The longer you stay the more mired in the swamp you get

Much will be made soon locally about the release of the latest installment in the Bourne Franchise since it was shot in Manila and Palawan. There have been other movies shot in Palawan but because they are local movies, no one brags about them. No one trumpets them. I seem to remember a Blue Lagoon rip off with all those exotic animals running around but that just might be too much Red Horse. Goes to show you what we think of our own movies. Also goes to show you that pinoys value being seen by the “world”. The stage is what is important. Not the actual act or place. I can imagine audience clapping at landmarks that show up on screen. Same landmarks show up in a local movie no one cares. Being noticed is what drives Manny mania, Charice mania, Jessica mania , Arnel mania etc.


In The Bourne Legacy the world will see Edsa , oh joy. Quadruple threat. noise pollution, air pollution, kamikaze bus drivers and pedestrians who cross regardless of the legality or impracticality. Truly a More Fun In The Philippines moment.

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I’d like to talk a bit about movies that I have seen that were shot here by people who are not from here.

Platoon made pre Wall Street Oliver Stone a household name. Charlie Sheen, Willem Defoe , Tom Berenger were the three principal actors. Forrest Whittaker (Good Morning Vietnam, Crying Game, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and Johnny Depp were also part of the cast. Platoon introduced a whole new audience to Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit. What I got out of Platoon was that you had to be in a certain state to do your mission and kill the enemy. Unfortunately you end up killing more than the enemy. 1987 not only brought us Oliver Stone’s Platoon but also brought us Stanley Kuberick’s version of the Vietnam War Full Metal Jacket. That was not filmed in the Philippines or Vietnam but England.

The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak – hands up those of you that knew Tawny Kitaen ( Bachelor Party, Whitesnake videos) starred in a movie that was shot on our shores. I remember renting this VHS abroad and was a bit shocked when one of the pirates/ sailors was speaking in Tagalog. Not exactly family fare though. Guaranteed if this was released today that pinoys everywhere will protest labeling the country Yik Yak.

Delta Force 2 The Columbian Connection made by that supreme being masquerading as a mortal man on Earth Chuck Norris. Notables in the cast were Billy Drago ( Untouchables 1987) and Baywatch regular the late Richard Jaekel. Chuck Norris may be able to go back in time using roundhouse kicks but even he could not breathe life in the box office for this flick. Watching this movie abroad on video I recognized the Tesda building though.Chuck Norris actually has some parallels to Noynoy.

Part of the appeal locally of Bourne Legacy is that even if there have been non Filipino movies shot here, the locations were usually Vietnam or Bangkok or even South America in the case of Delta Force 2. Nobody ever recalls Harold Robbins’ Body Parts. Not that ordinary film fans should because this movie was simply not good. I hate to paint with a broad brush but anything with Richard Grieco but does not have Will Ferrell should be avoided at all costs. Still the movie was set in Manila and the fact that it had Joyce Jimenez in it , you would think local movie fans would treat it like all the Harry Potter movies combined. Not that I have seen too many Joyce Jimenez movies.


In 1998, The American Film Institute released its 100 movies for 100 years. The movie that occupied the 28th spot was filmed entirely in the Philippines and I bet 99 out of a 100 Filipinos could not name it to save the life of Claire Danes.

There is possibly a misconception that Apocalypse Now is a Vietnam War Movie. It is as much a war movie as Remember the Titans was a movie about football. Whereas Remember the Titans was really about the uncomfortable process of racial integration as seen by boys playing football together, Apocalypse Now was an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Hearts of Darkness with the Vietnam War replacing the Congo.

Apocalypse Now is about ambiguity. The ambiguity of war and the ambiguity of human nature.

General Corman: Well, you see, Willard, in this
war, things get confused out there.
Power, ideals, the old morality,
and practical military necessity.
But out there with these natives,
it must be a temptation to be God.
Because the rational and the
irrational, between good and evil.
And good does not always triumph.
Sometimes, the dark side overcomes
what Lincoln called the better
angels of our nature. Every man
has got a breaking point. You
have and I have them. Walter Kurtz
has reached his. And, very
obviously, he has gone insane.

More about insane later. Francis Ford Coppola in the press conference at the Cannes Film Festival for the movie said “My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It’s what it was really like. It was crazy. We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.” In that statement he was describing both the American presence in Vietnam in the 60s and 70s as well as his film crew in the Philippines.

The Philippines was picked because of the similarity of the terrain. When the movie was under production the Vietnam War was still in progress. So no one knew how it would eventually end. This movie can be graphic and disorienting. Hate to break it to you but war does that to a person. If you are not confused watching this movie then you are not doing it right.

I am not only highly recommending Apocalypse Now but I am recommending even more the documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now called Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. Watch the movie first of course then internalize how screwed up you think it is. Assign a number even on a scale from 1-100. Then watch Hearts of Darkness which details all that went into producing Apocalypse Now. Also assign a number to how screwed up you think that was. If you are like me , the documentary is more maddening than the film. The documentary though is real. These psyche breaking moments you thought might just be exclusive to engaging in war. Turns out making a movie in a tropical country can also tax your sanity and your grip on life. When you watch the documentary, it won’t take long for you to realize the production had more baggage than La Guardia.

“The longer you stay the more in danger you are of being sucked in the swamp.” George Lucas’ warning to Francis Ford Coppola about filming a big production in the Philippines.

Martin Sheen – In the movie it seems like Willard (Martin Sheen) is doing some dance. What you learn watching the documentary is the injury is real and he was extremely intoxicated. Coppola admits to trying to coax the dark side of Martin Sheen out to establish credibility of the army assassin character. Can’t help thinking of the reality of his son Charlie decades later and about the apple not falling far from the tree. A priest actually administered last rites to Martin Sheen sometime during the filming due to a near fatal heart attack. His brother was brought in to be filmed from behind and read lines that were recorded

Helicopter scene– If you ever saw it, it was quite elaborate. Star Wars was shot around the same time and they used miniatures for the X Wings and the Tie Fighters. Apocalypse Now had no such luxuries. Not only did they use real helicopters but they were rented from the Philippine government. Make matters worse the helicopters were on call. They could be pulled from the film set with very little notice to fight the NPA depending on enemy sightings.

Marlon Brando– a lot of geniuses are high maintenance. Brando was definitely a genius as an actor and in this film you see the high maintenance part too. He disregarded just about every instruction Coppola gave him. Regardless of the fact that he was paid a princely sum for that time (1976-77) . Also bear in mind he worked with Coppola as the iconic Don Corleon. He was supposed to show up skinny for his role as somebody withering away in the wilderness. Instead Coppola got this figure who was more appropriate for the role as Kingpin on Daredevil. Brando was also required to read Heart of Darkness to understand the whole project. Did I mention that he received a million dollar advance on the three million dollar total agreed on for the whole film? How much weight would you lose for three million dollars? How many books would you read for a million dollars? Brando could not even read Heart of Darkness which was a novella not War and Peace. Little time value of money lesson. A million dollars in 1978 if you assume 5% interest simple would be worth about 2.6 million dollars now. Coppola spent several days reading the book out loud to Brando. Now that’s high maintenance.

The original shooting schedule was six weeks when it actually took sixteen months. Sounds like one of my MBA papers.This is not an uplifting or even an entertaining movie but it is a statement. It is obviously appreciated elsewhere but not the land where it was made. Our culture could learn a thing or two from the movie. Apocalypse Now may not have been about Philippines in the story but make no mistake that our culture and politics were rigidly intertwined with that movie.The only thing more screwed up that Apocalypse Now is the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now.

If the movie has you confused , well that was Vietnam. People who did not know why they were there. The movie is about ambiguity, chaos, people throwing their weight around and vanity. How could it not be describing the situation of the Philippines? :

Exhibit A

Kurtz: Did they say why, Willard, why they want to terminate my command?
Willard: I was sent on a classified mission, sir.
Kurtz: It’s no longer classified, is it? Did they tell you?
Willard: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.
Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?
Willard: I don’t see any method at all, sir.

Methods are unsound? I don’t see any methods when it comes to Noynoy BS Aquino. I don’t see a logical progression in his life that suggests he worked towards the presidency. I don’t see obstacles cleared. I don’t see accomplishments accumulated. I don’t see a stellar resume. I did see a lot of anchoring to his parents past. Do you call having the right mom dying at the right time a method? If we as a country are fine with a man like that as a leader it reminds me of another scene from the movie.

Willard: Who’s the commanding officer here?
Gunner: Ain’t you?

Exhibit B

Willard: Are you crazy, Goddammit? Don’t you think its a little risky for some R&R?
Kilgore: If I say its safe to surf this beach, Captain, then its safe to surf this beach! I mean, I’m not afraid to surf this place, I’ll surf this whole f**king place!

The most famous sequence in the movie is when Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore decides to obliterate a fishing village so he and some others can surf. ” That’s good son, because you either surf or fight. That clear?” and ” if I say it’s say it’s safe to surf” . Sure he was given a main objective which was to get a small PT boat to the mouth of a river but he decides to use the main objective as an excuse to self indulge and surf. Regardless of the cost. Remind you of anything? Lunatic guy in charge utilizing all the departments under his command to concentrate on a single agenda/ target. When the smoke clears , he struts triumphantly and it’s proven his motives are self indulgent. Remind you of anybody? Hence the irony on several levels. Marcos provided the helicopters for that scene and it proves that scene ultimately proved to be symbolic of actions of one of his future successors. Not to mention the history between the two families.

Exhibit C

Willard : “Charging a man with murder
in this place was like handing out
speeding tickets at the Indy 500.
I took the mission. What the hell
else was I gonna do? But I really
didn’t know what I’d do when I found him.

Jesus Christ famously said he who has not sinned cast the first stone. What I take from that is that we all sin so don’t just point to one person like they have this unique inclination to sin. That is exactly what happened in our local setting. The generals in the movie for some reason singled out Kurtz as the personification of all their ills and he had to be exterminated with extreme prejudice. The mob in the Gospel were all eager to stone a woman to death yet when confronted with their own flaws not a stone was a cast. Our local situation is no different except stones flew fast and furious by the very people who were not remotely morally superior. Just as Willard was right to question the murder charge in the context of the situation, some of us questioned the President’s obtrusiveness in what was supposed to be a legal procedure. . Some people saw this as a triumph for the system and the country, others had no idea what triumph they were looking at.

Our local situation is Apocalypse Now. June 2012 .

I have watched Apocalypse Now many times over the last twenty years. It is so easy for me to forget that the same people brought us The Godfather. The two movies are so different you can barely even consider them in the same medium. But Coppola had a story to tell. Hearts of Darkness was about Coppola’s journey to tell that story . For me the stress of making Apocalypse Now really comes through when you watch Hearts of Darkness. You see Coppola wade through ridicule. That is what risk is all about. It’s not about quotas and embargoes right Kuh Ledesma?

Hearts of Darkness is about a man who takes risks and makes himself vulnerable all for his artistic vision . It’s sad that 35 years later the place that was witness to all that risk taking and immortalized in that classic movie can’t see past singing contests and boxing judges. In society no one has more of the dark side that the movie speaks about than our politicians . At election time they try to project the opposite of what they really are and our voters believe it.

Just like Kurtz has all these zombies obedient to him doing his bidding, we have our own Kurtz with his own disciples that do his bidding without question. The Horror . The Horror.

11 Replies to “The longer you stay the more mired in the swamp you get”

  1. I do recall some Japanese porn movies shot in Manila and some of more remote beach resorts in the Visayas islands.

    Dumb Flippers will make as big a fuss over the Manila scenes in the “Bourne” movie, while the real Filipinos will say “Ugh, Manila is an even BIGGER mess now.” But that will be lost on the Pinoy Priders, they’d make a Proudly Pinoy moment on a hill of trash.

  2. Ed,

    I do remember a line or so from Platoon: “The first casualty of war is innocence.”

    On another note, everybody seems to think that just because your place is featured in a movie it automatically translates to tourism bucks. It doesn’t. And besides, even if your city is not being papogi you should strive to clean it up anyway.

    I remember reading somewhere about the mathematics of word of mouth, usually about restaurants, but can also apply to tourist spots. If one person has a good time in it, he/she will tell two, maybe three others. If that person has a horrible person, he/she will tell ten. So the question is, why isn’t the Philippines cleaning up its act, literally?

    1. 1) Your word of mouth example is exactly what I used to teach when I train our guys about impressions on clients.

      2) We live in a culture of vain , pompous ego maniacs. Look how often you are driving behind somebody and garbage falls out the window. That is an “us” problem. People who smoke in a smoking area is one thing. People who walk along side you on the street and so generously give of their nicotine to you, how nice. For me bud, that is all related. Translates into how unfit we are.

  3. Enjoyed reading this, Gogs, thanks for always sharing interesting facts, trivias and stories. Kudos! Nuff said, though.:)

  4. For the longest time I’ve been telling film buffs I’ve known to check-out “Hearts of Darkness” just to wait for them to tell me they found it more compelling (or something to that effect). That is, if they can get a hold of the film. I don’t think it’s ever been released on dvd (haven’t checked lately). The only true edition of “Apocalypse Now” must include the must-see documentary to fully appreciate the whole “journey”.

    1. In 1992 I saw Apocalypse and Hearts back to back on the big screen, Around 98 I video taped Hearts on the history channel. I think about 3 or 4 months ago I captured from VHS to digital. Some of caps you see on post are from that VhS cap.

      1. Yes, I saw Hearts on vhs too. Around that time, or the year after. I also had a number of friends who were extras on the Coppola film. I think there’s a demand for a dvd release of Hearts. Any edition of Apocalypse falls short without it…although I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s on Youtube.

  5. Just read this again after you re-mentioned it on an FB thread. Aside from all these, I think the Reb Brown sci-fi movie Robowar was filmed here in the Philippines, too.

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