I found Carlos Reygadas's Battle in Heaven (everywhere, in fact) but not his Japón. I found Alejandro Jodorowsky's riot-causing Fando y Lis and El Topo (not available on DVD in the United States) but not La Montaña Sagrada. I found Los Olvidados and La Jóven but nothing else by Luis Buñuel, and he was a hard worker in Mexico. Rogelio A. González's El Esqueleto de la Señora Morales, yes. Carlos Velo's Cinco de Chocolate y Uno de Fresa, no. And so on. But if you like Vicente Fernández or the masked wrestler Santo, which I'm vaguely ashamed to say I do, god help you if you only have one suitcase.
I also had overwhelming success finding Tin Tan, a Mexican comedian and singer who could be described as sort of like Danny Kaye in a zoot suit. His devotees are as wide-ranging as me and the Beatles. (I recently read that he was supposed to be part of the Sergeant Pepper album cover but suggested that Ringo replace him with a Mexican tree.) By the end of the seven months I spent in Mexico City, the most Spanish I'd learned was a sort of raised-by-wolves level of communication that, though I hoped it came off as charming, made it hard for me to fully understand a movie unless I concentrated like an air traffic controller. Tin Tan was always a comfort because his movies are funny even without translation. My favorite of his movies is El Rey del Barrio, about a man in Mexico City who leads a double life as a poor sweet nobody and a ruthless, flamenco-singing street boss. It costars his brother Ramón Valdéz, from the bafflingly adored El Chavo del Ocho, a '70s Mexican sitcom in which the titular character is a little kid played by an adult.
Which is lot less annoying and creepy than an adult played by a little kid, as Dakota Fanning's career has demonstrated. Sadistic revenge fantasies like the Mexico Cityset Man on Fire have their place in this world and are hard for me to empirically condemn, but the idea that an already irritable man would take 45 minutes of a movie to avenge Fanning's death is something I'm just not willing to accept. I can almost never sit through her performances, but we watched this movie at the tail end of a long and drunken night, when civic pride had long since overpowered any vestiges of personal pride. (When Denzel Washington buys a Linda Ronstadt album just blocks away from the spot where we'd bought this very movie, we practically cheered.) The commentary track was sprinkled liberally with Fanning annoyingly and creepily naming people on the set who were great to work with. Why doesn't the MPAA take a stand against mixing children and commentary tracks?
With Denzel and Dakota out of the way, we moved on to happier territory (at least I did; everyone else had fallen asleep). The Barkleys of Broadway was Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers's Technicolor comeback after a 10-year split, and it was the last film they made together. Ira Gershwin's lyrics are as winning as ever, but his brother was sorely missed. In other sad news, the proud tradition of the fruity character actor had been abandoned with the exclusion of Eric Blore and Eric Blore's teeth. Oscar Levant's piano-playing playboy was more than compensation, though (sorry, Blore). The observation, traced to a Frank and Ernest comic strip, that Rogers had to do everything Astaire had to do but backward and in high heels (Backwards in High Heels, a musical about Rogers, comes out next year) might not even be as important as the fact that she could also act circles around the guy, who always delivered his lines like he was about to sneeze.
A couple of days later, in accidental coincidence with Mexican Independence Day, we celebrated with two classics of civil disobedience.
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