by Francis Joseph A. Cruz
In 2000, Dolphy played Walter Dempster, Jr., more popularly known as Walterina Markova, as an old man in Gil Portes’ Markova: Comfort Gay. His sons, Jeffrey and Eric, played Markova in his younger years. It is a lovely performance, one that I thought quenched the film’s chronic thirst for levity. What is most striking about Dolphy’s turn as the elder Markova, still fabulous despite or probably because of his being holed up in a retirement home designed for geriatric gays, is that it signalled the comedian’s twilight.
He was no longer Facifica Falayfay, the exuberant crossdresser who caused parades of laughter. He was no longer John, the hardworking husband of Marsha, who represented every Filipino’s humorous struggle to survive honourably. He was no longer Kevin Cosme, the proud father of Bill, Bob, Bing and Baldo, who kept his family intact despite the daily threats of the rampaging train, and the hourly problems every family man has to face. The impossible has happened. Dolphy has gotten old. He now has a lifetime of lessons to impart. He has turned into the Philippines’ favourite grandfather.
Sure, He did a couple more sitcoms and shows for ABS-CBN. There was Home Along the Airport, an attempt to revive the Kevin Cosme franchise. There’s also John and Shirley, an attempt to revive the John Paruntong franchise. However, it seems the market has changed. The barrage of fantaseryes, telenovelas, and reality-based television shows has nurtured an audience that did not respond to comedies and sitcoms that very well. Comedies were best served in tiny morsels, in the form of sketches and occasional jokes. Sadly, the shorter, the safer, the more profitable.
Because of that and his health, Dolphy worked less. He became more of a beacon than the celebrity in its traditional sense. He symbolized pure entertainment. Each and every ad of ABS-CBN would have Dolphy smiling relentlessly and invitingly, almost certifying the nobility of the network, no matter what the public may think. He just had so much goodwill, he was willing to share it, to networks, to friends who ventured into politics, to whoever may need it. The generosity he was known for throughout the prime of his career extended even further. He quietly fostered charitable foundations, providing more than smiles but sustenance to the masses who supported him the most.
Dolphy made five films after Markova: Comfort Gay. In 2002, he starred in Home Along the Riber, directed by his son, Eric. The title obviously mined the popularity of one of his most famous sitcoms. Home Along the Riber had Dolphy partnered with the last of his many loves, ZsaZsa Padilla. In the film, Dolphy played a variant of Kevin Cosme, only this time, he advocated environmental protection, telling his usual jokes while brandishing audience-friendly lessons on how to keep the surroundings clean for future generations.
In 2008, Dolphy played guru to Vic Sotto in Dobol Trobol: Let’s Get Redi 2 Rambol (2008), directed by Sotto’s favourite director, Tony Y. Reyes. While Sotto is a formidable comedian himself, the film makes apparent the ease Dolphy does his comedy. Dolphy makes replayed old jokes fresh. It’s a sloppy film but there’s something truly memorable in the way Dolphy shares his stage, never overextending his humor to overshadow the talents of his partner. One can only reminisce on the numerous duos Dolphy was part of.
Perhaps the most ambitious of Dolphy’s later works is Eric Quizon’s Nobody Nobody but Juan (2009). The title references to the Korean dance song that became so popular during the film’s release. The film, unlike many of Dolphy’s films, was not a series of jokes weaved together by a flimsy plot. It actually had a brilliant idea in its core. Dolphy played a patient in an American convalescent home whose only connection with the Philippines is Willie Revillame’s noontime gameshow. Through his clever machinations, he finds himself back in the Philippines, desirous to be part of his favorite show. However, he bumps into pals from a very distant past, played by Eddie Garcia and Pokwang, which forces him to resurrect a former romance. Unfortunately, the film’s execution was less ambitious, resulting in a film that again relied too heavily on the goodwill of Dolphy to succeed.
Father Jejemon (2010) is Dolphy’s final starrer. It also gave Dolphy his final controversy. In the film, the comedian plays a parish priest who finds himself at odds with a local land baron. Like most of Dolphy’s comedies, the plot only serves as a frame for the legendary funnyman’s antics, the best of which involving Fr. Jejemon’s clumsy hands, a host, and a pair of bountiful breasts had humorless Catholics rabidly denouncing the film as sacrilegious. However, one cannot deny that this is truly Dolphy, finding humor in the most unlikely of places and to resist it is simply to resist humanity.
Simply put, no matter what one thinks of these final films of Dolphy, no matter what one declares the films as ludicrous, ridiculous, and haphazardly done, one cannot simply deny that they were mounted to make people laugh, and they did.
In Albert Martinez’s Rosario (2010), Dolphy goes back to his being a beacon, a totem of respect and awe. He plays Hesus, the titular character’s son, who serves as narrator of the film. The comedian retires to tell history, to tell stories of the past, to connect the youngest generation to the ones we may opt to forget. Like children eager for adventures and love stories, we surround Dolphy, waiting to laugh, to cry, to imagine a world back then when all that mattered was happiness.
No, Rodolfo Vera Quizon was not only husband to his various loves, father to the many children he supported, and grandfather to the children of his children, he was the nation’s spouse, father, and grandfather. We can only mourn for him the way we mourn for the closest of our relatives. Through his art and his nature, he has become that much part of us.