But this time around, it was different—never mind my friends’ warnings of bedbug infestations or the shenanigans going on inside the darkened room. All I felt was this sense of thrill that descended upon me as Haydee and Darwin Clark appeared larger than life on the giant screen in technicolor, no less, talking and singing in a voice, so crisp and clear. For two hours or so, I was transported to a world of make-believe, enthralled and entertained by actors who lived, loved, laughed and cried, just like us.
But before the movie theater, there was the stage. And on the stage were the zarzuelas. Credit goes to the Kapampangan theater for introducing zarzuelas written in the vernaculars and for integrating Filipino topics, situations and characters into the story: quarreling man and wife, strict parents, disobedient children, dalagang mahinhin, binatang matikas, servants and masters, dons and doñas.
Angeles was quick to jump on the zarzuela bandwagon. In 1898, a modest theater was built on the property of Don Modesto Quiason on Miranda Street, exclusively for the performance arts. Everything-- from a comedia (Gonzalo de Cordova played by Martin Gonzalez Bravo of Guagua), a ventriloquist show starring two-voiced Pregolini to thespic performances of local artists Petra Pili and Monico Resurreccion and to acrobatics of Antonieta Circus—were presented on centerstage.
With such rich materials for theater, there is an interesting opinion that the zarzuela paved the way for silent movies. Although film was introduced in the country as early as 1897, it took a long time for the new medium to find popular appeal. To start with, there was not enough electricity in the provinces to run the projectors. When silent movies finally came, the theater-oriented Filipinos could not accept a performance where characters kept moving around without saying a word.
But by 1918, the silent movies had steadily spread to electrified communities. One such place is Pampanga, which almost lost its theater tradition with the influx of the electrical wonder. Soon, even enterprising Kapampangans dabbled in film productions. In the early 1930s, the first motion picture production in Angeles was pioneered by Don Jose Guanzon, who directed the silent movie, “Prinsesa sa Bundok”. With the coming of films came the movie houses, which were built with screens on which the moving images came to life before a paying audience.
It was just right after the war that commercial movie houses were put up to provide escapist entertainment to Kapampangans who wanted to put behind the horrors and hardships caused by the recent global upheaval. Early movie houses include the Eden Theater, which was erected on the site of the big fire which burned the market and residential houses in Jan. 12, 1895. On 16 November 1946, Cine Paraiso started its operations along Miranda Extension. Later, Paraiso became Lita Theater. Less than a year later, Marte Theater was inaugurated on 24 May 1947. Crowd favorites were American-produced movies, and it was not uncommon to show two films back-to-back as a way to celebrate the twin fiestas of Angeles.
The Tablante family of Angeles operated a number of theaters along Rizal Street that became 1950s fixtures: Devry Theater (later to become Imperial, then Elite), City, RTG and PAT Theater. Family Theater , along J. Gonzales Blvd. was outstanding in its acoustics and its distinctive post-moderne architecture.
The rise of movies-on-video in the 1980s signaled the decline in the patronage of movie houses in Angeles. Soon, everyone could watch a hit movie just by renting a betamax or VHS copy—without the inconvenience of lining up or being bitten by bedbugs. Movie tapes gave way to the even more accessible DVDs, further hastening the demise of movie theaters. The limitless possibilities of telecommunications and internet—you can post videos on youTube and shoot ‘mobisodes’ or mini-movies using mobile phones—all but sealed the fate of the future of movie houses.
A recent scan of a Pampanga telephone directory did not even have the name of a single Angeles movie house on its list. Many movie houses have closed, torn down or have fallen into disarray, like the once famous Family Theater, which, for the longest time, became the home of several squatter families. The theater made news in 2008 when it became the location of a movie directed by Cannes award winner, Brillante Mendoza, a Kapampangan. The controversial film, entitled “Serbis”, tackles the lives of people engaged in the sex trade, conducted inside a movie house.
Just like a drama movie, the stories of our cine houses do not always have happy endings.