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!