Thursday, August 21, 2014

NORA AUNOR AT THE MANDARIN


Twenty years ago today, the Superstar sang her heart out at the Captain's Bar of the Manila Mandarin Hotel in a concert aptly titled La Aunor... Beyond Time. Only the likes of Kuh Ledesma, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Sharon Cuneta and Pops Fernandez appeared at the classy joint. Who ever thought that Nora Aunor can perform to a sold-out crowd in the same venue? The repertoire is a far cry from her successful 1990 Araneta Coliseum concert Handog Ni Guy, it's more laid-back, and the songs were carefully selected by musical director Jun Latonio. My favorites are her numbers with special guests Louie Reyes and the Side A Band. And now, for the first time, watch the complete concert and marvel at La Aunor's unparalleled singing prowess.

Monday, June 30, 2014

NORA AUNOR, THE CINEMATIC ARTIST

Sketch by Vincent R. Pozon

I believe movies are the central art of our time. They bring music, writing, acting and photography together in a feast for the eyes, the intellect and the emotions. Naturally, I get disappointed sometimes, but going on these make believe journeys usually make my endorphins kick into high gear. Movies are probably the most influential medium in our world. They showcase our history, offer escapism and become part of our everyday lives. Films guide us on how we think and behave. I always looked forward to being enchanted by cinematic artistry, enlightened by a great story and inspired by brilliant performances. Nora Aunor is an actress who has demonstrated her cinematic artistry by delivering brilliant performances in films with great stories. Aunor's non-conformity is evident in the type of challenging roles she's chosen during her 47-year film career. She played strong but imperfect women who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Like Aunor herself, what these characters do is at great cost. Among my favorite performances are her roles in 'Merika (1984), Himala (1982), Bona (1980), Bulaklak Sa City Jail (1984), Kung Ako'y Iiwan Mo (1980), Ina Ka Ng Anak Mo (1979), Minsa'y Isang Gamu-Gamo (1976), Bakit Bughaw Ang Langit? (1981) and Minsan, May Isang Ina (1983).

With her impressive acting talent, she managed to maintain a longstanding film career. Nora Aunor is a seasoned actress who has displayed remarkable staying power in a business where glamour and youth seem necessary for success. Also, she has a comfort about her age, Aunor doesn't try to be something she isn't. The woman is the greatest Filipino actress alive, hands down. She can take an ordinary part and imbue it with a welcome kinetic quality completely of her own design. It's as if she was capable of transcending gender to become a life force even though no one in their right mind would ever question the fact that she is all woman. Sure, she can act up a storm and perhaps the roles she accepted have contributed to her endurance in filmdom. Aunor's work is marked by an expressive energy. She consistently finds strong and varied physical movements, gestures and facial expressions in defining the characters she plays. She demonstrates the same kind of vocal energy, lines are shaped and pointed so that they have maximum effect. Crucially, this expressiveness is combined with intelligence and this is what marks Nora Aunor out for me. Energy alone isn't enough, it can produce undisciplined, over-the-top performances. But in watching her films, I have been struck by the sense that the choices she has made are the right ones. They are based on a deep understanding of the dramatic context she is working within, and the human context to which the dramas refer.

Personally, I'm impressed by the way Aunor gets to the heart of her characters, endowing them with dramatic individuality while paying close attention to the way each one interacts with other characters in the movie. More concerned about the truth of a feeling than how it's projected, Aunor excels at acting for the camera, which can pick up the tiniest flicker of emotion. She observes and listens well. Besides developing the qualities mentioned above, Aunor brings an appealing physical appearance to the big screen. Still for me, it's her eyes that expresses so much and makes me care about the characters she portrays. By looking into those incredible eyes we can see Beatrice Alcala's vulnerability and intelligence in Kung Ako'y Iiwan Mo, Angela Aguilar's poignant toughness in Bulaklak Sa City Jail, Bona's inner strength, the gut-wrenching determination of Amy Mercado in  I Can't Stop Loving You and Azun's self-absorbed pride in Nakaw Na Pag-Ibig, to cite a few examples. The wisdom of her experiences touched my heart, reminding me of what I already knew. Aunor demonstrated the hard work of mastering her craft and the self trust acquired through finding its personal authority. She shared a sense of uncertainty about her voice and the process of artistry until she developed a sense of authority and trust in the relationship between herself and something that was beyond language, a common rhythm within a piece, the heart of a character's story or an intuitive sense of direction. But the connection was consistent when she learned to let go of barriers, controlling the effort and allowed the heart of the piece to emerge. The combination of interest, emotion and context formed the pattern that guided the structure and process, for the individual work of art, for the artist's life and for the film community.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

NORA AUNOR: The Unfinished Films





Superstar Nora Aunor had a long reputation for unfinished films or projects
abandoned due to production costs and other reasons. These are films that
actually started filming but were never finished, while others were left on the
planning stage.

In February 1979, Nora Aunor met Eva Fernandez Merlin at a restaurant in
Pangasinan. There was a disquieting parallelism between their lives. Aunor
sold water at a train station before she became a Superstar while Merlin
washed clothes for a living before she married a multi-millionaire who owned
several commercial buildings in Philadelphia. Her rags-to-riches story
fascinated Aunor. Lino Brocka thought it would be good material for a film.
Merlin's husband was going to produce his wife's life story starring Aunor. After
several attempts, the planned biopic did not push through.

In 1983, Aunor worked on two Regal films back-to-back: the Maryo de los
Reyes family drama Kapalaran, later retitled Minsan, May Isang Ina and
Hustisya, intended for the Cannes Film Festival reuniting the Superstar with
Himala director Ishmael Bernal and writer Ricky Lee. In the film, Aunor plays
Belen, a woman accused of killing a priest with Christopher de Leon playing her
defense lawyer and Jimi Melendez as the arresting police officer. In a bold
move, Bernal wanted to tell the story from the police officer's perspective,
envisaged as an attractive, vulnerable young man. Despite a week's work on
the film, Lee's writer's block prompted Bernal to abandon the project. Hustisya
would have been a groundbreaking film that represented a radical change in
Bernal's style, possibly heralding a new late phase of cinematic creativity. That
same year, Aunor was offered Ano Nga Ba Ang Pag-Ibig?, a melodrama to be
produced by Viva Films with a formidable cast of stars including Christopher de
Leon, Hilda Koronel and Phillip Salvador under Zenaida Amador's direction.
Sadly, the movie did not see the light of the projection bulb.

In 1984, another project for Viva followed. Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Pabrika with
Gina Alajar and Amy Austria where Aunor will play a character similar to Sally
Field's Oscar-winning role in Martin Ritt's Norma Rae (1979). Riding on the box
office success of Ishmael Bernal's Working Girls, Viva big boss, Vic del Rosario
suggested the title be changed to Factory Girls. Aunor's shooting schedule
cannot be reconciled with everyone involved in the production, Viva cancelled
the project. After her affecting portayal of Milagros Cruz in 'Merika, Aunor was
offered the role of Mering in Gil Portes' Bukas, May Pangarap. Tommy Abuel
was cast to play her husband. The project lasted for one day after Aunor
learned about the producer's plan to enter the movie in the Metro Manila Film
Festival where her other film, Mario O' Hara's Bulaklak Sa City Jail was one of
the official entries. Aunor was eventually replaced by Gina Alajar.

After the EDSA revolution, Joseph Estrada asked Marilou Diaz-Abaya to direct
Victory Joe, a co-production with Viva Films advocating the removal of the
American bases. Aunor shot for three days but problems with funding got in the
way.

Regal on the other hand presented another melodrama to Aunor in 1987. Sa
Dulo Ng Panahon, a material based on komiks, to be directed by Danny Zialcita
where she will play the role of Melinda, a time traveling librarian. The shooting
with Jay Ilagan, Hilda Koronel, Richard Gomez, Janice de Belen, Dante Rivero
and Chanda Romero went smoothly. With only eleven days left before the end
of shooting, production was halted due to an on going conflict between Aunor
and Mrs. Lily Monteverde. After Jay Ilagan's accidental death in 1993, footage of
the film resurfaced as one of the episodes in the Regal omnibus Ligaw-
Ligawan, Kasal-Kasalan, Bahay-Bahayan. Some months later, Aunor was
spotted at a press conference for Alila. Frank Vrecheck developed the film for
The Asian Ameican Film Institute, the newly created production company
behind Chito Rono's award-winning Olongapo The Great American Dream.
Ricky Lee who was commissioned to write the screenplay backed out of the
project after a heated argument with Vrecheck over Olongapo's writing credits.
Alila, never reached the production phase.

In 1988, Aunor was struggling to finance, produce and direct the feature film
What I Did For Love from Raquel Villavicencio's screenplay. The shoot was a
nightmare. The problems the production had to go through were incredible.
Aside from technical problems, Aunor had to face the major problem of casting.
Knowing that she did not have enough money to cast a major star, the search
was difficult. She tried several actors, known and unknown until Aunor made the
decision to cast Chuck Perez. The movie was too much pressure for her,
starring, producing and directing it herself. Aunor was not too enthusiastic
anymore and pulled the plug on the production. The same screenplay
reappeared in 1995 with a new title, Sa Ngalan Ng Pag-Ibig, this time starring
Lorna Tolentino, Christopher de Leon and Alma Concepcion directed by Maryo
de los Reyes for Regal Films. Chuck Perez played the minor role of
Concepcion's jealous lover in the movie.

The opportunity to play Gabriela Silang came in 1989, when Duran Films, a
newly formed production company offered Aunor to do Gabriela. To her
surprise, Tata Esteban's film was not about the Philippine heroine but a political
drama about a society mired in poverty and repression. Aunor turned down the
project and the lead role was offered to Carmi Martin. The story about Aunor's
filmmaking career did not end with What I Did For Love. Aunor realized that her
first attempt was not the kind of film she wanted to do. There was something
lurking in her mind, a different film about a singer. Referring to George Cuckor's
A Star Is Born (1954) but unlike Judy Garland's Esther Blodgett, Laura Villa is
full of contradictions and was shown going through a lot of emotional scenes in
the film. The title Greatest Performance has become appropriate. Cast as her
leading men were Tirso Cruz III and Julio Diaz with real life son Kristoffer Ian de
Leon playing a pivotal role. As shooting went on, the film was turning out to be
darker than originally envisioned and problems beset the production. Among all
of Aunor's films, Greatest Performance is the most unpredictable. There is no
telling how it would finally shape up. Greatest Performance was rejected by the
Metro Manila Film Festival screening committee. Aunor reportedly has the only
known videocassette copy of the movie. The location of the film's original
negative is unknown.

Intended for the 2003 Metro Manila Film Festival was Elwood Perez's Bituin,
Buwan At Araw for Angora Films International with Tirso Cruz III, Snooky Serna
and Aiza Seguerra. The film was deemed not commercially viable by the filmfest
committee bringing production to a standstill. After Bituin, Buwan At Araw
stalled, Maryo de los Reyes began preparation for Naglalayag with Nora Aunor,
Aleck Bovick and Yul Servo.

When Aunor left for the US, she was offered film projects that were stuck in
development hell. This is a place where ideas go to die. In 2009, Master
filmmaker Lav Diaz offered Reclusion Perpetua to Aunor. The two met in Los
Angeles to talk about the project unfortunately, financial difficulties plagued the
production before filming began. Reclusion Perpetua represented a
breakthrough in Diaz's artistic development. Gone were the epic social dramas,
in its place came an improvised approach, a freer, more personal kind of
cinema.

Celso Ad Castillo, whose failed attempt to work with Aunor in the 1999 dramedy
Prosti tried to do the same with Do Filipinos Cry In America? written by his son
Chris Castillo. The film didn't survive the production phase. One wonders, what
if Nora Aunor finished these films? Would they have reaped more acting honors
for the Superstar? Regrettably, we'll never know.





Saturday, September 08, 2012

SUPERSTAR NORA AUNOR WINS BISATO D' ORO!




Superstar Nora Aunor won the Bisato d' Oro award given by the Premio Della Critica Indipendiente, a jury of independent film critics for her moving portryal of a barren Badjao midwife in Brilliante Mendoza's Thy Womb, one of the 17 films vying for the Golden Lion at the 69th Venice International Film Festival. The Superstar is the first Filipina actress to win the award whose previous recipients have been multi-awarded filmmakers such as Manoel de Oliveira and Samira Makhmalbaf.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

THE SUPERSTAR SHINES AT THE VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL




Superstar Nora Aunor graces the 69th Venice International Film Festival red carpet in a dazzling pink terno designed by Nono Palmos, here with Direk Brillante Mendoza for the premiere of their film Sinapupunan (Thy Womb). The restored high definition version of the Ishmael Bernal's Himala will also be shown at the festival under Venice Classics. 2011 is truly a super year for the One and Only Superstar.