Revisiting Brocka’s 1971 gay classic

Pablo A. Tariman
'Tubog sa Ginto' has married businessman Eddie Garcia in steamy affair with driver Mario O'Hara. Sounds familiar?

'DARING ATTEMPT.' Garcia and O'Hara, uh, take a bath. Image from The Urian Anthology 1970-1979

MANILA, Philippines – Lino Brocka’s gay-themed “Tubog Sa Ginto,” released in 1971, is a landmark film, anticipating by 42 years the LGBT milieu and what may be deemed its flag bearer on television, “My Husband’s Lover.”

The Lea Productions classic stars Eddie Garcia as the husband, Lolita Rodriguez as the wife, and Mario O’Hara as the driver turned lover – a role that perhaps references that famous, folksy jeepney sign, “Basta driver, sweet lover.”

Set against this complex, volatile trio is the story of young love between Jay Ilagan (as the son of Garcia and Rodriguez) and Hilda Koronel as his girlfriend.

(Ilagan and Koronel would grow up to become a much admired couple in showbiz. They were such a “viral” pair, if you will, during their heyday, that I remember witnessing a sudden commotion at the old Makati Supermarket because Jay and Hilda only happened to be doing the grocery there. They were dressed so casually, as if this were their neighborhood. Today, the equivalent of that scene would be seeing Dingdong and Marian in the supermarket. Ilagan died in a motorcycle accident in 1992.)

The parallel stories of father and son in “Tubog” will collide at a crucial plot point. So, this article will be a full-scale spoiler for those who haven’t seen the film, which is available as an 8-installment post on YouTube.

The copy is passable but could have been better – or as good, one would wish, as the Brocka films that have so far been restored (“Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag” and “Macho Dancer,” to name a few).   

Readers would still be urged to check out the YouTube copy, in the open-minded spirit of the Cinematheque Francaise – where the quality of the archives didn’t stop the French New Wave directors from hoarding up on their film knowledge.

Here’s the first part of “Tubog sa Ginto” as posted on YouTube:

This Mars Ravelo story of an illicit relationship between two men originally appeared in the “Tagalog Klasiks” series. It was a bold theme in the “komiks” genre, made bolder when it was adapted to film.

And yet “Tubog” also found its right milieu when it was screened in the cinemas. This was the time of the First Quarter Storm and the Diliman Commune, alongside the global sexual revolution that also fueled the feminist movement.

Clodualdo del Mundo Jr., who would later do screenwriting duties for Brocka and other filmmakers, still described “Tubog” as a “daring attempt to tackle the question of male homosexuality,” in his 1971 review for the “Pilipino Reporter” (as published in “The Urian Anthology 1970-1979,” together with an English translation).

Eddie Garcia is millionaire Don Benito. Right in the opening credits, set to a scene of his son Santi’s birthday party, we already have a glimpse of this very manly looking character ogling Santi’s friends as they try out the swimming pool.   

By the time Don Benito and his bourgeois wife, Emma (Rodriguez), retire to bed after the party, Emma tries to get her husband in the mood to no avail. The plot soon accelerates into Don Benito’s flirtation with the family driver, Diego (O’Hara), culminating in the very generous lovemaking scenes that will really put “My Husband’s Lover” to shame. 

As things turn out, Diego has an agenda much less earnest than the two lovers in “MHL.” He resorts to blackmail and later seduces Emma. Eventually, Santi discovers this double life as it involves his parents which ends in tragedy.

Del Mundo was not very effusive in his review, which he said “fails to resist the temptation of dishing out moral lessons” – the same baggage, alas, weighing down the popular GMA serye. 

READ: A step out of the closet

But it was a technically brilliant film, all told. And the cast was “excellent,” wrote Del Mundo, as he singled out Mario O’Hara, whose genius as an actor (besides being a screenwriter and director) already shows here. 

Lolita Rodriguez was a critically acclaimed performer by this time. But the film is notable, particularly, as a crossroads in Eddie Garcia’s increasing diversity as actor and director. 

Inquirer editor and Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino president Lito B. Zulueta has a comprehensive essay on Garcia, who went on to portray a variety of gay roles (check out his comic turn in this hazy clip from George Rowe’s “Star?”), alongside his villainous and rakish screen persona.

In my interview with Garcia, he said he had no qualms about the Don Benito role. “It was a very unusual role that comes once in an actor’s lifetime. What I particularly liked about the part was that it wasn’t a caricature of the Filipino gay. He was married, he had a teenage son, he had a stable business. But on the side, he would pick up boys.” Garcia said, winking an eye, that he did “a lot of research” for the part.

In a conversation I had with the since-departed film critic Agustin Sotto, he said “Tubog” was invited to the 1972 Venice Film Festival, but Lea Productions declined the invitation, which so disappointed Brocka that he left the studio.

It’s a marvel to imagine this film being appreciated under different circumstances – at a lonesome cinema during a politically charged time, amid the glamor of a film festival, or in cyberspace as a pretty bad copy that goes with a cold bottle of beer.

One is also reminded of that other pioneering gay-themed film, Joel Lamangan’s Pusong Mamon,” which is curiously missing in the current discussion over the LGBT. That film completely disregarded the irrelevant morality issues usually attached to its theme, which instead the movie rendered as vibrant comedy.

“Tubog sa Ginto,” on the other hand, rendered its theme as a relentless and headstrong melodrama, far bolder than its succeeding variations 42 years later. – Rappler.com

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