Starter Kit – Circulating Cinema(goers): Philippine Cinema and Critical Infrastructure Studies

Starter Kit: “Circulating Cinema(goers): Philippine Cinema and Critical Infrastructure Studies”

By Miguel Penabella, Film & Media Studies, UC Santa Barbara
Published Dec. 9, 2018

1 pixel spacer


Beyond simply thinking of the narrative and thematic content of individual films, how does an infrastructural approach to film and media studies allow us to see cinema differently, and how such media is distributed, received, and consumed? Taking the idea that infrastructure becomes interesting and visible upon its breakdown and collapse, how can film scholars rethink the historical development of Philippine cinema not in terms of its cinematic output, but as it’s shaped by its broken, crumbling, and haunted cinematic infrastructures? How do infrastructural inadequacies in Philippine cinema reflect an overall pattern of brokenness in a much longer and broader story of the Philippine film industry in disrepair? How has the identity and character of Philippine cinema been shaped by its infrastructures over time? And how do non-cinematic infrastructures like light rail transit lines become folded into cinematic infrastructures, in effect, becoming it?

To address such questions and provocations, this starter kit will supply film and media scholars with varied approaches to studying cinematic infrastructures of the Philippines, including: Ramon Lobato’s mapping of informal circuits of cinematic distribution; critical approaches centered on “repair” and “junkspace”; and Gerard Lico and James Scott’s approach to analyzing state architecture as spectacles of power. Also included are charts, photographs, and maps for incubating further thought and provoking potential new insights and connections.

1 pixel spacer



Three readings on film history are paired with Susan Leigh Star’s infrastructural approach, compelling us to rethink film studies infrastructurally.

  • Bowles, Kate. “Lost Horizon: The Social History of the Cinema Audience.” History Compass 9, no. 11 (2011): 854–863.  PDF
  • Klenotic, Jeffrey. “Putting Cinema History on the Map Using GIS to Explore the Spatiality of Cinema.” In Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies, edited by Richard Maltby, Daniel Biltereyst, and Philippe Meers, 58–84. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.  
  • Maltby, Richard. “New Cinema Histories.” In Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies, edited by Richard Maltby, Daniel Biltereyst, and Philippe Meers, 3–40. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.  PDF
  • Star, Susan Leigh. “The Ethnography of Infrastructure.” American Behavioral Scientist 43, no. 3 (1999): 377–391.  PDF


1 pixel spacer


While some of these readings do not examine Philippine cinema specifically, these four approaches propose potentially new and exciting ways to think about this topic, and of cinematic infrastructures more generally. 

Philippine Cinematic Infrastructures

  • Lobato, Ramon. Shadow Economies of Cinema: Mapping Informal Film Distribution. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
  • Trice, Jasmine Nadua. “The Quiapo cinémathèque: Transnational DVDs and alternative modernities in the heart of Manila.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 13, no. 5 (2010): 531–550.  PDF

“Repair” and “Junkspace” Approaches

  • Fisher, Thomas. “Fracture Critical.” Places Journal (October 2009).  PDF
  • Jackson, Steven J. “Rethinking Repair.” In Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society, edited by Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo J. Boczkowski, and Kirsten A. Foot, 221–239. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014.
  • Koolhaas, Rem. “Junkspace.” October 100, Obsolescence (Spring 2002): 175–190.  PDF

State Architecture Analyses

  • Lico, Gerard. Edifice Complex: Power, Myth, and Marcos State Architecture. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2003.
  • Scott, James C. Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.
From the Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 21, 1992.

City and Urban Studies Approaches

  • Boutros, Alexandra and Will Straw. Circulation and the City: Essays on Urban Culture. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.
  • Friedberg, Anne. “The Passage From Arcade to Cinema.” In Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

1 pixel spacer


A selection of photographs, maps, tables, newspaper clippings, and a film that pertains to an understanding of Philippine cinematic infrastructures. Generally speaking, this gallery moves us from Marcos-era, single-screen theaters to thinking about new configurations of cinema infrastructures largely reshaped by neoliberal development characterized by multiplexes and elevated railways.

Exhibit 1

Cinemas of the Golden Age, Manila
Images from Cinema Treasures

Exhibit 2

Neighborhood in Tondo, Manila and interior view of nearby Divisoria (commercial/retail hub)
Photos taken by author, Summer 2015

Exhibit 3

Roman Super Cinerama (1963-1978) & current building
Photos from Cinema Treasures and Google Street View

Exhibit 4

Table of the amount of days of theater screen time across three categories of film: American imports from the Motion Picture Export Association (MPEA), independent films, and domestic productions in the Tagalog language
From “Manila Film Playoff: 1971,” Variety, May 10, 1972, 44.

Exhibit 5

News clippings from Variety detailing arson threats to theaters
From Variety staff. “Fear of Fires, ‘Over-Sell’ Threats.” Variety, December 31, 1980; Variety staff. “Old Filipino Cinema Destroyed In Blaze.” Variety, April 26, 1978.; Variety staff. “Blame ‘Arson Syndicate’ For Manila Cinema Fire That Claimed 13 Lives.” Variety, July 26, 1978.

Exhibit 6

Last Full Show (dir. Mark V. Reyes, 2005)

Exhibit 7

LRT route plans (of the 6 proposed lines, only 2 have been built, in addition to an MRT line)
Razon, Evangeline M. “The Manila Rail System.” Japan Railway & Transport Review 16 (June 1998): 39.

Exhibit 8

Map of LRT/MRT routes through Manila (note key junction point of the Recto station)
thesevenroads. “Back in Manila – MRT/LRT Tips and Experiences The Seven Roads.” The Seven Roads, January 7, 2014,

Exhibit 9

Map of MRT-3 stations alongside adjacent shopping malls
Balea, Judith. “Why SM is after the MRT-LRT common station.” Rappler, July 3, 2014,

Exhibit 10

Construction of MRT-3 (approx. 1996)
Satre, Gary L. “The Metro Manila LRT System—A Historical Perspective.” Japan Railway & Transport Review 16 (June 1998): 35, 37.

Exhibit 11

Photographs of pedestrian view underneath the railways
Yambot, Louella Pleasant. “PROJECT X: Integrating an elevated LRT structure in Manila’s urban streetscape.” Master’s Practicum, University of Manitoba, 2008, 23.