In 2003, Steven Jay Schneider edited and published a book entitled, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Carefully selected by leading international film critics, it was an amazing compilation of the best films from all over the world: from Bollywood to Hollywood.
The films were listed according to the year that they were released. The year 1975 was a golden age for world cinema. A total of 16 of the best films made in 1975 made it to the list. The list includes Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fox and His Friends, Terry Gilliam’s Monthy Python and the Holy Grail, Marguerite Duras’ India Song, Pasolini’s Salo, Carlos Saura’s Cria!, Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Robert Altman’s Nashville, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws and…
Yes, a Filipino film.
It’s the only Filipino film in a list of 1,001 greatest films from around the world.
There it is. On page 605 of Schneider’s heavy book. The brief description of the film is accompanied by a black –and-white still photograph of its lead actor.
And everyone probably knows which film this is.
Yes, the only Filipino film which made it to the list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die was Director Lino Brocka’s Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (translated in this book as Manila In the Claws of Brightness).
This film has been a perennial favorite among movie critics from all over the world. And Filipinos must be proud of this film. Perhaps, the only person who despised this film was former First Lady Imelda Marcos. Because it did not show the true, the good and the beautiful, according to her.
Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag was a serialized novel in the weekly Liwayway Magazine before it was turned into a movie. It was written by Edgardo M. Reyes, a construction worker from Tondo. The novel was so successful that Edgardo M. Reyes wrote a sequel entitled, Bangkang Papel sa Dagat ng Apoy. This was also turned into a movie in 1984 starring school dropout-turned-actor-turned-mayor-turned-senator-turned-vice president-turned-president Joseph Ejercito Estrada and his rumored paramour, Laarni Enriquez. Helmed by the novel’s author and first-time director, Edgardo M. Reyes, this movie did not reap the same level of success that Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag enjoyed.
During the mid-70s, Lino Brocka started filming his trilogy film for Cine Manila Artist. The film is entitled, Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa. The entire first episode of this film was shot at the Drug Abuse Rehabilitation Education (DARE) center in Bicutan. Aiming for authenticity, Lino Brocka used the guys there as movie extras.
After Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa was shown, Lino Brocka started filming Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag.
Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag is a film about Julio Madiaga, a provinciano whose girlfriend, Ligaya Paraiso, was lured into the city by a job recruiter, in the hope of giving her impoverished family a better life. But after Ligaya left, her family did not hear from her again. Nor did Julio. Worried about Ligaya, Julio ventured into the city and searched for Ligaya. And that’s when Julio discovered that the city was everything but the paradise that Ligaya’s recruiter had pictured it to be. But this was just the beginning. Julio’s search for Ligaya led him to an even more shocking discovery about Ligaya’s fate.
The shooting of the film went on very smoothly. At the end of every shooting day, the meticulous Lino Brocka would always view the movie rushes.
After shooting several scenes for a number of days, the ever-perfectionist Lino Brocka felt uncomfortable with the actor playing the lead role of Julio Madiaga. In Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr.’s brilliant screenplay, Julio Madiaga was a starving provinciano who did odd jobs in the city while searching for Ligaya, which was brilliantly played by Hilda Koronel. However, the daily movie rushes showed that Lino Brocka’s Julio Madiaga was healthy-looking, even chubby. And the actor seemed to be putting on more weight with each passing day. The actor was physically miscast for the role.
Because of this, Lino Brocka decided to replace his lead actor.
It did not matter to Lino Brocka that he had shot several scenes which would just go to waste once he changed his lead actor. It did not matter to Lino Brocka that he had to reshoot all the scenes and start all over again.
Lino Brocka needed a more suitable Julio Madiaga as soon as possible. He could not afford to stall the filming any longer. Lino Brocka searched around.
And there he was! The personification of Julio Madiaga.
Lino Brocka’s choice as replacement for the original Julio Madiaga was a student from the Ateneo de Manila whom he met at the DARE center in Bicutan. He was a bit player in Lino Brocka’s Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa. Ironically, the original Julio Madiaga was the lead actor in the first episode of this trilogy film where the new Julio Madiaga was just a bit player.
The new Julio Madiaga indeed looked the part. He was skinny. His eyes could convey a thousand emotions. And he could really act.
The new Julio Madiaga was Rafael Aranda Roco, Jr.
Some showbiz insiders were skeptical about Lino Brocka’s decision to give the lead role of a major film to this guy who had no acting experience other than playing a bit part in Lino Brocka’s previous film.
But Lino Brocka was adamant. He wanted no one else to play Julio Madiaga.
And Lino Brocka was eventually vindicated in his decision. Rafael Roco, Jr. won the 1975 FAMAS best actor trophy for Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag. For a new actor whose only acting experience was appearing as a bit player in a Lino Brocka movie, winning this award was truly a major triumph. This came close to the acting record of Christopher de Leon who won the FAMAS best actor trophy just the year before for his very first film, Lino Brocka’s Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang.
Despite his thinning hair, Rafael Roco, Jr. instantly became the most sought-after leading man. He was paired with the leading actresses of the day in some of the best movies directed by the greatest Filipino film directors during this golden age of Philippine cinema. He shared stellar billing with Nora Aunor in Mario Ohara’s Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos; with Vilma Santos in Celso Ad Castillo’s Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak; with Hilda Koronel in Behn Cervantes’ Sakada and Lino Brocka’s Hayop sa Hayop; with Chanda Romero in Eddie Romero’s Banta ng Kahapon and Gil Portes’ Sa Piling ng Mga Sugapa, with the latter giving him another best actor trophy from Gawad Urian, and many other memorable films. During the filming of Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak, Rafael Roco, Jr. started wearing a wig due to his thinning hair.
In 1982, Rafael Roco, Jr. also landed an important role in the film, The Year of Living Dangerously which starred Mel Gibson (star of Lethal Weapon series) and Sigourney Weaver (star of Alien series). This film was directed by Peter Weir who holds the distinction of being one of the only two living film directors who had the most number of Oscar nominations as Best Director. He was nominated for such acclaimed films as Dead Poets Society, Witness, The Truman Show and Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World. And his film, Picnic at Hanging Rock, was among the 16 films in 1975 which made it to the list of films in Schneider’s book, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, along with Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag. While the said book devoted a full page to Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Peter Weir’s film had to share the page opposite Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag’s page with another great film.
Rafael Roco, Jr. married a fashion model, Coco Artadi, who therefore became known from then on as Mrs. Coco Roco. Later, Rafael Roco, Jr. decided to finally get rid of his hairpiece. And he shaved his head permanently. He also replaced his screen name with his real nickname. Thus, Rafael Roco, Jr. became known as Bembol Roco. Although his decision to shave his head limited him to character roles, Bembol Roco remained as one of the country’s most brilliant actors, together with the original Julio Madiaga.
Bembol Roco and the original Julio Madiaga seemed to be destined to affect each other’s lives. They were astrological twins. They were both born on the 20th day of the same year, 1953. The original Julio Madiaga was born on January 20, 1953 while Bembol Roco was born exactly ten months after, on November 20, 1953.
While Bembol Roco studied in what was then an exclusive boys’ school, Ateneo de Manila, the original Julio Madiaga held the distinction of being one of the first male students who were accepted at an exclusive girls’ school, Maryknoll College (now Miriam College), which is located right beside Bembol Roco’s school.
But while Bembol Roco’s roots do not have any link to show business, the original Julio Madiaga belonged to a highly-respected show business clan whose membership stretches from Conrado Conde to Robert Arevalo to Janno Gibbs. His father’s siblings and cousins worked in various aspects of show business: from actors to directors to screenwriters to musical scorers, among many others. In fact, one of his father’s brothers was one of the greatest Filipino film directors ever. Just consider these accomplishments: He was the only film director who won the FAMAS best director award for three consecutive years. He also won the most number (seven) of FAMAS best director trophies. He directed such great films as Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, Sisa, Buhay at Pag-ibig ni Dr. Jose Rizal, Daigdig ng Mga Api, The Moises Padilla Story and Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo (which won the first FAMAS best picture award in 1953). He was also one of only five Filipino film directors who were proclaimed as National Artists of the Philippines, together with Lino Brocka. Having this man for an uncle must have inspired the original Julio Madiaga to carve his own name in show business at a very young age.
However, it is ironic though that while the original Julio Madiaga had an equally brilliant actress for a wife and had thick show business blood flowing through his veins, his only biological daughter does not have the slightest interest in following her parents’ footsteps. He did not have any children with his live-in actress partner either to perpetuate his acting legacy. On the other hand, Bembol Roco, whose folks do not seem to have any trace of the acting bug, has better prospects of perpetuating his acting legacy since his twin sons, Ricardo Dominic and Teodoro Felix, have also invaded show business.
But while Bembol Roco and his fashion model wife remain together, the original Julio Madiaga and his actress wife separated after many years of marriage. But he found new love in the person of an equally talented actress who was discovered by former President Joseph Estrada’s younger brother, movie producer Jesse Ejercito, who eventually launched her in the movie, Nang Bumuka ang Sampaguita.
During all those years that Bembol Roco snatched all the movie roles that would have ordinarily landed on the lap of the original Julio Madiaga, the original Julio Madiaga still continued to shine in some of the most memorable films under the country’s best film directors, despite his failure to shed those extra pounds which cost him the movie role of a lifetime. He was memorable in his role as a priest in a film directed by Laurice Guillen; as a bachelor in a film by respected film critic Pio de Castro III; as a newly-married man in a film by Mike de Leon; and as a brutal husband in a film by Marilou-Diaz Abaya.
But he never got the chance to play another character as memorable as Julio Madiaga.
The original Julio Madiaga was an excellent and versatile actor who started acting as a child. He was the product of the union of a well-known show business couple. His father was an actor with many films to his credit and a one-time director (Maria Kapra, 1947) after World War II. His mother was a beautiful actress who lost one of her arms during World War II.
Like his mentor, Lino Brocka, the original Julio Madiaga died during a road accident in a spot not far from where Lino Brocka had his fatal car accident. He was aboard his motorcycle on his way to return a video to a video rental shop when a car hit him.
He was a great loss to Philippine cinema.
It would have been his face which would have been immortalized in the last frame of that famous and most-talked about ending of Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag.
Even the titles of some of his actor father’s films seemed to echo Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag which is about a young man from the province (Binatang Bukid, 1938) who went to the city to search for his girlfriend (Nasaan Ka Irog, 1937) whose name is Ligaya Paraiso (Ligaya, 1946).
Indeed, this talented son of actor Angel Esmeralda and actress Corazon Noble seemed at first to have been born to play Julio Madiaga.
But he was not destined to play Julio Madiaga after all.
Despite the fact that his close friends called him Julio. But this was not to tease him for losing the greatest Filipino film role in the best Filipino film ever. In fact, they have been calling him Julio long before the novel was even written.
Because his name was, in a way, also Julio.
His real name was the Latin equivalent of Julio.
His real name was Julius.
His full name was Julius Abad Ilagan.
And his screen name was Jay Ilagan.
And you all know the rest of his story.
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