Ask me about the movie, however, and I've got a mouthful to say. I've seen it about six times, the first during a Pelikula at Lipunan festival at Glorietta's now defunct Art Film cinema in 1999, where a restored copy of “Insiang" was screened. The cleaned-up reels came from the British Film Institute, which had, unlike us, kept a copy of the Lino Brocka masterpiece in its vaults. I imagine the Brits had considered it an important part of world cinema, as the first film from the Philippines--hotbed of perhaps the most vibrant cinema in Asia in the '70s--to make it to the Cannes Film Festival in France.
ABS-CBN then bought the film rights and began exhibiting the restored “Insiang” on cable. I recorded a copy on VHS, along with other Filipino classics like Mike De Leon's “Itim” and “Kisapmata,” Mr. Brocka's “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” and Peque Gallaga's “Oro, Plata, Mata.” The tapes are still with me, slowly moldering, waiting to be transferred to DVD. (Help!)
Back in 1998 I was a corporate drone who kept my writerly ambitions alive by contributing a column to a weekly community paper in my hometown. My first experience of “Insiang” occasioned this breathless report:
It was at Art Film that I got to watch, for the first time, Lino Brocka's “Insiang.” The festival organizers had managed to obtain a new print of the film that gave Brocka entree to the Cannes Film Festival and introduced Hilda Koronel's otherworldly beauty to European audiences. Decades later, the film still transfixes with its brooding tale of love, obsession and degradation in the pits of Manila's squalid slums...
Koronel's mother is played with chilling intensity by the great Mona Lisa. With iron-set jaws, a talon's gaze and words spat out in fury, Mona Lisa fully limns the character of a woman numbed by deprivation to indescribable loneliness and rage. It was said that Cannes audiences first tittered at the mention of this actress' name, wondering why anyone would appropriate the title of the Louvre's most famous painting for a screen name. Then the film rolled, and the French had their jaws on the floor. Fast forward years later and by the time the closing credits flashed onscreen, we were also on our feet, giving the now-frail but still regal-looking Mona Lisa a rousing, much-deserved standing ovation. Yes, she was in the audience the night I watched her greatest acting work. Wasn't I the luckiest guy in the world.
The version that Mario O'Hara has retooled for Tanghalang Pilipino is, we are told, essentially the same story--though not quite too. There's one new major character, the language is raunchier, the general atmosphere more explicit than was ever allowed in a '70s Filipino film under constant threat of Martial-Law censorship. This is theater, after all, its live-ness permitting an altogether different dynamic from film, creating a different energy for both actors and audience with every viewing.
But why am I telling you all this when someone else can speak more authoritatively about “Insiang” the play? I've got director Chris Millado on video below, talking about the process of transforming the movie to a theater piece--the language, for instance, made coarser to achieve the texture otherwise easily supplied by filmic visuals, and the immersive “theater-in-the-round” set, with which some audience members will be within "talsik-laway" proximity of the actors.
The abrupt ending? I got startled when Mr. O'Hara walked in unnannounced, to loud whoops from the presscon area. Only afterwards did I realize I had pressed the “Stop” button accidentally. In any case, we really had to cut the chat to make way for the primetime Q&A. But five minutes or so with Mr. Millado should be more than enough to pique one's interest in “Insiang.” Watch:
PLUS: More “Insiang” coverage: Migs invites his readers to watch the play this weekend, while Karla of PinoyCentric.com whips up two feature stories, one on the opening of the play and one on Mr. O'Hara and “the birth pains” of his most enduring work.