What seems, at present, like an expansion of roles and rising up the ranks in the showbiz hierarchy for the stylist, essentially becoming a bigger cog in the machinery, may well be a function of how the movie star is becoming more and more commodified these days. Artistas are groomed literally and mythologized almost into consumable public personas to hawk content and embody a franchise, flag-wave for the corporate colossi that fortifies the entertainment industry.
Unless you buy into the fantasy, as many fans gleefully do, every kernel of their on-cam conduct is immediately tinged with artifice, with performance. But the limit of our concern here is their fashion sense and how suspicious the veracity of their personal style has become, given the makeover task force that toils behind every one. How much of it is really them? And how much of it is merely packaging? And at what point does it bleed into each other and stop mattering?
You certainly don’t get the same dissonances as those paparazzi shots of Hollywood paparazzi shots of Hollywood stars in their unflattering civvies. Partly because, domestically, nearly every movie star is a brand and like all brands, they’re all assiduously stage-managed and maintained on and off cam. Along the way, it does gain a sameness that teeters precariously on blandness. When every movie star is a style icon, then conversely, nobody is. The movie stars of the 50s, 60s and 70s, whom I assume were less rigorously pampered and relied more on their own sartorial whims, tend to have more charge in this matter and stick out more.
But style here is more than just how they wore the couture well. What gains these men their individuality and iconicity was the way the person always leaked into the package to such a degree you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.
The scoundrels Rodolfo
“Boy” Garcia and Eddie Garcia, up until the former took ill and the antagonized the leading men of nearly every other domestic film. But while the likes of Paquito Diaz and Dick Israel, their equals in perpetual thug tenure, had the bearing of bullies, cackling and mean and often lacking nuance, the unrelated Garcias had this serpentine insidiousness, this seethe and swagger that had you believe they could steal away the leading lady if they wanted.
Long story short, these two both had the presence of a leading man. This, and particularly during the 60s where the clothes could make anyone look good, boosted their style as much as their dress sense. The stylish, slightly roguish city boy Vic Silayan played in Lamberto Avellana’s Kundiman ng Lahi (1956), while not ostensibly a bad guy role, and certainly not in the same weight class as his evil patriarch in Mike De Leon’s Kisapmata (1981), felt kindred to the early nemeses the Garcias made their métier. That deep, broiling register in his voice alone, the way it can effortlessly swing from menace to comfort, from sinister to soothe, makes his case.
Outside the usual issues of structure and editing that come from a tempered final cut, and at least one ill-fitting and rather badly shot and wholly unnecessary set piece, the controversial 2011 remake of Asiong Salonga (1961) was bound to be a handsome film. But its main wrinkle was how Jeorge Estregan not only lacked the beauty, but also that crucial under-layer of charisma his uncle brought to the part.
Let’s not get into the discrepancies in their respective thespian ranges but take particular note of how Joseph Estrada rocked the greaser duds where Estregan felt ill at ease in them. To be fair, what were period costumes in the remake were contemporary in the original, which tends to negate any sense of anachronistic discomfort.
But it was more than just a matter of wardrobe. In the remake, the overlap between “gangster” and “man of the people” always felt like a politician’s bait and switch at best, a sham with little con left in its game at worst. In the Erap original, it had a thoroughly metabolized seamlessness.
The ‘70s has marked its place in time partially as history’s hotbed of fashion malfunctions, arguably less so than the 80s, of course, unless you factor in rayon. It was also the period of Philippine cinema’s alleged exalted Golden Age, when social realism and illicit sex bled profusely into the mainstream and the movies were naturally rife with all manner of fashion anomalies, dampening stylistic aspirations off the bat. Mat Ranillo’s knee socks in Ishmael Bernal’s Salawahan (1979) and Ricky Belmonte’s basketball shorts in Joey Gosiengfiao’s Bomba Star (1978) both spring, and not a little disturbingly, to mind.
Great films, horrendous wardrobe.
The buttoned-down demeanor of Dindo Fernando made him, at first blush, the unlikeliest of sex symbols. But the manly simmer did seep through the boy-next-door façade, not to mention his fair parade of wide lapels and bell bottoms, becoming so pervasive that it packed a surfeit of comic juice when he twisted the image to play a gay man in disguise in Danny Zialcita’s Mahinhin vs. Mahinhin (1981).
Manuel Conde fancied himself our own self-made Tyrone Power, not so much an action star in the traditional mold, but an adventure hero in the most archaic sense, a niche of such specificity that it doesn’t exist these days, and no, I don’t think wu xia films qualify. Musketeer, dragonslayer, and quasi-Arabian prince count among his roles of note.
He was also the proto-slacker in Juan Tamad (1947). Which is to say that for the most part, he was in costume. And few looked quite as good as he did in costume. The eponymous and mysterious gentlemen he played in Satur (1951) intimated the suavity of Clark Gable. And his young Genghis Khan (1950) was no less a presence charged with robust majesty.
Christopher de Leon hit the ground running it seems. From his debut in Lino Brocka’s Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974), he moved on to Gerry De Leon’s Banaue (1975) and Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon? (1976) and never looked back.
These days, his acting, such as it were, has diminished to something closer to rote. But in his prime, when he was doing all those Mike de Leon and Ishmael Bernal films in the mid-‘70s, moving from marital dramas to postmodern youth comedies, he was a rock star among heartthrobs, and one who managed to turn many a fashion crime of his era to his advantage.
Having sealed his leading man equity with the nickname The Great Profile, Leopoldo Salcedo could have coasted as a matinee idol, basking in the unadventurous glamour that comes from being one. Instead, he leveraged it to build his own studio and funneled his energies into a plethora of politicized, socially aware roles and films, reaching its peak with Gerry de Leon’s Moises Padilla Story (1961).
This story first appeared in Vault issue #9, 2013. Photos in the body text were provided by the Lopez Museum and Library and Simon Santos of Video 48