Some film students recently asked us to talk to them about the filmmaking career of National Artist Ishmael Bernal.
We obliged, because we knew and/or worked with “Ishma” from his very first attempts at movie-making, to the abrupt conclusion of his career more than 25 years and 50 films later.
So determined was he to make a go of his first business venture that he didn’t feel it was beneath him to stand outside Grey, and as artists walked past to get to Indios, physically “abduct” them to go into his café instead!
But everybody “forgave” him (even Indio’s owners), because he did it with such humor, style and panache!
In any case, Grey didn’t last all that long because Ishmael was offered, and accepted, a filmmaking scholarship in India.
When he was away, the art scene in Manila didn’t feel like old times, so unique and “stellar” was his effect on it.
For, truth to tell, although he wasn’t “officially” a full-time actor, Ishmael’s entire life was his performance—and an overwhelmingly epic and idiosyncratic performance it was, too!
After he got back from India, Manila’s art scene reverted to its “normal” state of inspired insanity, and he went about trying to get his movie produced.
No, I told the film students—and they were “shocked” to hear it—it wasn’t “Pagdating sa Dulo,” as they had been taught in their film history subjects, but a Virgo Productions movie titled (take a deep breath) “Ah, Ewan, Basta sa Maynila Pa Rin Ako!
” Virgo, by the way, was the production company of “drama king” Eddie Rodriguez.
Ishmael’s brilliance, wit, loquaciousness and volatility had impressed Eddie, and he agreed to produce the first Bernal opus, which was meant to be a “loving” satire on the city of Manila.
During the production’s shooting phase, Ishmael invited us to watch some rushes with him, and we were delighted at how funny and spot-on his satirical scenes were.
We remember one series of sequences in particular in which Ishmael spoofed the many vendors who came up to cars and other vehicles caught in traffic, selling all sorts of wares, from apples to zebras (well, you get the picture).