Thursday, November 21, 2013


The Philippine Star
Novemebr 14, 2013



Rumors that Nora Aunor is about to be proclaimed National Artist have been circulating the past few weeks. Everyone involved in the process of nomination is bound by a vow of secrecy, but since I was not involved this year (I usually am), I can speak freely about why I think Nora Aunor deserves the title.

I actually nominated her for the title a long time ago, but was eventually voted down, because there were, at that time, quite a number of film directors who were deserving of the honor.

There are still a few individuals who seriously question two things: first, why a film actor should be a National Artist, and second, why Nora Aunor.

First, that film is as much of an art as any of the other categories is clear. There have been several film artists named as National Artists: Gerardo de Leon (1982), Lino Brocka (1991), Ishmael Bernal (1999), Eddie Romero (2003), Fernando Poe Jr. (2006), and Manuel Conde (2009).

All these artists, however, were directors. Even Poe was named not only as an actor but also as a director. The question remains why an actor (“actor” is the politically correct term for all performers, male or female) can be a National Artist. After all, in film theories during the last century, film was always considered a director’s medium. It is the director who puts together the elements of a film, acting being only one of those elements.

Poe, however, opened the door to actors, because his achievement as an actor was considerable. It is impossible to think of him only as a director; his iconic image is that of both actor and director.
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The early 20th century theories argued that the juxtaposition of images or sequence of shots could make it appear that an actor was happy, sad, or angry (thereby negating the actual emotion felt by the actor). That was last century. In this century, thanks to newer theories of film, acting is now considered as much of an art as that of a director. Actors actually take advanced degrees in acting, such as the Associate in Fine Arts in Acting for Film of the New York Film Academy. It has helped that several foreign actors have shown that they can take on varied roles and still create credible and powerful characters.

No one today should doubt that acting is an art.

The second question is why Nora Aunor. There are other Filipino actors, after all, that have shown similar versatility, depth of emotion, command of facial expressions, subtlety of subtexts, and other elements of film acting.

Take the list of skills that a great film actor should have, as Jeremiah Comey lists them in “The Art of Film Acting,” namely, concentration, not knowing, acceptance, giving and receiving, and relating. Each of these skills needs years of training and experience. One wondrous thing about Nora Aunor is that she has all of these skills, not because she had formal training (she briefly studied the Stanislavski Method and acted in workshop-intensive PETA), but because she had them from the very beginning. Even when she was just starting out and had to take on juvenile roles, she already showed an instinctive grasp of the art of acting.

My 1984 book, “Movie Times,” had her on the cover, for good reason: she acted in many of the films I dissected. Although the chapters in that book dealt with film directors (it was the 20th century, after all), I still had to discuss her acting in the films by those directors. She was, in a sense, already pushing me then to expand my idea of film art to cover not just directors but actors.

An artist must be judged by her or his best works. (Otherwise, we would forget Shakespeare, who wrote some really awful plays.) Nora Aunor will be remembered forever for her roles in “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos” (1976), “Bona” (1980), “Himala” (1982), “The Flor Contemplacion Story” (1995), and “Thy Womb” (2012), among others.

Nora Aunor has been recognized through nominations and awards in the Berlin Film Festival, Cairo Film Festival, and Venice Film Festival – all major film festivals – as well as other film festivals in Australia, Belgium, Dubai, Macau, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Russia, and Singapore. Needless to say, she has won many times over all the Philippine awards possible.

These are achievements on the level of art. I do not even mention her popular tags as one of the Ten Asian Best Actresses of the Decade, the Actress of the Century, the Philippines’ Best Actress of All Time, and of course “Superstar.”

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