There are two major elements of a film—the form and the content.
This dichotomy has been the substance of any art and other texts.
In Philippine cinema alone, the common form—also known as genre—is drama, action, rom-com, fantasy etc. although there are mutations of these styles like sex-drama, action thriller, youth-oriented, biopic, supernatural sci-fi etc.
And content comes in various subject matters from personal account of a character to collective community life to political events to science breakthroughs ad infinitum.
Peculiarly, straight musical as a form hasn’t been explored to the max by filmmakers although there were projects even during the pre-war movies that intermittently presented songs and dances like Vicente Salumbides’ “Florante at Laura” in 1939 and “Ibong Adarna” in 1941. After the Pacific War, LVN Pictures had produced musicals, some of them “Victory Joe” in 1946 that starred Norma Blancaflor and Rogelio de la Rosa, “Jam Session” in 1962 with Nestor de Villa and Nida Blanca, among their many other musical projects. Sampaguita Pictures and other factories had also made sing-and-dance cavalcades. Mostly, the songs were done in playback and lip synched by its stars.
In recent memory, though, Regal Films and Viva Films dished out musicals, notably “Blue Jeans” and “Hotshots,” respectively. These might be fun fares but mostly, the soundtracks were either already popular in the airwaves or promotional vehicles of.
Interestingly, some of the straight musicals with original soundtracks were “Sinta” directed by Dindo Angeles, “Emir” by Chito Roño and “Larawan” by Loy Arcenas.
Now comes “Katips” by Vince Tañada.
“Katips” found a fusion of its genre and substance. Tañada chooses a musical journey to elaborate his narrative of the abuses committed by authorities during the fascist regime in the 60s and 70s.
It is a straight musical alright with some dramatic or action adventure moments peppered here and there but just the same, the songs and dances are within the thematic progression of the narrative, e.g., the dance sequence inside the student publication office when they were writing critical stories about academic freedom and ills of Philippine society and being surveyed by the military authorities or the street sweeping act of Metro Aides as agents of the New Society cleanliness program of Martial Law amid stark poverty and lawlessness in synchronized movements.
The opening scene alone reeks with pure energy of its actors as socio-political dissenters singing and dancing on the hill mouthing the horrors of military dictatorship as they prepare an encounter with state-sponsored fascism.
Although there’s no mention of the president’s name, the allusion to the character of Apo as the governing head of what they are fighting against is already a giveaway.
As it is, it’s no easy way to mix music with discursive details of a combined fiction and references to real events from the dark past of the dictatorship without losing a striking balance between the style and the content.
Tañada’s attempt at popularizing more musical treatment onscreen is a brave commitment to his vision as a filmmaker. Still, it’s no joke that the director who is also the writer and actor have the multiverse chips hanging on his shoulder as he has meticulously farmed out his mise-en-scene. The auteur is overloaded and he has to come out from his creative shop intact, which he did but with some scratches.
Composing lyrics and melodies are no sweat to Tañada as he has done this onstage, although, this time around, he had to adjust to his new medium. His artists are musically gifted like Nicole Laurel Asencio, Jerome Ponce, Johnrey Rivas, among the talented cast or even Mon Confiado who’s not a known singer but he delivers his lines with gusto. It is an ensemble worthy of conducting to create a disturbing symphony.