Liberation and Exploitation: On Sex Flicks and the Filipino, Before, During, and After Martial Law
The sky was gray, heavy with the downpour to come. Students marched towards the United States Embassy to protest meddling in the Vietnam War. Laborers and students demonstrated to denounce the dictatorship. Pillboxes and homemade Molotov cocktails met truncheons, tear gas, and army tanks. Sympathetic strangers opened their doors to hide retreating rallyists.
The world was split between pro-China and pro-Russia. The Diliman Commune at the University of the Philippines preceded the student takeover of Columbia University in New York. The fight between civilians and the riot police turned fiercer and uglier as countless Filipinos were subjected to midnight curfew, indiscrimate imprisonment, and salvaging. From midnight to the wee hours of the morning, army trucks—filled with nobody-knows-what—rumbled on the highways.
That was 1968 to 1971. The time the firebrands spilled in the streets became known as the First Quarter Storm, or FQS.
Meanwhile, the masses and bystanders, buried in poverty or rotting in drug addiction, found escape in movies where sultry lasses disrobed. It all started with Uhaw, where rising star Merle Fernandez runs completely naked. Never mind the story, script-writer, director, and the rest of the cast. All the audience talked about was Merle Fernandez in her birthday clothes.
The people went crazy curious. Filipinos, including those from the middle and upper classes who had until then watched only Hollywood films, began trooping to the moviehouse to see what was abuzz.
Tagalog flicks started to draw crowds who desired to watch female performers do daring scenes. After Uhaw, Alma Moreno set the “wet look” trend, wherein a probinsiyana bathes in a white camison sans a brassiere. Elizabeth Oropesa, Gloria Diaz, and Daria Ramirez also became in. But that is getting ahead of chronological history. For the wet look came after martial law descended, when the filmmakers, in order to circumvent the censors’ scissors, tried to improve the craft and content of their sex-oriented films. In the mid-‘70s until the late ‘80s, every time the movie censors stopped the creative flow of both good and bad directors, sex flicks would reappear as “bold” films, then as ST, or sex-trip, and then as TF, or titillating films.
Now, back to the period before martial law. True-to-life rape cases unfolded onscreen. Rape became an excuse to show the lurid double violation of a woman’s body: first, by the real incidents that took place, then, by the camera focusing on the demented face of the rapist and on the breasts and thighs and face of the rapee in pain.
Soon, names of female actors appearing in the ensuing soft porn became the flavors of the month: like Alona Alegre, Rossana Ortiz, Scarlet Revilla, Sofia Moran, Eva Marie, Gina Laforteza, Marissa Delgado, Lucita Soriano, Stella Suarez, Divina Valencia, Rizza, Yvonne, etc.
Kanto boys and highschoolers sang, to the tune of The Beatles’s “A Hard Day’s Night:”
Bomba films or “pene” (short for "penetration") movies gave oxygen to an industry gasping for breath.
What is soft porn? More than 50 percent of the movies show frontal nudity, genitals included, as well as gratuitous or prolonged lovemaking. There may be nothing wrong in these per se, except that what seems to be lacking in order to classify them as hardcore pornography is only close-ups of the genitals. There’s no plot to speak of, just a string of sexual-intercourse scenes.
Sex-oriented movies from Hollywood and Sweden were a big influence. Tagalog movies followed suit in the guise of imparting sex education.
Consider suggestive titles, to name a few, as reported in the book Sineksinema by Boy Villasanta. Apoy ng Kaligayahan. Naked in the Dark. Lagablab ng Pag-ibig. Playgirls in the Night. Init sa Magdamag. Huwag Kang Makiapid. Kami’y Nagkasala. Angkinin Mo Ako. Climax of Love. Ecstasy. Tukso. Marupok. Mapusok na Pagnanasa. Laman sa Laman. Busog. Hayok. Ang Batuta ni Drakula. Luray.
Porn proliferated in the movies, tabloids, magazines, and the komiks. Pornography ceased when martial law banged its fist in September 1972. It was obviously to please the religious, to appease the so-called moral guardians, to “clear” the name of politicians who turned a deaf ear to the clamor against pornography. The complainants were either concerned about their children or merely hypocritical. Anyhow, architects of martial law claimed they were out to reconstruct the moral fiber of a “new society.”
It all started with Uhaw, where rising star Merle Fernandez runs completely naked. Never mind the story, scriptwriter, director, and the rest of the cast.
Out of curiosity, I watched my first Tagalog softcore porn in Cubao in 1970. A friend of mine who invited me to accompany her paid for my entrance ticket. We went to see two movies on different days. Actually, I don’t recall the stories, which I’m sure are absent, nor the dialogue. All I remember are the titles Hayok (1970), starring Rosanna Ortiz, Merle Fernandez, Tito Galla, and Lito Legaspi. Then, I saw Nympha (1971), starring Alona Alegre and Tito Galla. Everything was a string of frontal nudity, bed scenes, sexual pumping scenes, and various positions. There is no memorable production design or acting to speak of.
Rosanna Ortiz photographed for Pic Magazine
I also remember that soon several viewers were necking, and the moviehouse smelled a little icky. I was imagining I was caught in slush, and I wanted to run to the nearest exit.
I saw two other soft-core porn movies—one, American, and the other, Swedish. Both are just like the Tagalog ones I had seen, except that the Swedish flick pretended to be a documentary, supposedly meant to help couples improve their sex life by teaching them how to make love, how to ignite passion through foreplay, and so on and so forth.
The movies I saw aren’t titillating at all. Maybe because they were totally devoid of aesthetic value and of what we perceive as love, romance, and the like.
At that time, I couldn’t understand how anyone can go all the way without love. I hadn’t read Marquis de Sade or Kama Sutra.
Nympha (1971), directed by Celso Ad. Castillo, is a notch better than the rest since its cinematography is fine, and it depicts a narrative. A woman (played by Rizza) gets pregnant and is forced by her boyfriend to have an abortion. What stuck in my mind was the way the abortion was done and the hemorrhage that causes the character’s death.
Pornography ceased when martial law banged its fist in September 1972. It was obviously to please the religious, to appease the so-called moral guardians.
The Devil in Miss Jones and Deep Throat, meanwhile, were the talk of the town. Naturally, they didn’t even reach predominantly Catholic Philippine shores, because in the United States, around 22 states had already banned their showing in theaters. Then, in 1979, I finally saw in the U.S. The Devil in Miss Jones, Deep Throat, and Last Tango In Paris. I didn’t like Deep Throat, starring Linda Lovelace, and Tango in Paris, starring Marlon Brando. Deep Throat teems with fellatio, while Tango in Paris is tediously artsy-fartsy.
Up until 1979, I was more attentive to the filmic artistry more than anything else. The Devil in Miss Jones, by the way, and Deep Throat are now “classics,” the canons of porn. Maybe because they contain a plot, they possess humor, and they, believe it or not, “give moral lessons.” The Devil in Miss Jones suggests that if a woman were a nymphomaniac, she would end up in hell in a never-ending quest to reach orgasm.
These movies sprung partly as a result of the 1960s’ sexual revolution in the West. I didn’t find anything wrong with free love, but I felt uneasy about scenes of orgies and sado-masochism. I really didn’t condemn the female performers consenting to appear in such adult movies. The idea of feminism enlightened Filipinas only in the ‘80s. Until the late ‘70s, I had not enjoyed “adult movies,” and I wasn’t aware that I was watching movies through men’s eyes!
The so-called women’s sexual emancipation movement in the end seemed to benefit men more than women. Why? Because women became sex objects more than ever before. Moviemakers brainwashed women into believing that it’s what they want, and not to bare all means women are prudes and not hip. Many times, movies end up punishing or killing the “sexually liberated” female characters.
In real life, Linda Lovelace of Deep Throat joined the Women Against Pornography organization and campaigned against pornography. In her autobiography Ordeal, she recounts how she was given drugs in order to “act” in porn flicks, how her boyfriend beat her up, pimped her and repeatedly threatened to kill her, how she was thrown into orgies and gang rape, and how she was forced to be sodomized by a dog.
The so-called women’s sexual emancipation movement in the end seemed to benefit men more than women. Why? Because women became sex objects more than ever before.
After 1972, local porn movies in Betamax format were hot stuff, especially to the lonely, lovesick overseas contract worker (OCW), now overseas Filipino worker (OFW) since many recruits were illegal and without contracts. Betamax became synonymous with sex videos, because many videos contain outtake sex shots and/or those selected or previously deleted from movies.
Some contend that pornography was actually allowed in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in order to assuage the poor’s hunger and divert people’s attention away from police-and-military brutality issues, rising prices of commodities, prostitution, humongous foreign debt, and modern-day imperialism. Nazi Germany, incidentally, used pornography to desensitize its citizens.
As an ordinary moviegoer, I personally do not go for smut. Long before I became part of the women’s movement in the ‘80s, I had already been interested in the image of women in film. From childhood to adulthood, I loved watching not romance or love stories but drama, action, comedy, and musicals. So, why talk porn? Because precisely that’s where women are most abused and objectified. Also, it’s been proven that porn is tied to international drug-and-crime syndicates.
It’s not a question of what’s offensive or obscene. That’s highly subjective. The law on freedom of speech or freedom of expression stands firmer than the law against obscenity, which is carelessly lumped together with pornography. The question is: Whose free speech or free expression is allowed? Whose is curtailed?
Since reading the anti-porn anthology Take Back the Night, and the U.S. law against pornography, penned by Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, and seeing the Canadian anti-porn documentary Not a Love Story, my views on the subject have evolved.
Ishmael Bernal briefs Rita Gomez and Vic Vargas before a take in the director’s satire of the local porn industry, Pagdating sa Dulo.
I’ve become more lax with sex scenes in the movies than with violence. I’ve also learned to look at smut as non-art, and at erotica as art. In smut, sex is a tool used by one gender to subjugate another. The relationship is that of unequals. It’s almost always devoid of tenderness. Erotica, on the other hand, depicts a relationship between equals and sex between two humane individuals.
Betamax became synonymous with sex videos, because many videos contain outtake sex shots and/or those selected or previously deleted from movies.
A meter I’ve come to reject is if it’s titillating, then it’s porn. Again, that’s subjective. What about erotica? If erotica is not titillating, is it smut? No, erotica must be titillating. Another criterion I don’t accept is if it’s sex without love, then it’s porn. But in these days of sexual liberation and double-standard morality, it’s only men and definitely not women who are expected to enjoy sex without love. Otherwise, the female who enjoys sex is considered a slut, a whore.
Present-day erotica may show possibilities, not negative attitudes. It shows that women have a right to enjoy sex and not be stigmatized by it. It demonstrates the feelings and thoughts of women as thinking individuals, not as mere playthings.
A few examples of my favorite erotic films include Antonia’s Line, The Banquet, Belle de Jour, Sons and Lovers, Women in Love, The Bridges of Madison County, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Tess, I Am Curious (Yellow), Breaking and Entering, La Mujer de mi Hermano, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. These films do not treat sex as separate from a person’s being. It’s not dirty, it’s not equated with violence, it’s part of human sexuality (which includes dreams, fantasies, desires, etc.).
Why see porn? To see is to analyze. No investigation, no right to speak. And to watch it through women’s eyes is to see the world from an entirely different perspective.
This article was originally published in the September 2012 issue of Esquire Philippines.