I also met Alfred Bruno at the studio. He became a legendary director of Philippine movies. His movies were distributed internationally and were presumed to have lasting value, though his career was cut short. Alfred became a close friend of Susan and mine, and he took care of us more than Nick and Sonja did. He was very kind, and we often wondered where his kindness came from. It was the small things. It was just the way he was, though I knew he wasn’t a saint.
Ever so Alfred often appeared at our door with some small thing. Out of the blue he’d appear with something to cook … a bag of bean sprouts or a chicken. He liked to cook so much that to this day I associate him with a ladle and a pot. Once he brought us a puppy and another time two chicks. He always brought with him a smile. Yes, he was very generous, but he didn’t have much money in those days. He didn’t have much money, but he shared what he had. It didn’t make any different to him (or to us) that he didn’t have any money.
He was short and stocky, a miniature of his favorite director Alfred Hitchcock. Notice that they shared the same first name, and their faces were similar too, except our friend was a Filipino with Malay features. We went to see every Hitchcock film that came to town, and I know that he saw them over and over again.
Alfred’s voice was high-pitched but not effeminate. No one would question his masculinity, and like most Filipinos he used Tagalog and English interchangeably. It seemed strange that he did so since we didn’t speak Tagalog well. He came from Cebu.
The day I met him I tagged along as he searched for the right face for a television show. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t call for auditions. I didn’t understand what he was doing. An actor wouldn’t do. He drove, and I held onto my seat. He drove around town without regard for the traffic…that he had great confidence was easy to see. He seemed to know what he was looking for … the right face. He said he was looking for the one person who fit the part, as if there weren’t many people who could play the part well, and as if someone off the street could play it better than a professional actor could. He seemed to think that he’d find the face, though I couldn’t get inside his brain.
We combed Quiapo … the church in the plaza and the market under the bridge. He found an old man under the bridge, out of all the people at the church and in the market an old man with the right face. “Why that particular man?” I asked, when I got the chance. ”His face. There was a story there. Out of millions of faces millions of stories, but it came down to one thing. I liked his face.” And Alfred added with a smile, “He won’t cost me much.” He lectured me then about the need for authenticity, authenticity at any cost, cost in terms of time because time was money. This was Alfred’s way. It was what made him great. Other directors wouldn’t have taken the time he did to look for the right face. I was to see him do this time and time again, driving around, looking, thinking, observing … never overlooking anything while other directors would’ve said it wasn’t worth it. This became part of the lore…the legend…surrounding Alfred, and for me it was his obsession with detail that made him great. In the long run, it paid off for Alfred, and among those he discovered was Susan.
Susan played Lady Liberty for him. To him Lady Liberty had to be an American lady, and he thought Susan was perfect for the part. Again it was her face. Her pure, white face. A brown face wouldn’t do.
When I arrived at the studio, I found Susan already in costume and looking not only very nervous but also very beautiful. She looked much younger than her age and wore no makeup on her long, slender face. No makeup, Alfred insisted. In spite of the blemishes, no makeup. And a torch … there was nothing wrong with the torch. (It had a light bulb in it, and it burned brightly.) But the crown was tarnished and tilted. Everything looked perfect except for the crown, which was tarnished and sat crooked on Susan’s head. Alfred insisted on it. I saw his point. It wasn’t hard to miss. Holding still was the hardest part for Susan. It would’ve been hard for anyone. After the hour was over, the cast gathered around Susan and gave her an ovation…and I thought no one could’ve played Lady Liberty better than Susan did. I felt proud of her because I didn’t think she would do it.
Dinner gave us all a chance to unwind. We all managed to sit around one huge table, the cast, Alfred, Susan, and me. It didn’t matter that I had just gone along for the ride. .
“Alfred,” Sonja said, “you’re a genius, but we couldn’t have had a better Lady Liberty. Don’t you agree? Susan stole the show. Nevertheless, I want to congratulate and thank all of you, and to my director Alfred, a special thanks. Once again we pulled it off. With all that could’ve gone wrong, which makes us wonder why the hell we’re in this business, and makes me wonder why I insist on doing it live … every week the same pressure. And we couldn’t do it without geniuses like Alfred. It would intimidate mere mortals. An ordinary person would wilt under pressure.”
I wanted to see Alfred’s face as Sonja heaped praise on him, but he was turned away from me, talking to someone else. By then people were busy eating and talking and weren’t listening to Sonja. I just happened to have been sitting next to her.
Alfred took us home, and as he walked up to our door with us, I asked him if he wanted to come in. Contrary to what I expected, he accepted the invitation. He relaxed at the restaurant…a combination of slowing down, San Miguel Beer, and good food helped…so he didn’t seem tired. We were fortunate to find an apartment with an upstairs bedroom, and Susan took advantage of it immediately. Alfred and I managed to scare up a couple of beers (for consumption on the premises), and we decided to stay up half night talking about ourselves. He was going to make a movie about the Moros and set it in the Sulus. He challenged me to go see the region for myself. “When you come back, I’d like to pick your brain,” he said. It was like he was giving me an assignment.