It was bad enough that Nestor Torre suffered a stroke in 2018 because it stopped him from writing “Viewfinder,” his widely read daily column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI).
Worse, he died on 6 April of complications from Covid-19 at age 78.
The death of Torre — who called himself “NUT” (acronym for his full name Nestor U. Torre Jr.) — was a big blow to many Filipino performing artists whom he inspired with his coverage of their projects through his column.
One of them was Ryan Cayabyab, who was declared National Artist for music in 2018.
In a message to Daily Tribune, Cayabyab said: “I am sad to hear of Nestor’s passing. He was one of my original champions, and a constant one.
“He wrote about my works, giving generous space in his column in PDI when he was editor. He accompanied me to Greece in 2001 when I received the Onassis Cultural Award.
“And when I gave up on finishing the musical Magnificat in 1997, which he wrote, he waited patiently for more than a year, cajoling and pleading that I finish it, which I did.
“We traveled to Japan when he covered the Ambivalent Crowd in 1974, and together we watched Miss Saigon in London in 1990 to catch Lea Salonga’s performance.
“In 1998, Nestor directed Katy, my first attempt to do a biographical musical. He also directed Magsimula Ka, music by Gines Tan and which I music-directed.
“Much earlier than that, Nestor asked me to guest several times on Two for the Road. With Nestor Torre gone, it seems like the end of an era of exciting coverage of Philippine music and entertainment. Salamat, Nestor.”
Torre was not only a journalist who excelled in film, TV and music criticism; he actively engaged in the performing arts as a theater actor, writer and director.
In 1971, he wrote and directed his first film, Crush Ko Si Sir, starring Hilda Koronel. He wrote 16 more screenplays, including three Joseph Estrada films.
He went on to co-host with Elvira Manahan the second incarnation of the TV show Two For the Road, which he had directed in the 1960s.
While he also dabbled in musical-comedy revues, he had a strong bent for religious themes — aside from Magnificat, he also wrote and directed the musicals Padre Pio, Be Not Afraid: Pope John Paul II, Bakhita, the Musical and Kordero ng Diyos.
But he would be most remembered as a critic who saw what’s good and bad in a film or a TV program, and was unafraid to tell it like it is — with a dash of wit and humor.
Here are excerpts:
From his “Viewfinder” column, “When nice is a vice,” 16 February 2018:
“Unfortunately, despite the episode’s best efforts, Elmo (Magalona) still couldn’t come up with a more solid and deeper portrayal in keeping with his character’s evolution from carefree youth to more responsible young adult.
“His dialogue said he had, but he still came across as too light, shallow and well-meaning.
“The problem wasn’t his alone, since the episode’s chosen storytelling thrust was too lightweight from the get-go.
“The big ‘breakthrough’ can still happen, if the right material is found to ‘force’ Elmo to finally realize that ‘nice’ is actually a ‘vice’ in the acting biz, because viewers are interested not in being coddled and lulled to sleep, but in conflicted characters who learn valuable life lessons painfully — and share them with empathetic viewers.”
Another one, from “Viewfinder,” “Taking a step back instead of forward,” 29 December 2017:
“Some of our TV newscasts have been providing us with the wrong kind of ‘entertainment’ of late, due to some on-cam news personalities’ inappropriate and thus distracting way of dressing.
“The basic problem is that some of them think that they’re exceedingly beautiful or dashing, and that they’re ‘stars’ instead of just being newsreaders and news anchors (which is what they really are).
“So, they dress up in a ‘stellar’ fashion, calling even more attention to their ‘fashionably trendy’ personas.
“This self-centered attitude is dead-wrong for newscasts, because their main focus should be on simply and clearly informing viewers about what’s just happened — period.
“The news anchor or reader should intentionally take a judicious step back instead of forward, so viewers’ focus can be exclusively on the news report.
“This isn’t what’s been happening, obviously, due to the ‘star’ news people’s distracting efforts to impress viewers with their looks and appearance.
“First, a reality check: The only truly beautiful local TV news person this season is Pia Hontiveros, so the others can just relax and not try so hard.
“As for the guys, there’s nobody all that handsome and dashing, so you can all relax, as well.”