DOLPHY: QUEEN OF COMEDY
“You should stop making personal films and make the ultimate Dolphy movie instead.” This was a professor of mine talking to some young filmmakers, with a measure of both snark and con I’d imagine but also meaning it, much as this was back when the idea of the ultimate Dolphy movie tended to ring partially like a joke. It did stick to my craw, give it that, and long enough for the notion to gain enough weight and sink in. The ultimate Dolphy movie, then. What would it be like? And has it been made? My pondering of these two matters may have been casual but oddly continual.
Or perhaps not that odd. Rifling through Dolphy’s vast and varied filmography, for me, is like sifting through layers of nostalgia, condensing hundreds of childhood afternoons into a body of work.. They were, invariably, agents of my private cinephilic ferment. Sure, most of the films were saddled with one-trick directors and by-the-numbers scripts. But all of these Dolphy would rise above and invigorate and sometimes transform into something else. The monotone of stereotype is something all comic leads from Jerry Lewis to Adam Sandler lapse into and I remember being told that plans were once afoot for a think tank tasked to develop projects for Dolphy that would pry him loose from this. Age eventually brings a sense that his earlier material bristled with genuine anarchy and subversion and that the later ones conformed to convention and formula. But no matter how pedestrian the material got, Dolphy’s ungraspable comic wiles would set most of it on fire. This is what the possibly mythical think tank may have wanted to harness and re-direct.
The queer act Dolphy minted with Jack and Jill is one of his two most enduring archetypes. And it almost forfeits its undeniable comic charge for the way it allegedly misrepresented the homosexual community, which it actually didn’t. It bowed to the mores of its time, unfortunately the mores of our time still, every time it finished up reforming a character into heterosexuality, sure. But, arguable lack of subtlety aside, which is an issue of tone and attack rather than condescencion, Dolphy’s gay characters feel hewn from the street and crosses no lines. Vice Ganda tends to come off more like caricature, like exploitation. Still, this is what his work in Gil Portes’ Markova: Comfort Gay, which Dolphy himself produced, and Lino Brocka’s Ang Tatay Kong Nanay, sought to nuance and broaden and perhaps even overthrow.
The problems with Markova have more to do with the overly earnest script but centering it is the fragile humanism of Dolphy’s performance, invaluably reinforced by Joel Lamangan as his best friend, who may essentially be playing himself, but somehow one-ups the creepy soldier he played in Lav Diaz’s Hesus Rebolusyonaryo. A spar and volley with someone of equal measure, be it Panchito, be it Nida Blanca, has always been the diesel of Dolphy’s comedy. And every scene he and Lamangan are in here feeds blood into the pulse of the film. Even better is the drag queen forced into fatherhood that he plays in the Brocka film, where Dolphy merges his flamboyant queer with his other iconic comic persona, the proud to a fault Everyman, and turns it into a tour de force. He remains gay at the end of both films, too.
Much as these two remain colossal, tenable go-tos for Dolphy’s reserves as a character actor, framing them as paradigms for the ultimate Dolphy movie, or at least the ultimate Dolphy queer movie, is to make the idea seem like a rehabilitation, when it shouldn’t be. Markova and Ang Tatay Kong Nanay are departures. And the ultimate Dolphy movie needs to be situated within his métier. And of all his queer films, Luciano Carlos’ Facifica Falayfay, in which his eponymous character is forced to become a pretend-girl by his mother’s desire to have a daughter, is crucial if only because it was the point where he leveled his comedy of pratfall and retort up into something beyond mere Chaplinesque riffing, gaining also a sense of a young master at last governing his wild gifts. The ultimate Dolphy queer movie? Why not? His going straight near the end does make contextual sense, but let’s just pretend he and leading lady Pilar Pilapil ended up as BFFs instead of lovers. Then we’re good to go.
*Originally published in Phil.Star Supreme.