Sep 1, 2004 at 12:00 am

The makers of this documentary showed great restraint in not calling it The Shoes of Imelda Marcos but it’d still make a neat double-bill with The Eyes of Tammy Faye, both films being portraits of delusional wives of power-crazed men. Marcos will be forever remembered for the 3,000 pairs of shoes found in her palace closet after she and her dictator husband Ferdinand were deposed and forced to leave the Philippines in 1986. The symbolism was just too rich. How better to trample over the peasantry than through conspicuous consumption of an excessive amount of expensive footwear? Imelda doesn’t offer any new revelations about its subject, instead giving the impression that’s there’s nothing to reveal, only the worst suspicions to confirm. Vintage footage shows the young Imelda gaining early fame as a beauty contestant and becoming a celebrity for being well-known, a disorienting condition enhanced by slightly surreal encounters with General Douglas MacArthur and Irving Berlin. This was in postwar Philippines, newly liberated from Japan by America, and taking its place as a Cold War outpost for U.S. naval bases. Imelda’s fate is determined once she hitches her wagon to up-and-coming political star Ferdinand Marcos, and the rest is history.

Imelda likes to talk about herself, and in the film she prattles on about being a woman of the people — while pursuing her luxurious lifestyle in a country of such stark poverty that a popular uprising was inevitable. Her cushiness was underwritten by the money her husband squeezed out of the U.S. government for housing the bases, sweetened by his corrupt business dealings, of which she pleads ignorance.

The movie covers all the crucial events: Marcos’ declaration of martial law in the early ’70s, the assassination of his most powerful rival Benigno Aquino, the eventual triumph of Aquino’s wife Corazon — and through it all the divine Mrs. M. floats along in a protective bubble of self-regard. Her charitable works including spending a fortune of her government’s money on a cultural shrine to rival Lincoln Center, which was really a shrine to her ego and of help to no one in that poor country. She’s so out of it that you don’t even dislike her, but rather marvel at the lacks of chinks in her armor of obliviousness. She’s a model dictator’s wife. A survivor. She’s diva material, and one shouldn’t be surprised if a musical version of her life comes along sometime during the next decade or so.


In English and Tagalog with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) Monday, Sept. 6, at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.

E-mail Richard C. Walls at [email protected].