Sunday, July 15, 2012


I DON’T find Dolphy funny. My sons do.

When we watch reruns of Tagalog movies, Dolphy tickles my teenagers. He makes me wince.

I would much rather watch Redford White except that he made fewer movies than Dolphy. Since he was a Cebuano who got a break in the big pond of Manila, I wonder if what he did effortlessly well—play the country bumpkin who bumbles around but eventually humbles the big bad city—could be considered as acting.

Dolphy played a wider variety of roles. Viewed against accounts of the scores of women he was involved with, his portrayals of gays are intriguing. How did he know how they felt? Where did his characters come from?

The gays I know have rapier-sharp wit and cutting humor. If their wrists are limper than mine or if they sway and swing more than a biological female was engineered for, it’s not because they’re parodying themselves.

So I wonder where Dolphy’s flamboyant crossdressers or even the Facifica Falayfay and Fefita Fofonggay immortalized in his movies comes from. I miss and am still hoping there will be a reshowing of Lino Brocka’s “Ang Tatay kong Nanay”.

Except for his well-received portrayal of Dioscoro “Coring” Derecho in the only Dolphy-starred vehicle that Brocka directed, Dolphy’s gays make me and others come too uncomfortably close to saying aloud, “faggot”. When an actor reduces the complexity of a human being to a set of traits that are closer to biases than reality, it’s not acting. It’s branding.

And it becomes more disturbing when an actor stoops to caricatures to milk a few laughs.

The Dolphy character I am fond of is John Puruntong. He didn’t try hard to become funny. It seemed that he wasn’t even trying to be funny. His deadpan, spot-on portrayal of the quiet, long-suffering but essential head of the household—who only wanted to be left alone, spared the upheavals and dramas that rocked his domestic kingdom but incapable of turning his back on wife, children and neighbors, including the suspicions, machinations and signature sermon of his mother-in-law—had a core of authenticity, of honesty, even of pathos.

When John in “puruntong” (roomy shorts serving also as underwear) and old shirt would curl up on his spartan wooden bed, with a much dented colander for a pillow, he made me think of the countless fathers who deserve their rest at the end of another day of sacrificing for loved ones.

That Dolphy was confident about and secure in his craft could be gleaned from the way he shared the stage of primetime TV (specially powerful in the 1970s-80s, long before computers and the Internet) with other comedians like Dely Atay-Atayan, who played his wealthy mother-in-law, and Matutina, the sidekick who was always directed to sweep Donya Delilah’s house for bills to give to the penniless John, who never accepted.

The talents and on- and off-screen rapport of the “John en Marsha” team (Ading Fernando created and co-directed with Al Quinn) created the humor that was the hallmark of the best of the “John en Marsha” episodes.

Even while laughing at the Puruntongs, we realized how we, too, had to laugh at our own foibles: mistaking money for more than it is or treating differently the poor and the rich. “John en Marsha” was more stimulating and memorable than a sermon on responsible parenthood or treatise on social justice.

Should Dolphy be declared a National Artist?

We miss the point, with our propensity to force sentimentality to compensate for imagined lapses or even to let mobthink rule on matters that have a process for deliberation and decision-making.

The man made us laugh. Even harder, he made us not laugh even while we were laughing.

He touched lives. He is loved. He is remembered. He lives on.

What award can surpass these? Daghang salamat, Rodolfo Vera Quizon Sr.

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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 15, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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