings in Chapter 5, where he discusses new urban realist films. Analysing these films, he illustrates the inherently global nature of current Philippine digital independent films, as well as the cinephiles who watch them. Here he locates these films — more particularly Jeffrey Jeturian’s Kubrador (The Bet Collector, 2006) and Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay (The Execution of P, 2008), which were both exhibited more widely in international film festivals than in the Philippines – in national and global film culture in terms of themes and aesthetics. Campos does this to challenge the journalistic discourse that tends to link the directors to the brand of realism associated with Brocka, who first introduced Philippine urban realist films to the world via the Cannes Film Festival in 1976 with Insiang. Additionally, Campos disputes the discourse on new urban realist films as “world-class” and “radical” and claims instead that “if anything, it [new urban realism] is synchronized with global visual cultural fashions.” (p. 304) Consequently, Campos proclaims the originality of Kubrador and considers the historic win of Mendoza as Best Director at Cannes as a matter of good timing, one in which Philippine films are in synch with trends in global cinema.
In line with his method of historicising films, Campos links the new urban realist aesthetics to social realism in the films of the Martial Law era. Moreover, he compares digital independent cinema’s mode of production to low-budget filmmaking in late 1990s, called pito-pito (literally translated as “seven-seven”). As a response to the rising cost of filmmaking, commercial producers implemented the practice of shooting a film in seven days and finishing post-production in another seven days. At this time, the film industry was in decline due to a host of factors, including competition from Hollywood, high taxes levied on films, the increasing price of movie tickets (which, in turn, decreased the number of movie-going audiences), and the devaluation of the peso devaluation after the 1997 Asian financial crisis.2 In mapping out the connections that link otherwise disparate films, this chapter produces a clearer picture of Philippine urban realist film tradition.
Campos’ analytical method is commendable. It reveals complexities in constructing the history of cinema as it intertwines with that of the nation. The diligence with which he historicises and contextualises themes in his chapters reveals the utmost value he places in understanding continuities, disruptions and departures in the country’s film history. His approach unpacks a historical narrative of cinema that is richer in layers and textures. The book is therefore not only a contribution to Philippine film criticism but also to its film history.
For example, in Chapter 6 the author traces cinematic representations of rural space. He goes as far back as the birth of cinema in Europe before proceeding to Philippine cinema. Campos outlines the images of the Philippine rural landscape starting with Jose Nepomuceno’s Dalagang Bukid (Country Maiden, 1919), which is the first Filipino-produced film, to digital films of the 21st century. He examines the changing meanings of rural space in these films – from being a pastoral space in early Philippine cinema, a site of unrest in films made during the Martial Law era, to a space that is oppressed and hopeless at present. In so doing, he accounts for the ways in which cinema has articulated the trajectory of the country’s socio-political history.
Campos’ debut monograph is successful in demonstrating the analytic gains of the “end of national cinema” as an analytical framework. However, the reader is left with the task of carrying out their own synthesis of the wealth of concepts obtained from the individual chapters. A concluding section could have served to integrate the insights drawn from the author’s specific analyses. Taken together, such insights would have been the book’s theoretical contribution. In this non-existent ultimate chapter, Campos could have expanded his theoretical discussions on “independence” as the end of national cinema. Nonetheless, the book successfully illustrates the “ends” of national cinema – both the limits and renewed purposes – in Philippine film criticism. The author should be commended for giving us a persuasively written work whose importance matches its magnitude. It will surely foster a renewed interest among film scholars, critics and students of Philippine cinema.
Patrick Campos, The End of National Cinema: Filipino Films at the Turn of the Century (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2016).
- David Hanan, “An Introduction” in Films in South East Asia: Views from the Region: Essays on Film in Ten South East Asia-Pacific Countries (Hanoi: SEAPAVAA, 2001), pp. 15 ↩
- See Nicanor Tiongson, “Introduction,” in Idem. (ed.), The Urian Anthology, 2000-2009: The Rise of the Philippine New Wave Indie Film (Quezon City, Philippines: University of the Philippines Press, 2014), pp. 6-8. ↩