Years before the internet took over, when Filipinos only got to watch new movies in first-run theaters—not via streaming, not by illegally downloading them—there was a strange, sometimes funny, other times touching, often desperate way in how some film producers made sure there were enough warm bodies inside cinemas.
There was the obviously timed airing of dirty laundry in public involving the movie’s principal actors—because the more people talk about the private lives of the stars the better the box-office returns. Show biz chat shows like “See-True,” “Star Talk,” “Rumors, Facts & Humor,” and “Showbiz Lingo” were the popular platforms for these delicious confessions.
And then there was the “bonus feature.”
Not the variety film companies squeezed into discs in the age of DVDs, which for the most part appealed only to geeks and cineastes. There's the audio commentary, the deleted scenes, the behind the camera footage, etc. We're not talking about that kind of stuff. We’re talking added attractions especially meant for the generally movie-star preoccupied.
For example: After matinee idol Alfie Anido’s mysterious death in 1981, his last movie “Throwaway Child” was screened in theaters with, as the print ad announced, the “complete coverage of the last moments” of the actor.
And then there was the one for Claudia Zobel’s “Sinner or Saint” which came out in theaters after the sexy star met her tragic end in a vehicular mishap in 1984. The words “Special added attraction: The wake and burial of Claudia” occupied major space in the film’s newspaper advertisement, followed by the line, “Living she was condemned. Dead she was adored.”
We have not come across a study that proves a famous person’s last rites contributed to a movie’s box-office turnout but according to film curator and archivist Teddy Co, the “bonus feature” is not an invention of the 1980s. “These were all being done already in the '50s, maybe even before the war,” he says.
He mentions the featurette that LVN Pictures produced on the life and death of Togo. The beloved comedian died while filming the Nida Blanca-Nestor de Villa vehicle “Dalawang Sundalong Kanin” in November of 1952. When the movie was shown in theaters the following month, it carried the short documentary. It was likely LVN’s gift to Togo’s fans who were unable to witness his final sendoff.
Watching what remains of the docu—only the part uploaded on YouTube survives—one wonders just how many more Togo followers there were in the entire country at the time. It was impossible not to be moved by the astonishing amount of people that came to the funeral. It was impossible to spot the celebrities who attended: Togo’s friends Canuplin and Lou Salvador; his colleagues Eddie San Jose, Nestor De Villa, Rosa Rosal and Lilia Dizon. MPs were provided by the Philippine Army. Cars struggled to move. Clothes got ripped from the push and pull of the crowd. Reporters were taking notes and pictures from the top of trees.
“Maybe TV news was not yet that extensive, so there was need to supplement clips of weddings or deaths of stars with films, and at the same time promote [the movie],” says Co on the rise of the bonus feature.
As another example of a real life celebrity event crossing over to celluloid, the archivist also mentions that in Vicente Salumbides‘ “Fate or Consequence” from 1926, the wedding scene in the film used the actual wedding footage of the director-actor Salumbides to the actress Rosario Panganiban. “This must have been the first ever wedding video,” adds Co, “and an expensive one.”
Simon Santos, the man behind Video 48, an online archive for Philippine cinema memorabilia, sent a few more early examples of “added features.” There was the “exclusive film coverage of the controversial” Flash Elorde-Teruo Kosaka boxing match which came attached with Elorde’s 1962 starrer “Kapag Buhay Ang Inutang.”
For the 1960 movie adaptation of the radio serial “Emily,” starring Charito Solis, LVN curiously saw it wise to add a newsreel of the flood caused by the year’s punishing typhoon Lucille. Meanwhile, Sampaguita Pictures had a smorgasbord of offerings in its “natatanging dagdag na panoorin” for 1961’s “Operetang Sampay Bakod:” among them footage of Gloria Romero and Juancho Gutierrez in “Hani-hanimun,” news from the United Nations, and the eclipse seen from Europe.
There were also movies that took the “real life to reel” crossover to a different plane. Some producers were certainly not above mining personal tragedies and making movies out of them. Santos brings up the movie “Bilanggo” which Eddie Fernandez did after his 13-year stint in prison. His daughter Pops sang the theme song entitled, well, “Paglaya Ko.” And then there’s also ‘Victim’ starring Pepsi Paloma which came out in 1983, it’s title very obviously referencing the scandal surrounding her rape case which exploded just the year before.
In the early 80s, a young lady named Roxanne Abad Santos attracted a lot of attention after coming out in a Sunday magazine talking about her battle with leukemia. In 1982, she would appear in a film opposite Gabby Concepcion called “Miracle of Love.” It was shot in Italy and Germany. Gabby plays a man looking to heal a broken heart. Roxanne plays the girl looking for a miracle.
Nasty talk during that time was that her illness wasn’t so serious, that her leukemia was only publicity because, hey, she was able to do a movie abroad. “Critics charged that the Concepcions [producer of the movie] were using Roxanne’s illness to promote and eventually secure the success of the film,” a blog entry on Video 48 recalls. In the film, Roxanne would end up joining the nunnery. In real life, she passed away before she could see her movie—her first and her last. Roxanne’s funeral rites was the film’s added attraction.
Happier examples of bonus attractions abound: Sampaguita's "Halik sa Lupa" (1961) had footage of the story conference for a Lolita Rodriguez-Ric Rodrigo movie; the 1983 Janice-Gabby teamup "I'll Wait For You" featured a variety show shot in the US with the film's actors, plus Maricel Soriano; Regal's "Mga Kuwento Ni Lola Basyang" (1985) tucked in the coverage of a parade in Luneta that had all of the project's big stars, from Nora Aunor to Richard Gomez to Gloria Romero. And if there were funerals, weddings shouldn’t be far behind. There's Pops and Martin’s 1986 marriage rites in Danny Zialcita’s “Always & Forever.” Sharon and Gabby’s “wedding of the decade” in ‘86 was included in “The Best of Sharon and Gabby,” a collection of scenes from the then newlyweds’ Viva Films movies: "PS I Love You," "My Only Love," and "Dapat Ka Bang Mahalin?"
Of course it was the Manila Cathedral event that ended up looking like the main attraction, what with its powerhouse cast of personalities from show biz and politics (FM was ninong), and the couple at its center the most famous love team at the time. Looking at the crowd outside the church, it’s hard to tell how the bride made her way from car to church door alive.
The video is a treat for nostalgia freaks. Watching Sharon show off her trousseau. Listening to her voice over footage of the Cunetas inside the Lincoln Town Car, with Mommy Elaine squeezed between the mayor and the bride in her Noli Hans. "Ipapasa na 'ko," Sharon says, "sa panibagong boss. Well, I just hope everything turns out to be roses." And then there's the drive along circa '80s Roxas Boulevard. The fans lining up the long stretch to catch a glimpse of their idol, and then another set of fans perched on trees just outside the cathedral because there’s still more fans on the ground. They don't make fans like them anymore. People who will risk life and limb just to share in an important event in the personal lives of their favorite stars (these days, they can just check Instagram). Maybe that's why they don't make movies with bonus features anymore, too.
A few years later, it was Lotlot de Leon and Ramon Christopher’s turn at the altar. Their wedding was a bonus attraction in the film called—guess what—“Here Comes The Bride.” It was the big wedding event of 1989, and it almost didn’t happen. Lotlot was at the peak of her fame; the loveteam with Monching was at the height of its popularity. Her mother Nora Aunor was against the union; there was talk she wouldn’t even show up for the occasion.
Monching was only 20, and Lotlot only 18 then. As that hackneyed song went, people kept telling them they were too young. But the two tied the knot anyway—and the Superstar did show up at the ceremony. “Now it can be seen”—the newspaper ad for the movie screamed—“The wedding that many failed to stop! A document of triumph and love!” Only in the movies. Only in Philippine movies.
All images from Video 48 except for "Here Comes The Bride" and "Fate and Consequence." Visit their blog at http://video48.blogspot.com/ Special thanks to Ronald Rios and Monchito Nocon.