Sunday, June 02, 2013

Eddie Romero (1924-2013)

A Tribute to Eddie Romero
by Francis Joseph A. Cruz

He was the oldest in the crowd. Seated among an ambitious batch of wide-eyed graduates of a Mowelfund course was Eddie Romero, the venerated veteran filmmaker of such works like Aguila and Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?. He was there as a guest of honor, a beacon of what is to come for the filmmakers who are about to test the skills they have mustered from several months of sitting through lectures and practical demonstrations. When he was acknowledged by the master of ceremony, he stood up with a certain air of dignity one expects from someone who has lived a full and productive life. Predictably, his mere presence drew a round of applause from the crowd.

Eddie Romero would still continue to grace film events, garnering the same acknowledgment from his peers and the public by virtue of the title that was bestowed on him by the Philippine government. In a film industry where dreamers are turned into auteurs by virtue of a novel story treatment, a powerful pitch, and a sizable film grant, Romero’s presence felt reassuring. He represented not only an era were Filipino films were golden and weren’t begging for viewership, but an artistry that was a product of time and hard work, with a little sprinkling of good old luck. One can only wish that the filmmakers who gave their automatic applauses upon the mere mention of his name acknowledged not only the grandeur of several of his works but also his admirable story.

It was his early literary work and somebody else’s love story that pushed a young Eddie Romero into the world of film. Legendary Gerardo de Leon, enamoured and impressed by a short story he read and a native beauty, visited Silliman University. There, he wooed his future wife, and convinced Romero, the son of a schoolteacher and a government official who was already making waves writing stories for various publications, to write for him. De Leon regarded Romero as his protégé. He was the literary voice that completed De Leon’s visual verve. After a few collaborations, Romero would be ready to direct his first film. However, the Pacific War happened, and his directorial debut had to be shelved.

After the war, Romero would return to his literary roots, serving as managing editor for a magazine. De Leon would again convince Romero to return to film. He would again write scripts for De Leon, then start helping in directing various scenes, before directing his first feature, a forgotten film called Ang Kamay ng Diyos. The rest, as they all say, is history. Romero’s career as a director is marked with achievements. In 1951, he won the directorial prize of the very first Maria Clara Awards, the country’s first formal film awards-giving body. He would later on win more gold-plated trophies and medals, the pinnacle of which is the National Artist Award in 2003.

Romero would be most remembered in the Philippines for his more elegant works. Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?, a period satire that had a very young Christopher de Leon play a simpleton in search of national identity, has turned a religious experience for some since it mostly screens during the Lenten holidays when mindless entertainment seemed too sinful. Aguila has taken its place as one of the late Fernando Poe, Jr.’s most impressive films.

Interestingly, like his mentor De Leon, Romero is most remembered overseas for his genre works. Fortunately, even in that portion of his filmography that would have caused the most revered of filmmakers some sort of embarrassment, are quiet gems that reveal artistry amidst the primary need for pleasure and entertainment. For example, The Ravagers, a cheaply-made war, had Fernando Poe, Jr., who plays sidekick to John Saxon, outshine his lead in terms of bravura and romance. In an age of American thirsting for stories about their heroes’ bravery, here comes a film where a Filipino performs the more difficult stunts to win the heart of the Caucasian bombshell, leaving the American soldier content with just saving the day.

The story of Romero’s career is one that is unheard of today. He was patient. He took time to blossom, to earn his laurels. This dedication to the craft, which took him several years and a World War to develop, gifted him with an enduring career. He started scripting films before the war and released his last film, Teach Me to Love, in 2008. His career lasted several decades, spanning all of the so-called golden ages of Philippine Cinema. He has seen it all. He has seen the triumphant premieres of Gerardo de Leon’s films. He has seen those films rot away to oblivion. He has seen Lino Brocka making waves for adventurous films in international film festivals. He has also seen the same Brocka direct popular melodramas for cash-hungry capitalists. He has seen Lav Diaz and Brillante Mendoza get critics’ approvals everywhere. He has also seen the empty local cinemas that screen those admired works.

Romero has indeed lived a long life. Through the films he has left behind and the dreamers he has inspired, he will continue to live longer. Rest in peace, Mr. Romero.

(First published in Supreme, Philippine Star, 1 June 2013.)

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