Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Overview of Span 404

This class had a topic of things I'm interested in life: film and Spanish, and Mexico. I liked that we talked about film, because I need to continue expanding my knowledge of movies and how they're put together and why they're made if I want to continue writing films. It's interesting to study the difference between Mexican and American cinema and how they each portray Mexico's standard of living. In the first movie we watched with Cantinflas, we saw slapstick Mexican comedy parodying parts of Mexican life from the 1930s. There was a warmth and a humility to his humor that felt timeless, even though the movie itself was obviously very dated.
The way Mexico is portrayed in the Hollywood films was an entirely different kettle of fish. In the slapstick American movie about Mexico, Mexicans are portrayed as in need of American help and highly underdeveloped, especially in comparison with the American lifestyle. Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Sheen act bumbling and stupid, but they arrive to help a small Mexican pueblo, filled with people waiting to be rescued from the antagonist of the movie. Granted this film was mimicking old Westerns and previous Hollywood movies that truly depicted Mexico as such, but the fact that there were enough Hollywood movies to begin with that stereotyped Mexicans as dirty, helpless beings that The Three Amigos had such a launching pad to jump off from says something about Hollywood cinema.
I liked the film discussions and I liked seeing the vast differences between Mexican dramas and comedies and American ones. I wished we could have spoken more Spanish in class, as having discussions in Spanish continually helps me speak it better, but at least this class stayed in the general topic of what I'm studying. I liked that I got the chance to see movies that I never would have watched on my own because it can help me build on my ideas about screenplays and how to write and produce movies, and how cinematic elements can enhance the narrative of a film.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I thought "Traffic" was a pretty decent movie. It tried to do a lot with one topic, and in some ways, it really executed its point well, and in others, because it was trying to do so much, it glossed over getting into any sort of depth with any one character or plot line. This made it harder to be as much about human relationships, and just went with its theme more than anything else.
The first half seemed stronger than the second to me. The set up was pretty strong, and the less it had to do with the specific relationships, the better it was. When we first saw the government official trying to follow through with his war on drugs, it was all pretty believable and the plot line drew the audience in.
Some parts that I thought were less realistic and that drew me out of the plot line were when Catherine Zeta Jones, after not having any idea whatsoever that her husband was a drug lord, suddenly was offering a "Mexican" (Benjamin whatever is hardly Latino) bribe and trying to get cops killed when the base for her character was that she had no idea about any of the illegal dealings of her husband.
The teenage girl with drug issues was way too over the top. This can be a tendency with American movies, the default mode is to go way over the top, ie a teenage girl from a repressed conservative background starts doing crack every time we see her and prostituting herself. I liked the idea of the irony of the daughter of a purveyor of the war on drugs being a girl who does drugs, as that's a common aspect of adolescence. But I thought that her being so over the top was not only unrealistic, but also equated drug use with turning into a crackhead prostitute, which is most often not the case.
Benicio del Torro I thought was one of the strongest characters and strongest actors. I liked his plot line, because it truly emphasized how corrupt the Mexican government and law enforcement is, which is a very topical concept right now, as Mexico is currently on the verge of being completely run by drug lords. In that respect, this was a very timely movie to watch.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Los Three Amigos

I think this is going to be one of the harder blogs to write, considering I can't really take much of this movie seriously.
Seeing movies like this with Steve Martin in them make me really sad because he has the ability to be a very funny, talented man, but he's in so many bad movies (ie Father of the Bride, Father of the Bride II, Young at Heart, LA Story, the list is endless). Chevy Chase is generally in this sort of mishugas slapstick comedy, so this wasn't much of a deviation from the norm for him. Steve Martin, on the other hand, was once a very funny young white-haired man who did great gags on Saturday Night Live, and was in the only movie I've ever liked him in, "Parenthood."
The point being, seeing him in such a stupid movie was, as it usually is, difficult for me to watch. I don't like raining on others' parades, but this movie was really stupid. Aside from maybe one or two gags, I just wasn't into the humor at all. Granted I don't find slapstick that funny usually (aside from Woody Allen slapstick movies), I still had a really hard time sitting through this. I expect I was probably the only kid in the class with this issue.
It's hard to say too much about this film as any sort of Mexican commentary, as Jon called this a self-reflective "meta-film," so I'm not sure what I can say that won't just go back to the argument that it was meant to be stereotypical and stupid, a spoof of all those old westerns. If the plot line weren't so ridiculous and the whole script didn't wreak of trying to be funny, maybe I would've enjoyed it as it is more.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Wild Bunch.

I don't have too many positive things to say about this movie. This film as well as Touch of Evil, both relate to a Mexican theme in a very similar way: both show how Hollywood cinema portrays Mexico and sets up relations between the US and Mexico through pseudo-imperialistic relationships; the Mexicans are the whores, the slaves, the savages, the idiots, while the Americans commandeer them, corale them, and condescendingly show them a "real" way of life. This film in particular equates the wild n' crazy cowboys with no morals or scruples with the Mexican way of life. Beyond depicting America's patronizing and belittling view of Mexico, this movie should not be qualified as Mexican whatsoever.
As a woman and as someone who is beginning to write screenplays, I hated this movie. I do consider myself a feminist, but not a righteous, ignorant one. I can get down to Mac Dre and listen to him rap about bitches and hos if the lyrics and/or the music have redeeming value. But considering this film had very little value for me, I couldn't tolerate how much it equated women, especially Mexican women, as nothing but sexual objects. There was not one female character in this two and a half hour movie that wasn't some sort of a prostitute; literal or figuratively. This made me want to vomit by the end.
As an American, I've grown up having Mexican friends. My dad was born in Mexico, and his siblings grew up there. In many ways I feel more of a connection with Mexican culture than with that of American. I understand how Hollywood always has portrayed Mexico as America's bitch, but that doesn't make me agree with this idea, especially when I've seen so many more, better movies in my previous Spanish classes about Mexicans trying to cross the border and seeing how harrowing that experience is.
The screenplay for this was one of the worst I've ever experienced. The dialogue was very much that of the time and genre, neither of which I'm generally into. Old western movies are not among my favorites, and with painfully contrived dialogue and the whole movie being violent, sexist, and racist, there was very little I found tolerable. The frequent zoom-in shots (also of the time and genre) made for the extra dated aspect.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Just a Touch of Evil

I'm not sure how to feel about this film. It had the usual racist and sexist components of Hollywood films of the time, which are still hard for me to get around sometimes, depending on the film. The fact that Charlton Heston played the main lead who was intended to be Mexican really irked me, more than I thought it would.
In terms of cinematic structure, I was really impressed with how most shots in the film were long shots, making for some really interesting takes. What I actually liked most about the film were the camera angles, the long takes, and the use of sound and visual cues. The scene where Orson Welles, the main antagonist, kills the little Mexican dude has some great camera angles. This scene also exemplifies the great use of sound throughout homework. A lot of horror movies use music as a crutch to create dramatic tension and instill fear in the viewer. This movie had ridiculous music playing half the time, which let the plot and tension happen naturally, which I found to be very effective.
The long takes created sort of a play format. Because the acting and dialogue was so pronounced and contrived (as many 50s movies are), all of these elements helped to shape this film into a sort of play. The cinematic touches and elements made this film as famous as it is, in my opinion. The characters and dialogue are pretty flat and forced.
I'm going to use the word steretype now. This movie had mad Mexican stereotypes, and the only Mexican character that wasn't shady was Charlton Heston. Any movie with Charlton Heston makes me question the merit of that particular film. I also found that based on the dialogue from the white people, the way Mexicans were depicted wasn't particularly cutting edge or pushing the limits of the way people thought about different cultures, it had to be just perpetuating the collective mentality about foreigners, which is still sadly very prominent in America today.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Batalla en el Cielo

I feel like there's a lot that could be said about this movie, but so much is left for interpretation, it's hard to know where to begin.
I don't know if I completely liked or agreed with the general statement of this movie, but there are some elements that I really liked. I actually really enjoyed the beginning, and the view of the world we see. It was very honest, and I felt like I was actually in the airport in Mexico City- it actually looked like how Mexico looked to me while I was there, and the feeling of watching everything through a certain muted lens resonated with me.
I agree with what Carolina said in class about how this film could be interpreted as existentialist. The tone of it reminded me so much of watching The Stranger, as well as the book (by Albert Camus). Even the plot of Batalla has similarities with the plot of The Stranger. After watching this, I don't see how this film could be anything other than some sort of existentialist commentary (this is one of those moments where I think I sound like a total douche).
The best aspect of Batalla en el Cielo for me was how it was shot. It was filmed so beautifully, someone could take a still shot from almost any moment in that movie and it would be a brilliant piece of photography. that really aided in me not disliking the movie entirely.
The sense of realism, the camera work, and how it was shot were my favorite parts. The self-indulgent takes, the intensity bordering on melodrama, and the stiff dialogue took me out of the moment and the realism. The best dialogue was from everyone on the street. Anything between characters in personal relationships felt stiff and unreal, which made me dislike the movie more. I hate it when movies just try to be different, surrealist, and/or existentialist, because those are things that I just don't prioritize first when enjoying a film. Something about at least one of the characters has to strike a chord for me to like the movie, and none of these characters felt tangible or alive for me, which detracted from the beauty of some of the realistic perspective of life in Mexico City.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

El Callejon de los Milagros

I actually really liked this movie, despite its melodramatic points. I was pretty compelled the whole way through. Obviously there are aspects of it that I found less believable than others, ie when Susanita and the twenty- six year old guy get married. That part just seemed so middle aged woman dream coming true thing that doesn't really happen very often in reality. I did like it when he responded "sure" in his sleazy way, though.
I was very impressed that this movie talked about homosexuality from the standpoint of an abusive middle aged married man. I also initially thought this movie was from the 80s, until I realized it was from 1995, but nonetheless, Mexican culture is very patriarchal and very Catholic, thus much less tolerant of homosexuality than, say, Canada, where gay marriage is legal and gay men have a much less difficult set of walls to tear down, metaphorically. This aspect of the movie made me respect it a lot more, and I also found the whole situation entirely believable. The use of drugs made this movie feel more real to me, as well.
I liked how hot and cold the father ran, not that it made me like the character for it, but I found him very realistic. Much of the time when asshole self-righteous characters are depicted in film, writers have a tendency to show them as very black and white, one-sided. But the fact that the father became so enraged when he felt betrayed and showed no vulnerability, but still simultaneously loved his grandson added more depth to his character.
There was a little bit of overacting, but it was a very dramatic movie, so somehow it fit, even though generally I can't stand overacting. In terms of this movie as a cultural depiction, I enjoyed the view of the city street that we see interspersed through the film, I thought that was a good motif, because it showed how a street in Mexico actually looks. The fact that Alma felt like her only options of a future were prostitution or marrying rich felt very real and very tragic. I'm not sure if this film was as much a societal commentary, as much as it was about human relationships and the endurance of love.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Readings and other delights

The readings for this week seem to be more centered around "El Callejon de los Milagros" than "Mecanica Nacional," so I'm going to focus more on the readings.
The "Sexuality in Space" reading goes pretty far in depth into the film, even as far as camera angles, as mentioned on page 31: "As two men take leave of one another the camera pans slightly to the right, thereby bringing into view the opening of the Zocalo metro station..." and goes further into more detail about every small technical aspect of the film. I found this article to be a little bit over the top in ways of the use of academic jargon as well as hardcore film vocabulary that always sends a piece of writing over the top when applied.
Noble talked about Y Tu Mama Tambien in the post-script at the end of the piece, noting that "...this road movie, a genre, like melodrama, that endows space with an excess of symbolic signification," etc., etc. Y Tu Mama Tambien is one of my favorite movies, but it's hard for me to talk about it in such a way that detaches the emotion from the film. For me, film is such a visceral, intense, emotional experience, especially Y Tu Mama, and it's hard for me to turn into a set of chattering words that turn it into a mathematical equation of social commentary.
It's also hard for me to agree or disagree with Noble's thoughts on this upcoming movie, as it's next week's choice and I haven't seen it yet. But there was one idea I was intrigued by on page 31, reading a motif in the movie of "the male body being closed and the female body being open." Anyone can gather certain evidence from random motifs in any movie, we can read into anything as we see fit. But this idea struck a chord with me, not because of any literal meanings, but the idea that men and women gather information and cope with life in different ways based on our genetic make-up and what constitutes our sex as well as gender. That not only culture helps shape how we handle the world, but that our physiology plays a part, too.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I thought "Los Olvidados" was a great film. Even though it was very subversive and ahead of its time in a lot of ways, it was also very different from recent dramatic social commentary films in that it showed slumming Mexican life all from real characters with no comedic releases. The only deviation from the injustice and suffering that was nearly constantly portrayed was when any one of the children just had a moment where they acted like kids and did something silly.
Though it was much harder to watch because there was nearly nothing buffering us from the truth or lightening the mood at all for the whole duration, it felt intensely powerful and prolific. The truth of it really resonated with me in a whole new way, I truly felt the injustices of the time. Though it's a bad comparison, I've noticed from being American and growing up in the states that the more neglected and disenfranchized and the less educated a society becomes a la its government, the more the internal workings of a society begin to combust.
What I find interesting while truly depressing about the message of this film is that progress was never really reached. At the beginning, we are shown that the message of this film was not that of pessimism, but that of optimism, hoping that by educating people more and more, that eventually progress would change the fate of the impoverished Mexican communities. What's sad is that some progress has been made, but now there's even less of a middle class than there once was in Mexico, and poverty rates continue to flourish. I hope that progress can be made, especially with a brand new American president, who I'm hoping won't say silly things like let's "seal the borders," who will work with the Mexican president.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The readings for this week were alright, I liked reading about Cantiflas. I found it interesting to learn that Mexican cinema comments more on socioeconomic differences and cultural issues. The film tonight felt ahead of its, in my opinion. In terms of camera angles and some of the acting, it felt more real than many films of its time, even from where there were more resources for film, like the states. It was also nicely shot, the still shots for a while, the connection between the two entertainers, it all felt more palpable, and timeless in some aspects. I didn't entirely comprehend all of the dialogue, but from what I could understand, I really felt a connection between the two male protagonists.
Cuando estaban borrachos por la mayoria del tiempo, pensaba que este fue un comentario en como la clase social mas abajo maneja su lugar an la sociedad. Para el sueno, no comprendi por que el sueno era tan largo, o que el sueno realmente significaba. Por que fue el baile tan larga y que significaba la novia cantando por mucho tiempo? Eran las palabras que cantaba de ella importante al sueno, y la idea y tema de la pelicula?
In the reading "the Formation of a National Cinema Audience," I found an interesting note on page 73: "Where the church had previously been one of the few public spaces in which different sectors of society would have encountered one another in their leisure time, the cinema represented a new point of contact in this hierarchical society." It's so fascinating how Mexican cinema came to be a bridge between the social classes, as well as a major commentary on the disparity between rich and poor. It's always great to see film as a means to enlightenment and understanding of human nature, instead of some cheesy, lowest common denomonator film that helps to form drool on the side of one's chin while watching it, ie "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry."

Monday, January 12, 2009


So, this is round two with this blog. Please ignore any previous entries, they're all from SPAN312.
My name is Rose Finn, and I'm from Portland, Oregon. I'm a creative writing major, but I'm looking into a Spanish minor, because I've been taking Spanish classes since I was in seventh grade, and my family is a group of JeMexicans (a phrase I coined). My dad and his siblings were all born in Mexico, and his siblings were raised there, while by the time my dad was five, his Jewish parents up and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconson. So there you have it- JewMexicans. They all speak fluent Spanish, especially my aunt who runs a bilingual school in Chicago and married an Ecuadorian.
The readings thus far are interesting, although it's always difficult for me to sift through the academic jargon that overpowers academic articles. In my program, my initial focus was on screenplay, so I'm hoping this class will provide a whole new take on film, which already it's shaping up that way. I found it interesting in the Monsivais reading about how Mexican cinema has been sociological rather than artistic, which would make a lot of sense, given it's blatant social problems. I'm fascinated and intrigued with Mexican culture, though it happens to be a third world country, and there are certain malfunctions of a society that go with that title. I was in Mexico last February, and I noticed how there are virtually no regulations with workers' compensation, when workdays are permitted to start and end, alcohol, and many other facets of society that are highly regulated in Canada and the US.