| Veteran director Celso Ad Castillo
MANILA, Philippines – Acclaimed director, screenwriter and actor Celso Ad Castillo, whose sex-themed works and period pieces have earned him the tag "enfant terrible" of Philippine cinema, died of a heart attack at his home in Siniloan, Laguna. He was 69.
Castillo's brother John said the director of the films “Burlesk Queen” and “Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara,” had been battling a disease for some time now.
Cinephiles immediately expressed their grief with Castillo’s passing coming so close after the death of Mario O’Hara and Marilou Diaz Abaya just months before.
Moreover, Castillo was all set to launch his autobiography “Celso Ad Castillo: An Autobiography and His Craft” this month. He was also one of 12 veteran directors selected by the Film Development Council of the Philippines for next year’s Sineng Pambansa: Master Directors Film Festival.
Young filmmaker Gorio Vicuna was also reportedly working on a documentary on Castillo’s life.
“He was one of the greats, Filipino or otherwise. Arguably the most lyrical eye (the late Mario O'Hara thought so too), possibly the most erratic of Filipino filmmakers, even his lesser works had moments of pure -- not genius really, but divinely inspired, probably by an organ positioned much, much lower, though no less potent,” film critic Noel Vera posted on his Facebook wall on Monday.
“Of his top-tier works--few could approach, none could touch. He was one of a kind,” Vera added.
Born in Siniloan, Laguna on September 12, 1943, Castillo, who studied English Literature at the Manuel L. Quezon University, began his career as a komiks writer and was eventually commissioned to write his first screenplay – a spoof on James Bond.
In 1966, he directed his first movie, the black-and-white film“Misyong Mapanganib,” still riding on the popularity of the British superspy.
In an interview for the 25th Luna Awards souvenir program, Castillo said his interest in film started when his father brought him to watch movies in the second-run theaters in Manila in the 1950s.
“As a movie aficionado …I guess I was born at the right time. I saw the original ‘King Kong’ with my father before entering grade school and by the time I was in elementary school, I was a witness to the grand MGM musical movies of the ‘50s,” he said in that interview.
And while his classmates were watching Disney cartoons, he became hooked on the works of Elia Kazan, mostly with Marlon Brando, such as “On the Waterfront” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Castillo was only 21 when he did “Misyong Mapanganib” and he himself admitted that his early directorial works were “half-baked.”
He said it was only on his eighth movie “Nympha” in 1971 that he first achieved critical success. “The movie was my first real struggle to become a serious filmmaker because I sacrificed my studies of Law in choosing to become a movie director,” he said.
Vilma and FPJ
That same year, Castillo also did “Asedillo” that would establish the cinematic image of Fernando Poe Jr. as the defender of the poor. Castillo and Poe teamed up again the following year with “Ang Alamat,” with the late action star again cast as a reluctant hero who had to defend his town.
Apart from Poe, Castillo was also crucial in establishing Vilma Santos as a serious actress in the award-winning historical drama “Pagputi ng Uwak, Pagitim ng Tagak,” and more importantly in the controversial “Burlesk Queen,” which climaxed with Santos having a miscarriage while dancing onstage.
“There is so much happening in every frame of Castillo’s movie: it is literally pulsing with life. …It is as if every character onscreen were starring in their own movie, and the story unfolding before us is merely a slice of all this vivid life,” writer Jessica Zafra said in her review of “Burlesk Queen,” which won for Castillo the best director and best screenplay awards at the 1977 Metro Manila Film Festival.
“We have been fooled. This movie is not about a young woman taking her clothes off. It’s about life, art, and the dark, unexpected places where they sometimes meet,” she wrote.
Castillo also launched the acting career of beauty queen Gloria Diaz via the controversial movie “Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa” in 1975.
In that movie, Diaz, who calls Castillo her “most favorite director in the world,” began the “wet look” trend, which continued through the rest of the Martial Law decade and beyond.
Castillo would take the “bold” trend to new levels in the early 1980s with “Virgin People,” Snake Sisters” and “Isla,” with another ex-beauty queen Maria Isabel Lopez.
Among his other notable films were “Ang Alamat ni Julian Makabayan,” which earned him a best director from the Catholic Mass Media Awards; and “Paradise Inn,” starring Lolita Rodriguez and Vivan Velez, which won the best director award at the Famas in 1985.
Castillo has directed some 64 movies and was given the FAMAS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.
In his later years, Castillo taught at the Asia Pacific Film Institute and continued to work either as a director or an actor, such as the ABS-CBN series “Reputasyon” in 2011 which starred Cristine Reyes.
No formal training
Castillo actually did not have any formal training as a filmmaker.
“I guess besides being passionate about watching movies. I was also enjoying them. I believe that good or bad movies help one become literate on what movies are all about,” he said in his interview for the Luna Awards.
Instead, he credited his other artistic interests –from writing to painting and even music – for his success in cinema.
“I believe these are the traits that make a movie director because one must have the talent to tell a story, to transform it into a dramatic form which is the script, to know how to act, to understand music because even the rhythm of editing depends on the harmony of music and, best of all, the ability to visualize what he has in mind. I believe movies are moving images that must tell a story and do not necessarily need to have dialogues. My passion in these different forms of arts made me a movie director,” he said.
According to his son, filmmaker Christopher Ad. Castillo, his father was supposed to do the much-awaited “Ang Lalaking Nangarap Na Maging Nora Aunor” next year for Sineng Pambansa.
“Film was his family. Film was his life. And we are all the better for it,” his son wrote in an open letter on Facebook on Monday. - Reports from ANC and Dexter Ganibe, dzMM