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Elwood Perez: Master of mise en scene


By Nickie Wang/ Manila Standard Today

The cinema is a bizarre form of art. Movies can bring us to a time different from ours and they can involve us and while at the same time disconnect us from what we see on the silver screen. They can resurrect a personality, an idea, and a place, and these are just some of the countless things movies are capable of doing on screen.

A film director is the most responsible for every detail of a movie, much of what we see on the screen is the vision of a genius mind who transforms great or simple stories into a visually, mentally, and emotionally arousing motion picture.

Elwood Perez is a virtuoso of the camera and is the man behind numerous classic Filipino movies. His intuitive approach to filmmaking and scriptwriting is something worth emulating not because they are campy and sexy but they discuss social ills and promote solutions while tickling the most delicate part of our consciousness—our emotion.

waikikiLet us go on a flashback and relive a kitschy scene where Rio Locsin is running on the street wearing a yellow skimpy short made out of silk. It’s relatively a provocative scenario even by today’s standard. But it is not what made this film called Waikiki gain a massive reception. With Lorna Tolentino, Alma Moreno, Alicia Alonzo and Raul Aragon, completing the cast, Waikiki: Sa Loob At Labas Ng Bayan Kong Sawi, the story tackles the predicament of people drawn into migration in an effort to get out of poverty.

While it is still a relevant story, with thousands of Filipinos leaving the country, this Elwood Perez “camp classic” essays the dream of a man to bring his whole family to Hawaii. Behind the dream is a tale of different faces of women confronted by social, economic, and cultural issues.

Weaving daring scenes and social commentaries the title itself is equally stimulating due to its sexual connotation in the Filipino language.  However, despite the issue concerning overseas contract labor and experiencing discrimination and loss of communication with the family, the film has more weight and depth than its flamboyant marketing strategy.

To experience the film again or perhaps see it for the first time, is chance given by CinemaOne as it presents the 1980 movie to a public beachside screening this Saturday, April 25 in Boracay.

Born to direct

Born during the near end of World War II on Feb. 4, 1945 in Mabalacat, Pampanga, Elwood Perez started watching movies at the age of three. He practically grew up breathing, feeling, and thinking about movies.

elwood-perez-pic“I want [a] vicarious experience. That’s the only thing I want in my life. I hate the effort to go, let’s say for example to Venice. That’s why I watch films every day. Until now,” the 64-year-old director says.

He wrote, directed and acted the lead role in his first Filipino play, Ander di Saya. And he was only nine years old then. From then on, Perez knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

A champion declaimer in his youth, Perez pursued his passion for theater arts by joining the University of the East Dramatic Guild.  At UE, he initially showcased his exceptional flair in writing, as a member of the editorial staff of The Dawn, official student publication of UE. It is in the same school where he graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Arts major in English. As Features editor of the school paper, he contributed numerous literary works and film reviews.

Though Perez is known for directing feature films, he had considerable success as theater and television director. From 1963 to 1999, he had directed and written theater productions and musical shows. Some notable works were his first foray as a writer and director for the play Dog Story staged at the University of the East Little Theater in 1964, the musical show A Million Thanks to You, starring Pilita Corrales in 1969, and the most recent stage extravaganza Private Parts that featured a number of sexy actresses doing semi-serious dramatic roles.  It was staged at the Music Museum in 2005 and featured Maui Taylor.

His long list of television credits starts with the multi-awarded drama anthology series Balintataw, a joint project of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) and the original ABC-TV5, and was aired from 1967 to 1972. Perez’s stint as a television director continues with Bahay Mo, Bahay Ko, Kapilas na Pag-ibig and other coming-of-age shows that highlighted issues on morality (Sa Ilalim ng Isang Bubong), patriotism (Labi ng Digmaan), and politics (Idolo ng Madla).

Following the critical and financial successes as a legitimate theater and television director, at age 25, Perez marked his debut as a film director with Blue Boy in 1970. The film was a flop at the box office but it was revered by critics.

Maturing as a scriptwriter and film director, in 1973, commercially successful Lipad, Darna Lipad! was released. Award-winning actress Celia Rodriguez essayed the role of Medusa-like villainess, Valentina, nubile Vilma Santos played the Filipino supergirl (a role that launched her in a series of Darna flicks).

To Filipino film industry insiders, Perez is known as the most sought-after movie director of his generation. He consistently churned out hit movie after another. His unsurpassed track record of money-makers and trend-setters include Zoom, Zoom, Superman!; Bawal: Asawa Mo, Asawa Ko; Isang Gabi, Tatlong Babae; Divorce: Pilipino Style; Masarap, Masakit ang Umibig; Summer Love; Till We Meet Again; and  Ibulong Mo sa Diyos.

Today, films he directed in the ’70s and ’80s like Pakawalan Mo Ako (a Vilma Santos-Christopher de Leon starrer) and Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M, as then enfant terrible of Philippine Cinema, enjoy regular reruns on primetime television and in select movie houses as examples of the award-winning film or the commercially-rewarding art film: true classics of film as entertainment for everyman, the 20th century’s quintessential art form.

His life’s mise en scene

“During the height of my career, I didn’t like publicity. Do you know any director who sold a movie on a count on the fact that he directed the film? I was very quiet then, because nobody would watch a film because of the director. Stars pa rin ang pinapanood ng tao,” Perez conveys.

Last year, the University of the Philippines Film Institute held a major retrospective of the film works Perez called “Stars Converge—The Stellar Art and Career of Elwood Perez.” It was a way to reintroduce the exceptional work of the brilliant director whose films earned accolades here and around the world.

His landmark films earned him two Best Director trophies from the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP), another three Best Director awards from Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (Famas) and one from the Metro Manila Film Festival.

The Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Philippine Film Critics Circle), in its most recently published book, labeled Perez’s most critically acclaimed work, the 18-trophy winner, Nora Aunor-Tirzo Cruz III starrer, Bilangin ang Bituin sa Langit, “the quintessential Filipino film.” He has been called the “under-appreciated Philippine auteur” by foreign film critics. His film Silip, which was often regarded as a near-pornographic movie, received rave reviews when its re-mastered copy with Greek and English subtitles was released abroad, a web film reviewer tagged it as a bona fide masterpiece.

“I used to be very scared to associate with my peers, I feared to let them detect my stupidity and I was also selfish, I refused to share my wisdom. That’s why I only have few friends. My friends are the ones who understand me,” the director explains why he kept himself away from the limelight and public eye.

Despite all the great compliments and his status as one of the legends of Philippine cinema, Perez still thinks that his masterpiece is yet to be filmed.

“After all these years, I am more mature as an artist. I really believe that ngayon lang ako gagaling that’s why I want to make a film, because there’s wisdom in age and in experience. I’m thankful that I’m strong,” he says with conviction.

In the past years, he chose  to turn down projects even the offers where left and right but now he is willing to eat humble pie to give in or to satisfy his craving to make another film or for his idea to get green lighted.

“The film is in development since 2000, the story is about how I’m trying to direct life, but eventually life takes over and directs the movie. It’s like an act of God, God is in every detail, God is always the one who directs you,” Perez furthers.

Though he said that it’s not easy to discern the authentic from the phony, and he does not relish judging the works of others with his particular job description, the project he has been thinking all of these years is a funny pathetic take on the condition of local film industry.

“In the scheme of things, that is the role of the critic and the pundit,” his words toward the films exhibited today.

“I don’t consider making movies as a work, making movies should be a walk in the park. I don’t make movies now because if I don’t enjoy making one, I don’t do it, I get irritated easily these days. Unlike before, I leave all my tensions at home,” he concludes.

7 thoughts on “Elwood Perez: Master of mise en scene

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