Mario O'Hara, the silent master, dies at 68

by Vlad Bunoan,

Posted at Jun 26 2012 04:04 PM | Updated as of Jun 27 2012 04:46 AM

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) -- Award-winning film auteur Mario O'Hara, known for works that tackled dark but realistic social themes, passed away on Tuesday morning from cancer. He was 68.

Until the the end, the reclusive artist, whose work as an actor, writer and director were consistently acclaimed and ranked among the best in Philippine cinema, hid from the spotlight, with his family providing scant details about his illness.

O'Hara was rushed to the hospital on June 20 and had been receiving chemotherapy. The family had even refused to disclose the hospital where O'Hara had been confined.

On Tuesday, however, Peewee O'Hara, his sister-in-law, said the director died at San Juan de Dios hospital due to complications from acute leukemia.

Mario O'Hara, the silent master, dies at 68 1Mario O'Hara receives a special award at last year's Cinema One Originals Festival Awards nightPhoto from the Facebook page of Ronald Arguelles

Industry in mourning

Celebrities and members of the showbiz industry mourned the loss of the director, just days after theater stalwart Tony Espejo died on June 14 and with Comedy King Dolphy still fighting for his life at the Makati Medical Center.

"You were one of the most underappreciated gems in Philippine cinema and you will forever shine as a writer, director and actor. Thank you for your films, and for giving me that push of confidence when I needed it the most," said filmmaker Quark Henares on Twitter.

Another filmmaker Pepe Diokno tweeted that he is "saddened by Mario O'Hara's passing. What a loss for our cinema. Let's please have a retrospective of his work."

Independent filmmaker Jim Libiran tweeted: "Mario O'Hara. Mapayapang paglalakbay. Salamat sa sining na iyong iniwan sa amin."

Actress Janice de Belen said, "I'm truly sad that my first director whom I love dearly... Mario O'Hara has passed away.Thank you for all the things you have taught me."

"'Bagong Hari,' my favorite Mario O’Hara film, is lost for all eternity. This is how we treat great works of great directors," tweeted musician Ely Buendia.

Film critic Noel Vera, who closely followed O'Hara's career, lamented that "few of his films are available in commercially released or even decently rendered DVD; some of his films do not have a surviving film print, a sad comment on the state of preservation of our nation's great cinema."

According to her manager Boy Palma, superstar Nora Aunor, widely acknowledged as O'Hara's muse, has lost her voice from crying over his passing. The veteran actress had only recently seen O'Hara last Wednesday and Thursday, when she visited him in his ailing state. 

Work in progress

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts, meanwhile, said it joins the nation in "mourning the passing of Mario O'Hara, actor, director, writer, a giant of Philippine theater and film."

O'Hara, a native of Zamboanga, was was set to work with Tanghalang Pilipino, the resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), which is mounting his original musical "Stage Show" for its 25th season.

"Stage Show" is the story of aging veterans of Filipino vaudeville caught between love for their art and economic survival.

"This grand musical play gives us a glimpse of a lost era in Philippine cultural history; the time of the ‘bodabil,’ a form of entertainment adapted masterfully by Filipinos from the American vaudeville," the group said in its website.

"Stage Show" is also Tanghalang Pilipino's official entry to the National Theater Festival in November.

"So sad here at CCP. Go with God Tito Mario O'Hara.Thank you for your kindness, love and wisdom. Thank you for your generosity. Sadyang nilikha," stage actress Frances M. Ignacio said.

Writer Archie del Mundo also said on Twitter that O'Hara and actress Aunor "were supposed to do their 'final film,' the title would have been 'La Luna Rosa.'"

O'Hara last worked with Aunor on her television comeback "Sa Ngalan ng Ina" last year.

Works with Aunor, Brocka

O'Hara was known for his collaborations with Aunor, which produced classic films such as "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" and "Condemned."

He was also a frequent collaborator of the late National Artist for Film director Lino Brocka. O'Hara drew praises as an actor for his performances in Brocka's "Tinimbang Ka Nguni't Kulang" and "Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag." He also wrote the screenplay of Brocka's "Insiang," the first Filipino film to screen at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

In his later years, O'Hara would be credited for leading the charge of independent filmmakers on the international festival circuit, when the low-budget "Ang Babae sa Breakwater," which he wrote and directed, was accepted at Cannes.

"Today Philippine movies are a fixture at Cannes, Venice, and other festivals. This would not have been possible without the ground-breaking work of the quiet, self-effacing Mario O’Hara," cable channel Cinema One said during its tribute to O'Hara last year.

The silent master

"Direk Mario O'Hara and his works will not be forgotten. Thank you for sharing your stories, talent and humanity. This is a sad day for us here in Cinema One," Ronald Arguelles, channel head of Cinema One, said on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

Despite his many achievements, O'Hara wasn't as well known as his colleagues, perhaps because he had been notoriously shy.

In fact, while news about his passing hit social media networks on Tuesday afternoon, many users admitted that they didn't know the director.

"Mario O’Hara should be one of the best-known filmmakers of our time. His name should be mentioned alongside Brocka’s and Bernal’s. The fact that it is not is an injustice partly of his own making. For Mario O’Hara hides from the spotlight as if it would burn him," Cinema One said in its tribute.

"His movies travel to film festivals; he does not. They win accolades and prizes; he does not receive them personally. Film critics and students seek to interview him; he shyly but firmly declines. It is almost as if he were trying to erase himself from the frame," it added.

But it was his work that spoke well for him and his voice will likely ring loudly even after his passing.