Today is the birthday of Jose Rizal and one wonders what he’s thinking beneath his tomb on the Luneta. By coincidence I just happened to be thumbing through some forgotten, and now defunct, magazines on Philippine film and wondered what happened to Edward Gross’s biography of Rizal?
Edward Gross was one of the pioneers of film-making in the Philippines and made the first feature-length (for the day, it was 5,000 feet) movie on the national hero: “The Life of Jose Rizal”. A competitor, Charles Yearsley, actually beat him to the box-office, though, with a 500 foot quickie called “The Execution of Jose Rizal” and filched the same actors. Gross’s film premiered on August 12, 1912 on the 14th anniversary of the cessation of Spanish-American hostilities in 1898 and exactly a day short of the Spanish surrender to Dewey in Manila and a year and one month since another cinematographic entrepreneur (cum mercenary) LM Johnson allegedly signed the Philippine Declaration of Independence. Gross went on to put the Noli and the Fili on celluloid with his wife, the talented actress Titay Molina, as Maria Clara.
Gross was a Rizal fan and, before making the movie based on Rizal’s life, apparently wrote a biography on the Philippine national hero. There were still plenty of people around who had known Rizal, and maybe had even seen the execution and one wonders whether Gross actually researched his subject in any depth. Do any copies of the biography exist?
Be that as it may, one idea that has gone the rounds is that the famous photograph of the Rizal execution is just a still from Gross’s or Yearsley’s films in the 1912. At least two copies of the execution photograph by Manuel Arias Rodriguez exist, one in a museum in Madrid, another in a museum in Cavite, both are albumin prints, a technology not longer used in 1912, and anyone familiar with stills taken from films of the period would immediately dismiss the notion that they were frames from films.
So the diminutive man in the bowler hat in the famous picture is indeed, Jose Rizal.