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June 07, 2004

CONSTANTINO C. TEJERO

The life of Victorio Edades might not be as dramatic as the life of Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo or Pollock, but it was no less epochal-to the Philippine art world, at least.

The man is, in fact, considered the Father of Philippine Modern Art. And it was this spirit of revolution that served as impetus to drive Nick Deocampo into filming the docudrama “Edades.”

The film has had its world premiere on Feb. 15 during the 11th Pelikula at Lipunan at SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City, and was next shown at SM Iloilo last week.

It is now touring the country from north to south during the provincial legs of the festival, in SM Baguio (March 2-6), SM Cebu (March 19-20), SM Davao (April 23-24), as well as in Zamboanga and Pangasinan.

The film’s opening sequence is a prologue of still shots introducing the 13 Moderns, the artists who revolutionized 20th-century Philippine art. These were the first-generation modernists, who grouped in 1938: the first triumvirate of Edades, Galo B. Ocampo and Carlos Francisco; then Diosdado Lorenzo, Jos??? Pardo, Demetrio Diego, Ricarte Purugganan, Vicente Manansala, H.R. Ocampo, Bonifacio Cristobal, Cesar Legaspi, Arsenio Capili and Anita Magsaysay.

The enigmatic opening scene shows a white-covered bed on a seashore in the twilight, with an old man in a stately walk, and a boy flying a kite across the seascape. Goldenly lit, the shot captures the artist as dreamer and master.

Dramatic highlights

The film then traces Edades’ life and times, from his birth in 1895 and childhood in Barrio Bolosan, Dagupan, Pangasinan, through high school in Lingayen; his lonely years as an architecture and fine arts student at University of Washington in Seattle; summer work in Alaska’s salmon canneries; his return to Manila with American wife Jean and only child Joan; the rejection of his first exhibit; the rejection of his teaching application at University of the Philippines; his founding of the University of Santo Tomas Departments of Architecture and Fine Arts in the 1930s; the fierce debate with the conservatives represented by sculptor Guillermo Tolentino and genre painter Fernando Amorsolo; brief sojourns in Paris and Rome; the war years and Liberation; his imprisonment as a Japanese collaborator, followed by years of deprivation; the rediscovery of his art and the patronage of First Lady Imelda Marcos in the ’70s; until his retirement in Davao and death in 1985.

Dramatic highlights include the day he first encountered modern European art in the traveling exhibit of the Armory show in 1922, and the rejection by both public and critics of his historic exhibit in the Philippine Columbian Club in 1928. These scenes are reenacted with almost wide-eyed suspense.

Deocampo’s technique is a happy blend of reenactment, actual footage (shot in amateur super-8 film), archival footage, photographs, animation, interviews, video and digital effects. The unconventional technique reflects the iconoclastic spirit that imbues the art and life of the subject.

The film was produced by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, specifically the Committee on Galleries supported by Galleria Duemila’s Silvana Diaz, Gallery Genesis’ Araceli Salas, and Liongoren Gallery’s Norma Liongoren. Subtitled “Victorio C. Edades and Modernism in Philippine Art,” it is out to clarify certain points of nationhood.

The docudrama is meant to address “three levels of history: Edades’ personal history; the country’s political history, paralleling the growth of Filipino identity in art; and the evolution of art history, as modernism struggled to supplant classicism.”

Edades was proclaimed National Artist for Painting in 1976, for “changing the direction of Philippine painting decisively, ending the parochial isolation of Philippine art and placing it in the mainstream of international culture.”

The dramatization of his biography is contextualized and, in the process, explained by interviews with art historians and critics Alice Guillermo and Patrick Flores, artists Jaime de Guzman and Danny Dalena (Edades’ former students in UST), and gallery owner Odette Alcantara.

Thus, for the lay person and the common viewer, the growth and development of Philippine modernism in art has been clarified by the film, in no small ways aided by the script of Lydia Rivera Ingle, the lucid narration of Boots Anson Roa, and a profuse photomontage of artworks.

What’s admirable about Deocampo’s filmmaking is that, the film doesn’t turn off the viewer with sheer academicism at all. Average moviegoers go to have some fun, and that they get, plus a generous serving of intellectual and spiritual nourishment.

The boy Victorio is played by Von Ryan Quinto, Mon Confiado plays the artist as a young man, while printmaker Pandy Aviado (another Edades student) plays the postwar artist. Aviado acts like a Zen master.

The most convincing performance is rendered, understandably, by Confiado, as he is the only professional actor of the three. He gives some intensity to the role, particularly during moments of internal struggle.

The editing by Emmanuel Dadivas is effective, as is the painterly cinematography by Yam Laranas.

A masterstroke is the section on the debate between the conservatives and the moderns, done in frenetic animation with hilarious word balloons to the rendition of “Three Little Maids from School,” that flirty song trio from “The Mikado.”

The musical scoring of Noel Cabangon is at its most haunting in the opening scene, the closing scene, and the penultimate scene (when the conferment of National Artist is being read by a voice-over, as blood-red rose petals drift slowly across the screen).

This is an important film-a must-see not only for artists, art students, cineastes and art lovers, but also for ordinary moviegoers so they’d get an inkling of this extraordinary life and take pride in being Filipino: how a brown boy from the barrio went out to the world and helped in putting his country on the map of the art world.