Monday, December 05, 2005

La Cucaracha

Though less than 21 minutes long, La Cucaracha is full to bursting: with song, music, dance, passion, hot food, hot women, drugs, love, jealousy, anger, conflict, and above all colour. Deep, saturated colour.

colourThe first live-action film in three-strip Technicolor, La Cucaracha shows off the range and intensity of the hues that it reproduces. Both women and men are dressed in gaily-coloured clothing: reds, greens, and bright blues. Choleric with anger, a character visibly becomes red in the face. Overcome with rage, the lead characters are lit in vivid scarlet and green.

(Technicolor's official site includes a history of the company and the process, and also a Quicktime clip from La Cucaracha, which they describe as a "dumb" movie.)

The film's plot concerns the revenge of Chatita, a singer spurned by her dancer boyfriend Pancho because he is too busy wowing a Mexico City impresario who has come to the bar he works scouting for talent. Pancho angrily denounces Chatita as a cucaracha, cockroach. To sabotage his prospects, Chatita therefore ensures that the impresario's salad is laced with lashings of burning Tabasco sauce. And she shows herself too hot to handle by engaging in a musical duel, drowning out Pancho's tune with her own rendition of a song entitled "La Cucaracha" and then dancing out her aggression in a feisty pas à  deux.

Pancho is outraged, but it turns out (of course) that this intensity is precisely what the impresario wants. On the spot, he books the both of them for his capital-city nightclub.

And intensity is clearly what Hollywood is seeking with this film. The Latin context and setting provide it in spades. Now in full colour, cinema demonstrates how rapidly it is becoming a highly efficient mechanism for the production and distribution--expression--of the affects. This is also expression in the sense that its affect is transmitted by first being subjected to intense pressure, to be then squeezed or forced out from the film's pressure cooker furnace.

With the addition of colour, cinema can now become a fully equipped expressive machine. But it is in Latin America that it finds the raw materials on which it works its modulation and intensification: upping the heat, heightening the tension, saturating with colour.

No real surprise that the Cucaracha's song should be about drugs: a cockroach needing marijuana. Though the image it supplies is of lethargy, affectlessness, lack:
La cucaracha, la cucaracha
ya no quiere caminar;
porque le falta, porque no tiene
marijuana que fumar.
By contrast, everything else here in this film is in surplus: too much colour, too much tabasco, too much emotion, all threatening to carry the characters away.

In the end this film is about an audition: and one audition (Pancho's) turns out to be two (Pancho's and Chatita's). But the represented audition is again doubled by the mode of representation that is tried out in front of a new audience. The film itself is an audition. Hollywood and Technicolor want to convince us of the uses to which this new colour process can be put: they're looking to create a need for their machinic expression, to create a sense of lack within the audience, an addiction that only Technicolor can satisfy.

From affective surplus and excess, to habitual desire premised on lack: finally, this is the process achieved through Hollywood's expressivity, tested and refined here as so often in a Latin American context.

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