We each have a favorite movie that works like a happy pill. I have a few of them but “Bagets” is the first thing that comes to mind these days. Blame it on the new Aga Muhlach-Eula Valdes Nestle Boost Optimum TVC, and that video of Raymond Lauchengco sporting white hair and singing “Farewell.” Just one more sign and I’ll start thinking a reunion is being cooked up.
“Bagets” came out during those innocent days of February 1984. Before it was revealed to the world just how many designer shoes were being kept in Malacañang. In the movies, however, Mother Lily’s Regal Babies—Maricel Soriano, Dina Bonnevie, Snooky, Gabby Concepcion—were starting to shed their innocence and beginning to take on mature roles. The scene was in need of fresh faces, or “mga bagong mamahalin” as they say in show biz.
It was Regal Films project coordinator and talent manager Douglas Quijano who took note of this need and told William Martinez, his ward, a Regal Baby himself, about it. “We have to come up with something new,” he said to the actor. And the two proceeded to cook up a concept to present to Mother Lily Monteverde. The Regal Films matriarch liked it but her idea for casting sounded a bit old hat: Albert Martinez, Edgar Mande, PJ Abellana, Maricel, Snooky and Dina. What is this, 1981?
So Dougs and William went to Vic Del Rosario and offered the still-untitled project to the Viva Films chief. Sure enough, Boss Vic had what they wanted—he’d just signed up four new, promising actors: the soap opera talent Herbert Bautista, show biz royalty Aga Muhlach, the singer and theater kid Raymond Lauchengco, and JC Bonnin who was also appearing in the soap Herbert used to star in, “Flor de Luna.”
The idea for the title came only after casting had been ironed out. According to William, he got it from his alahera mother who sells these tiny cut diamonds called baguettes—they’re little and delicate and must be treasured, she told him. Which the actor quickly connected to the kids at the center of their movie: five boys looking for attention at home, or being doted on too much by their mothers, or just simply misunderstood. As a Celia Rodriguez quote in the movie went (please read with proper Celia diction): “Hindi kaya I’m to blame for what’s happening to Adi? Kasi I read yestuhday ... In a book by Sylvia Mackinson, Pah-renting in the 21st Century, Macro Hill Company. Quote: ‘Cheeldren of broken mah-rriages will fully misbeheyyvv as a way of showing their resentment and rebellion towards their parents.”
Soon enough, Maryo J. Delos Reyes was signed in to direct the film. He was best remembered at that time for the youth flick “High School Circa ‘65.” He was also known for his sure hand in both drama (he directed the previous year’s elegant tearjerker “Saan Darating Ang Umaga?”) and musical comedy (“Annie Batungbakal,” “Bongga Ka Day”). "Bagets," after all, was sure to have a lot of music in it—Vic Del Rosario being also the man behind Vicor.
If William is to believed, Douglas asked him to meet with Maryo’s favored screenwriter Jake Tordesillas to flesh out the script. William and Jake agreed that each of the five lead characters—Tonton (William), Gilbert (Herbert), Arnel (Raymond), Adi (Aga), and Topy (JC)—will have something that echoed a fraction of their real-life stories.
But while it was the newness and charm of this cast that served as the film's main draw, what distinguished it from past youth-oriented projects was the attention it gave to creating a world the boys will inhabit—which was unlike anything local movies have seen before. For this, much credit has to be given to production designer Butch Garcia, and the creative freedom Maryo J allowed him.
Butch was by then already part of the director's team and was among the guys—Jake, Maryo J and producer William Leary—who brainstormed on the film’s concept. According to the production designer, the look of "Bagets" was inspired by a Beatles poster by the artist Peter Max, possibly the one for the "Yellow Submarine" album, where the Fab Four are drawn sporting multi-colored outfits. ”I wanted that type of coloring. I wanted lots and lots of colors, different color pants for a different color shirt layered on another colored shirt. The kids will love it, I thought,” Butch once told me in an interview.
Butch also spent time around the university belt, checking out the kids and what they had on, what they were doing with clothes. “I took note of the little nuances: the open shirts, the sneakers, the way they tied their scarves. I adapted all of these but rehashed them by splashing it with lots of color.” Unfortunately for Butch, color has already lost favor at that time. It was hard to find color in the department stores. The racks were brimming with beiges, browns and maroons.
So he had to improvise, along with his brothers who were part of his team. They bought lots of shirts and dyed them. Put pockets where there were none. Made their own trinkets and accessories. Put a fake parrot on Eula Valdes’ head in a party scene. And layered fuchsia with teal, and yellow with pink, blue with heaven-knows-what for the boys’ pre-school break outfits in Baguio. ”We had a budget of PHP150,000 for the production design and costume,” Butch recalled. “That was a lot of money during that time but clearly not enough for what I wanted to do. I wanted almost every scene to be big. Maglilipat lang ng bahay si Liza Lorena, people had to be playing with fireworks in the background. Mag-e-excursion lang sa beach kailangan may jeep driving through the shore.”
The money was certainly not enough to dress up five boys, their girlfriends, classmates, and mothers. “We couldn’t just have people wear their own clothes because the look we were going for, in the clothes and in the sets, were mostly non-existent during that time. We were creating our own world, and we were dressing up its characters the way no one else was dressing up in real life. We had to resort to rehashing old clothes. We wanted the look to be different but not alienating to the young audience. I told Maryo that the look has to be reachable and affordable so that the kids will accept it.”
The work was both challenging and fun—especially dressing up the boys. “Our guinea pigs,” said Butch. “They all somehow had similar outfits but you could see that some were a little bit nerdier than the others. At the start of the filming, I had already warned them: ‘Boys, paglalaruan ko kayo, paglalaruan natin ang mga damit niyo.’ Can you imagine any other young gym buff then wearing what JC was wearing? All those colorful shorts and yellow wristbands made of terry cloth? Making Aga Muhlach wear orange shoes was a big fight. And then there was that bow tie in the dance sequence. After a while, they had began to accept the idea that we were doing something new. They would volunteer their own clothes but we would still rehash them, make them wear a different color undershirt, and then roll the sleeves with the undershirt peeking. That was a signature Bagets look.”
If you ask Herbert Bautista, making the movie was all fun and games. “It was all play, parang naglalaro lang lahat,” he said in an interview with Jeepney TV early this year. It was the atmosphere the director encouraged among the cast. “Ang pinakaseryoso talaga yung production people, sila Maryo J, sila Jake Tordesillas,” said the actor. Behind the scenes, when Direk Maryo heard a funny bit he liked—from Herbert or William, the comedians in the group—he would ask for it to be incorporated in a scene. (The former QC mayor also revealed in the Jeepney interview that while it was Jobelle Salvador he was paired with in the movie, it was Eula Valdes he ended up dating. Eula was his first girlfriend. But that’s another story.)
No one expected the phenomenon "Bagets" was going to be. It was a blockbuster hit from Day 1. “Nakasara na ang gates ng sinehan sa first screening pa lang,” says Bam Salvani who saw the movie thrice. “Good thing early kami ng classmates ko kaya ipit na ipit kami sa rehas na bakal ng sinehan. All throughout the film wala akong marinig, screams and shouts filled the cinema.” Many fans had to wait two weeks before venturing to the theaters, worried they won’t be able to get seats.
The film was such a monster hit Mother Lily needed to do a youth flick pronto, with her own set of new contract stars. Remember “14 Going Steady”? While it had a lot of publicity around it—there was supposed to be a feud between its lead stars Janice de Belen and newbie Gretchen Barretto (or was it between their mothers?)—the Regal project did not even come close to the success of “Bagets.” "Bagets" became so big Viva had already released a sequel before 1984 ended—although Aga would no longer be part of the cast reportedly due to talent fee concerns.
For a youth flick, "Bagets" was sexy, naughty and fun. It had that energy of being anchored to an exciting time. It had a host of veteran actors for support, familiar locations (the Valentine montage had Raymond singing from the Luneta Grandstand, the school scenes were set in JASMS in QC), and a soundtrack that had chart-toppers (Irene Cara’s “Why Me?” for the school dance, “You and I” by Kenny Rogers for Chanda and JC’s first meeting, “Baby I Lied” for the swimming pool scene with Baby Delgado and an Aga Muhlach wearing only his briefs—his very own pair).
The movie had a definite effect on the culture. Pinoy kids dressed like Herbert and company in the months that followed. The bold layering of colors. The wearing of two-toned Chuck Taylors: blue on the left, red on the right, just like Aga’s in the poster. The pin buttons. I myself had my mother buy me in Divisoria a blue vest I could wear over my white collared shirt. And I didn’t stop there: my shoes for that year were boat shoes—or topsiders—from Sperry. I was 10 years old and in the 4th grade. My uncles would look at my outfit and say “Bagets na bagets ah.” Which reminds me, you might say the film also kind of influenced the language of the time. Because if you were not Bagets then, you’re most likely “Forgets.”
Today, “Bagets” lives on in cable TV, in memorabilia (I just saw an original soundtrack LP selling for P8,000 online, and there are takers), in the yearly graduation ceremonies (thanks to “Farewell”), and Facebook fan pages like the four-year old and 2,500+ followers-strong “Bagets-1984” ran by a design architect based in Singapore named Abigail Jane Bernardo. She had assumed the title of being the movie’s Number 1 fan, and has befriended some of its stars including those from the sequel just by connecting with them online. The girls even agree to meet-ups each time she’s in Manila, and Aby’s always just too happy to hear them talk about their life now, and the old times, of course. Like me, Aby was not yet a teenager when "Bagets" first came out. She was three in 1984 and became a fan only later on. What’s the attraction? I guess “Bagets” had everything a kid could want: cool clothes, adventure, and friends to enjoy all of that with. A life of colors and confetti and watching Aga Muhlach strut to Michael Jackson's “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.”
In less than four years, the movie will turn 40, and a reunion film has been suggested to Boss Vic, according to Herbert. The success of Aga’s MMFF entry “Miracle in Cell No. 7” last December could only improve the chances of the project coming into fruition. But what would the movie be about? Maybe about fatherhood, maybe careers, maybe about the foibles of middle age. Does it even matter? Many of us just want to see the guys together again onscreen.
Thirty six years ago, Herbert and Aga were just teenagers at the back of a coaster van hopping from school to school, theater to theater, promoting their movie, almost always welcomed by a deluge of fans, many of them kolehiyalas. The two often found themselves sitting beside each other in the car; they were, after all, neighbors in Cubao. Herbert remembers an exchange between him and Aga on the way to one of those fan events. From how he tells it, it might have been the eve of the film’s opening. He recalls feeling excited, while his friend for some reason has turned pensive. As the car approached the venue, before the door slid open to the sound of screaming fans, Aga, 14, just blurted out: “Bert, pagkatapos nitong araw na ‘to, mag-iiba lahat takbo ng buhay natin.” It took a few seconds before the words could sink in, and all a rather stunned 15-year old Herbert could tell his friend was, “Oo nga, ‘no.”#
[Special thanks to Abigail Jane Bernardo, Mike Herrera, Simon Santos and Ronald Rios.]