2005 Natatanging Gawad Urian



Bienvenido Lumbera

Once upon a time in Philippine movies, when the car with Rogelio de la Rosa as family driver leaves the driveway of the palatial home of “senorita” Carmen Rosales, and seconds later, enters the gate of the residence of the senorita’s friend, some discombobulated moviegoer would mutter, “Ang dali naman!” (But that’s much too soon!). The implied complaint, we now understand, had been triggered off by a disruption on-screen of the moviegoer’s sense of real time. The annoyed viewer at that time did not yet know how to distinguish the passage of minutes in his watch from the lapse of time on-screen.

Then came along the 1941 black-and-white Ibong Adarna by Vicente Salumbides. When the legendary bird of the popular metrical romance flaps its wings and begins to sing, the feathers of the adarna corruscates with colors painted onto the celluloid as the song weaves its enchantment and the goodly young prince Fred Cortes strives to keep awake by wounding his arm, a titter of amazement in the audience affirms the magic` of film editing.

Like the author of the screenplay, the film editor is often subsumed into the art of the director. When a particularly good film leaves the audience stunned into admiration, all credit is usually attributed to the director (Bert Avellana or Gerry de Leon, as the case may be), with no mention of scriptwriter Rolf Bayer or Cesar Amigo or editor Enrique Jarlego or Fely Crisostomo. At least the scriptwriter has material evidence of his role in the creative process that went into the making of the film. The narrative and the characters that provided the images and the spoken dialogue that stirred the audience came from the script on which the movie was based. The film editor, unfortunately, cannot cite anything as material as a typewritten manuscript to prove that he had a part in the virtues of the movie that has been acclaimed. Such is the “invisibility” of his craft that the audience is usually left oblivious of the editor’s role in the alchemy of screen magic. But then, that very “invisibility” gives the film editor a certain power not available perhaps to other collaborators in the creation of film art. His skill has endowed him with the ability to work his magic in the deepest level of the audience’s consciousness.

The 2005 Natatanging Gawad Urian for Jesus Macaraeg Navarro serves to call attention to the role of the film editor in the complex process of creating works of film art. The film historian and critic Louis D. Giannetti in his book Understanding Movies gives us a demystifying definition of film editing.

Physically, editing is simply joining one strip of film (one shot) with another. Shots are joined into scenes, and scenes into sequences. On the most mechanical level, editing eliminates unnecessary time and space. Through the association of ideas, editing connects one shot with another, one scene with another, and so on. Simple as these may now seem, the convention of editing represent one of the major cornerstones of film art.

Jess Navarro has been singled out for the very first award for film editing primarily for demonstrating excellence and consistency in his work as film editor, having won eight (8) of the 27 Urian Awards for Best Editing, a feat that no other editor has been able to approach.

Born in Tarlac, Tarlac, on 24 June 1948, he grew up during the troubled post-World War II years in Central Luzon, dreaming in his young manhood of becoming a doctor. But when the time came for him to go to college, financial constraints within the family made him trim down his dream of a medical career, and he settled for the less glamorous prospect of being a plain accountant. He enrolled in the Commerce course in the University of the East. He never took the board examination, however, for shortly after graduating, a cousin had found him a job in the editing department of the Sampaguita Studios.

The film industry in the 1970s had come under the fascist control of Malakanyang by virtue of Martial Law declared in 1972. Subject matter deemed to be conducive to rebellion was proscribed, and to guarantee that such material for films do not reach the moviehouses, it was decreed that finished screenplays had to be submitted before approval to film would be given. The intention to safeguard the Martial Law regime opened the doors of the industry to new writers who had fresh stories to tell and the know-how to produce a finished screenplay. It also alerted the more politically conscious directors to find spaces for counter-consciousness in their film material as their individual expression of political dissent. This was the electric atmosphere in the industry when Jess Navarro began working as an assistant film editor. Compared to the frenetic pace of work among filmmakers, sitting at an accountant’s cubicle would be humdrum indeed. By the middle of the decade, Jess had been irretrievably hooked into film editing. He was working as assistant editor to such established names as Augusto Salvador, Ike Jarlego Jr, Edgardo Vinarao and Ben Barcelon, each of whom had earned a reputation as editors of the films of such major directors as Ishmael Bernal, Lino Brocka and Eddie Romero.

Recalling his years of apprenticeship, Jess expresses gratification for the experience of serving under editors who had worked at close quarters with the best artists in the industry. From them, he had picked up not only the basics of editing but also something of the aesthetic sense of the directors whose films he had helped edit. The feel of celluloid sliding through his hands while assisting various editors had rubbed into his system a necessary love for the art of filmmaking. By 1974, he had moved up to associate editor in the film Happy Days are Here Again, a co-production of the top 3 studios namely Sampaguita, LVN, and Premiere. Four years later, he could already proudly claim credit as associate of the editors of such big films as Atsay and Rubia Servios.

In 1981, director Mike de Leon had begun work on a film about fraternity hazing and rumbles that that had figured prominently in the newspapers. Jess was assisting Jose H. Tarnate as editor. Tarnate found himself unable to measure up to De Leon’s demands and decided to bail out of the project, leaving Jess to pick up after him. Having observed Mike de Leon at work and knowing the standards of excellence of the director, Jess was wracked with insecurities about his ability to cope with the task. Tarnate assured him he could handle the job and Mike himself encouraged Jess to take over Tarnate’s position.

When Batch ’81 was finally exhibited in 1982, the film was well received by the critics in the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. In that year’s Urian award ceremonies, however, Mike de Leon’s oblique attack on the Martial Law regime lost out to Peque Gallaga’s Oro Plata Mata in the Best Picture category. Nevertheless, Batch ’81 received two awards. One was for Best Screenplay, and the other for Best Editing. The affirmation of Jess Navarro’s ability to deliver the pacing, tension and political nuance demanded by a meticulous director like Mike de Leon was to earn him high repute in the succeeding three years. After Batch ’81, a satisfied Mike de Leon asked Jess to edit Kisapmata. The film was to reap later a harvest of 10 awards in the 1981 Metro Manila Film Festival, one of them for Jess Navarro’s editing. Ishmael Bernal subsequently entrusted the editing of Broken Marriage to Jess and when the film won the Urian Best Picture Award, he was named awardee as film editor. The following year, he was once again cited for Best Editing by the Manunuri for his work in Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L. The same award was given to him in 1985 as editor of another Bernal film, Hinugot sa Langit. Truly, four Urian awards and one MMFF award in the space of five years are a signal achievement for the 37-year-old Commerce graduate who had feared in 1982 that he was not yet ready to go solo as a film editor.

After 1985, Jess Navarro achieved the status of being the highest paid film editor in the industry, certainly a reward for having worked on a string of prestigious movies directed by filmmakers, some of them pillars of Philippine movies. The roster of names consists of Peque Gallaga (Oro Plata Mata, Scorpio Nights, Virgin Forest, Unfaithful Wife, Once Upon a Time), Mel Chionglo ( Lucia, Sibak: Midnight Dancers, Company of Women), Chito Roño (Narito ang Puso Ko, Eskapo, Dekada ’70), Joel Lamangan (Sarah Balabagan Story, Sidhi, Deathrow, Kadre), Carlitos Siguion-Reyna (Misis Mo, Misis Ko, Hihintayin Kita sa Langit, Ikaw Pa Lang ang Minahal), and Marilou Diaz-Abaya (Milagros, Sa Pusod ng Dagat, Bagong Buwan, Jose Rizal, Muro-Ami).

In these times of gloom in the industry, the film editor who used to be able to name his price in more prosperous days has experienced being bargained down by producers` pleading high costs and low returns. Jess Navarro understands the problems of producers and as a gesture of affection for the industry whose survival he has made his own concern, he has opened himself to making a financial sacrifice so that movies can continue to be made. What he is loathe to sacrifice are the working conditions he has set for himself and the filmmakers he is to work with. Among such conditions is his requirement that, as film editor, he be provided with a copy of the script upon his acceptance of any project. This is his way of asserting that at the outset, he is to be regarded as a member of the team responsible for the collaborative work leading to the production of the film. At the reading of the script, he also insists on being present, for as early as pre-production, the film editor can begin to plan his work. Jess had on many occasions made it a point to watch the director and cast at work on the set so that he could prepare himself for the work of the film editor which actually begins, by tradition, only during post-production.

As film editor, Jess Navarro would situate himself between the director, who is the creative sensibility making the film happen, and the moviola (now in the process to being displaced by the computer) which is the technical aspect operating on the strip of celluloid containing the images and messages that will eventually fill the theater screen. Given a sensibility guided by the director’s taste and insight, his intervention as artist and technician serves as his input in assuring that films he is involved in would have quality. From the films he has edited since 1982, we have reason to hope that the example of Jess Navarro will inspire film editors in the future to strive for his brand of excellence and dedication that has made the Filipino film industry a project of pride worth preserving.

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