Is Dolphy A National Artist Material?


Friends and admirers of the late Rodolfo V. Quizon, aka, Dolphy want the Cultural Arts group to confer the national artist award for cinema for the dead comedian.  The effort seeks only to highlight the “smallness” mentality which the Filipinos have never outgrown. The comedian, dubbed as “Comedy King” of the Philippine Cinema had chalked up some 200 films throughout his 60 years in acting – he made people laugh at their foibles; his audience smiled and walked on cloud nine after every performance, but people too can,   each time after a pot session.

Dolphy is an addiction that relieves the suffering Filipinos from the doldrums of their everyday existence; he  performed in sitcoms and on  big screen;  gave his audience  something to laugh at and something to doze off to a temporary amnesia about real-life –  where the need for food, shelter and clothing takes center stage.

It is not asked of him to address these problems, but if only his outputs have awakened and inspired them to make efficient their quest for better life or address a simple issue on how to get their next meal, or that they had enriched their experience by embracing his medium, maybe, just maybe, his quest for the award could have come much easier.

Art, after all is a question of utility.

The  guidelines for the choice of a national artist  award for music, dance, theater, film, visual arts, literature, cinema, historical literature and mural are quite clear-cut:

1. Filipino artists who have made significant contributions to the cultural heritage of the country.

2.  Filipino artistic accomplishment at its highest level and to promote creative expression as significant to the development of a national cultural identity.

3.  Filipino artists who have dedicated their lives to their works to forge new paths and directions for future generations of Filipino artists.

The operative phrase are “significant contribution;”  and “forging new paths and directions for future generations.”  Has Dolphy’s cinematic output  throughout the years enriched our cultural heritage?  Does it show us new path and directions?

Do we have the tool to quantify the richness of his art other than the sentimental reason that most of us laughed when he performed on the screen?

It may  not be Dolphy’s fault entirely. Filipino screen writers basked in the “smallness” of their craft  – few slapstick lines and adrenalized dialogues devoid of  literary metrics are passed off as grand productions.  Dolphy, had been packaged by his writers to deliver only storylines that get handsome returns.  His inability to break the chains from his pro-forma  character imposed on him by his cinema puppeteers and profiteers  reflects the hallmark of  a ‘slave’ rather than  that of a “King” even if it’s for comedy only.

However, if one considers that Carlo J. Caparas, a fantasy movie writer, whose productions have traces of  heavy “copying” from  foreign films, was conferred the national artist award for visual arts and film in 2009, why can’t Dolphy get one for cinema?  But if we used Caparas’s output as the benchmark,  we would stir more controversy than still it.  Dolphy, despite his shortcomings though,  was better doing his art than Caparas’s at his.

The movies of Caparas and  Dolphy’s comedies are not superlative arts, but they provided entertaiment for lots of Filipinos, rich or poor.   Most comedian can perform and make people laugh.  Do they deserve the award too because of that? Or should we judge their output from the higher standard enumerated above?

One person in the national artist  rooster for literature, Nick Joaquin said:

“Philippine movies started 50 years ago and, during the ‘30s, reached a certain level of proficiency, where it stopped and has rutted ever since, looking more and more primitive as the rest of the cinema world speeds by on the way to new frontiers.  We have to be realistic, say local movie producers,  “we’re in this business not to make art but money.  But even from the business viewpoint, they’re not ‘realistic’ at all.  The true businessman ever seeks to increase his market and therefore ever tries  to improve his product.  Business dies when it resigns itself, as local movie have done, to a limited market.”

Dolphy’s outputs are more diversionary ,   like religion and opium that sidetrack one’s attention to more realistic concern about one’s well-being and cultural enrichment.  People laugh when he acts and for that fleeting moment of laughter, they are freed up from their stress, never mind if those productions are mediocre.  Or perhaps  Dolphy was  a consummate artist who read through the psychology of his Filipino audience who can laugh uncontrollably even at their own misfortunes and therefore he had catered his art to that innate flaw in their character.

And people, according to F. Sionil Jose don’t want to be reminded of grime and poverty.  He wrote that an  Indian film star said, “the masses – and that means the downtrodden all over the world – want escape from their pitiable lot for which reason they crave laughter, brightness, fantasy – even if these are beyond their reach.”

Dolphy gave us an escape chute.  But that  that is not the benchmark of greatness – nor one that makes a national artist award a certainty and almost mandatory.

But if  many consider him a great artist and an accomplished comedian who reached the pinnacle of his art,  then no amount of paper recognition can add up to that distinction, nor that award matters now that he is dead!

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12 thoughts on “Is Dolphy A National Artist Material?

  1. In as much as Dolphy has made lots of Filipinos laughed, entertained and possibly contributed somewhat to local movies, this does not mean that he can be bestowed with a National Artist Award. He has not accomplished what the criteria for the award have been formulated. I think that the award bestowed to him by Pnoy last year is good enough for him.

    • So to whom should the national artist be bestowed , to you ?Or do correct me you were the kid who did not watch him because he had no TV those years.

  2. This article succeeds in being pseudo-intellectual, but ultimately sophomoric animadversion of a great national treasure whose positive mpact on the national psyche is nonpareil insofar as comedy is concerned. Are we to equate greatness with Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideological tommyrot all the time? Bunk! The writer, whoever he is, wears blinders on any accomplished artist who does not spout Marxist shibboleths or pays lip service to the upliftment of the hoi polloi, like Erap. Art is precisely transcendent over ordinary human needs and addresses itself more to the higher things in life. It distinguishes humans from animals. Art is not constricted by political, social or ideological boundaries. If the writer’s primordial and only criterion for national-artist laurel is immersion in the never-ending game of blaming the rich for the travails of the poor, then Dolphy or even Jose Rizal is not worthy of being a national artist.

        • i think, classmate dan, JPR deserves a national artist award because his novels are considered literary gems even during our time. at his time however, there was no such award and that could explain why he was not in the rooster of those few distinct personalities.. besides JPR does not need this award. he is an international man of letters and its doubtful if his non-inclusion to this “national artist list” could diminish his stature.

    • that’s quite a mouthfull dan… the criteria for the selection of a national artist spells out in categorical terms… “contribution to cultural heritage.” dolphy’s comedies are not superlative, could be the reason why he was rejected the first time. i hope he gets it this time, but that won’t make me sleepless if he doesn’t.

  3. I don’t think a debate is necessary now whether Dolphy should get the National Artist award or not. One, he’s already dead. Who will appreciate an award more than the awardee himself? Two, the award has been politicized too much that Dolphy, if alive and knowing his dislike of politics, will surely distance himself from it. Lastly, those criteria enumerated are guidelines as basis for choosing the NA award. They are not to be taken strictly and seriously as basis for the award.

    I agree, the operative word is ‘significant contribution’ and the NA guidelines do not appreciate or cover Dolphy’s because his was in the hearts and mind of the people.

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  5. d issue shud b taken up @ least 2yrs from pidols death so sentimentalism is out of d equation. let’s not even discuss it now.

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