News about the critical condition of actor Rodolfo Vera Quizon, whom Filipinos know and love as â€śDolphyâ€ť or â€śPidolâ€ť is creating a tsunami of nostalgia among those of us who were old enough to have watched his TV shows and movies as kids.
I hesitate to label Dolphy as simply a comedian. His range and ability simply transcend the genre. Two films for example, Ang Tatay Kong Nanay (1978) which was ahead of its time when it came to discussions on gender politics, and Bugoy (1979) which is a prison break movie, offer a blend of melodrama and humor that bring out the humanity in their characters.
Other personal favorites of mine from Dolphyâ€™s filmography include Ang Hiwaga ng Ibong Adarna (1973) and Genghis Bond, Agent 1-2-3 (1965). I even have Genghis Bondon DVD at home.
Hereâ€™s the first 15 minutes of â€śGenghis Bondâ€ť where we meet the Agent 1-2-3 character:
Agent 1-2-3 may be a valued agent of the Philippine security forces, but at home, heâ€™s plagued by his nagging mother-in-law played by Aruray. Fortunately, heâ€™s married to hottie Alona Alegre.
In the next 15 minutes of the film, we meet Genghis, the Chinese owner of a funeral parlor, and his bumbling assistant Babalu:
When we first meet Genghis and Babalu, Genghis is on Babaluâ€™s case because the funeral parlor hasnâ€™t been doing good business. Genghis accuses Babalu of taking the funeral parlorâ€™s earnings and spending these on his pretty girlfriend.
Genghis then asks Babalu to hand over some fancy leather high-cut shoes for him to wear on a dateâ€”the shoes originally belong to the funeral parlorâ€™s latest â€śclientâ€ť. Babalu has reservations over taking the dead manâ€™s shoes, but Genghis says theyâ€™d just otherwise throw the shoes away.
It turns out that Genghis and Agent 1-2-3 are each otherâ€™s dopple-gangers, and this drives the plot of the film later on.
The nostalgia evoked by Dolphyâ€™s illness really drives home the fact that Philippine TV and films have truly changed since my childhood. Some of the changes have been good, others bad. All I can do is reminisce about talented performers and entertainers like Dolphy, Babalu, Panchito, and all the other stars of Philippine comedy, whose like we shall never see again.
Thereâ€™s one Dolphy film, by the way, which I would really love to have on DVD. Thatâ€™s the The Seven Faces of Dr. Sibago (1966). This Dolphy movie was based on the 1965 Hollywood film, The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, which was, in turn, the movie version of a 1935 fantasy novel by Charles Finney, The Circus of Dr. Lao.
Dr. Sibago (the name is also likely a Dr. Zhivago referenceâ€”but for what reason?) was a mysterious character with magical powers who could manipulate reality, turn invisible, and change his identity and physical appearance. I canâ€™t recall much of the film (because I watched it two or three times as TV re-runs when I was a kid in the 1970s) but if I remember it right, Dr. Sibago acquired his powers after his master, a Chinese magician named Fu Chao, was shot dead by gangsters.
Similar to The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, Dr. Sibagoâ€™s character uses his magic to help other characters in the film gain insight into themselves, helping them change their lives for the better.
If one looks at Dolphyâ€™s filmography, one realizes that many of his films were spoofs of Hollywood originals. Sometimes, his films are spoofs of other spoofs, like the film James Batman (1966) which spoofs the James Bond franchise (essentially a spoof of the spy film and spy literature genre) and also spoofs the Adam West-Burt Ward TV incarnation of â€śBatmanâ€ť which was itself a spoof of the caped crusaderâ€™s character and mythos.
Originality wasnâ€™t their point of â€śGenghis Bondâ€ť et al, and all of them were, perhaps, a way for our own culture to deal with its conflicted relationship with America. For all of Americaâ€™s might and wealth, we can still take Hollywood, turn it onto its head, place it in the blender of our cultural consciousness, and produce spoofs that end all spoofsâ€”at least, we used to do that.
(Nowadays, we just get the title of a cheesy U.S. ballad, spin a love story with pretty people in the cast and voila, we have a hit Filipino movie. Thatâ€™s not much of an improvement, is it?)
Dolphy didnâ€™t just spoof Western culture. He also did a film called Darna Kuno (1979) that spoofed the popular Pinoy superhero character, Darna. In a strangely funny twist, the Darna character gets pregnant. She gets pregnant byâ€”get ready for thisâ€”Voltes V and Mazinger Z. Yes, thatâ€™s what Darna says in this movie. The love child sheâ€™s carrying is the spawn of two giant mechas from Japanese anime.
Since sheâ€™s too gravid to do any superhero work, she loans her magic stone to this poor dude with a good heart (played by Dolphy). So, itâ€™s Dolphy who transforms into Darna with all her powersâ€”but he retains the female bikini costume. Thatâ€™s genius, in my book. (Why doesnâ€™t he get another costume? The bikini outfit comes with the Darna powers, maybe. Film and art critics may find an interesting reading to that. )
If thereâ€™s one lesson I took from all the Dolphy movies I watched when I was a kid, it was this: The person with goodness in his heartâ€”not exactly a good person, but even a bad person who retains goodness in his heartâ€”will win in the end. And this makes choosing the Good worth it, all the time.
This lesson is something that the late Fernando Poe, Jr. also taught in his action films. Together, both FPJ and Dolphy, portrayed their lead characters as people who fight for Life itselfâ€”hence, we Pinoys refer to these characters as â€śbidaâ€ť (from the Spanish â€śvidaâ€ť, meaning, â€ślifeâ€ť) as opposed to the villains who are â€śkontrabidaâ€ť (â€ścontra vidaâ€ť, or counter or contrary to life).
This is why, even if the lead character in an FPJ film like Markado (1960) is a bandit (simply because he was raised as one by the bandit who kidnapped him as a child; heâ€™s really a rich manâ€™s son), he turns into a savior in the end. A buffoon like Genghis can switch places with a secret agent and be the hero. In Pinoy culture, itâ€™s always whatâ€™s in your heart that matters the most.
So are you a bida or a kontrabida? This is a distinction that doesnâ€™t seem to play out well these days, when there are too many gray areas in the situations we find ourselves in, and the kontrabidas are really good at looking like bidasâ€”which does deceive us, from time to time. Itâ€™s a source of frustration and disappointment when it happens.
Perhaps, itâ€™s not because the lesson of Dolphyâ€™s (and FPJâ€™s) old films have become irrelevant. Maybe itâ€™s because weâ€™ve become too â€śsophisticatedâ€ť that we want â€ścomplexâ€ť instead of clear-cut characters in the movies we watch. Reality, after all, unlike Dolphyâ€™s old movies, isnâ€™t in black and white–or so we believe, nowadays.
Or maybe, weâ€™ve just given up on being bidas ourselves. We think the bidas only exist in our movies, and there are no bidas in real life.
When all is said and done, itâ€™s beyond question that Dolphyâ€™s distinct, influential contribution to Philippine culture through six decades in show business makes him a national treasure.
Thank you very much, Mang Dolphy, for showing us that itâ€™s possible to be a bida right until the endâ€”not a perfect person but a bida, nonetheless. Thanks for being the personal hero of so many of us, while we were growing up. We wish more bidas like you would still be around. May we be worthy of your example.