Locus Focus: Take One Hundred Thirty-One!
Miss these meme, anyone? I never did wrap up last year's Conspiratorial Corners challenge . . . a miss that is working its way to another mark this month. Today's setting may not be a place where a conspiracy was plotted out, but it is a notorious emblem of one of the most conspiracy-driven governments in the history of the world. Few other places in the Philippines fit the Marcos Pa Rin theme as well as this one.
Empire of Memory
by Eric Gamalinda
The First Lady's festival coordinator, Betsy Braga, had ordered engineers of the Film Palace to rush construction for the simple reason that the First Lady wanted to open the festival here, and nowhere else. The Cultural Centre would not do: the carpeting was not right, the projection room inadequate, the lobby too cramped. And there had to be a magnificent view of the Manila Bay sunset, the better to astonish jetsetters already jaded by the French Riviera.
To rush construction of the Film Palace, engineers defied physical laws and kept on pouring cement and erecting one floor over another. Two days ago, just before noon, the third floor collapsed. There were several workers missing, as well as families who had been camping with them in the unfinished basement.
"Buried alive?" I asked Ted . . .
Filipinos with a living memory of the early 1980s know exactly what Eric Gamalinda's Film Palace is pointing to, even if they don't remember it did have "Film Palace" as its original name. (I learned that just now myself.) I refer to the Manila Film Centre, an enormous part-classical, part-brutalist edifice designed to include the national film archives, a 1,600-seat auditorium, labs for filmmakers, viewing rooms for censors, an enormous lobby, and yes, panoramic views of Manila Bay. It cost US$25 million to build--an amount which, adjusted for inflation, amounts to US$65.8 million today. And if you're thinking that the Philippines must have had an amazing local film industry for the government to have invested so much money in archives for its output, well, you have yet to meet the Marcoses.
Don't think for a minute that the Marcos administration built the Manila Film Centre for Filipinos. We were just a convenient excuse. As soon as the Manila Film Centre entered into their grandoise plans for a film festival, it was built primarily for foreigners. For the Manila International Film Festival really was intended to rival its inspiration at Cannes, and to do this, it needed the right face. The Marcoses wanted the world to see the Philippines as a land of culture, class, sophistication, vision, and elegant infrastructure . . . and as the deadline for the first MIFF drew closer while its intended main theatre remained unfinished, despite three teams of laborers working around the clock in shifts . . .
The set-up makes it too easy, doesn't it? And popular tradition does have it that the Marcoses deliberately rushed construction and encouraged the engineers to prioritise speed over safety. While this is, knowing them, very likely . . . it's equally possible that the collapse of some scaffolding, which caused many of the workers to fall onto and be trapped in some rapidly-drying cement, was a terrible accident that might have happened even if better precautions had been taken. But it didn't help the Marcoses' cause that they barred rescuers from entering the site for a full nine hours, for PR reasons--or that the official death count of 28 was a wild cry from another count of 169 workers never making it out alive. And well, although there is about as much evidence for it as the next urban legend, everyone believes that what happened next (which is also what happens after the third floor of Gamalinda's Film Palace collapses) was cement being poured over the rubble, the screaming survivors being buried alive, and construction resuming like clockwork after that unfortunate delay. Yes, this is what we all thought of the Marcoses.
One month later, the first Manila International Film Festival was a rousing success. The foreign guests included Ben Kingsley, Franco Nero, Peter Ustinov, Jeremy Irons, Robert Duvall, and my personal favourite . . . How is this for a living memory? When I was a child, one of my older relatives started dating a woman who had had a special job during the MIFF, as a special assistant to Brooke Shields! And this lady was happy to tell me that the teenage Shields was as sweet and polite in real life as she seemed on the screen.
Question of the Week: Is there a building in your town with an interesting construction story?
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Image Source: Empire of Memory by Eric Gamalinda