The Moviegoer

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014


IN THE boyhood years of this dreamer, the movie theatres of old San Fernando were the sources of his early education.

Farthest in my recollection was the “Pampanga Theater” now the present site of PLDT. “Flash Gordon” and “Captain Marvel” pictures were the usual fares. In the fashion of the times, the motion pictures came in serials, and the heroes kept the audience in riveting suspense by their capture, entrapment or near death. A number of episodes put the lead role in crisis; a blank screen temporarily halts the picture and the moviegoers groaned, “Me chapter ya.”

Then the vendors would do their methodical run plying the moviegoers, “mani prito, coke, orange, saging, mani ko k’yan.”

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Pampanga theatre would change ownership and it was renamed “Aurora Theater.” The young boy was now introduced to gangster movies and the sound of roaring tommy guns fascinated him. “Aurora” featured mostly war pictures like “Burma”, “Guadalcanal Diary” and “Back to Bataan.”

Gangster films were the order of the day, and “People’s Theater” on V. Tiomico Street was the favorite venue for the new genre. Most of the pictures showed heroes and villains speaking through the corner of their mouth like Richard Widmark and Mickey Rooney which I tried imitating in a reading session of 1st year English. In the style of the mobster chief or a G-Man I would to enter swing doors of restaurants by shoving them with my shoulder in mock bluster.

Old timers in the capital town would remember “Fiesta Theater” near Ponduan. It featured Tagalog movies fresh from their Manila showing. Movie fans of Premiere, Sampaguita, and LVN films flocked to this movie house for the romantic flicks. On Sundays movie fans created a standing room situation throughout the day.

“Fiesta” was home to the stars of the past era – Rogelio dela Rosa, Leopoldo Salcedo, Jose Padilla, Jr., Carmen Rosales, Lilia Dizon, Arsenia Francisco, Anita Linda, Paraluman, Luis Gonzales, Gloria Romero, Eddie Gutierrez, Susan Roces, Romeo Vasquez, Zaldy Zhornack, Shirley Gorospe, Nesor-Nida among others.

Another popular movie house, the Capati-owned “Estrella Theater” showed the best of Hollywood films from late 60’s until the early 90’s. It was not as old as the Alegria theatre on the Consunji Street, formerly called Excelsior theatre of the 50’s. Estrella was the cleanest of the cinema houses and had the best sound system.

I remember the boy-movie addicts of the bygone days would imitate scenes from films. They would play sword games called “iskrima” after watching Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power; fashioned wood rifles to reprise a battle scene, or bought toy guns and fought in mock showdown using exploding red blister bullets called “perminante.”

During the martial law regime, Melda theatre was famous for the bomba (sex) films. The picture “Uhaw” drew record crowds, with jeepney drivers and cocheros going twice or thrice in repeat attendance. The purely male crowd did not mind if they had stepped on slimy cement or had accidentally touched creamy seats.

A middle-age lady, her male partner behind her, was groping in the semi-dark to be seated when she came upon something wet. “Susmariosep, nanu’y ni!” she created a scene standing up. “Hoy, atche, eka mamanpan!” a voice shouted across the next row.

It was at the Fiesta theatre were a family or a group of friends would stay all day watching a romance movie. They had brought their packed lunch and snack food for an eight-hour marathon watch. Upon returning to their barrios the aficionados who memorized the love scenes, outdid one another in a retelling of the movie, including the exact dialogue, to astonished neighbors.

During the martial regime, I used to watch the ST films at Melda theatre after work. With the crowd were a gaggle of students in pairs from the Jose Abad Santos high school. The girls hid the shoulder straps of their yellow uniform inside the skirts to dissemble their school origin. Soon the pairs dispersed to separate sites in the balcony section. The movie operator above had an exciting time while rubber necking a live fondling show just beneath his peep window.

The peanut vendor had his own timetable. He would appear in front of the young lovers when locked in embrace and tasting each other’s breath. His was an unwanted distraction with his “mani ko kyan, mani prito, coke, orange” as ruse to get closer to the combat zone. It was pure harassment when he kept repeating “mani, mani, mani,” to a pair in petting mode.

The young boy is now an old man with bad legs and no longer watch movies in mall theatres. Years of movie watching retained their effects on him and transferred their fascination and magic to his adulthood. Time was when he had sat on the edge of his seat watching old westerns heroes Allan Ladd in “Shane” and Gary Cooper in “High Noon”; commiserated with hapless Jennifer Jones in “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” and hopeless Gregory Peck in “Roman Holiday”; shed a tear in “Casablanca” and “Love Story”.

What a good time that was. In the intermission the raspy turntable scratched the lilting-tunes of “Mocking Bird Hill” and “The Other Side of the Mountain” in an old theatre in San Fernando. The young boy would munch fried peanuts and boiled sagin for his journey to meet the outcome of a lovers’ quarrel or a Gunfight in Ok Coral.

Old movies- especially those that make you cry - should be taken seriously because in their misrepresentation and make-believe can we enjoy vicarious existence and question the seriousness and reality of love and life.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on July 23, 2014.

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