peque gallaga on
dolphy, the artist
googling dolphy and the national artist award, i found a lot of endorsements from showbiz peeps and politicians and fans, but not what i was looking for: a professional assessment of dolphy’s body of work by one who is eminently informed and credible in the entertainment arts and on filipino culture.
i wished ishmael bernal were alive so i could ask him, and then, again, he never worked with dolphy. but thinking ishma led me to thinking peque gallaga whom i met in 1980, around the time of ishma’s manila by night, for which he did the production design. just two years later peque was off on his own, astounding us with oro plata mata, scandalizing us with scorpio nights, scaring us with shake, rattle, and roll, going on to break new ground as director and writer and production designer in every genre, including digital and regional cinema, over the last three decades, deserving every international and local award he’s received, especially urian’s lifetime achievement award, and being dubbed “the compleat cinema artist.” AND he has worked with dolphy.
serendipitously enough, peque had phoned me some weeks ago just to say how much he loved revolutionary routes. i was touched and kilig, of course, but more to the point, it gave me the nerve to message him privately on facebook (kahit pa he’s busy working on three movie scripts na iba-ibang genre) and ask what his take is on the national artist issue.
do you think dolphy deserves it?
Peque: Well, I go by the belief that an artist changes perceptions of the people around him… the way they look at the world, at their country and at themselves. Dolphy, as well as Fernando Poe did that. It helped define us as a people. So yes, I strongly believe Dolphy deserves it.
may i quote you in a blog post i’m writing? baka you’d care to elaborate on “helped define us as a people”…
Peque: Yes, you can quote me. Elaborating on “helped define us as a people” will be a super blogging task on my part because it will need all sorts of references and examples. But, like in John & Marsha… Dolphy simply went beyond the ’50s accepted norms of what fathers, Filipino males and macho-hood [are about] that our audiences expected from our male stars. Dolphy changed the stereotype and the cliche. That was effective on a national scale, ergo National Artist.
re tiongson’s issue with dolphy’s portrayal of gays, i suppose it may have worked against many gays na binugbog o nilubog sa drum ng tubig ng mga tatay nilang macho, thanks or no thanks to dolphy. but parang ang labo to judge his worthiness based on that.
Peque: Exactly. Dolphy was playing an elaborate game of mirrors. Most of his audience were aware that he had one of the biggest dicks in the industry and that he was a 100% “tunay na lalake” in the kanto scale of machoness — so his doing gays (that were usually quite understanding and quite truthful, meaning they didn’t resort to huge stereotypical mugging) was in a way the more subversive road towards acceptance by Pinoy society at large, without preaching, sermonizing, or the expected Brocka political agenda movie. As a matter of fact, I think that his weakest gay portrayal was precisely in Tatay Kong Nanay because there was that Brockanian lesson-to-be-learned quality.
Dolphy made it okay, no-big-deal, to cross-dress and play gay; so much so that people like Joey de Leon, Michael V, Ogie, and even Vic Sotto weren’t scared to do “faggotry” and serious “faggotry” at that. There was even that show where all of the male hosts from Anjo Yllana all the way up just came on dressed and acting like girls without camping it up, very much like Monty Python, and without having to ever explain why they were doing it in the first place. And you have to understand that they weren’t observing Gay Pride Week or any kind of cause. They just did it because. As in because! That’s a game-changing thing in the heterosexual world. Something that Nick Tiongson would hardly understand. The guy was sooo wrong about his “crusades” that I actually boycotted the CCP all the years that he was the head of it. The guy simply belongs in the academe, sheltered away from the grim realities of Pinoy zeitgeist.
and what about the notion that dolphy didn’t do slapstick….
Peque: I directed Dolphy twice, once in a comedy/fantasy and another in a TV special, straight drama, and he won best actor for it. He instinctively delivered the ‘life submerged within the text’ just like any Chekhovian would.
Of course he was slapstick, but in the great tradition of slapstick which is, after all, a legitimate form of comedy. He was up there with Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. He had the lightest touch, he was deft and precise, and his timing was impeccable. His mugging was in line with accepted Pinoy Comedia dell’Arte levels of Pugo and Tugo, and he would never take the mugging to exasperating lengths unlike comedians like Chiquito, Palito and Babalu whose mugging was not only their whole point of the comedy, but would take that mugging to wearying lengths. Dolphy had a certain class and sophistication which he never used as a weapon. I learned more about physical comedy in the two months I worked with him than I did in my Improvisation classes. I was totally humbled.
wonderful! suddenly i’m rethinking my blogpost. a peque on dolphy piece instead…
Peque: I would love to be quoted on Dolphy. The guy is a master and truly, truly an artist… but he never acts as if he was an Artist (pronounced Artiste) with a capital A.
so there! peque should have been on that panel. he would have demolished any and all objections. wagi sana si dolphy.