"APOCALYPSE YESTERDAY ALREADY!"
Ifugao Extras and The Making of Apocalypse Now
In making films (and watching them), the line between reality and make-believe is a blurry one. Foreign films shot in the Philippines usually use the Philippines to stand in for another location. The filmmakers thus must make over the Philippine backdrop into a convincing replica of Vietnam or Indonesia by adding appropriate sets, design and, most importantly, local extras. Filipino extras on foreign shoots have been asked to 'play' natives of neighboring Asian countries by simply being themselves. As 'natural actors,' local extras walk a tightrope, balancing between reality and make-believe.
| Though they were paid to act, the Ifugao extras were supposed to 'be themselves', apparently on the assumption that, by being Ifugao they would pass as 'Vietnamese' in the film!
'Act Vietnamese' and 'Just act natural' were the instructions of Francis Ford Coppola to Ifugao extras during the filming of his masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. The shoot took place in 1976-1977, first in Baler and Iba, Quezon, and then in Pagsanjan, Laguna. By now, many of the experiences of the Ifugao extras are a distant episode in their rich life histories, but they still remember their confusion over these puzzling instructions. Though they were paid to act, the Ifugao extras were supposed to 'be themselves', apparently on the assumption that, by being Ifugao they would pass as 'Vietnamese' in the film!
Coppola's film is an adaptation of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad's novel of Western colonialism, setting the action up the Nung River, through Vietnam into Cambodia, during the Vietnam War. The plot of Heart of Darkness sends a young commercial agent up the river into Africa, trying to trace his superior, Kurtz, who has come undone to such an extent that he is collecting ivory from the natives under a reign of terror. The film captures the essential elements: the colonial frontier, the savage heart, and the savagery lurking in the "civilized" heart of the white master, under which the native must bear the horror of colonialism.
"Francis Ford Coppola, Lily Luglug and one of the Ifugao mumbaki (native ritual specialists) on the set." Photo credit: courtesy of Lily Luglug.
In Coppola's version, Lt. Willard (Martin Sheen) is the not-so-naive junior sent up the Mekong River. This time Kurtz (Marlon Brando) is a renegade colonel who has set up his own kingdom among the hill tribes in Cambodiaa place where, officially, the U.S. military is not engaged. Willard's mission is to assassinate Kurtz. When he finds Kurtz upriver, Willard is both terrified and compelled by the vision of the man. In the final scene of Apocalypse Now, where Willard kills Kurtz against the backdrop of a "Cambodian" festival, Kurtz's demise is closely paralleled by the ritual slaughter of a carabao.
In the scenes building up to this climactic ending, Kurtz quotes T.S. Eliot's poem, "The Hollow Men," in his twisted rationalization of the carnage that is his kingdom:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion ...
| Crew members who had seen Ifugao dancers affirmed that, unlike lowland women, Ifugao women did not
...So, apparently, this distinctive Ifugao performance of femininity led to a large contingent of Ifugao people joining the shoot.
By having Kurtz quote Eliot, the film brings home a connection between the poet Eliot's fascination with modernity vs. primitivism as an organizing dichotomy; and his early exposure to Igorots playing gongs at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. After seeing the Igorot Village, the boy Eliot wrote a short story that had him in the role of leader of a band of Igorots warriors. The thunder in "The Wasteland" may well be inspired by the beating of Igorot gongs, just as the ingenious ending of Apocalypse Now has Ifugao ritual written all over the film.
We found out about Coppola's film and the Ifugao extras who acted in it from Deirdre's friends, who sell woodcarvings in Banaue, and from Padma's parents, both of whom were present on the film's set. Some of Deirdre's friends had been in the film and were full of stories about life on the set. There has been quite a lot written on the making of the filmThe Apocalypse Now Book (Peter Cowie, Da Capo Press, 2001) and Eleanor Coppola's memoirs, Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now (London: Faber and Faber, 1979) as well as her documentary on the shoot, Hearts of Darkness. But very little had been said about Filipino participation in the film. We decided to find out more about the experiences of Ifugao extras on the set of Apocalypse Now since the ending, to us, looked like straight-up Ifugao ritual.
We wanted to know just how an 'entire Ifugao village' got recruited to play Montagnards in Kurtz's guerrilla compound in Cambodia, and what did the Ifugao extras, who took on these roles, make of the whole enterprise? We started with Eleanor Coppola's book, and took it to Banaue Poblacion for some feedback from the former extras.
On August 24, 1976, Eleanor Coppola wrote on the Pagsanjan set:
In the script, Kurtz's band of renegade soldiers has trained a tribe of local Montagnard Indians to be a fighting team. They live in huts by the temple. Rather than dress up Filipino extras everyday, Francis asked Eva, a production assistant, to go to a northern province where the rice terraces are and recruit a real tribe of primitive people to come live on the set and be in the scenes. I hear she is trying to make a contract with a group of 250 Ifugao Indians
In 2002 , 26 years later, Edgar Dupingay (one of the 'Ifugao Indians' who went to Pagsanjan to be part of the film) read the above passage from Eleanor Coppola's Notes and remarked with a laugh, "It would be better if she called us Ifugao-Vietnamese because that's what we were supposed to be there!"
| Jerry and Roben said that Eva specified that she preferred pure Ifugao, and not "hybrid Ifugao" born of intermarriages and who didn't have 'the look' that the film required.
Joseph Blas, another extra from Banaue, told Deirdre that Francis Ford Coppola cast Ifugao women as the locals in the battle scenes. Crew members who had seen Ifugao dancers affirmed that, unlike lowland women, Ifugao women did not "walk sexy." They could then, apparently, withstand the simulated warfare on the film set with a simulacrum of 'realistic' female movement, because they were 'tribal' women, used to the hardships of mountain life. So, apparently, this distinctive Ifugao performance of femininity led to a large contingent of Ifugao people joining the shoot.
Jerry Luglug, who had worked as one of the interpreters on the set, told us that Eva Gardos, an American who was part of the production, went to Nayong Pilipino in Manila to view the exhibits there. She saw the Ifugao village and thought that the Ifugao looked just like Montagnards. "Talagang native na native ang itsura, "according to Jerry. Gardos later told Jerry that she was advised to travel all over the Cordillera to find extras, but when she saw the Ifugao in Nayong Pilipino, she found just what was needed for the film. The Ifugao 'village' at Nayong Pilipino was set up by the American anthropologist, William Beyer, and inhabited by Ifugao from Batad, Banaue. Gardos contacted William Beyer and he instructed her to travel to Banaue and contact with Lily (Beyer's daughter) and Jerry Luglug (Lily's husband).
Eva wanted more than 240 Ifugao to be extras for the film. Eva Gardos, Jerry and Lily approached Former Congressman Benjamin Cappelman and the late former Mayor Roben Bahatan (whom Padma was fortunate to meet) for assistance in recruiting Ifugao extras for the film. They were instructed to recruit men, women, elders, and some children as well. Jerry and Roben said that Eva specified that she preferred pure Ifugao, and not "hybrid Ifugao" born of intermarriages and who didn't have 'the look' that the film required. She didn't want Ilocano or Tagalog-looking Ifugao. Initially, she even wanted all of the extras to come from Batad, just like the Ifugao she had met at Nayong Pilipino. Jerry and Lily had to tell her that was impossible, because then one would have to empty the barangay of Batad of its entire population to get enough extras for the film.
| Upon the arrival of
the Ifugao in Pagsanjan, she was particularly upset that they had been transported from Banaue in military 6x6 trucks. Many of them arrived sick
Roben, as the then outgoing mayor of Banaue, insisted that a contract be drawn up between the production and the Ifugao. It was stipulated that the extras would get housing, food, health care, and at least minimum wage for the duration of the filming. On the other hand, the extras would refrain from drinking too much alcohol, and would agree to carry out whatever acts were required for the film, provided there was no indecency. Roben, Benjamin, Lily, and Jerry were to work as interpreters and coordinators for the Ifugao, and they received a larger compensation.
For Lily, it was an immense responsibility, and she was constantly worried about the welfare of the entire group. She went to Pagsanjan ahead of everyone else to survey the set and the living conditions. Upon the arrival of the Ifugao in Pagsanjan, she was particularly upset that they had been transported from Banaue in military 6x6 trucks. Many of them arrived sick and dehydrated. It was a good thing that the contract included medical care and an abundant supply of food, milk, soft drinks, and potable water.
A camp for the Ifugao was constructed on the set in Pagsanjan. They were housed in cottages for about six months, from July to December 1976. According to Jovita Chulipa, a young single woman during the filming, groups of ten or more people lived in each cottage. They were given dogs, chickens, ducks, and by some accounts, also goats and pigs to look after and/or use for meat as they pleased. Benjamin says of this, "I think they wanted the village to look authentic, and so the people won't be homesick. The children around were just playing and they were getting paid P10 a day. I brought one of my sons. I think their intention was that if they're shooting and there are children around then it looks natural."
| Dead bodies strewn
on the set were cadavers, purchased from hospitals and medical schools.
When asked about the authenticity of the set, Benjamin laughed and said, "Of course they were trying to be authentic because of people like you (referring to our being anthropologists) who will say if it's really like that or not! I think there was even an anthropologist who told them the dialect is similar. I think directors find ways and means. Kahit hindi authentic, then at least, similar."
Coppola and his entire crew were indeed bent on making Apocalypse Now appear as close to "authentic" as possible. Dead bodies strewn on the set were cadavers, purchased from hospitals and medical schools. Much time and effort went into preparing sets, explosions, and even training of the extras. The first week they were in Pagsanjan, the Ifugao were given an orientation. They were shown the costumes and how to wear them, how to handle the guns. They were given an overview of their part in the story. Jerry recalls that they were told, "You are the people of Marlon Brando. He is like your god in the mountains. Sheen is your enemy."
Benjamin explains further, "We were trying to portray the natives, these Montagnards, who were caught in a war which they were not involved in. So first they were just running here and there. Then later they were recruited as renegade guerrilla soldiers by Kurtz against the Viet Cong
There were costumes that they got from somewhere else. I guess Vietnam
. They brought in Vietnamese from Bataan. They were brought in to act the Vietnamese roles, about 50 of them. Yun ang authentic na Vietnamese. If there are scenes where they talk Vietnamese, those were real. But where they're speaking Montagnard, they're Ifugao."
Jerry Luglug says there were about 15-20 Vietnamese on the set everyday. "They were always the dead people but they didn't complain." They were brought from the Morong Center in Bataan and they told Jerry that having to play dead was better than not having any job at all.
|"I think directors find ways and means. Kahit hindi authentic, then at least, similar."
On the other hand, the Ifugao considered playing dead as risky. Roben told of one scene where an Ifugao extra had to be buried: "No one wanted to volunteer. In our custom that is not good, to pretend to be dead and then buried. They were really going to put soil! Of course his face would not be covered but they were really going to put soil. There was finally one who was convinced but for extra pay. He died many years later of a sickness and people still said, 'You see!'"
The first month they were there, Benjamin participated in training the people "to play the military." They were taught how to handle M14s and armalites, and some carbine pistols. They used camouflage uniforms. "It was more than full time work because we issue the guns early in the morning, then training all day, then we have to account for all the guns and parts in the night. Because there were NPA in the area before and they were worried that some guns and parts might get stolen."
"Edgar Dupingay on set" photo credit: courtesy of Edgar Dupingay
Edgar Dupingay, who sells Ifugao handicrafts in Ifugao was one of Benjamin's 'military trainees.' He retells his experience of the first scene that was (shot) filmed with the Ifugao. His role was to be a soldier for Kurtz. He was assigned to pose, he says, not to enact any ritual. 'Some are warriors, with bolos, we are soldiers and we are holding guns.' Edgar shared his mementos of the set: a photo of himself, holding a gun and a photo of Jovita Chulipa and Adela leaning on one of the props that they had constructed. The first scene they shot was one where all of them were standing on the riverbanks, waiting for the arrival of the Navy patrol boat. Dennis Hopper was part of this scene too. He played a deranged photojournalist who was drawn to the character and "genius" of Kurtz.
Edgar narrates , "We were all from Ifugao, there waiting on the shore. Dennis jumped down for his shot and the director got angry and cut twice. It took us 3 times and the 4th was good, but on that last take, the pants of Dennis ripped up the middle, he wasn't wearing any underwear. The (Vietnamese) extra hanging over the river in the boat arrival scene was supposed to be dead. But he was without any pants.... and he had an erection. And one of the Ifugao on the steps said 'You see up there, the dead person, his
penis is not dead.' Then they cut the rope and immediately he fell into the water."
| The 'extras' village' was given sacrificial animals that would have normally cost the Ifugao a lot; this was part of their agreement with the production company.
The Ifugao extras hung out with the Hollywood actors. Some of the actors were given nicknames. Scott Glenn (Colby) was given the Ifugao name of Kimmayong (His personal website informs readers he was 'adopted' into the 'tribe.') Dennis Hopper was called Nabongan, meaning 'drunkard' and beloved by the extras for his sense of mischief.
Marlon Brando was comfortable among the Ifugao, because, as Lily puts it, "the Ifugao weren't minding him so he was feeling at ease. Not like our brothers in the lowlands they were always crowding around him because he was famous." Jerry recalls that between shoots Brando would visit their cottages to chat, and would also invite the Ifugao for a boat ride on the Pagsanjan River. Between shots, Martin Sheen would also spend his time with the Ifugao. "He wasn't famous yet," comments Benjamin. Jerry has a picture with Martin Sheen.
"Martin Sheen and 'the boys': Jerry Luglug in brown shirt on Sheen's left."
photo credit: courtesy of Jerry Luglug
Every weekend, tourists came to the set, presumably to catch glimpses of the Hollywood stars that the Ifugao treated so casually. They also came to see the impressive set, a replica of a Cambodian temple created by the set designer with Ifugao help. Lily, who to this day, deals in antiques and Ifugao crafts, took advantage of this and brought their business to Pagsanjan. Some of their items were sold to the crew. The other Ifugao also asked for materials for their crafts since there was a lot of free time between shoots. Roben Bahatan told us that they requested wood for carving, thread for weaving, and rattan or bamboo for basket weaving, all of which the production people provided. Seeing all this activity may have given the tourists the impression that it was a real native village and so they also took photos of the Ifugao living on the set.
| His genius as filmmaker lies in the images he incorporatesimages that he actually took straight out of Ifugao ritual.
This simulated village also took on Ifugao ritual life. The 'extras' village' was given sacrificial animals that would have normally cost the Ifugao a lot; this was part of their agreement with the production company. In one instance, they asked for a carabao for ritual slaughter. In Eleanor Coppola's Hearts of Darkness, the documentary film on the making of Apocalypse Now, it is this Ifugao request for a carabao for the ritual slaughter that provides Coppola his creative solution for the final scene.
Up to this point, Coppola, the genius filmmaker, arrives as it were up the river into his own hour of darkness. Ill and beset by cost overruns on his production budget, he had also run out of creative juicehaving no idea what to do for the final scene. As he plotted on how to stage the death of Kurtz, his wife called him to see the Ifugao ritual slaughter and he became inspired. His genius as filmmaker lies in the images he incorporatesimages that he actually took straight out of Ifugao ritual.
So, on screen, the Ifugao hack apart a carabao. All the Ifugao we interviewed insist that this scene wasn't in the script. "That came from us!" Many audiences flinch. Maybe they don't want to think about the origins of meat? Or is it the apparent savagery of the ritual? These are superficial readings and westernized audiences don't see that there is much more to this than meets the eye!
This scene is reminiscent of the old colonial relations reported in the National Geographic of the early 1900s. In the early colonial era, U.S. appointed provincial governors held "cañaos"large redistributive prestige feasts. In a traditional Ifugao cañao, a carabao or several were slaughtered and the meat was doled out by the feast's sponsor to relatives in order of their importance to the sponsor. The Americans sponsored these feasts to make peace between fractious Ifugao villages and establish colonial hegemony over the redistribution of wealth and justice. Since the Americans had no relatives, in their cañaos the order of precedence was 'up for grabs'particular Ifugao community leaders vied for the first chance to strike a blow on the carabao, in order to show their affinity with their hosts. Men armed with bolos rushed to the carabao in a running melee until all the meat was taken from the bones, attempting to outdo each other in symbolically claiming kinship with the Americans. Photos of cañaos suggested the carabao slaughter was a 'free-for all,' reinforcing American ideas that Filipinos were primitive and barbaric.
| To the Ifugao,
the carabao remained
a symbol of colonial power and its slaughter by the Ifugao became the symbolic tax levied on the Spanish as colonial overlord.
But the carabao holds a deeper significance in Ifugao ritual. The carabao entered the rice terraces of what is now Ifugao Province when Ifugao people living along the Magat River were displaced by Spanish incursions. The river ran through lowland Ifugao, separated the uplands of Ifugao Province from the neighboring lowland provinces of Isabela and Nueva Viscaya. The Spanish tried to Christianize the population and bring them into reducciones or mission settlements. The Ifugao abandoned their hunting grounds along the Magat and moved up to the mountains.
The theft of the animals by raiders from the Ifugao uplands was understood as a form of payment exacted from the Spanish for the use of the land the latter had occupied. As one Ifugao elder described it: "First, we just killed the carabao and carried the meat. Then we saw that it could be done to lead the carabao back. That was our pride, to kill many carabaos for meat when there was a death. That's how we were rich, sharing the meat."
To the Ifugao, the carabao remained a symbol of colonial power and its slaughter by the Ifugao became the symbolic tax levied on the Spanish as colonial overlord. Therefore, the prestige and the feast retain an ambivalent quality. Even as the Ifugao accept the gift of meat, they are symbolically assassinating the imperial donor.
In the actual filming of this scene, the natives (as Cambodians) are led in a dance and ritual by Guimbatan, a respected mumbaki . Guimbatan was a native ritual specialist from Banaue, and the performances retain definitive Ifugao elements of expression and gestures.
| Coppola was "in love" with the Ifugao since he was so reluctant to let them leave. Some of the Ifugao even said that they shouldn't show Coppola any more rituals; otherwise they would never be allowed to go home.
After Coppola first witnessed the carabao ritual slaughter, he tried to shoot every ritual that the Ifugao performed. Once he asked Roben if the elders could chant in one of the scenes. Roben said that they would be willing but that the utterance of those chants must always be accompanied by a sacrifice of chickens. So Coppola went overboard and ordered a whole truckload of chickens, which were then distributed to the entire Ifugao group.
Just before the Ifugao left for home, they performed one more ritual. Jerry saw Coppola throw down his cap and swear, "Shit, why didn't they show us this before? I want that for the film." Lily says it seemed that Coppola was "in love" with the Ifugao since he was so reluctant to let them leave. Some of the Ifugao even said that they shouldn't show Coppola any more rituals; otherwise they would never be allowed to go home.
In December 1976, the Ifugao completed their contract with the production company and returned home. This time, Lily made sure they traveled comfortably. They rode in air-conditioned coasters and were escorted by the local police in every province that they drove to. When they reached Dalton Pass, Jerry told the police to go home, "Baka kami pa ang mag-escort sa inyo dito."
Today, the Ifugao recall their participation in the film with a mixture of fondness and smugness. Their having been part of the filming is more important to the Ifugao than the film itself. Benjamin says, "You feel proud that you're part of the film but first it was just about the money." He says they were paid about $500 a week, and the exchange rate then was P7 per $. Prior to the filming, he was earning P350 a month as a teacher.
For Edgar, "seeing the movie filmed, it lessened my belief
. In the movie, you are attracted with them, you are believing what is being performed there. But, when I saw it for myself, it lessened my interest. Now, I only take in the history of the movie. Now, I don't believe alreadyonce I have seen it, I know it is not true
In my experience there, at least by myself, I have done what they call filming. I stand in front of a camera and it's even an American film. It's a good experience for myself, when it comes to film. I'm a common person here, but I have experience. I was trained, for a short time, in martial arts for the film and even firing guns. Only we didn't operate the cannon
We learned how to load, to really attack and capture the object. It's like being a soldier without entering the military."
Edgar even went to Bayombong, Nueva Viscaya (the nearest cinema) to see the film and was dismayed by how many scenes were missing. "I didn't even see my face there. I was very eager to see Brando with us. That was the scene where Brando investigated Sheen. We were dragging Martin Sheen to him."
Lily asserts, "It was fun because it helped a lot of people here. They experienced travelling to a far place, there was good food. It was like a vacation for most of them. No hard work! We were pampered. There were truckloads of ducks and chickens. Drinks all over the place, lanzones, toilet paper. For me, when I saw the making of the film I lost interest in watching other films. I don't get so excited so much because I know they fake it. It must have been a nice experience for the other women too. They traveled, they were a community together, they liked doing what they were asked to do, and some met future husbands."
All in all, being in a Hollywood film and contributing to its ending was no big deal to the worldly Ifugao, really. It was fun while it lasted, and then life went on as usual and films thereafter lost their lustre. No one could have said this better than Benjamin who snorted when we first asked him to tell us about his experiences on the set: "Apocalypse Now? That's Apocalypse Yesterday already!"
 We have taken the line breaks from a version of the poem found in a copy of the script for the film, provided courtesy of Butch Perez. The poem does not appear in the Conrad novel, only in Coppola's film.
 See Barkan, E. and R. Bush, eds., Prehistories of the future: the primitivist project and the culture of modernism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995) for details on Eliot's biography.
 See Worcester, D., "Field sports among the wild men of Northern Luzon" National Geographic 22(3), 1911: 215-267; Worcester, D., "Head-hunters of Northern Luzon" National Geographic 23(9), 1912: 833-930; Worcester, D., "The non-Christian peoples of the Philippines-with an account of what has been done for them under American Rule" National Geographic 24(11), 1913: 1157-1256.
 The sacrifice of a carabao is part of rituals to cure sickness and misfortune as well as to honor the dead.
This is excerpted from a larger collaborative research study by the authors and re-edited for Our Own Voice, 2004. It appeared in Flip Magazine (2003, v.2, n.3, pp. 29-33, 90-91); and delivered as a lecture ("Just Act Natural": Exploring Filipino Postcolonialities in the Making of Apocalypse Now) by Dr. Deirdre McKay on 26 September 2003 at the De la Costa Building Conference Room, organized by the Ateneo de Manila University's Institute of Philippine Culture, Program in Literary and Cultural Studies, and Kritika Kultura, in cooperation with American Studies Asia.
© Deirdre McKay and Padmapani L. Perez
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