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History in Film, Film in History

History in Film, Film in History
The tempered formula that 'Katips' adhered to, which Judy Taguiwalo identifies as contributing to the film's success, emphasized substance over form and historical accuracy over artistic license.

By Prof. Rowena Boquiren      

UP History Department

(The following article is a summary of Professor Rowena Boquiren’s appreciation for ‘Katips The Movie’ through the lens of a historian and former cultural worker.)

To do film reviews was one of my small tasks as a student cultural worker in the early years of martial law — for a section in a mimeographed one- or two-pager newsletter for public dissemination — to bring out critical commentaries against the pervasive sexy/slapstick comedy/action films then  (no computers, xeroxing, and social media platforms then; there was only FAMAS, no Manunuri even (Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino or MPP or the Filipino Film Critics  founded in 1976 and which started giving awards by 1977).  I was also a theater arts group member before and during early years under martial law, while being a history major.

My two basic points now re ‘Katips’:

1. Any review must consider the writer-director’s clarification on the film’s background — from a musical play, expanded to be on film, carrying as its core message about the trials faced by the young activists, the ‘new Katipunan’ before and during the years under martial law.

2. Message and purpose outweigh/put into context the limitations in scale (in terms of funding, location and spread of targeted audience) and some details in content, style and technicalities.

The production hurdled the diverse challenges very well as I nod over most comments, especially of Evangello Cyedel,  Eric Cabahug, May Rodriguez, Judy Taguiwalo, Ina Silverio at Kodao, and Richard Heydarian in his interview w/ Taňada the other day.

Evangello Cyedel’s technical comments about the musical play- turned film sets the context (consistent in space, time and culture that the historian’s methodology is strict about). Only a small remark that jarred the timeline in my reconstruction as I go along Cyedel’s words was about the ‘ rise of  disco and martial law at the same time’ (his own, not from Vince) because the disco as pop music genre and dancing destination (clubs) after work and school was in the late 70s. There were crucial adjustments that the new Katipunan youth (and the older mentors/colleagues) had reached by the mid-70s, hence significant though seemingly a slight mis-attribution. The disco genre was really new by the late ’70s.  Such difference was definitely not the experience of the ML babies nor of the present generations.

Eric Cabahug’s review of ‘Katips’ as Martial Law 101 aptly notes the use of the lecture-type narrative device. Other reviewers must not confuse this with some stage-like scenes in the film that are, to them, “nakaka-antok” or “nakakasawa.”  The stagey production as a new genre, as Vince explains, is not a limitation of the film production. Yes, the musical Katips of  2016 was followed by the musical ‘El Bimbo’ in 2018-2019.  The same El Bimbo the musical was streamed in 2020. Taňada  was brave : he turned the musical into a film to bring the core messages to a wider audience.

Nonetheless, a film at the movie house reachable to the public, to be commercially viable, must only be some two hours or so, and that was how editing in a few scenes was with swift shifts.

That the editing challenge in ‘Katips’ was to shorten the musical play-turned film production’s original 3-hour length to be more accessible to the cinema,  as Taňada explained in the interview is much appreciated. It is clear to the ‘Katips’ production that the slow cinematic movement is not (yet?) for the public movie houses.  The 4 hour and longer time aesthetic film production kind was clearly not Vince’s objective, not what became the trend in historical socio-economic and political class/family/personal struggles as theme in earlier films like Sari Dalena’s ‘Ka Oryang’ (2011) and Lav Diaz’ ‘Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan’  (2014) and ‘Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis’  (2016).

Content more than form, with more historical accuracy instead of artistic license — such is the tempered formula that ‘Katips’ followed, which Judy Taguiwalo reifies as plus facets in the film’s success.  What May Rodriguez describes as Tañada’s artistic weave of Bantayog ng mga Bayani as setting and film script is a progression from the chorus style of plays in the ’70s, and now intrinsically so in film. (I recall UP Reps’ -theatre in the round’ performance at the Sta. Ana    plaza, no less than the Catholic church was included in the set as the performers’ directional reference in the script, hence the audience connected!) More importantly as she puts it, ‘Katips embraced the Bantayog’s essential message — that our people dared to resist a violent and greedy regime and suffered much for it.’

Over-all, very realistic are scenes about the following:

— social conditions associated with the martial law period

— human rights violation (torture, salvaging, desaparecidos

— tests on familial and personal relationships

— contestations of idealist and realist facets in the middle class/ petty-bourgeoise psyche

Of the songs and torture scenes I agree with most comments especially Kristofer Purnell’s :  songs “with real, endearing inspiration and singes with go-for-broke intensity,” and the “graphic, harrowing, no-punches-pulled Torture and Rape section’ that was indeed ‘excellently mounted, shot, acted, and edited, as the film’s indelible highlight.’

‘Katips’ stands on its own. Comparison w/ the pubmats (advertisements) all over with disinformation is unwarranted.

Kudos Philippine Stagers Foundation and Director Vince Tañada!


Additional from my historian’s lens re plays and films : as my tribute to Behn on 15August, his 9th death anniversary

Response of performance artists in the university to the start of martial law was 50 years ago when UP Repertory Co. staged Severino Reyes’ ‘Walang Sugat’ (1902) and Aurelio Tolentino’s ‘Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas’ (1903), historical ‘seditious plays’ about the quest for true independence against Spain (in both plays) and caution against US colonialism (in the case of KNB). [I was vice-president who worked w/ Behn Cervantes in having the theatre group registered as a legal student organization. Dean Armando Malay was Student Affairs head with office at Vinzon’s Hall. Martial law was just declared, hence the historical plays were similar materials presented in the university.]

There were other performing arts groups then before ML was declared – PETA, Tanghalang Bayan, Panday Sining, Gintong Silahis, Kamanyang, etc. For the rest of the ’70s, a few were sustained and new ones formed – UP Rep, Tanghalang Ateneo, Sining Kambayoka. More and more enlivened theater groups evolved since the ’80s when People Power was a-brewing.

On films, the direction was from Behn Cervantes’ ‘Sakada’ (1976) and Lino Brocka’s ‘Insiang’ (1978) as well as those of Ishmael Bernal (too many to cite), to Raymond Red’s Bayani (1992) and the slow cinema movement films such as the earlier mentioned ones of Sari Dalena’s and Lav Diaz.

Those social realist films captured conditions of the time. Undercurrent nationalist fervor has been in performed stories of state repression, injustice, poverty and dysfunctional social relations.

These themes of the 1900s have been sustained over 45 years under US colonialism, the next 20 years under the Republic and up to now, specifically 50+ years still under the aegis of Marcos.

For progressive historians, the pursuit of social justice and national sovereignty continues in literary/performance/visual arts as well as organizing and political education, discreetly (‘underground’) or openly.

To link to reviews and comments that I cited :

Evangello Cyedel


Eric Cabahug, on ‘KATIPS’: MARTIAL LAW 101 ON DRAMATIC STEROIDS, August 7, 2022


May Rodriguez on Bantayog


Judy Taguiwalo


Kristofer Purnell on the songs

‘Katips’ review: Anger, love, history through song

August 4, 2022


Ina Silverio on Historical Accuracy and Creative License

August 10, 2022


Eric Cabahug, on ‘KATIPS’: MARTIAL LAW 101 ON DRAMATIC STEROIDS, August 7, 2022


May Rodriguez on Bantayog https://www.facebook.com/may.rodriguez.3720/posts/10222557948797417