Burlesque performer. Instructor. Show producer. Model. Two-second genius.

Philippine Movie: “Burlesk Queen”

By Mynx d'Meanor • Jan 14th, 2009 • Category: BLOG, BURLESQUE ART/MEDIA

Came across this movie review in my GoogleReader:

It’s an article about a 1977 Philippine movie, “Burlesk Queen” (by Jessica Zafra).

Poster: Vilma Santos as WOW! What a find! As a Filipino and a burlesque performer, you know I’m all about this. I always get excited to find connections between my roots, so to speak, and my current loves in life. First of all, as a child I was definitely a fan of Vilma, so I’m excited to rediscover this little part of myself. I am especially happy to find out that this was a true cinematic drama (having won 10 awards at the Metro Manila Film Festival when it premiered in ‘77), and not just a novelty piece about life as a striptease dancer. I was also happy to see (via the clips) that it seemed to incorporate some classic burlesque costuming and movements.

From the article:

“Burlesque” is “a theatrical entertainment of a broadly humorous, often earthy character consisting of short turns, comic skits, and striptease acts.” It’s been around since Aristophanes wrote his comedies thousands of years ago. In Tagalog, “pagbuburles” meant “to take one’s clothes off in public.” It was something to be shunned by respectable people. Apart from its subject matter, the film was controversial because it starred superstar and former teen idol Vilma Santos, it was directed by Celso Ad Castillo, self-proclaimed messiah of Filipino cinema, and it contained a truly shocking dance sequence.

Burlesk Queen climaxes with Vilma bumping and grinding in front of a wildly cheering audience; her gyrations cause her to have a miscarriage. Lurid, yes, and not likely to be forgotten.

The story is a familiar one: a young woman with an invalid father to support sells her body in order to live. Not on the streets, but on the stage of a burlesque theatre. Vilma plays Chato the dancer with a mixture of innocence and strength—the sleaze of her surroundings cannot break her. Leopoldo Salcedo plays the proud old man who is dying of shame—his presence links Burlesk Queen to the “Golden Age” of Philippine cinema and makes the movie’s thesis more poignant. Joonee Gamboa is the theatre owner who makes long speeches about burlesque being an art for the masses and a vehicle to elevate them intellectually. He comes off as slightly loony, but who says art is “normal”?

The theater is condemned by politicians who preach morality. In the movie, the battle between art and politics is fought right at the old man’s window. From the window, we see a politician delivering a campaign speech, vowing to clean up the city. The old man sits at the window, watching the rally, while the theatre owner tries to persuade him to let his daughter dance. Downstairs, the daughter flirts with the politician’s son.

There is so much happening in every frame of Castillo’s movie: it is literally pulsing with life. While the former star dancer played by Rosemarie Gil rages drunkenly onstage, a woman in the audience slaps the man sitting next to her. Backstage a boy gropes his girlfriend, onstage a performer pounds a very long nail into his nostril, and on the soundtrack a singer declares he will do anything for love. It is as if every character onscreen were starring in their own movie, and the story unfolding before us is merely a slice of all this vivid life.

When the theater is ordered closed, the owner declares that their last show will be something to remember. He does not exaggerate. The scenes leading up to the climactic dance—the montages of the singers, dancers, and comedians—evoke a bittersweet longing for an era that had vanished.

We have been fooled. This movie is not about a young woman taking her clothes off. It’s about life, art, and the dark, unexpected places where they sometimes meet.

You can see a few clips of the movie from this “Top 10″ show (watch the first 4 minutes):

You can buy a copy of the movie on VCD from or eBay. (You can also search Google for, erm, torrent versions with English subtitles.)

You can bet your ass I’m getting myself a copy. Movie night, anyone?

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