Scanning television programming last Holy Week lead me to watch Lino Brocka’s “Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa” (1974). In the second and third episode, I was struck by the acting styles of three of Philippine cinema’s most competent actresses: Anita Linda and Hilda Koronel in “Hello Soldier” and Lolita Rodriguez in “Bukas, Madilim, Bukas.” Watching them act brings to mind my fascination with schools of acting in Philippine cinema. For a while it is fruitless to talk about who the best actress is among the lot, it is quite interesting to map the traditions of acting which our better actresses descend. Since much of the acting of our actresses is intuitive and is not schooled in, let us say the realist Stanislavski tradition and its expression in the Method, or the Brechtian philosophy of social gesture, the best category of analysis to probe is not style, but the body and how it articulates emotion. Here lie particular problems and possibilities. Inasmuch as it is the body that coordinates performance, the expression is derived from a certain authenticity of emotion which is either of the moment or processed in the history of feeling the actress as social person has gone through. But because, by the same token, it is the body that is the main instrument of acting, the quality of the body and susceptibility to stereotyping limit the range of portrayals. There are also, of course, other factors to consider like the irresistible habits of Spanish and American colonial theater, the market demands of Hollywood, and the imperatives imposed by other mass media forms like radio and television. Still, the body and the process of embodiment of emotion are key to the appreciation of certain tendencies in acting. We now list random schools of thought in Philippine acting, with body parts as locus of action and source of idiosyncratic flair.
01. The “gigil” school which demands high energy, intensity and stamina in gesticulation as gleaned in the heavygoing styles of Vilma Santos, Charito Solis, Coney Reyes, and Maricel Soriano.
02. The “dibdib” school which plumbs the depths of repression to flesh out violation of the darkest kind as exemplified by Nora Aunor, Gina Alajar, and Nida Blanca.
03. The “sumamo” school which forces the actress to almost grovel in supplication as if on the verge of breakdown as rendered with subtle nuances and gross oversimplifications by Dawn Zulueta, Aiko Melendez, Julie Vega, and Judy Ann Santos.
04. The “bukas palad-tahip” school which allows the actress to compensate lack of facial acting with the repetitive up-and-down movement of arms as if in winnowing motion as best typified by Dina Bonnevie, Gretchen Barretto, and Sharon Cuneta.
05. The “dilat-litid” school which is the stark opposite of the previous in that it rarely uses body parts other than the eyes, which glower, and the mouth, which exerts the most dramatic vocal pressure, as executed with grace and precision (but sometimes with paranoia) by Lolita Rodriguez, Hilda Koronel, Vivian Foz, and Snooky Serna.
06. The “ngilid-ismid” school which contrues dramatic acting in terms of the ability of the performer to stifle sobs, make the eyes appear teary, and arrest the fall of tears (which are only made to well around the lids); the actress finishes of the act with a signature sarcastic grin as if to feign control over obviously collapsing faculties. Exemplars include Lorna Tolentino and Alice Dixson.
07. The “taas-noo-taas-kilay” school which exudes an air of sophistication marked by a mannered delivery of English one-liners and catty retort, complete with rolling r’s, as honed to perfection and cult status Rita Gomez, Celia Rodriguez, and Pilar Pilapil.
08. The “tulala-titig” school which shows the actress, seized in catatonia and resignation, staring out into a clearing as practiced with varying success by Rosa Rosal, Susan Roces, Helen Gamboa, and Charo Santos-Concio.
09. The “tiklop-bisig-sabay-irap” school which stresses a point by asking the actress to fold her arms and place them close to the chest as she holds her head high and lets out a sneer, with pout and high-pitched admonition attending, as perfected by the likes of Gloria Diaz and Raquel Villavicencio.
10. The “nguya-halakhak” school which is actually the bold-star type of depicting street-smartness on the outside and profound anguish within as embodied by Jaclyn Jose, Sarsi Emmanuel, and Rosanna Roces, who chew gum as astutely as they chew on their troubles.
11. The “buntong-hininga” school which manifests exasperation and impatience by making the actress take a deep breath and then expel air in the most hyperbolic fashion, as noticed in the petulant but sometimes poignant temper of Sheryl Cruz, Janice de Belen, and Liza Lorena.
12. The “tirik-pungay” school which tries to simulate dementia by urging the actress to roll her eyes in almost pathological manner and engage in imbecilic talk as represented by Anita Linda and Armida Siguion-Reyna.
13. The “kagat-labi, kagat-daliri” school which essays the confused and panic-stricken look by asking the performer to bite her lips and, if all else fails, one of her fingers as manifested in the body of work of Barbara Perez, Delia Razon, and Leni Santos.
14. The “tikom-bibig” school which rules against the actress opening her mouth, the better for her to mumble like mantra a litany of “sama ng loob” against the world as ably demonstrated by Amy Austria and Gina Pareño.
15. The “nginig-baba” school which puts premium on the quiver around the mouth to denote tension, as lovingly cultivated into an art form by Zsa Zsa Padilla, Kris Aquino, and Vivian Foz.
16. The “lisik” school which is the standard “kontrabida” demeanor as codified in iconography of Carol Varga, Bella Flores, Zeny Zabala, Princess Punzalan, and Gladys Reyes.
These schools of thought in Philippine acting inevitably degenerate into mannerisms, convenient stylizations and affectations, and finally self-parody. In the absence of a serious consideration of acting as an art and profession, our actress simply resort to what they know best, what their hearts tell them, what their bodies are bent to express. Sometimes, they are betrayed by their knowledge, their emotion, and their own flesh and blood. But with a little education and distance from an almost natural reflex, our actresses can heighten their sensibilities and become one of the best in the world. It is not seldom we hear of international film festival directors remarking that Philippine actresses are able to save the films they are in by virtue of their heartfelt performances. Surely, as the Filipino word for performance (“pagganap”) indicates, acting is an enabling means of making and doing; it signifies the process of working toward a certain fullness or “kaganapan,” a labor and conception, the fulfillment of role. And if one is a good actress of the Philippine cinema, one must be true to the doubt that something is wrong with the world to which one is born and is committed to do something about it. We await the day when our actresses are finally able to do something about the art that expresses both their suspicion and struggle, a tradition of both acting out social condition and acting agent of its possible transformation. – Patrick Flores, Hot Seat Manila Standard, 2001 (READ MORE)
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