Column Life Show by Tito Genova Valiente
July 8, 2015
THE night of June 16 has already been told. Many tales have been shared with the public. The stories filed were about the winners. The public was once more treated to what is already perceived and traditionally acknowledged as a singular set of standards in film appreciation by which the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP) has long been noted. I say that with all intelligent objectivity—and unashamedly—as a member of this group.
Social media has bannered photos from that night, along with the speeches of the winners. One speech stood out as it was for the highest award the Manunuri could give: It was the speech of Nora Aunor.
It was rambling and charming, with pieces of paper falling off the souvenir program she had carried with her to the stage. The speech was full of emotions. It summarized a lifetime of excellence and participation in film histories. It was sincere. It was a speech of the night, a speech of life.
There were, however, moments that were not captured by the camera and in the media coverage—not because they were not points of interest, but because they were fleeing. Some took place between Nora and the Manunuri. Some happened in the lull of the proceedings. Some were noted because something was not done that should have been done.
The instruction for the MPP was to be seated at past 7 in the evening. As early as 5 in the afternoon, more than five of us were already in Studio 10 inside the ABS-CBN compound in Quezon City, where the ceremonies were to be held. We surveyed the place and worried about being able to read our spiels. The awards night was going to be taped as live, and time was of the essence. We were advised to shorten our remarks on why a particular artist was recognized for that category. We were all unhappy about this development because the Manunuri has gained credence for the citation they belabor for each achievement. In the end, essential time was given to the presentors.
Manunuri Beni Santos, poet and academic, was the exception. She went into her pavane of a citation, relishing each word, articulating each sentence. By then, I was finished with my citation for Best Short Film and Best Documentary. With a tinge of regret, I told myself that I should’ve done also a Beni Santos.
But I’m getting ahead of my telling. Many things happened even before we navigated the slippery darkness of that stage in Studio 10.
To continue the story: there we were early at 5 in the afternoon. But Nora was there already in the makeup room—even before all of us.
A day before, on June 15, we got a message during rehearsal that Nic Tiongson would not be able to make it. His back was killing him and he had to see his doctor. That was bad news. We operated like a gang. Our strength is in our presence, the presence of members. But at 7, we were pleasantly shocked to see Nic, hale and happy. A little later, Bien Lumbera would arrive in a wheelchair, his back also bothering him.
At about quarter to 8 in the evening, I felt a commotion at the entrance to the studio. I did not look back but I knew: Nora had arrived. Soon, her group led by Boy Palma, her manager, and Adolf Alix, her director for the short film Kinabukasan, inched its way to the second row. When they were all seated, I turned around and Nora was there directly behind me,
“Gayun-gayon mo na, Manay [You are so lovely, Big Sister],” I greeted her in Naga Bikol. Nora speaks most of the time in her Rinconaca/Iriga language.
“Dai man po [Not really],” she responded. The “po” in that sentence became one of the first trademarks of Nora when she was just starting out. For Bikolanos, however, that honorific is common in many places. It is perhaps only in Bikol where old people use “po” to address younger persons, especially strangers.
Anyway, Nora was lovely indeed that night. The gown was white except for the few black beads forming curlicues on the bodice. Before we could talk some more, I sensed heavy air in front of us. I turned and saw photographers, three persons deep, all clambering to get a good short of Nora. All of them were inches away from toppling us from our seats. Gigi Alfonso, the present chairman of the Manunuri, turned to me and asked: Is this going to be the situation the whole night? Maybe, I answered in jest.
Soon the floor managers came and requested everyone to be seated. The photographers all did. Every now and then, some person would walk up to the front row, turn around and say, “Hi, Ate Guy.”
The program began. The awards were given.
The night went on. A voice announced the names of Darren Espanto, Gwyneth Dorado, Kyla and Jed Madela. The songs started to flow: “Windmills of Your Mind”… “People.” The voices blended and the memories came back. The lyrics were flawed as Darren and Gwyneth sang. There were awkward preposition combinations but it was not the night of lyrics but of melodies and monumental remembrances.
The camera could only show Nora gazing with intent, the cheekbones aged to perfection, the eyes wise and deep with the pains and the joys of life. If she was beautiful that night, it was also because Nora has accepted what destiny has gifted her—the sorrows, the ills, the gains, the victories—and the country’s critics came together as one that evening to tell her: You and your art have made the cinema of this nation worth the writing and the thinking of people.
The songs kept coming. Nora had covered them during a period when songs came from outside. Instead of diminishing her stature, the songs elevated Nora into a singer who sang and acted out the lines with a voice whose training was not in musical conservatories, but in a universe that made it possible for a girl—dirt-poor and thin and sickly—to conserve a genius that allowed her to rise from poverty. That night, Nora returned the boon to society with records of her excellence.
The songs went on. “This is My Life.” Theatrics and tragedies are packed into that song. I turned to Nora and assured her: “Magayonon baga….” I was referring to the song this time, but I was also assuring her that, yes, we remember that deep, glorious and honeyed voice of hers. When everyone thought musical number was over, the four fine singers went on to do a rousing version of “The Greatest Performance of My Life.” I looked back at Nora once more. She cupped her face with her two hands, her whole body taut but trembling.
That night at Café Ysabel after the awards ceremonies, Nora Aunor was with the Manunuri. She was in a gray shirt, at ease with everyone. She was hugging Manong Bien Lumbera. She walked tugging at the hand of Nic Tiongson as they took more photos. Beni Santos eased her way down to sit beside her.
Nora was at home. Nora was at home with the critics who first noticed her and took the mighty risk of proclaiming her their First Best Actress.