The "Oldest" Filipino Film?

A video entitled “Luzon Lingerie” is floating around the Internet claiming to be the oldest existing film on Philippine life. It is dated 1905.  But was it really made in 1905?  I believe it's far from the truth by at least a dozen years or even much later, around 1919 or 1920.

View the clip before reading the rest of this article. 

"Luzon Lingerie" (Source: Pinoy na Pinoy,

Charming as the clip may be, let's dispel various inaccuracies and place things in proper historical context.  Finding the correct time in history in which this was more or less made, and therefore rendering it greater credibility, makes for a great detective story. 

Observation #1 - It's not really a “movie” in the dramatic, commercial “feature” sense. It's more a documentary/travelogue clip. "Luzon Lingerie" merely extols the jusi / piña / sinamay / (native fibers) embroidery scene in Central Luzon a century ago. The earliest Filipino movies supposedly were feature films like "Escolta," "Panorama de Manila," and "Quiapo Fiesta." One online source dates those to as early as 1898.  However, even that date may be too early. I would say, with the advent of American rule, renewed relations and cultural exchanges with Europe at the turn of the 20th century, those movies might have come into being more at the beginning of 1904 or thereabouts. 

Observation #2 - The clip is labeled “made in 1905.”  It was not.  That is too woefully early.  (More on this later.)  

Observation #3 - The film is not so much about lingerie as the production of sinamay, piña fabrics and fine embroidery products at the start of the new American century for the Philippines.  So again, another misleading claim on the filmmakers' part.

The footage is attributed to one Burton Holmes, an American from a well-to-do Chicago family who is credited with coining the word “travelogue.” He was like the Rick Steves of his day in that he was a major name in the lecture circuit in early 20th century America. 

Since they had no TV, Internet or extensive movie house complexes at the time -– radio was just in its infancy –- so-called “experts” in their particular fields, hit major cities and towns with their “show-and-tell” lectures.  And Holmes specialized in sharing his exotic travels.  His timeline apparently reads like this:  

1899 - first visit to the Philippines

1913 - returns there with cameraman Oscar Depue. There is an entry in the book, Film: American Influences on Philippine Cinema, by Nick de Ocampo, that states, "1913: Lecture season features Philippines (second visit)."  Thus, my educated guess put some of this footage at 1912-13. 

1915 - Holmes signs up with Paramount Pictures

1916 - adds films (to his collection) about the Philippines

1917 - a colleague, Herford T. Cowling, shoots some footage for Holmes in the Philippines (this would seem to have been the right period in which most of the footage was shot) 

Advertising card of Holmes' filmed travels (as 'travelogues') for Paramount, circa 1917. (Source:

Advertising card of Holmes' filmed travels (as 'travelogues') for Paramount, circa 1917. (Source:

1921-22 - Holmes assembles a lot of film footage from his various travels into conflated editions, for his deal with Paramount and his revived lecture series. Thus, this version is really an assemblage of footage shot in at least two of Holmes and Cowling's 1917 visit to the islands. 

There are a few “bookmarks” in the film that point to a date much later than its claimed "1905" pedigree:

Title card at the 7:54 mark says: "Since the war began, they have captured the world markets for their filipino (sic)  product..."  Surely Holmes meant the First World War in which America flexed its muscle as the dominant power of the 20th century.  The war didn't end until 1918 (and remember, America only joined in at the end) so at least Holmes' frame of mind when the film was being edited was sometime after 1918. 

The presence of the Model T Ford (7:01 mark on the clip):  The first Model T Fords rolled out of the Piquette Assembly Plant in Detroit, Michigan, on September 27, 1908.  So, give or take a year or two before the first models arrived in Manila either due to some American official or a rich Filipino family, this would be around 1910.  Plus, it must have been after a retail gas station or two and some paved roads in Manila, which places at least part of the film sometime after 1912-13. 

Holmes mixes materials and data from various trips into one.  I have read a print copy of Holmes' short monograph: "The Olympian Games in Athens, 1896: The First Modern Olympics," his first-person account of attending the first revival of the ancient Olympic Games in Athens, Greece in April 1896. 

To an Olympic historian (like myself), it is an interesting account of a well-traveled scribe who was there.  He starts out by recounting his journey from New York by steamer to Naples, over land to Brindisi, on the heel of the Italian boot; then crossing the Adriatic by steamer to the western port of Patras, then on to Athens. 

However, Holmes confusingly mixes photographs from the Intercalated Games of 1906, also held in Athens, with those from his 1896 trips.  While the few 1906 photographs are identified as such, it is not known if Holmes traveled to Greece again in 1906 or if those were from other sources. 

The point is, Burton Holmes seems to have a habit of collating his various travels into one finished product, mixing dates whenever he felt like it.  After all, back then, there were very few world travelers who could corroborate what one encountered on one's travels. 

Finally, of the three corporate names mentioned in the credits of the film, the director of the Prelinger Library/Archives in San Francisco was the only one I could only get in touch with.  This is what Rick Prelinger had to say about this film in an email to me on April 4, 2014:

"I don't have much information on the film. I wish I had more. It was part of the collection of a non-theatrical film distributor in New York City named Mogull's, who rented and sold films to homes, schools and community organizations. Mogull's collected films from all over. When we acquired it, it was a very large collection, and we transferred quite a number of them to video and put them online. I'm embarrassed to say that it's only now that I am discovering how widely it has been made available online, and learning of its importance as possibly one of the first films made in the Philippines. I don't know where the story comes from that it was made in 1905; I find that doubtful, as film equipment and techniques were quite primitive then and the film looks as if it was made later.

What I do know is that it is one of the very many travel films made by Burton Holmes, who began as a travel lecturer with lantern slides in the 19th century and became a filmmaker in the early 20th. He was a pioneer of the kind of films and photographs showing "exotic" people, places and activities, and traveled very widely with his shows. Much of the way Americans thought (and still think) of the rest of the world was conditioned by Holmes and his films."

The footage is attributed to one Burton Holmes, an American from a well-to-do Chicago family who is credited with coining the word “travelogue.”

To summarize, I would say that most of the “Luzon Lingerie” footages were probably shot in 1917 by Herford Cowling, Holmes' colleague.  Holmes then assembled and edited it sometime after 1918, adding the language of the title cards as we see them today.   

Sometime between 1998 - 2004, Jyotica Communications in Manila got hold of it, digitized it, added a soundtrack and proclaimed it as "oldest Filipino film from 1905."  And then it came into Prelinger's possession from Mogull's films.   Further research on the two other corporate names on the film, Jyotica Communications and Mogull's, led to dead ends. 

Yes, we can enjoy the clip as a fascinating, surviving record of that phase of Filipino life in the second decade of the 20th century, thanks to Mr. Holmes.  The embroidery handicraft is simply astonishing and magnificent. Unfortunately, except for the Bilibid prison footage, those workshops and workplaces are lost to history. One can only accept the filmmakers' word that these were workshops in Luzon, presumably in the Tagalog areas. Of course, one can enjoy the following on the still thriving “delicate fabrics” industry in the Philippines. 

"Show 'Em What Weave Got" Positively Filipino, October 15, 2013

Nonetheless, succeeding parties who have handled the film should have done justice and respect for history by at least dating the artifact correctly and not making some disingenuous claims.

Finally, can anyone name the kundiman (love song) the clip is played to?  The film's later editors even failed to provide that little courtesy to those who have belatedly come to appreciate the film.  

Myles Garcia is a retired, SF Bay Area-based author and writer.  His proudest work to date is "Secrets of the Olympic Ceremonies."  In between writing (currently finishing a play), he is learning how to play the piano--late in life, to complement his cabaret singing skills. Better late than never. 

More articles from Myles A. Garcia

Ten Best-Kept Secrets Of Olympic Ceremonies
January 15, 2014
The real stories behind those flashy Olympic goings on

Sochi Ready To Winter-Party!
February 4, 2014
The Sochi Games will feature two athletes Filipinos around the world can root for.

Love Baskets for Betty
July 8, 2014
The Jose Formoso Reyes story, or why the Philippine Commonwealth's loss was Nantucket's gain.