FILM REVIEW: BURLESK QUEEN

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The Plot: To support her paralytic father, Chato (Vilma Santos) works as a utility girl for a burlesque star Virgie Nite (Rosemary Gil). But when Virgie gets drunk on the night of her scheduled show, Chato pitches in for her. And she becomes an instant sensation. Enthused by the initial acceptance of the audience, she defies her father’s admonitions and presents herself to the manager. And thus, becoming the new burlesque queen. – IMDB

To support her paralytic father, Chato (Vilma Santos) works as a utility girl at Inday Theater for a burlesque star Virgie Nite (Rosemary Gil). Chato desperately wants to earn money to help her ailing and paralyzed father. When Virgie gets drunk on the night of her scheduled show, Chato pitches in for her, and she becomes an instant sensation. Enthused by the initial acceptance of the audience, she defies her father’s admonitions and presents herself to the manager, thus, becoming the new burlesque queen. The aberrant lifestyle of a burlesque performer leads Chato to a misguided existence. She becomes pregnant and is abandoned by the father of her baby. Desperate for cash, she agrees to appear in a lavish stage show. In front of a screaming male audience, Chato bumps and grinds in a tour de force performance, unaware of the danger to her pregnancy. – Wikipilipinas

Chato (vilma Santos) performs girl Friday jobs for Virgie Knight (Rosemarie Gil), a burlesue star, to support her paralytic father. Harboring a secret desire to be a burlesque star herself, Chato grabs at her chance one night by taking over when Virgie get herself scandalously drunk because her parasitic lover, Ander (Roldan Aquino), blew out of town with another woman. Mang Roque (Leopoldo Salcedo), Chato’s father, learns about Chato’s onstage performance and vehemently restrains his daughter from doing it again. Chato meekly agrees. The story is set during the 50s, at a time when genuine burlesque, as an art and a form of entertainment, was dying, in large part due to the indefatigable agitation of traditional moralists, and the local politicians’ accommodation to these demands. To circumvent her father’s wishes, Chato and the burlesque show impresario, Louie Fernando (Joonee Gamboa), devise a stage personality for the young girl – she assumes the stage monicker of Tzarina, the masked goddess. Chato is irretrievably drawn into the whirlpool of the burlesque. Meanwhile, she carries on an affair with Jessie (Rolly Quizon), a law student and son of an anspiring politico. Mang Roque, finally burdened by his inutility, commit suicide; Chato and Jessie elope and the girl leaves the burlesque theater, apparently fo good. When Chato’s savings dwindle, Jessie is easily lured by his mother to return home and once again pursue his law studies. Pregnant and abandoned, Chato finds her life seemingly at a deadend. Her situation reflects the tragedy that hovers over Louie’s troupe and theater. Louie decides to hold a grand burlesque show to prove once and for all that burlesque is an art. Chato agrees to dance again in this show of shows. The film ends in a tour de force as Chato’s greatest performance grinds and bumps to a shattering climax. – Video48.blogspot.com

The Reviews: “…1977 propelled Filipino actresses to greater heights in Castillo’s Burlesk Queen which, incidentally made Vilma Santos an indubitable superstar. After Burlesk Queen, every actress then wanted to portray burlesque roles…” – Celso Ad Castillo Web-site (READ MORE).

“I have my own orientation in film criticism…because we’re Third World, to me a film is, first of all, a social document, then an educational tool, and third, an aesthetic experience. If I have to name three important Tagalog movies of all time based on these criteria, they would have to be Brocka’s Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag – acutally I can name four – Castillo’s Burlesk Queen, Romero’s Aguila, Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata.” – Rafael Ma. Guerrero, Film critic (READ MORE)

“…Tuloy-tuloy ‘yun…(the hospital scense with Vilma and Leopoldo Salcedo) nag-experiment ako noong una, kumuha ako ng second take, pero di ko na rin tinapos. Perfect na iyong una. Alam mo bang nang gawin namin ang eksenang iyon tatlo kaming umiiyak sa set? Ako, si Vilma, at si Leopoldo? Dalang-dala si Leopoldo sa pagsasalita ni Vilma, lumuha siya kahit patay siya dapat doon. Buti na lang di siya nakuha ng kamera…(Kung Nahirapan ka ba kay Vilma?) …Oo, hindi sa acting dahil mahusay talaga siya kundi sa scheduling. Alam mo kasi it takes time before I can really get into the mood of a picture, mga two weeks, tapos kapag nandiyan na, that’s the stage when I’m ready to give my life to the project. Tapos biglang walang shooting ng two weeks dahil busy siya sa ibang pelikula…” – Ricardo Lee, Manila Magazine, Dec 1- 31, 1977

“…More remarkable than Santos’ portrayal of the doomed burlesque dancer, is Castillo’s filmmaking. Set within the very patriarchal lower class Manila, Castillo posits the burlesque theater as not merely, as impassioned Louie points out, a place for highbrow entertainment for the masses, but also the window for the film’s female lead to become superior to her male oppressors. It’s a difficult metaphor to execute but Castillo successfully does so. The dancer, scantilly clad amidst the cheers and jeers of horny men, is easily regarded as the victim of exploitation. But in the film’s case, the stage becomes the dancer’s opportunity for leverage which is impossible in the outside world. The stage provides Chato ease from the outside world’s patriarchal clutches. She becomes financially stable on her own, temporarily free from her father’s influences, and powerful over thousands of men. Interestingly, Castillo stages a poetically sequenced scene of Chato’s devirginization within the theater. Jessie attempts to make love to Chato inside her dressing room, and the latter submits to the former’s sexual advances. Interspersed between their lovemaking (take note of the ballad that plays in the background as the lyrics talk of love amidst the entire world’s disapproval, very typical of the romantic declarations that inevitably falter over time) are scenes from the stage, a circus act of horrid penetrations: of a woman being juggled by a man, several magic acts, and more importantly, of a man hammering a nail inside his nostril, then puncturing his eye socket with a metal stick, finally commencing with him swallowing a long blade. Castillo’s juxtaposing Chato’s first sexual act with acts of unnatural and bizarre penetrations of the human body impart a clear message of invasion, of Chato’s theater where she is the goddess (her stage name is Tsarina the goddess) and almighty over all the men who watch her. The theater is no longer the same sanctuary; in a way, the theater’s magic has been tainted. She becomes pregnant and decides to stop dancing pursuant to her relationship with Jessie and pregnancy. Her devirginization within the theater becomes symbolic of her surrender to the outside patriarchal forces…Burlesk Queen is much more than a gripping commercial melodrama. It is also a scathing commentary on the sexual politics that has become the atmosphere of Philippine society: of hardworking women and the good-for-nothing men they serve; of a patriarchal society gone awry. It is also a fervent reminder of the redemptive and equalizing power of art. Multi-faceted, committedly acted, and very well-directed, Burlesk Queen, I opine, is an unsung masterpiece.” – Oggs Cruz (READ MORE)

“…Maging ang paglakad ng panahon ay nararamdaman din ng manonood kahit hindi ikuwento o ipakita ang kinagawiang pamamaraan at ulat ng “nalalaglag na dahon ng kalendaryo o dahon ng puno kaya”. Sunod-sunod na cuts na nagpapakita sa uri ng palabas sa tanghalang kinabibilangan ni Vilma ang ginawa ni Celso. Saka ito sinundan ng kuha naman sa bahay nina Vilma at Rollie. Nag-iinit ng tubig si Vilma habang nakikinig ng dula sa radyo tungkol sa buhay ng isang asawang tamad at iresponsable. Ganoon nga ang nangyayari sa buhay ng dalawa, at may kasunod ring “abangan sa susunod na kabanata”. Sa paghihiwalay ng dalawa, sapat na ring iparinig ang awiting You’re All I Want For Christmas, para buhayin ang irony na nagaganap sa relasyon ng dalawa. Kung makinis ang exposition at pagbuhay sa conflict ng istorya, malinaw rin ang paghahanda sa wakas ng pelikula. Si Rose na laos na ay naging mumurahing puta. Si Dexter kahit hindi ipakita ay maliwanag na sumama na sa ibang lalaki. Si Roldan ay may bago nang kabit at napatay sa spiral staircase ng tanghalan na siya rin niyang dinadaanan sa paghahatid sa dalawang naunang kabit. Si Rollie, ang mama’s boy, ay natural bawiin ng ina. Si Vilma ay nagsayaw-nang-nagsayaw. Sa simula’y mahinhin at nakangiti at kaakit-akit hanggang sa pagbilis ng pulso ng tambol at pompiyang ay naubusan ng ngiti, tumagaktak ang pawis at manghina ang ligwak ng kanyang balakang, upang sa pagbuhay sa damdamin ng manonood ay siya namang maging dahilan ng pagkalaglag ng sanggol na kanyang dinadala. Sa labas, matapos ang pagtatanghal, may tatlong bagabundong naiwan na nakatangkod sa larawang pang ‘come on’ ng burlesk queen, habang ang kadilima’y bumabalot sa kapaligiran…” – Jun Cruz Reyes, Miyembro, Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, Manila magazine December 1977 (READ MORE)

“…It was 1977 with an exceptional film, Burlesk Queen, that Castillo got his fIrst critical recognition. Entered in that year’s Metro Manil Film Festival, it was adjudged the Best Picture, won forhim a Best Director Award as well as nine other artistic awards. It told a young girl in Manila in the 50’s who wanted to become a burlesque dancer. It showed a subdued Castillo. He seemed in this film, to have held back his passion for visual impact to give way to his new mastery of film grammar. His characters cried and whimpered, they did not scream and curse. They delievered dissertations on art, not imprecations of wrath, which had set the pitch of his previous films. The critics fought bitterly over Burlesk Queen. In that festival, he was contending with film makers who enjoyed a high reputation among the country’s most avid film critics. Upon winning the award, Castillo instantly became the favorite beating boy of the critics who did not appreciate Burlesk Queen. To prove to them his worth, Castillo did Pagputi ng Uwak, a 50’s epic set in his favorite Southern Tagalog locale. It was the most lavish of all his productions and had all the elements of a “great” Filipino film. He exploited the many religious and social rituals typical of the region. The film featured the two most critically acclaimed performers of the time, Bembol Roco, Jr. and Vilma Santos, with the cinematography of Romy Vitug complementing Castillo’s visual sense. And it touched on civil unrest to underline the film director’s social awareness. Pagputi ng Uwak was a visual fest, an artistic and socially responsive film aimed at the critics. It was also Castillo’s first commercial failure after a string of more than 20 minor and major box-office hits…In just a decade, Castillo, with all his audacity and dramatic excesses, has claimed his place as one of the most versatile and genuinely interesting filmmakers in the Philippines today…” – Rosauro de la Cruz (READ MORE)

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