10/31/05

"Tubog sa Ginto" (Dipped in Gold, 1970), a groundbreaking Filipino gay film

Tubog sa Ginto is a wonderful portrayal of a closet queen--or at least a gay man in '70s Manila--married to a beautiful wife with a handsome young man for a son, financially successful, terrified of being outed. Eddie Garcia as Don Benito captures not just the crushing sense of guilt (we see him endlessly praying and confiding to his doctor, who gives him drugs to quell his libido) but also the careful posing (he hires a "social secretary"--Marissa Delgado in all her bountiful glory--as a 'beard' (an ornament designed to make him look macho)), and the terror of being found out (having dinner with his son in a restaurant, his face freezes when one of his lovers accosts him).

And more unsettling than the guilt and terror is that sense he gives you that at any and every moment he's in danger of giving way to his appetites (having been on a strict diet for maybe a year didn't help any). When Garcia gazes upon young male flesh he has to close his eyes and swallow, because the sense of sheer lust that takes over literally gives him vertigo, it's so intense.

It's an amazing performance, even more amazing because I've heard rumors about many actors, but never about Garcia (far as I know, he's not just straight, he's a one-woman man), yet his scenes kissing and caressing other men seem perfectly natural, not a single false note. Equally amazing is the source of the film's story, a komiks serial by Mars Ravelo (the Philippines' Will Eisner if you will) who along with this story created Darna (flying superwoman who champions the poor) and Dyesebel (mermaid who magically acquires legs and falls in love with a human)--fantasy figures seen from a uniquely Filipino perspective. Ravelo's is a protean mind coupled to a sharp ear and an uncanny sense of drama able to develop whatever ideas and characters that mind comes up with in a recognizably Filipino setting. No hint or rumor that Ravelo is gay, either; far as I can tell, he willed Tubog into being through the sheer force of sympathetic imagination alone.

Garcia's Benito is the focus of Tubog, but he's defined by the people about him. His wife Emma (Lolita Rodriguez) is the hapless victim, and it's tempting to make her an object of fun and derision; Brocka (and presumably Ravelo), however, resist the easy way out. Emma and Benito genuinely love and need each other; the tragedy of it is that Benito's lovefor Emma isn't sexual. It isn't just Benito's good name that's in jeopardy but a bond that Brocka and Ravelo so deftly sketch and both actors so sensitively and persuasively play--you can see that there are real emotional stakes to be won or lost here. Likewise with their son Santi (Jay Ilagan), who woships Benito; it's easy to try score comic points off of him, but his affection and respect for his father is real, and you can see why Benito is so frightened of losing both.

When Mario O'Hara's Diego enters the picture, he threatens to turn the film into a Filipino Boudu Saved from Drowning. But where Renoir's Boudu is something of a literary conceit (I've heard theories speculating that he's the subconscious product of the bourgoisie mind), O'Hara's Diego is a simple, all-too-real creation, a male version of the dewy ingenue/gay predator. O'Hara here has the easy arrogance and physical charisma of a young Brando (I remember saying about Brocka's version of Streetcar Named Desire that Philip Salvador as Stanley and O'Hara as Mitch were both seriously miscast), even Brando's pansexual appeal: when he confidently allows Emma to run her eyes up and down his near-naked body, you can't help but think of Viven Leigh or even Marcelle Hainia, their eyes rolling upwards from the sheer sexual heat.

But Renoir did Boudu to make a philosophical and intellectual point (that much if not all civilization is hypocrisy); Ravelo's and Brocka's intentions are probably more down-to-earth, and they spin out their tale swiftly and with great gusto. Love Boudu--think it's one of Renoir's best--but there's some merit to Brocka's approach too. It's tailor-made for a simpler race (us Filipinos), paying close attention to social details (Benito's advice to Santi is a classic summary of the Filipino male's attitude towards mistresses and wives) and psychology (Garcia's finely observed portrayal of Benito) in ways maybe even Renoir would approve of.

Some notes: Brocka was gay, and it's natural that his depiction of gays in this film is sympathetic, but he doesn't apologize or try to whitewash some of the things his gay characters do--the ease, for example, with which a gay man can threaten his fellow gay man with exposure (if outing a man can be embarrassing today, outing him in the early '70s, in the kind of climate Manila had at the time, must have been the equivalent of social suicide). And it's interesting to see that when the most progressive straight character--Benito's doctor friend--pleads for understanding of Benito's situation, he characterizes homosexuality as a handicap, an infirmity to be pitied or at least tolerated. Tubog broke plenty of ground especially in Philippine cinema, but it couldn't break everything at once.

Is this the Philippines' one great gay film? I don't know. Visually it lacks the expressiveness that a great cinematographer like Conrado Baltazar might have given it (the cinematography here is by Steve Perez); occasionally it shows flashy editing (by Felizardo Santos); perhaps it misses greatness by being a shade too melodramatic. All I can say is that it's probaby the finest Filipino gay film yet made.

4 comments:

pwedeba2004 said...

Sigh.....Yet another magnificent, insightful review of a wonderful film I can't find anywhere. Talk about Tantalus!

noelbotevera said...

It's why they should look into releasing some of these films on VHS or DVD. There could be a marke out there they're just not addressing.

skillzzbaby said...

First of all, I think you just took whatever someone else has written and pasted it on your blog.  It's like using the search engine like Google or IMDB to see what's others have written up on any kind of movies ever produced.  And, Voila! You got your entry for your blog after cut and pasting sections of others' reviews.  Moreover, your attempt to lure people to read your blog by balancing it out with using American movies to compare the movie with is so typical.  But then, that is just my opinion.
Just to let you know, I wasn't trying to be rude (and intrusive to your opinion) .  Sadly, it is true that no one has come up with an outstanding movie to represent Filipino gays.  However, your blog sounds like you just copied it off someone else's review of a movie.  It actually sounded like it was written in one of those Movie magazines (when I was growing up) in the Philippines back in the 70s.  Are you trying to make the Filipino community be aware of the need of movies to represent Filipino Gays (and Lesbians)?  Or what was your point exactly?  
I am neither a gay or a lesbian.  However, I do have a lot of friends who are.  I also have cousins and friends who are gays.  Therefore, I don't want you to think that I am some kind of homophobic.  I am not.  My opinion to your blog was just that.  My opinion.
Peace!

noelbotevera said...

Yeah. Lefthanded compliment, your having the impression I copy what I write without indicating where I copied it from (if you read my other entries, what I do link or copy I indicate the source). But if you read my other articles--linked from this blog--I think you'll find the piece is of a piece, so to speak, with everything else I've written about.

And beyond 'luring' people with reviews of American films, you forget the possibility that my interests are wider-ranging than just Filipino films. Anime, horror, science-fiction, Southeast-Asian, silent, I think you'll find I have many interests.

And this:

"I am neither a gay or a lesbian.  However, I do have a lot of friends who are."

is so classic! "My best friends are homosexual, so I'm not homophobic!"

Yeah, right.