Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tropical cowboys


Philippine movie lobby card, Alamat ng Pitong Kilabot (Legend of the Deadly Seven), 1969.

We interrupt this blog to talk about Philippine cowboy movies, the most enduring movie genre in my country. That there are practically no cowboys in our tropical island nation is beside the point. We Filipinos love our John Wayne; more precisely, we love our version of him -- suited and gloved in spite of the sweltering humidity, heroic against the palm trees.

The Philippines is unlike any other country in Asia. Unlike our neighbors, our culture is Latino in spirit and American in most everything else, the legacy of a colonial past that can be summed up as 300 years in a Spanish convent and 50 years in Hollywood. The movie still on the left, from a wildly popular 1967 tearjerker, may well be a scene from Carmen. But the movie is unabashedly Filipino. And so, for that matter, are our tropical cowboys.

Actors who played cowboys are some of the most beloved celebrities in the Philippines. And like beloved celebrities everywhere, they become politicians. The mounted actor on the right (second from left) became the 13th president of the Philippines (1998-2001). He was ousted from office before he could finish his term, convicted of plundering in 2007, sentenced to at least 40 years of imprisonment, and pardoned a month later. He has signified his intention to run for president again in 2010. And perhaps indicative of our people's all-forgiving love for actors who played cowboys, he is ranking highly in the electoral polls.

A note about these pictures: They are part of a cache of movie lobby cards that my brother-in-law rescued from a dumpster in South San Francisco. Most of the pictures are from movies that were made in the 1960s and 1970s, the movies I grew up watching on television. I know the names of every actor in these pictures by heart, and that includes the villains and their sidekicks. Sure, they look a bit loopy now with their cowboy hats, turtle necks (!) and bow ties, but back then they were my action heroes.

4 comments:

  1. when does kitch loose the ick factor and turn into some sort of just seeing? has the passage of concerns finally created a space for social commentary and discourse? this progression of nostalgia bears attention: the importation of ford, director and brand alike, would seem incongruent metaphors for the spirit of a nation. they stick however, because of an unwavering belief that the scripts of celluloid heroes can transfigure the desperate hopes of a people into the deus-ex-machina of a starring government. nevermind that in today's now, wayne's swagger is deemed nothing more than an affected swish and that the american auto industry is bankrupt; one must never give up on the ideal that good prevails and that ford remains god in the universe of westerns.

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  2. I love the cowboy genre. I'm always finding some of the more entertaining books to read within this genre like, "The Shopkeeper," by James D. Best. I had no idea these movies were still so popular. I haven't seen too many books about cowboys in the Philippines, but I will keep looking. Until then, I guess it is off to the video store.

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  3. Hi Melissa -- You just might discover that Philippine movies may tip their cowboy hats to every cliche of the genre (American and spaghetti westerns) but, like Isabela said, it's all kitsch. We don't have cowboys in the Philippines. What we do have in spades is the influence of Hollywood governing our national consciousness. Many of our cowboy movies are parodies or copies of blockbuster westerns -- Mekeni's Gold (McKenna's Gold), Alamat ng 7 Kilabot (Magnificent Seven), Ang Banal, ang Ganid at ang Pusakal (The Good, the Bad & the Ugly), etc. Usually the movies are variations of traditional good versus evil melodramas in cowboy dress. They have no basis in reality or history, only in American movies. It's interesting that Philippine cowboy movies (even the comedic ones) took the physical trappings of the genre very seriously. There was nothing tongue-in-cheek or ironic about them at all. Some of them were a lot of fun, all of them were very popular. Thanks for visiting the blog.

    -- Eman

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