Cineastes were in luck Saturday when the newly restored version of “Kisapmata” was made accessible for 16 hours via the video hosting service Vimeo, courtesy of its director Mike De Leon’s Casa Grande Vintage Filipino Cinema. The movie, originally released in 1981, won 10 awards in that December’s Metro Manila Film Festival, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor.
“Some films, like wine, only get better with time,” film director Adolf Alix Jr. wrote on a Facebook post after rewatching the Filipino film classic. The movie, he says, remains on his list of best movies of all time.
A huge contributor to the film’s overall awesomeness is the chilling performance of Vic Silayan, considered one of the best character actors in Philippine cinema. Tatang Dadong’s sinister laugh seems to reverberate on your chest seconds after you hear it, his devilish glances make you want to grip the hand of the person near you. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as he grabs his wife Dely (Charito Solis) by the hair before he gives her a punch in the gut. You’ll be creeped out when he enters his daughter Mila’s (Charo Santos) room even if you only see his pajama trousers and the hem of his sando. He switches from overly concerned patriarch to incestuous lunatic with quiet, genius gestures.
The depth and intensity in Silayan’s portrayal of the retired policeman Dadong Carandang, or in his other silver screen performances, is rooted in the man’s high respect for the acting profession. In a rare gem of an interview done in 1984 for the video documentary titled “Vic Silayan: An Actor Remembers” by Emmanuel Reyes, Silayan shared that he prepared for film acting “probably with as much seriousness and effort as someone who prepared for his profession as an engineer, or a doctor, or a lawyer.” Reyes is one of the original Manunuris and directed the film called "Swapings."
Silayan’s first brush with acting took place in school when he was member of the Ateneo Theater Guild and the Chesterton’s Evidence Guild. This later led to a gig in radio acting, where he got to work with acclaimed film and theater director Lamberto Avellana, the older brother of his classmate Toto Avellana. At DZFM, he did his first soap operas in Tagalog alongside actors like Celia Flor, the Trinidad brothers, Rosa Aguirre, and Mike Anzures.
Silayan later joined the radio station as producer and announcer, designated to prepare scripts for its radio programs and cover the arrivals of important personalities in the country, as well as religious events. In the documentary, the Gapan, Nueva Ecija-born Silayan recalled his training as a newbie radio reporter with fondness, citing the time Francis Spellman visited the country and how he ran towards the archbishop from New York to get an interview as soon as the aircraft door opened.
Silayan later embraced film acting as Lamberto Avellana introduced him to the legendary producer Narcisa de Leon, or Doña Sisang, who happens to be a friend of his father, Hilarion, even before the war. Despite this connection, however, the aspiring actor started with bit roles like most film stars back then. Avellana would eventually direct him in the classic "Anak Dalita."
His first movie was Huk sa Bagong Pamumuhay, where he got to work with Jose Padilla Jr., Celia Flor, Leroy Salvador, Tony Santos, and Joseph de Cordova, all topnotch actors at that time. “That’s where I got my baptism of fire,” he recalled in the interview with Reyes. He remembered wearing a fatigue uniform and being asked by Avellana to roll up his sleeves in order to look more masculine. As the director shouted “Rolling… Action!,” the dutiful Silayan ran and dove on a pile of gravel, as guns were “fired” for the scene. “Siguro mahigit isang metro, sumasadsad ako sa graba. Then barilan. Cut! Tiningnan ko ang braso ko, walang balat yan e. Natalupan,” the actor remembered, looking at both his arms.
To his surprise, when it was time to check out the material they shot, he appeared so small. “Para akong langgam sa liit doon sa screen. Halos di ko makilala sa liit. Long shot pala yun,” he recalled, laughing. “Walang balat ang braso ko, [tapos] yun lang pala gagawin. Yun ang first shot ko.” It was tough but it’s just one of the many humbling experiences that made him value and appreciate his film career more.
Pride in the profession
Silayan was an actor from the 1950s up to 1987, the year he died. He recalled her mother having to justify the fact that her son was “just an actor,” choosing to bring up his posts in the education and government sectors whenever she would introduce him. “I used to tell my mother, ‘Ma, you don’t need to say those things anymore. Tama na sa akin yun e. Ano naman ang sama ng maging artista?’” he recalled telling her. “Kasi ang nangyayari dito sa atin, nalabas lang sa pelikula, nakatuntong lang sa entablado minsan, akala ng tao artista na. Maaaring nakasali nga, pero hindi pa artista yun.”
Acting to Silayan was a delicate craft that needs the most diligent preparation. “When I develop a character, I have to study the person as a person, and then in relation to the other characters he immediately talks to, or the other characters that talk about him,” he said in the documentary. “Then I talk to the other actors that portray these characters so that we are in consonance, so that there is nothing in disagreement. We imagine backgrounds that are not provided [in the script].”
He was also skilled to improvise and add his own lines. “Of the more than 350 movies I made, I suppose half of those were without scripts,” he recalled. “There were no scripts before. Others used to write the sequence guide on a palara, yung iba sa napkin.” The actors during his younger days, he said, would repeatedly rehearse the lines with the guidance of the director, until they come up with the best result.
Silayan noted, however, that he’s able to really give depth to a character when he’s provided with a script way ahead, is given the opportunity to study it, throw lines with his fellow actors, and discuss each other’s roles. He cited two of his noteworthy performances that had a complete script—Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Karnal and Mike de Leon’s Kisapmata.
He described the role of Dadong in "Kisapmata" as “not simply authoritarian” but also imbued with an insane possessiveness towards his daughter. He shared that his character switches—from normal father disposition to an erupting volcano—was what made his portrayal unnerving. There’s the touching of the forehead, for example, indicating the formation of a headache or that he’s just about to lose it.
As someone who tried both stage and film acting, Silayan is aware of the difference between the two. “In stage acting, you should act. I feel that in film acting, you should not give the impression that you’re acting at all.” He believes in owning the character and allowing his creativity to put more conviction to the role—“putting more flesh to the skeleton of a particular character,” he said.
Silayan, whose career in the movies spanned 37 years, admitted that the life of an actor has its highs and lows. “There are some months where you’ve got floods and sometimes very long summer,” he said in the interview. There were moments when he felt “tinges of regret” and moments when he was down. But at the end of the day, it was enough to know there were people who appreciated him. “These are people who know what an actor is, what acting is and should be.”