All grown up: 30 years after 'Bagets'

Posted at 02/25/14 4:11 PM

A scene from "Bagets"

It’s hard to imagine the ‘80s as an innocent time. After all, it was a decade known for its penchant for indulgence and excess, an era defined by the mantra “Greed is good” (from the movie “Wall Street”), and whose anthems included ditties like Madonna’s “Material Girl.”

But after watching the movie “Bagets” again, 30 years after its February 1984 release, one can’t help but feel wistful for those less turbulent times. There certainly are moments that can make you cringe today—those zippered pants and buttoned-up polo shirts don’t look so hip a generation after—but, whether we admit it or not, we miss those times. Totally.

“Bagets” isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a cinematic masterpiece. Its director, Maryo J. Delos Reyes, had achieved greater success in capturing teen angst in his earlier movie, “High School Circa ‘65.” And later, Ishmael Bernal would come up with a more touching, if depressing, look at the anxiety of that decade’s youth in “The Graduates.”

“Bagets” was more of a star-building launch vehicle for Viva Film’s stable of teen heartthrobs, which included then 15-year-old Aga Muhlach. But, accidentally perhaps, “Bagets” became the movie of our generation. Not only because we were of the same age as the movie’s five main characters, but because their story actually mirrored our petty concerns and shallow interests at the time.

The “Bagets” boys weren’t a bunch of ultra-rich kids with access to Papa’s helicopter as in the Sharon Cuneta flicks; neither were they hopeful innocents dreaming of one day escaping from their impoverished lot in life.

Adi (Muhlach), Gilbert (Herbert Bautista), Toffee (J.C. Bonin) and Arnel (Raymond Lauchengco) are your typical carefree boys who got kicked out and transferred to a new, less exclusive school for their final year of high school (but not before meeting four-time repeater Tonton, played by William Martinez, who instinctively becomes their leader). Not much happens to them, except for the usual shenanigans and school crushes, although there’s a tragic drag-racing accident near the end that triggers some self-examination just before they graduate.

“Bagets” presents the typical middle-class teens of the time and situations familiar to almost anyone who came of age in the ‘80s. Our first experience with sex almost invariably involved some massage parlor on Quezon Avenue, much like in the movie—but hopefully minus the raid. As sleazy as that sounds, it’s actually not.

This was before sex became readily accessible to anyone with a cell phone or an Internet connection and the massage parlor and its sensations were as much of a rite of passage as circumcision. Compared to today’s rampant SEBs and SOPs, and teenage girls offering—on chatrooms and even message boards—to do anything in exchange for cellphone load, losing it to a masseuse seems old-fashioned now.

Back then, summer breaks meant harmless trips to Baguio or a beach somewhere in Batangas—just like in the movie. If we had problems—or if we just wanted to cut class or go out to celebrate—there was the ever-reliable Shakey’s pizza parlors, where we could order draft beer by the pitcher. But most of the time we just hung out at the house of a more well-off friend, listened to music and maybe lit up a joint.

While “Bagets” popularized the now clichéd ‘80s classic “Just Got Lucky,” the movie actually captured our taste in music pretty well. “Thriller” had just been released, which would explain Adi’s ambition to open a disco that would play Michael Jackson songs. Jackson wasn’t yet the creep that he would become—he was even black then—and many of us pretty much memorized the steps to “Beat It.” Remember than in 1984, New Wave was just starting to creep into the mainstream and Top 40 was all the rage.

The character of Yayo Aguila who was supposed to set Martinez’s character on the right path, actually listened to jazz—or what was considered jazz at the time. Remember the scene when her family jammed to “The Shaker Song”? The more emotionally mature members of our generation were more attuned to Al Jarreau, Earl Klugh, Manhattan Transfer and other pop-jazz artists. It’s telling that when Martinez’s character began to question their lack of interest in the future, he was listening to Clarke Duke Project.

As much as I shudder at the thought, yup, we did wear those threads. In fact, I think we were—at least in our high school—even ahead because I do recall my friends wearing zippered pants and pleated slacks as they performed the strut in school programs. The layered shirts and bright colors were also favored by the preppier ones who could afford Lacoste and Polo by Ralph Lauren. Of course, we all had gelled hair.

And the girls also looked like that—big, Aqua Net hair and ruffled dresses and large hoop earrings. As I recall, the so-called “cool kids” in school were either those who belonged to frats and would sometimes figure in a rumble in Greenhills or those who were always in fashion and popular with the girls. Our idea of rebellion was pretty tame. I don’t recall anyone who died violently when we were young.

But what really struck me with “Bagets” now was that families then were not yet as dysfunctional as they are today. Sure we had pals who came from broken homes but they weren’t that many. None of the “Bagets” boys had an OFW parent and their dreams never included going abroad to find a job.

It would be interesting to see what the “Bagets” characters would have become many years later, although I’m sure it wouldn’t be surprising. They’re out there with steady jobs, but still stuck in the ‘80s, and probably shocked at the behavior of the current generation. Once in a while, they’d light up a joint, like during homecomings, and blab incessantly about the old days.

But I’d bet the majority have their families intact and are active in PTAs and father-son camping trips. And while we would go wild on hearing the opening bass line of “(Build Me Up) Buttercup” or can’t get enough of Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration,” it will be jazz songs like “Sweet Baby” or “Stay Awake” that would put us in a pensive, sentimental mood.

So, yes, that era gave us our last taste of innocence. Our generation was too young to remember the curfews of Martial Law. We weren’t politicized—yet – and hadn’t waged any battles outside of Space Invaders. Our biggest brush with the Marcos tyranny had come when they took Voltes V and arcade games away from us. Little did we know that a sea-change was about to transpire. Our elders were already up in arms over Ninoy Aquino’s assassination the year before, but the EDSA Revolution was still two years away.

In a way, we really just got lucky.

(The author originally wrote this piece for ABS-CBN Publishing’s Maxim Philippines magazine in 2009 to mark the 25th year of the movie.)