Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday 15th November 2009: James Batman!

James Batman

Philippines 1966 b&w

Director Artemio Marquez Writers Pepito Vera-Perez, Artemio Marquez

Cast Dolphy (Batman/James), Boy Alano (Rubin), Shirley Moreno, Diane Balen

Greetings, Schlockateers - my name is Andrew Leavold from Trash Video welcoming you to the second in a four week season of International Superheroes here on Schlock Treatment, and a world-first: a Schlock Treatment exclusive subtitling of the Filipino James Bond-meets-Batman spoof, James Batman.

Tonight's film was already a rare example of Philippines cinema from the Sixties, a period in which between 150 and 200 films a year were produced. That's a staggering 150-200 Tagalog-language films each year, an overwhelming number of which never dubbed or subtitled into other languages and exported past the Philippines borders, and shot on 35mm film for a developing nation's relatively impoverished audience.

And yet , like other former colonial outposts Mexico, Turkey and India, the film industry boomed. Alongside radio and komik books, movies were a cheap and easily accessible form of mass entertainment, and the population took their own movies to their hearts, allowing the studios to maintain an elaborate system of stars, uniquely Pinoy forms of storytelling, and their own stable of komik superheroes and supervillains. Throughout the Sixties, "goon" films reigned supreme - the action-centic movies named after a villain's ape-like henchmen, and a staple of Filipino cinema right into the Eighties. The fact these "goons" are the Philippines' finest stuntmen AND action stars-in-waiting only adds to the gritty rough-and-tumble of these films' ubiquitous fight scenes. In the Sixties, the action king was Fernando Poe Jr; his comedic counterpart, the king of the "goon" parodies, was a man named Rodolfo V. Quizon Jr, or simply known to generations of adoring Filipino fans as Dolphy.

Dolphy began his career as a song and dance man and vaudeville comedian during the Japanese occupation during World War 2. The flourishing studio system in the early Fifties gave him a decade-long contact with Sampaguita Pictures, and he quickly graduated from bit roles and comic second banana parts to leading man in musical comedies. He encapsulated a droopy-shouldered and slightly pot bellied Pinoy Everyman: a henpecked, cowardly (if lovable) loser, or wily would-be trickster who both turn out "good" or at least functional to others in the end. Men identified with him, women adored him; before long he was making a movie a month, on top of TV and radio appearances. Parodies of Hollywood and European movies soon became Dolphy's forte, and he played the Pinoy version of everyone from the Lone Ranger to Tarzan, from - I kid you not! - Genghis Bond to Adolphong Hitler.

Tonight's movie James Batman was released in 1966, at the height of the Filipino komik superhero AND spy craze, featuring Dolphy as James Bond AND Batman - and often in the same scene! The "international" crime fighters are both called in to weed out nefarious organization CLAW and their leader, the cartoonishly Oriental Drago. Dolphy is hilarious as Bond, complete with lecherous sneer and a checkered jacket that matches the bedspreads (cool!), and it's a role he's familiar with, having already starred in a slew of spy knockoffs - Dolphinger, Dr Yes, Operation Butterball to name just three. But it's his Batman where the film comes alive and he steals the scenes from himself: crazed fight sequences, sadly with no Tagalog equivalents of "BIFF!" and "POW!", but with exaggerated tilts and low angles, and Carding Cruz's ever-present stolen surfadelic score. There's an array of other villains, not to mention an army of nurses with pre-war tommy guns, an all-girl squad with low cut black cocktail dresses and executioners' hoods, and the ending in Drago's lair - complete with a huge hand for a chair spitting lasers from the fingertips - kicks the entire Manila-A-Go-Go enterprise up one big lunatic notch. Superb.

Apologies for the grain-streaked picture and appalling sound, but it's a miracle the movie still exists, considering most of the Philippines' pre-80s films have vanished forever into the ether. I make no apologies, however, for its low budget or parochial nature. For one thing, In Third World cinema (and by "third", I certainly don't mean it as a derogatory term, and more in the traditional sense of meaning neither the West nor Russia) there is traditionally a three way dialogue between the filmmakers, their dominant cultural models (usually from Hollywood or Europe), and the audience who consume both local and imported fare. We, as a Western audience in the Twenty First Century, form a fourth voice, one removed by both time time, language, customs and geography; we are by no means an unimportant voice, but we must adjust our Schlock Goggles accordingly. Secondly, its sheer ingenuity, charm and chutzpah come from the film - and the Philippines - making a mockery of its mega-budgeted model. And seriously, where else will you see both James Bond AND Batman take on an army of well-trained goons? The answer, as always: "Only in the Philippines". Which is where we take you now in the manic Manila meltdown, the 1966 James Batman.

1 comment:

Les Toil said...

I just saw James Batman today! Enjoyed it! Didn't have a clue as to what was going on--but I loved it! I was exceptionally curious about what the verbal exchange was between James Bond and that Batgirl that popped up at the very end after she removed her mask. Did James have some disparaging comments about her less-than-glamorous face? And whatever became of Fu-Manchu??

Enjoyed it. Far better than Rat-Fink a Boo-Boo.

And thanks VERY much for all the history on the star Dolphy.