Vilma Santos

The longest-reigning Queen of Philippine Cinema, also widely known as the Star for All Seasons and the QueenStar, Vilma Santos celebrates her golden anniversary in showbiz. She has starred in more than 200 films and has given the public some of the most memorable performances in Philippine motion picture history. An icon of film and popular culture, her magnetic screen presence has captured the hearts and minds of generations of Filipinos. Her enduring charisma and popularity have made her filmdom's most durable female superstar. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

Site under construction

FROM ADMIN: This site is still under construction. Additional items will be posted soon. Keep dropping by to check out for updates. Thanks for visiting!

Monday, April 8, 2013

“Burlesk Queen”: Vilma Sheds “Sweet” Image To Become a Certified Dramatic Actress

 1977 was a turning point in Vilma’s career as an actress as it marked her graduation from teeny-bopper movies to more mature vehicles via Celso Ad Castillo's masterpiece, Burlesk Queen. It was the top grosser at the Metro Manila film fest and romped away with all the major awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress.

“Celso Ad. Castillo’s Burlesk Queen (Burlesque Queen) is most famous for Vilma Santos’ noteworthy performance . . . It really is a grand performance as Santos was able to deliver the physical requirements of the role with her inate charismatic aura (a skill that earned the actress legions of fans and eventually elected to public office)…. “ – (


"'Burlesk Queen' Onto The Heights of Pathos"

"The title, Burlesk Queen, with its Tagalized spelling of “burlesque,” immediately striking up an image of novelty and distinction all its own, and inspired by the actual period of Philippine entertainment in the 50s and 60s, is rooted in concrete historical perspective contributing immensely to its achievement of exemplary unity in film art.

"To film buffs like Ricky Lee, who at the time was only just beginning to mull the idea of turning scriptwriter, it became necessary to check the shooting script of Burlesk Queen, ostensibly for the festival committee, but in reality, I didn’t bothered to find out. He didn’t get to realize that with Castillo, what script is written on the typewriter is barely half of the work one gets to finally see on film; the other half is written on the spot as an imperative of the limitations in local filmmaking, like creativity on the set, lack of logistics for production design or camera requirements, etc. That—on the spot scriptwriting—happens to be my cup of tea, which figures perfectly with Castillo’s creative style, method of work, whatever you may want to call it. Lee, definitely, won’t get to first base with Castillo in such a methodology.  At any rate, the best proof of the pudding is the tasting, never mind who the baker is.

"Burlesk Queen opens with Virgie Knight (Rosemarie Gil) performing onstage. Traditionally movies begin by establishing the main character. Does Virgie’s opening dance defy the tradition? Not at all. Virgie may be taking time a bit too much in her dance so that she impresses the spectator as the main character in the story, but what is transpiring onstage is not an actress delineating a role but rather an image, an idea, of which the dancer is a mere representation. And what is that image, that idea?

"Burlesque. And under the principle of montage, when two representations are juxtaposed to each other, i.e., joined together, the juxtaposition produces a qualitatively different theme. By making the idea, image of burlesque as its opening number, Burlesk Queen upholds revered canons for artistic expression. On aesthetics in general, the film conforms perfectly with the Aristotlean test for art: “at once, brilliant, beautiful and whole.” Burlesque is a thematically-hewn visual delight, appearing as sudden as the opening shot.
By literary standard, Burlesk Queen conforms to the dictum of story development proceeding from the development of the main character. The actual start of the story is Chato’s (Vilma Santos’) affectation by the main theme, the burlesque dance.  Adherents of montage will amaze at the theme of burlesque, from scene one onward, permeating every scene and every detail of these scenes with astonishing, exquisite, if tedious, consistency.

"Note this story flow. After Virgie’s performance, she and Chato take snack at an eatery, Chato expressing her desire to dance burlesque like Virgie so as to earn a big sum by which to buy her crippled father a wheelchair. Coming home, Chato excitedly relates to her father, Mang Roque (Leopoldo Salcedo), how nice Virgie’s dancing is—burlesque. In relating thus, Chato does hip bumps and gyrations— burlesque. Mang Roque expresses aversion to Chato’s job as attendant to—burlesque. All the way to Mang Roque’s distaste for the food pasalubong Chato brings him which he says he cannot stomach for being a proceed of…burlesque.

"Even up to this point only, it becomes clear that the film has had a firm grasp of the tenets of montage, has grappled with, and has overcome, the problem of building compositional structure for achieving organic unity. But the extent of such unity must go all the way to the climax where the desired pathos must be experienced, so that the testing of the validity of this observation must be continued all the way to the finale.
What comes next? Virgie goes home to her own third-rate flat, swinging to a boogie tune from a transistor radio slung by a hand on her shoulder. The gait, the sway, the music, including the erratic electric light that goes on and off — all of these effect a retention of the aura of the burlesque theater. The ensuing quarrel between her and lover Ander (Roldan Aquino) centers on Virgie’s failure to get further advance payment for her dancing, what else but burlesque? For failing to give Ander the money he needs, Virgie is deserted by him then and there, and as he steps out of the house (off-frame), banging the door shut, the impact causes the light to turn off for good—certainly the theatrical way of ending an episode of a show as well as a transition to the next episode.

"And what transpires next? In a flat-like Virgie’s, the morning after, a rough-edged, if attractive, cheaply-sexy-looking woman who Ander, in his lines, reveals as a nightclub hostess (Dexter Doria) is urging him to get dressed pronto (he is naked in bed, his front covered only with a pillow—isn’t this burlesque!) and accompany her to the dressmaker to get an outfit she had ordered. In one respect, aside from being exposed (his nakedness does this) now as a gigolo victimizing women in the flesh trade, Ander serves as the unifying thread with the immediately preceding scene with Virgie. In another respect, the club hostess’ urging Ander to accompany her to the dressmaker is a crafty method for making the aberrant Ander to stay on-line, i.e., stay within the theme. For at that very moment, who should be figuring in the dressmaker’s shop but, yes, Virgie, trying on a new costume for her stage act, again yes, burlesque.

"This dress shop sequence is a particularly interesting specimen for study. What are its elements? Virgie trying on her new costume. Chato snickering at the window with a friend as she exchanges naughty glances with Jessie (Rolly Quizon, presented here for the first time), who is playing pool with barkada across the street. The arrival of Ander and the club hostess, who engages Virgie in a verbal tussle over burlesque. Lowly folks crowding in the surroundings, as audience in a theater. While a pair of musician beggars endlessly play a violin and percussion instrument, rendering music that completes the theater atmosphere.
Truly, indeed, as montage requires, a film to be art must conform to the law governing organic unity in natural phenomena. Lenin, the great leader of the Russian proletarian revolution under whose influence Eisenstein developed the montage theory, puts it this way: “…the particular does not exist outside that relationship which leads to the general. The general exists only in the particular, through the particular.”
Hence in Burlesk Queen, scene after scene, and detail after detail to their minutest proportions within each scene, nothing exists that is not within the central theme of burlesque.

"In this dress shop sequence, Virgie makes like unaffected by Ander’s having completely abandoned her for the club hostess, but in the dressing room where she repairs to after the verbal clash, she gives vent to all her sorrow from having lost Ander forever. At precisely this point, Chato is exchanging love gazes with Jessie. Here we have a pretty lucid illustration of a rule in dramaturgy that has been a tradition of Greek tragedies whereby qualitative leaps in thematic development are always in the opposite. Chato’s joy at a nascent love affair with Jessie is contraposed to Virgie’s grief brought about by the end of her relationship with Ander. Yet though such qualitative leaps go separate ways, they stay confined within a seeming thematic parallel by which both leaps contribute to the building of a compositional structure necessary to maintain the organic unity begun earlier on at the opening. Virgie drops into depression and is so drunk during one burlesque presentation in the theater that she is not able to answer the call when her number comes. Now, who should come onstage to take Virgie’s place just so to placate a maddened crowd but a young dancer—Chato!

"Love and hate, joy and sorrow, emotions going their separate ways, but perfectly maintained within the never-for-a-moment-missed parameters of the central theme of burlesque. More than bare feelings, the emotions actually represent images building up for another qualitative leap in the drama by which to finally attain, along strict criteria of Greek tragedies, the ultimate height of pathos. (Mauro Gia Samonte, Manila Times, February 12, 2009)

"Queen Vi (or Or, how Vilma Santos came out of the doldrums and reasserted herself at the Box Ofice"

Scene: struggling with her emotion, she kneels beside the bed where her father lies dead.  The crippled old man couldn ’t accept the fact that his daughter was dancing for a living. Earlier, they had a quarrel and when she left the house, the old man had killed himself.  “Bakit naman hindi n’yo ako hinintay?” she’s now whispering to him in remorse, “hindi naman talaga ako galit sa ‘yo, a. Di ba kayo rin kung minsan nakapagsasalita kayo ng masakit sa akin pero naintindihan kita dahil alam ko galit ka at hindi mo sinasadya. Dapat naman sana naintindihan mo rin ako,” she continues, breaking into sobs, “dadalawa na nga lang tayo sa buhay iniwanan mo pa ako.  Hindi naman tama ‘yon!” And with the camera fixed on her in a semi-closeup shot, she weeps through her kilometric dialogues with startling spontaneity, the scene lasting all of ten minutes.

The scene is one of Vilma Santos’ high moments in Burlesk Queen, Celso Ad. Castillo’s magnum opus which earned for Vilma the Best Actress award in the Metro Manila Film Festival concluded last week.  It’s a difficult scene and an actress of lesser skill could have buckled along the way and wasted rolls of precious film, but not Vilma who acquitted herself beautifully well in just one take.  “Halos wala kaming rehearsal,” Vilma recalls, “kasi si Direk ayaw ng masyadong rehearsal dahil nagiging mechanical daw ang labas. Gusto niya after one rehearsal, take na kaagad because he believes that the first take is always the best.”  Then she adds as an afterthought:  “Nakakapagod ang eksenang ‘yon. Emotionally, that is.” Had she done the role of a burlesque dancer three years ago, Vilma would have stirred a big hornet’s nest among her loyal diehards… she would have been burned in effigies in indignant rallies all over the country… but no such untoward reaction happened, thank heavens. “My fans have grown up with me,” Vilma says, “they have matured. Besides, I’m already 24 and I’m not getting any younger.  Ayoko naman nang palagi na lang akong naka-ribbon sa buhok at nalo-lollipop. Hindi na ako ang dating sweet-sweet.  Come to think of it, mas mahirap mag-maintain ng sweet image dahil kaunting mali mo lang nama-magnify na kaagad, pinalalaki kaagad.”

Her metamorphosis began in late 1976 when she agreed to be kissed by Rudy Fernandez in Makahiya at Talahib. It was a “feeler” of sort and when the public clacked its tongue in obvious approval, Vilma shelved her lollipops-and-roses image and proved that she, too, could be a woman – a wise move indeed because at that time her career was on a downswing and her movies were not making money.  Then she did Mga Rosas sa Putikan for her own VS Films where she played a country girl forced into prostitution in the big city. The movie did fairly well at the tills. Good sign. And came her romance with Romeo Vasquez, boosting both their stocks at the box office (thier two starrers, Nag-aapoy na Damdamin and Pulot-Gata where Vilma did her own wet style, were big moneymakers).  The tandem, although it did help Vilma, actually helped Vasquez more in re-establishing himself at the box office (without Vilma, his movies with other leading ladies hardly create any ripple).  In Susan Kelly, Edad 20, Vilma played a notorious-woman role that required her to wear skimpy bikini briefs in some scenes, following it up with two giant sizzlers (Dalawang Pugad, Isang Ibon and Masarap, Masakit ang Umibig) that catapulted her as the newest Bold Queen. Then came Burlesk Queen.

Scene: she comes home one night to find the mother of her week-old husband packing his clothes. He has eloped with her but he’s a Mama’s boy, a backbone-less guy when face-to-face with his mother, and he has now agreed to go home with Mama. She couldn’t persuade him to stay. As mother and son descend the long flight of stairs, the burlesk queen is left all alone in her room, in tears, with nothing and no one to clutch on to. At first she pleads with him but realizing the futility of it all, she proceeds to mock him and humiliate him, “Sige, she yells at him, “magsama na kayong dalawa, magsiping pa kayong dalawa, wala na akong pakialam. Ikaw, Jessie, wala ka namang paninindigan. Sige, magsama na kayo ng mama mo. Sige, gawin mong babae si Jessie, gawin mo siyang bakla!” Vilma’s change of image is part of her newly-found “liberation.” Liberation from what? “From many things,” Vilma answers. “From fear of being criticized, from fear of what people would say about me, from certain restrictions and inhibitions, from everything that was slowly choking me.”  That exactly was how she felt early last year: all choked up.

So she slipped into a private hole after a quarrel with her Mama, refusing to be seen in public and thus setting off speculations that she was in hiding because she was on the family way.  “No such thing,” says Vilma who had posed in a pair of bikinis to disprove the rumor.  “Na-rumor pa na nagpa- abort daw ako at kung anu-ano pa, na nagwawala na raw ako.  Pero ako naman hindi ko na iniintindi ang mga tsismis, bale wala na sa akin. Basta ako, I tell the truth and if people don’t believe me, okay lang. Dati-rati, nagri-react kaagad ako, pero ngayon, sanay na ako.”  She was so confused and depressed at that time, “so filled up to my neck with problems and the pressure of too much work,” that Vilma was all set to kiss the movies goodbye.  “Nakahanda na akong mamuhay ng tahimik noon, as an ordinary person.”

And how was he able to overcome that blue period? “Well, when they let me alone, nang payagan akong magsarili, that’s when everything seemed to loosen up. That’s the time I really felt free. Now, I have all the privacy I want, sa bahay ko, that is.” Although she now lives by herself in a single-girl’s pad, Vilma still runs home to Mama and Papa when she has to make important decisions. When Burlesk Queen was offered to her, Vilma bided her time until she talked with her parents. “Okay,” her Mama agreed, “as long as the sexy scenes would be treated well.” Says Vilma: “I am liberated in the sense that I have moved out of the family residence. Why did I do it? Because I feel I am old enough to take care of myself, gusto ko namang masubukan ang independence. I feel that I am old enough to know what I want. “Ngayon,” she adds, “anu’t-ano pa man ang mangyari, buhay ko na ito.  Kung madapa man ako, sisikapin ko nang bumangon ng sarili ko.” Her kind of liberation includes freedom to choose her dates and to go out unchaperoned. To criticisms about her going out with a married man, Vilma snorts: “Ako naman, I don’t care whether a man is a sinner or a saint. Basta niri-respeto niya ako at ang pamilya ko, niri-respeto ko rin siya.”

Scene: She emerges on stage in a lace gown and, gradually, as the music gets hotter and hotter and the audience’s applause louder and louder, she unwraps herself and starts the greatest performance of her life. She has lost her father and her lover Jessie and she has nothing more to live for. The baby in her womb has to go, there shouldn’t be any memory of Jessie. And she dances on and on and on until she collapses in a bloody heap. The dance lasts for 17 minutes. It is her dance of death. Vilma almost backed out of the tree-fourths finished movie when she learned about the finale sequence. No, she wouldn’t do it, she couldn’t do it. She ignored call slips and went into hiding. Poor Celso, he was drowning in his own tears of desperation and banging his head against the wall.

Burlesk Queen was his “last card”, he wanted to retrieve his dwindling popularity, he wanted to save face and if he didn’t get what he wanted now, he would be finished. Finally one day, he received a basketful of fruits – “Peace offering,” Celso calls it, “from Vilma.” “It took us almost seven nights, shooting straight, to finish that sequence. I learned the dance from an expert real-life burlesque dancer. During shootings, palaging close-door. My God, I couldn’t have done it with so many people around.” She had to take several shots of brandy before the shooting. “Otherwise, I could have died from nervousness. ”According to Romy Ching, producer of Burlesk Queen, he didn’t really have the Metro Filmfest in mind because he had a November 25 playdate.  But when he saw the rushes, he changed plans. “Hindi ka magsisisi na tinanggap mo ito,” he told Vilma, “it will be worth it.” Says Vilma: “I didn’t expect to win, although marami ang nagsasabi sa akin na malaki ang pag-asa ko.   Ako naman, I don’t believe anything unless talagang nangyayari.   Kasi noon, I expected to win, sa film festival din sa Quezon City, but somebody else did.  I was very disappointed.  Noong awards night nga, I wasn’t convinced I would win hanggang hindi ko pa hawak ‘yong trophy.”

After the award, Vilma has understandably upped her asking price.  She’s now worth only P300,000, may kaunting tawad pa if the role is good and the director is good.  That business-and pleasure trip to Europe with Vasquez shall have to wait while Vilma is fulfilling her previous commitments.  The morning after the awards night, tempting offers swamped Vilma, P300,000 and all, but she is not about to grab them all.  She wants first to resume the shooting of her own outfit’s much delayed project, Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak, where she co-stars with Bembol Roco and has for director, yes, Celso Ad. Castillo. “We want to make it as good as, if not better than, Burlesk Queen,” Vilma and Celso promise. It better be. – Ricardo F. Lo, Queen Vi (or Or, how Vilma Santos came out of the doldrums and reasserted herself at the Box Ofice) Expressweek Magazine January 19, 1978

"Burlesk Queen Queen (1977)"

Celso Ad. Castillo's Burlesk Queen (Burlesque Queen) is most famous for Vilma Santos' noteworthy performance. She plays Chato, daughter of crippled Roque (Leopoldo Salcedo). She works as assistant to Virgie (Rosemarie Gil), current star of the burlesque stage (the film opens with Gil gyrating to the rapid beatings of drums, to the ecstasy of her numerous patrons). Resisting the lofty wishes of her father, Chato succumbs to the lure of the stage and the money it would bring her. It really is a grand performance as Santos was able to deliver the physical requirements of the role with her innate charismatic aura (a skill that earned the actress legions of fans and eventually elected to public office). Santos' Chato is servile to the men around her (her father, Louie the theater manager (played by Joonee Gamboa in the film's other equally terrific performance) and Jessie (Rolly Quizon), her boyfriend) but when she dances onstage, it doesn't come off as merely sensual and titillating. She dances burlesque to make a statement (if there is such a thing), a statement important enough to die for.

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.

The burlesque is in its dying days. Submitting to the very same patriarchal forces that have established strict moral norms and economic systems, the government has deemed the dance to be lewd and illegal. Louis plans that the final burlesque performance be the best and we become witnesses to the plan's grand execution: a judiciously edited montage of circus acts, musical numbers, costumed dances and finally Chato's coup de grace to both the theater and to herself. In a hypnotized daze with spotlights concentrating on her rhythmic gyrations, she enchants her audience. Once more, she is a goddess, the most powerful person in that wide area full of men. Her reign is short lived for she is pregnant with Jessie's child and starts bleeding. Castillo cuts to Chato's face, sweaty and in pain and we hear as her heavy breathing joins the rapid beating of the drums. The camera pans down, and we see her belly dangerously shaking as blood continuously flows down her thighs. This is Chato's repentance, a fatal undoing of her naive betrayal of the stage to succumb to patriarchal forces. Chato reluctantly stops and presumably dies as the crowd cheers on.

A jovial and sweet melody replaces the hurried beating of the drums and the boisterous cheers. The theater is empty. The hundred or so seats have no eager men sitting on them. A dusty curtain covers the once vibrant stage. Pictures of the burlesque dancers, more prominently Chato, are on display. Outside, a couple of players, including the Filipino version of Chaplin (complete with the trademark hat and cane of The Tramp), are waiting. They stand up and leave. The film closes with them walking away from the theater, reminiscent of the bittersweet finales of Charlie Chaplin's comedies (more specifically The Circus (1928) and Modern Times (1936)). Of course, Burlesk Queen is nowhere like Chaplin's films yet the ending feels irresistibly apt, an intriguingly ironic homage. The living remnants of the theater, those bit players walking away, have no bright future. Like Chato, the theater is their sanctuary and survival. The real world, the desolate and unfair lower class Manila of which they are ultimately going to, has no place for them. The melody, the memories, and the transient burlesque queen that once charmed a thousand men with the movement of her hips have been drowned by hopelessness. They shall all remain tramps.

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,, November 29, 2007 


No comments:

Post a Comment