Thursday, 10 May 2012

26/04/2012: El Mariachi [1992]

Robert Rodriguez is a pretty recognizable name in the movie industry since he gave us Sin City, however, while you've probably seen his later works Planet Terror and Machete, how many of you went back, or even new Rodriguez back when he was just a man with a dream and a video camera?

It is unsurprising that Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are close friends, frequently collaborating together to give us the violence filled, thrill rides that we all enjoy. While Tarantino may be better at creating a story, Rodriguez has a style of his own and likes to mix his violence with a strange cast of characters from, vampires, to zombies, from machete wielding Mexicans to a simple mariachi, Rodriguez has created some strange stories.

One of the reasons he and Tarantino are so close, is both of them created there first films with almost no budget, and through nothing but their own will, and both of which released in 1992. However while Tarantino was able to get together an impressive cast of stars as well as garner some more backing, Rodriguez had nothing but $7000 and a script. The man literally created something from nothing, creating a story that continued two more movies and later starred Antonio Banderas, but while you may have seen Desperado or Once Upon A Time In Mexico, Banderas was not the original Mariachi.

This is the original mariachi, armed with nothing but a free coconut, freshly washed boots, and a dream.
When Rodriguez set out to film El Mariachi it was all on his own dime, he had approximately 700 of them in fact. (that's $7000 if you're bad at the maths) However, most of that money, almost all of it actually, went to simply purchasing the film. Remember, as shown on the poster this was the age of video cassettes and laserdiscs. Laserdisc for gods sake! So even though El Mariachi has nearly a million dollars put into it afterward, when it was originally made things were beyond tight. That is the reason for one of the most interesting and noticeable aspects of El Mariachi. Pretty much nothing got a second take, so anytime an actor messed up a line or something on set went awry, Rodriguez simply starts from that instant, he doesn't have the ability to film the whole scene again. This shows in the large number of cuts with varying angles throughout the entire movie.

So without money, where did Rodriguez get all these actors? Well, a lot of them are just random people who walked through the set while the camera was rolling. Once in a while Rodriguez would give them lines to say, as they passed by, so most of those one line roles are just locals. Interestingly, the bartender and the hotel manager, who play some decent roles, are simply two local newsmen who had been talking negatively about the movie and so Rodriguez gave them parts to help with public relations.

He's just a local news reporter. I'm not sure he looks to satisfied.

So what is the plot of El Mariachi, the movie made for almost nothing? It is pretty simple, an aspiring mariachi comes to town with his guitar and a dream of making it big, only to be mistaken for a murderous criminal who carries around a guitar case full of weapons. The unsuspecting mariachi is suddenly caught in a gang was between the murderous mariachi and a drug lord, and so begins an interesting game of cat and mouse. Throw in the usual romance plotline and the movie isn't anything strikingly original.

However, what earns El Mariachi its respect is what it was able to do with so little. Robert Rodriguez showed the world what a great filmmaker he could be with almost nothing, and when we gave him the chance he showed us he could do much more. It is the homemade, man with a videocamera  dream feel that make El Mariachi enjoyable. That, along with its violence attracts quite the big fan base.

"Help myself? Don't mind if I do."
I watched El Mariachi after Run Lola Run to complete my small foreign cimema night. While you could argue Rodriguez is a mainstream american filmmaker now, he wasn't then, and with the original movie in Spanish I would say it counts. I watched it in Spanish with subtitles, as that is the way I enjoy watching movies, although I know on Netflix, it is dubbed in English.

Overall, El Mariachi is not a game changing movie, but it is an impressive first film, from a man who had nothing to work with. I have seen Once Upon A Time In Mexico, but not Desperado as of yet. I am stoked for Rodriguez to bring us Sin City 2 next year, and then Machete Kills. But in the meantime check out where it all started, and in the scene with the final showdown, see if you can spot the sleeping cop in the background, who was supposed to be monitoring the use of the police departments weapons.

El Mariachi IMDb

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