Watching lilas during the silent era (2)
The years after the First World War saw the increasing domination of Hollywood in the global film market. Europeans were surprised to see how far American movies had improved during the war. Hollywood took advantage of the decline in European film production, selling its films there at very low prices as it had already enjoyed big profits from strong patronage of the American domestic market.
European film companies like Pathe found it hard to compete with the influx of American movies. After the war, it focused less on making movies than on selling and distributing them locally and abroad. Ironically, these include American films which it helped distribute in France to serve a growing hunger for them.
Thus, in the Philippines, Pathe would gradually be replaced by American distributors like Paramount and Universal. Theater anunzios noted the increasing number of Hollywood films watched by Cebuanos. Still, movies like Thomas Ince’s Civilization and Thomas Dixon’s The Fall of a Nation were generally billed in their Spanish titles although in 1917, the movie The Man Inside starring Edwin Stevens (highlighted in the same font size as the title) was advertised totally in English and with accompanying photo (another rarity).
Competition among theaters was fierce and newspaper ads were employed to brag improved amenities. Cine Empire heralded itself as “El Coliseo mas fresco, comodo elegante de Cebu”. Cine ideal, on the other hand, used these words in an ad: “Ang labing dinugukan sa tibook Sugbu ug labing dako. Mao ang dapit sa kalipay ug himaya. Mga sintas nga matahum. Dili makaduka. Dili makapanghuy-ab, ni makalaay” (“The biggest crowd-drawer and the largest in Cebu. The place for happiness and ecstasy. Beautiful movies. Will not make you sleep. Will not make you yawn or bore you.”).
In 1916, in keeping with the conflict in Europe, the theaters fought each other in advertising ward, struggling to draw the crowds, with offers of reduced rates and various treats. In bold typeface, Cine Ideal’s ad in Spanish is headlined “Guerra!” as it announces new admission prices and offers: the Entrada General (General Admission), 5 centavos. Butacas de Arriba, 10 centavos. Palcos de Costado. 20 centavos. Sorbete or ice cream at 10 centavos la copa and Agua Fria destilada (cold distilled water) is free, “gratis para todo el mondo”. It also had raffle draws. Cine Royo, on the other hand, screened 20 films in one night, so far the largest number of screenings ever held in a theater in Cebu.
The competition resulted in improvements of facilities. Addressing complaints regarding frequent power interruptions in between screenings, Cine Ideal acquired its own generator in 1919. In November of the same year, its anunzio brags of the theater’s 12 new “ventiladors” or electric fans and an in-house orchestra. But in 1921, a “mechanical orchestra”, probably a phonograph used to play recorded musical accompaniment to silent film, was bought by Cine Ideal’s owner, Ora Snyder.
The theaters also fought with taxes, which in 1915 amounted to P100 yearly as well as abuses by authorities. In March 1919, Cine Royo manager Eduardo Lopez fought a legal war with the police as he filed cases against an abusive policeman caught entering the theater without a ticket.
As cinema became increasingly popular, concerns for its impact on public morals increased. Yet, the Concejo Municipal allowed children to enter the moviehouse with their parents although a newpaper writer complained against children making noise and worse—in those days before disposable diapers—foul smell. Children were required to pay full price according to a Cine Ideal ad in 1919. Finally, in 1921, Nueva Fuerza ran Mons. Juan Gorordo’s official statement on “los teatros, cines y bailes” (the stage plays, movies, and dances”).
Shortly after Nueva Fuerza separated from its twin Cebuano-language twin Bag-ong Kusog in September 3, 1921 (which featured a Cine Ideal anunzio on the cover), it became a bilingual (Spanish and English) newspaper. In fact, in the years, that followed English text would dominate Spanish ones, suggesting the gradual triumph of American colonial culture over Hispanismo.
The ads now mainly by Teatro Oriente, newly acquired by Don Jose Avila, reflect this turn to English, with movie titles and other texts now written in a mix of Spanish and English. The ads also reflect the modern look of American movie advertisements: publicity photo eats up most space, followed by a hierarchy of headlines and texts.
A long running advertisement by Manila Filatelica in 1920 sold to Cebuanos subscriptions to the following imported movie magazines: Shadowland (75 cents), Motion Picture Classic (55 cents), Motion Picture Magazine (45 cents), Photoplay Magazine (55 cents), Cine Mundial (45 cents), Moving Picture World (40 cents), and Film Fun (35 cents). This attests to the growing familiarity of local audiences with developments in the international film scene.
Silent films from Paramount, Jesse Lasky, and Universal were advertised by capitalizing on star power: Houdini in Terror Island, Pricilla Dean in Outside the Law, May Murray and David Powell in The Right to Love, Gloria Swanson in Something to Think About, Harry Carey in West is West, etc. As the latter would show the cinema in Cebu was obviously going West.