Two Films by Lino Brocka [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (19th March 2017).
The Film

“Two Films by Lino Brocka”

On May 22, 1991 in Quezon City at 1:30AM, a car crashed into a concrete pole after swerving to avoid an oncoming vehicle and two pedestrians. The driver was actor William Lorenzo who miraculously survived after being initially listed as in critical condition. The passenger on the other hand unfortunately died on impact. He was the acclaimed Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka, dead at the age of 52.

Brocka was one of the leading film directors from The Philippines with a filmography of over 40 directorial credits, ranging from commercially successful dramas to very controversial works that got him in trouble with the censors and the government. Most of his films were made during the Ferdinand Marcos regime, where the country was under martial law with media censorship having a huge impact on all Filipino media including cinema. As an openly gay man, Brocka often includes homosexual and transgender characters into his films, sometimes as the main focus and not just secondary characters which caused many issues with censorship, along with his films depicting life in the slums which the government did not want to show to audiences. Although at the time he stated that it was possible to bribe some of the censors directly, but there were quite a few of his films that suffered the consequences of cuts and in some cases threats from the government to claim the original negatives. Brocka’s biggest enemy was the first lady Imelda Marcos, infamous for her lavish lifestyle surrounding herself with riches and beauty that sharply contrasted with the average Filipino, and her stance on presenting Filipino arts to her own liking rather than giving artistic freedom to Filipino artists. Brocka was an active protester arrested on several occasions fighting for freedom while still striving to be an artist as a filmmaker.

The most controversial moment in Filipino cinema history came with the construction of the Manila Film Center in 1981 supervised by Imelda Marcos. It was constructed as the first film archive of The Philippines and was planned to be used for the first Manila International Film Festival in 1982. Around 3:00AM on November 17, 1981, a portion of the scaffolding collapsed and nearly 200 workers fell, with many of them trapped under along with quick drying wet cement. The Marcos administration quickly tried to silence the issue, not permitting media, rescue workers, or ambulances within the area until more than 9 hours after the accident. By this time, many workers were killed, suffocating in cement, or partially encased in cement. By noon, the incident was broadcast on TV and some workers were saved, with 169 workers confirmed dead or injured with an unconfirmed number of additional buried men, as there were many undocumented workers and the place was quickly back to having the scaffolding and flooring restored. The number of men still buried within the film center flooring is unconfirmed. The film center was finished by the January date of the film festival, which went accordingly by schedule. Brocka and many other Filipino filmmakers were furious with the incident and how the Marcos regime handled the situation and protested the building and the film festival, with Brocka never setting foot inside the supposedly haunted building, which in its later years went through earthquake damage, disrepair, and abandonment.

Brocka’s films and most of Filipino cinema have not been well represented in countries outside The Philippines. Filipino films were rarely exported and older films were not well stored for future audiences. Film festivals aside, it was hard to see any of Brocka’s films for international audiences but that is about to change with the release of the BFI’s collection entitled “Two Films by Lino Brocka” which includes two of his most well known and acclaimed films, “Manila in the Claws of Light” (1975) and “Insiang” (1976)

“Manila in the Claws of Light” AKA “Maynila: Sa mga kuko ng liwanag” (1975)

Julio (played by Bembol Roco and credited as Rafael Roco, Jr.) is a scrawny young man that gets a job at a construction site in Manila to make ends meet. The pay is poor, the working conditions are harsh, but the job is necessary as he has only one goal while in the city - find his girlfriend Ligaya (played by Hilda Koronel). Both Julio and Ligaya came from the same village in the countryside, but Ligaya along with a few other girls from the village were brought to Manila for better work and better pay to send back to their families. With a letter stating that Ligaya had ran away, Julio and her family had no way to find or contact here, which led to Julio making his way to the big city.

During his stay and search, Julio sees the darker aspects of the city life. Construction workers are treated terribly with little respect and little pay from the management. Workers come and go, and when one accident kills a person the workers are quick to get the body out and not tell the bosses - as a delay could also mean a stop to their salaries. He also sees the dangerous lifestyle of male prostitution. “Callboys” to service men for homosexual pleasures - an easy way to make money quickly. Cops are crooked, people cheat each other, and with the thousands of people all around, no one seems to be able to connect.

“Manila in the Claws of Light” was the first film by Brocka’s independent Cinemanila film company which was intended to be a company to make fully artistic Filipino cinema by doing everything themselves from financing, producing, marketing, etc. Unfortunately it only lasted for four films until the company shut its doors due to the lack of public interest in the films and the financial debt. The company’s first film truly showcased a side of independent and artistic work by Brocka, with a side of Manila that many knew about but had not seen on screens. The life of a man from the countryside living the poor life in the city was a harsh look and social mirror that was not depicted in cinema, as most Filipino films showed the middle or upper class rather than the lower. Another aspect that was different was the way the gay characters were portrayed in the film. Unlike comical caricatures, they were presented as real people in real situations. The callboys were there to make money and it didn’t matter what their sexual preference was. As the character Bobby (played by Jojo Abella says, he is not gay, but he knows that he can make a good living financially by affording a nice apartment with material goods - something that the character of Julio could not imagine.

“Manila in the Claws of Light” is not a grand epic beauty that John Ford’s 1956 film “The Searchers” is, but it is a story of finding the missing girl through desperate means. The means of revenge and anger towards society and class differences and the overall grittiness is very reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” which was actually released in 1976, a year after Brocka’s film. With “Manila in the Claws of Light” frequently placed at the top of the “greatest Filipino films of all time” list, it certainly holds a trophy to that position. It is absolutely well directed, well played, and well constructed but there are flaws within due to technical limitations. The scene showing the coworker’s fall from the constructed building was not the most convincing scene, and the slightly abrupt ending has its flaws in direction. Other than that, the film is an excellent look at a highly different film from the time period from the country that somehow got through the censors without major cuts applied. In addition to that it was fairly successful commercially in its home country, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor at the 1976 FAMAS awards. Things were looking bright for Brocka and the Cinemanila company, but that would not last very long.

“Insiang” (1976)

Insiang (played by Hilda Koronel) is a young woman in her early twenties living with her mother Tonya (played by Mona Lisa) in the slums of Manila. Slum life is hard but gets even harder with Tonya’s constant outbursts where she would complain about her estranged husband’s relatives still living under their same roof, about not having enough in finances, and treating her daughter badly as she is a living reminder of the husband that left her. Insiang is living the “Cinderella” life under the wicked mother, but she does have some light within the neighborhood. Her best friend Ludy (played by Nina Lorenzo) is a girl her age that runs a local family shop. She also has a boyfriend, the caring Bebet (played by Rez Cortez) who would do anything to be with her, which is hard considering how the mother’s foot is placed down firmly on Insiang’s personal life.

Things get more complicated when Tonya starts having relations with Dado (played by Ruel Vernal)) - a man about 15 years younger than she is and is a bullying figure. He frequently bullies Bebot as well as Insiang, eventually telling Bebot to stay away from her, as since he is the father figure in Insiang’s life now, he makes the rules. No matter what Insiang does or says, the mother always takes the side of her new boyfriend which starts to tear apart the household and also cause trouble in the community even further…

“Insiang” takes place in the slums of Manila using real locations of the dirty and dilapidated housing areas. It’s yet another harsh look at life in Manila but only through the eyes of the poorer class. Taking cues from Shakespeare’s “Othello” and “Hamlet”, the build-up of anger and frustration to pure hot blooded revenge is a tense ride for the audience. In addition the large cast of secondary characters also showcase the community altogether, from Ludy’s family, Bebot’s friends, Dado’s gang members, and many others. While the story could take place in any culture and people from any class, the slums really feature a sense of neighborhood closeknit together, rather than the disconnected view seen in “Manila in the Claws of Light”.

Produced by Brocka’s own Cinemanila, “Insiang” was the first Filipino film to be accepted into the Cannes Film Festival back in 1976 but it was one that caused controversy in its home country. The film was screened for censors but the Philippines censorship board did not approve the film for international screening as it showed a very negative depiction of Filipino slums. The filmmakers regardless took a print to Cannes in hand and screened anyway, causing furor by the Filipino government claiming the film did not represent the good nature of the country. The film raised red flags for Brocka and for other filmmakers during the Marcos regime, but following the film’s release in its native country, it was another highly acclaimed film which won 4 awards at the Metro Manila Film Festival in 1976 - Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Cinematography.

Both films were out of circulation for a long time and for international film fans, had difficulty finding watchable versions of the films as film storage and archiving in the Philippines were not ideal. The World Cinema Foundation led by Martin Scorsese and the Film Development Council of the Philippines restored both films with “Manila in the Claws of Light” in 2013 and “Insiang” in 2015. With the films now completely restored, current and future audiences will be able to see leading examples of the underrepresented Filipino cinema by one of the finest auteur directors of the country, Lino Brocka.

Note the Blu-rays are coded region B and the DVDs are coded region 2 PAL

Video

The BFI presents both films on two separated discs. “Manila in the Claws of Light” is in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The original camera negative which was stored at the BFI archives was transferred to 4K and restored at Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in 2013. The finished restoration looks absolutely gorgeous. Colors of the Manila nights shine brightly, reds, blues, browns look strong, and deep color is seen throughout the images. The restoration removed tears, scratches, and other damage to make an absolutely pristine picture with almost no signs of damage to be found. Film grain is still visible and there are no signs of digital artifacts. Cinematographer Mike de Leon supervised the color grading of the restoration.

“Insiang” is in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The original camera negative and a 35mm positive print was used for the restoration in 4K at Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in 2015, with the 35mm print used for the extremely damaged portions of the original negative in two 2 shots. The restoration looks so good it is impossible to tell which two shots were not from the negative. Colors are bold, the image is pristine, and there is nearly no damage to the finished restoration.

The runtime of “Manila in the Claws of Light” on the Blu-ray is 126:22 with restoration credits. The film’s title and end credits are in Tagalog.

The runtime of “Insiang” on the Blu-ray is 94:04 with restoration credits. The film’s title and end credits are in English.

Audio

Tagalog LPCM 1.0
Both films feature the original mono Tagalog language track with a few English sentences here and there, in the lossless LPCM format. While picture restoration was amazing, the audio restoration does have its limitations. “Manila in the Claws of Light” during the outdoor scenes has a lot of dialogue that is hard to hear due to the recording method on location. Music also sounds weak and indoor scenes sound a little better but overall even if you understand Tagalog, subtitles maybe necessary due to the very limited fidelity. “Insiang” was restored from the optical sound negative but the issues were much worse with metallic hissing and very limited fidelity to the damaged soundtrack. Both soundtracks were restored to remove damaging pops and hissing, but there was no way to restore it to sound better than it is presented here.

There are optional English subtitles on both films available in a white font. The subtitles are well timed and easy to read with no errors to speak of.

Extras

“Two Films by Lino Brocka” is a 4 disc set with two Blu-rays with the two films and extras spread across, along with two DVDs that have the identical content to the Blu-rays but in the standard definition PAL format.

DISC ONE (Blu-ray) includes “Manila in the Claws of Light” with the following extras:

"Manila... A Filipino Film" 1975 documentary short by Mike de Leon (23:01)
This documentary by the cinematographer of “Manila in the Claws of Light” is a behind-the-scenes look at the film which includes interviews with Brocka, Bembol Roco, and Hilda Koronel, on set footage, recreating the 1970 protests for backgrounds, and more. Originally shot on film, it was transferred to HD from the original materials. The colors are quite good for the most part with some faded tints, but damage is minimal and there is no major damage to disrupt viewing. The audio also sounds fine and in some cases better than the film soundtrack.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in Tagalog/English LPCM 1.0 with optional English subtitles

Manila stills and collections gallery (4:40)
A collection of color and black & white stills from the set and some behind the scenes stills, along with posters and magazines set to a portion of the music score.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in LPCM 2.0

"Visions Cinema: Film in the Philippines" 1983 documentary by Ron Orders (40:12)
This 1983 documentary for Channel 4 has film critic Tony Rayns discussing from the streets of Manila the history of Filipino cinema past and present. Included are clips of films, interviews with then contemporary young directors including Augustin Sotto, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, and Lino Brocka, among others. Discussed are how Filipino films during the American colonial period, the censorship issues under the Marcos regime, and more. Shot on film, the standard definition video master has been upconverted to HD for this release and actually looks great considering it didn’t come from the original film materials. The clips of various Filipino films look quite terrible on the other hand, but that is to be expected.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

DISC TWO (Blu-ray) includes “Insiang” with the following extras:

"Signed: Lino Brocka" 1987 documentary by Christian Blackwood (83:30)
This 1987 film directed by Christian Blackwood is an intimate documentary/interview with Lino Brocka who talks about his life from childhood to present as well as stories on many of his previous films and his political involvement during the Marcos dictatorship. He talks about the influence his parents and religion had on his life, how he wanted to become an actor but failed because of his strong accent, his cinematic inspirations, the gay culture of the country, censorship isssues, and how he would like to put a bullet in Marcos’ head if he had the opportunity. This is certainly one of the best film director interview portraits ever made being both informative and intriguing - up there with the 1984 film on Satyajit Ray simply titled “Satyajit Ray” or 2004’s “Bergman Island” with director Ingmar Bergman. The film was transferred from a 16mm acetate print to HD. The picture is in very good condition with very few signs of damage for the main interview and behind the scenes footage, though clips of Brocka’s past films look very damaged and terrible. Audio also has been remastered and have no issues with sound except for the film clips mentioned previously.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 1.0 with no subtitles

"The Guardian Lecture" Lino Brocka in conversation with Tony Rayns in 1982 (audio only, plays over the film) (62:08)
This lecture which took place on October 14th, 1982 at the National Film Theatre is presented here in audio form and plays over “Insiang” as an alternate audio track for the first 62:08. Brocka talks about the Filipino film industry, discusses some of his financially and critically successful films which never made it outside the country, the competition from foreign cinema - mostly the US and Hong Kong, and also about censorship issues. The audio sounds fine for the most part but note that it was taken from a standard audio cassette tape so there are issues with tape hiss and low volume for audience questions. The audio tape seems to cut off by the end as there is no signing off by Brocka or Rayns.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

DISCS THREE & FOUR (DVD) are DVD copies of the two Blu-rays containing the same above content in SD PAL.

Booklet
A 28 page booklet is included, which contains an essay, a text interview with Brocka, a contemporary review, film credits, extras credits, notes on the transfers, and acknowledgments. The essay “Light in the Darkness: Lino Brocka and Filipino Cinema Under Martial Law” by Filipino-American English teacher Cathy Landicho Clark discusses both films in the set with major spoilers, and also notes on Brocka as a director. Interview with Lino Brocka by French critic Michel Ciment originally appeared in Positif magazine in the June 1980 issue, translated to English and reprinted here. Discussed topics are how he started in the industry, his influences, Monte Hellman, Roger Corman, and about his films, specifically “Jaguar” (1979) which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Next is a positive review of “Manila in the Claws of Light” by Jo Imeson which was originally published in Monthly Film Bulletin Vol 43, No. 564 in January 1981.

While the amount of extras is extensive in both content and runtime, one can’t help to notice that no “new” extras were created - retrospective interviews, audio commentaries, etc. But the quality in both content and presentation of the vintage extras is highly informative.

Overall

“Two Films by Lino Brocka” is already one of the most essential releases of the year. Collecting two of director Brocka’s essential films into a single package from beautiful 4K restorations with a wealth of informative and great extras makes the BFI dual format release one of the best releases of the year so far. Filipino cinema is still underrepresented in terms of world cinema, and hopefully this set will create further interest. Absolutely essential.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: C- Extras: A Overall: A

 


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