Yesterday and today: ‘Oro, Plata, Mata’

Cherie Gil

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Actress Cherie Gil joins the Rappler family with this first piece on a historic movie

TV PATROL INTERVIEW. 'Oro, Plata, Mata' was Joel Torre’s very first film, introducing him as a much sought after actor-director. All photos courtesy of Cherie Gil

MANILA, Philippines – When THE Maria Ressa asked me to join the Rappler family, I almost fell off my chair. It was a real shock to receive such an offer and opportunity. I was excited, but I wasn’t even sure I could write! What do I say, what do I write about?

I know I can talk for hours with a 200 mph speed at times (without breathing) but to write! What gives me even the authority to say anything about anything? Much less about politics or religion because I ain’t got any? This I made sure I made clear. I guess Maria liked that even more.

So after a wonderful Italian lunch chat, I felt more confident after Maria hit it right at the core for me, saying, “Journalism on the web has now shifted from writing with authority to writing with authenticity.” I like that word. AUTHENTICITY. That is exactly what I have been trying to achieve on a daily basis in this wonderful journey called life, to always be true to oneself.

At that moment, my head was running with a thousand topics in a speed I couldn’t keep up with. So here’s a first!

CHERIE GIL, RAPPLER. Here I am with Maria on my recent visit to the Rappler office, making my membership official and gaining a tad more confidence by rubbing elbows with young writers and a great mind like hers

With so much going on in my creative life right now I feel there is just so much I’d like to share. I decided it would be best to start to write about what is happening right here and now in my world of film, TV and theater. 

It has been an exciting ride since the year began. I have come to realize what a gift it truly is that after having been part of an industry I love for almost 35 years, I now have the honor and opportunity to be working with only the best creative and brilliant minds. 

It seems these past months have been all about making movies! I’ve really missed that. After all, I began my career as a film actress during the turn of the second golden era of films. That was around the early ’80’s to early ’90’s. Then we hit a slump after the Marcos regime, but now it seems to have bounced back — baby steps, yes, but watch out for the indie generation.  It has grown so fast and given fresh takes on story concepts and execution, and we’ve gotten global recognition. 

It’s just as exciting even if some purists say that we don’t make films like we used to. Well, that’s partly true. But why stick to what we used to do? Isn’t growth all about innovation especially in this fast evolving digital age?

It’s just amazing to witness through the years how systems and technology have changed. I’ve made movies with real 36mm film rolls on gigantic cameras which were then converted to Betamax and later to VHS and now on compact discs. Let’s not forget the short-lived laser disc era, too. Having been able to “wax “ songs on vinyl 45’s to LPs down to cassettes, now we can download them straight from iTunes or YouTube.

Magazine covers then were all shot with actual film rolls on camera using the polaroid as test shots and without Photoshop. I have to admit though that I’m glad I can still partake of these wondrous inventions at this point of my life. Magazine pages before were not glossy like today’s. They were more like mimeograph paper. Okay, so my age is finally showing but who cares! I have been part of that evolution and still loving the catch up. 

Here’s one fantastic example of reinvention with new technology, and it’s happening now:

“Oro, Plata, Mata” in its fully digitally restored version is now showing in commercial theaters! 

I LOVE THE NEW POSTER! DON'T YOU? It was a real ego trip to be reminded that my name came first then among the great actors that made up the ensemble, each perfectly cast

Now this is a feat and it’s historic! I am just so proud that 30 years later we are able to watch it again in its full crisp color and texture on the big screen. The team at Central Digital Lab headed by Manet Dayrit did such a great job in achieving just that: spending hundreds of hours tweaking every frame to bring colors to life, making shadow lighting even clearer that you see expressions of the eyes in its real depth, conveying emotions even more clearly.

Big kudos to the team for finally making it possible for us to archive great Filipino films of the past. Again, thanks to the digital age, too! (Central Digital Lab has been commissioned to restore 2000 films. They finished restoring two with “Himala” and “Oro, Plata, Mata” for starters. 1,998 films more to go! Cheers!)

READ: Oro, Plata, Mata: Revisited, restored, riveting still

I was all of 19 when I was tapped by Peque Gallaga to do the film. Then working on the comedy TV show “Champoy” together, he purposely mentioned that he wrote the role for me. Worried then that I was too in love (with a cute doctor) that I might not take the project seriously, I promised I would give it my all if he would just trust me. (I think he wanted to make sure so he cast the mother of my boyfriend! I won’t say who, ok?)

Never having lived nor experienced much less to imagine being in the midst of war, I had no sort of personal contribution to the role and to the film itself in its entirety. Needless to say, my life’s journey in the film was in Peque’s hands. Watching it again made me realize that it was no small feat for the acclaimed director. Every scene involved teamwork and ensemble choreography captured by complicated camera shots, more often done in just one take, capturing only sheer truth and believability. I marvel now at how he was able to achieve all that unfailingly.

TIME WARP. Here we see on the monitor one of the scenes with me playing Trining Ojeda. That's me sitting in the recording room 30 years later during the DVD commentary shoot at ABS-CBN.

From the utmost detail of production design and props, to costumes to foreshadowing of elements and atmosphere to depict the moments’ tension, to the unique location choices, one surely cannot avoid noticing the attention to absolute detail that every shot professed. As Peque always surmised, God is in the details. On this note, I also must give credit to the stunning work of the late great Don Escudero who won many awards for his work in this film.

Without him, we would not have had the pretty antique China, the authentic Spanish “mantons,” the gramophone and the grandfather clock which was actually a character itself in the film. Much to the shock of Don’s relatives, the clock was dropped on the ground before the Plata sequences began, right before the infamous burning field scene, depicting the halt of time. He sneaked them out of the Escudero estate, you see. Ssshhhh…

READ: Gallaga’s ‘Oro, Plata, Mata’ opens Cinema One Originals

I spent two months straight in the deepest jungles of Negros, and my perspective of and attitude towards my work was never the same after. “Oro, Plata, Mata” set high standards and great expectations which were hard to meet in other projects. 

ABS-CBN which owns the rights to most of the films that will be archived, “Oro, Plata, Mata” included, is developing special edition DVDs to be sold in video and book stores sometime in April for just P395. This will include the director’s commentary as well as the cast. Now isn’t that a steal for movie lovers and filmmakers alike?

REMINISCING. Some cast members and the director sitting with Manet Dayrit (far right in black) from Central Digital Lab conducting the session

I had so much fun watching and reliving every experience on- and off-cam with Joel Torre, Fides Cuyugan Asensio, Manny Castaneda and Peque all in one room. You can imagine how many stories came out in that session which took all of 7 hours to do. So do yourselves a favor and grab a copy once it’s out.

“Oro, Plata, Mata” is what art is all about. The masterful manner of Peque’s execution of every scene, almost unmatched to this day, brought us a masterpiece — one of the most important films ever made in our country. Depicting a pivotal moment in our history as well makes it eternally relevant; it also serves as a benchmark for other films.

Watch the digitally-restored trailer of ‘Oro, Plata, Mata’ here:

This brings me back to what I said earlier in lieu of the digital age, and to pacify the purists (like me, I now admit):

While technical revolution empowers filmmakers to breach new frontiers, it also enables us to step back into the past and learn from its moments of greatness.

While we get all excited about future possibilities, there are still these valuable works from the past that should never be forgotten.

And that to me is “Oro, Plata, Mata.” –

Cherie Gil

Cherie Gil is known for her iconic line in “Bituing Walang Ningning” as Lavinia Arguelles: “You’re nothing but a second rate, trying hard, copycat!” Famous for playing “kontrabida” (antagonist) roles, she is now part of the Rappler family as our resident “kontra diva” (anti-diva). Watch out for more of Cherie Gil and her thoughts only on Rappler.

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