“The Horror…the horror…” More on that later.
This past weekend I went on a day vacation with my Fulbright colleague, Camil, to Pagsanjan Falls, a waterfall tourist destination about 2 hours away from Manila that lies under a canyon and at the confluence of two rivers, the Balanac and the Bambungan Rivers. Compared to other waterfalls like Niagara Falls, Pagsanjan Falls is only accessible via bangka, small paddle boats, so visitors not only get the viewing pleasures of this scenic trip but they also get to travel in the old school style (I use old school lightly referring to thousands of years ago). Also unlike Niagara Falls, tourists are allowed to go directly under the brunt of the waterfall. This was quite an experience and unfortunately I have no pictures of going under the waterfall for obvious reasons. However, I was able to take several pictures of being in “Devil’s Cave,” the cave on the opposing side of the waterfall, and that too was quite an experience.
Although it was raining, I definitely enjoyed the trip in more ways than one. The entire paddle up was more beautiful as advertised and offered views of rapids, canyons, smaller waterfalls, volcanic rocks, and all sorts of plant life. For movie buffs like myself, Pagsanjan Falls is best known as the filming location for the Kurtz Compound sequence in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film, Apocalypse Now. The water and canyon isolate just about anything from the rest of any nearby towns so you really buy into the idea that this is a remote jungle environment. It was weird seeing this beautiful, serene place for what it really is, as it seems so removed from the Pagsanjan Falls that audiences see in the film. It made me wonder what horror ol’ Kurtz was speaking of, maybe he should’ve just walked out of his room and enjoyed the view.
Something that has been bugging me is how Coppola ended up in the Philippines. After doing some research I found an interesting connection between the Philippines and the making of Apocalypse Now.
Roger Corman, the famed B-movie (but highly successful) filmmaker made several movies in the Philippines. For those who aren’t familiar with Corman on the whole, he is probably best known for making extremely low budget films that found a large audience but also giving young filmmakers a chance by allowing them to work on production on a number of his movies including Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Ron Howard, and Jonathan Demme. Several of the filmmakers worked under his tutelage in the Philippines or were acquainted with it as a shooting location, including Francis Ford Coppola. In fact, I discovered that one of Coppola’s associate producers was a Filipino who was a frequent collaborator with Corman’s productions in the Philippines, Eddie Romero. I thought this was very special as Eddie Romero was a local legend in my father’s hometown of Dumaguete and worked tirelessly to put the Philippines in the spotlight through his collaboration with Corman.
After diving into many of these awesomely cheesy movies (with titles like The Hot Box and TNT Jackson) and reviews of Apocalypse Now, I was surprised to see that there is a correlation between the aesthetic of Apocalypse Now and the B-movies made by Corman and his associates in the Philippines. Many of the filming techniques including set designs, actors, and shooting styles that Coppola used were previously used in Corman’s movies made in the Philippines on a low budget and with as much cooperation with the local Filipinos like Romero as possible, making this American classic, a movie uniquely influenced by its Filipino locale.
Film history lesson aside, Pagsanjan Falls was a transformative experience. I found it as a step into the ancient and more recent past. It’s a place to engross oneself in the beauty of nature but also to enter that swift boat into the madness of Col. Kurtz.
Paul Fontelo '13