Dec 072014

Every now and then, we are beset by memories of an era gone by, when movie stars were not merely people with contracts beholden to a particular network, but individuals who were appreciated for their talent, yet never pampered and had to follow rules of proper behavior on the set. Those years are gone, and TV stars are now judged by the number of teleseryes they appear in, the hours they spend on the set without complaint and the ratings their project received from the expectant public.

Lolita Rodriguez (Dolores Clark in real life) was an actress from Urdaneta, Pangasinan, who entered the movies at age 18. We met Lolita only at the height of her career when she was discovered by the country’s most well-known and controversial directors Lino Brocka and Celso Ad Castillo. Both were her directors in a series of films like Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang by Lino, and Paradise Inn by Celso.

Tinimbang is easily Brocka’s best film released in 1974, which told of Lolita as Kuala, an insane woman, and Mario O’Hara as Bertong Ketong, the leper, with supporting roles from Eddie Garcia, Christopher de Leon, Hilda Koronel and Laurice Guillen. The film features life in a rural area, the dominance of the elite, the hypocrisy of sinners, as well as both the unfaithfulness and unconditional love for others. As in other Filipino movies, women are portrayed as helpless and weak, yet at the same time wielding some sort of power over men, like Hilda who can run circles around her boyfriend.

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The best message in the film is that it shows the value of unconditional love of Berto for Kuala, a true love that persists even though Kuala is unable to return this love as she is insane. He is very caring of her and accepts her whatever she is. This kind of love is rare.

Paradise Inn, directed by Celso, is about a place that is more than a watering hole and gambling den-cum-brothel frequented by the menfolk. It is also a notorious landmark where a retired prostitute, played by Lolita, runs the place with help from her daughter, played by Vivian Velez. Unable to stomach the trade, Vivian runs away. Even the timely arrival of a two-bit magician (Dennis Roldan), who hastily proposes marriage, fails to prevent the escalating tension between mother and daughter.

We were very close to Celso who called himself “Celso Kid, King of the Universe” and had weird habits like waking up the cast and crew in the middle of the night to give them directions for the following day’s shoot. Once, he asked for a fiesta setting with all its colorful settings and wouldn’t accept anything less than that. Still, all will have to admit his genius despite the weirdness. He always set his stories outdoors, as he said he couldn’t breathe in an indoor setting. He never wrote a script, and instead would call the entire congregation to tell them a story, then would dismiss them after having given them his “script.”

We shall miss them all — Lino, Mario O and Celso — as they are no longer with us.

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