Saturday, July 28, 2018


Altiplano (2009) is a American-Belgian drama film directed by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth. The movie recounts the realities of different people around the world (Europe, Middle East, and South America), but that redemption from their tragic lives at the small Quechua village called Turubamba of the Andean plateau. With dialogues in five languages (French, English, Persian and Quechua), Altiplano shows us a world divided, but that connects through feelings and travels with images.

The film begins with a devastating event that gives us to understand that the plot was based on the suspense and mixed feelings that arise from equally bittersweet moments. Grace (Jasmin Tabatabai) is a photographer who travels to Iraq where her guide and friend is murdered in front of her eyes and she is forced to photograph the scene. Despite the advice of his family to publish the photograph so that the world knows the story, the trauma caused by that death eats away at his conscience and leaves him in a state of desolation. Her partner travels to Turubamba on a medical mission but she remains in Belgium, unable to continue with the art of capturing painful realities in photographs.

Parallel to the situation of Grace, the young indigenous Saturnina (Magaly Solier) introduces us to know the small town called Turubamba (the location is fictional for this movie, but the name belongs to a village in Ecuador) and their own tragedies. Saturnina plans to get married, but a mercury spill from the gold mines around the area has left most of Turubamba's people blind or close to death which compromises Saturina's plans. Her story and the struggles of the Turubamba village are presented as the main plot of the movie. In a somewhat surreal and lyrical way, Brosens and Woodworth show us a Latin America in which the indigenous traditions and beliefs are blended with Catholicism creating a unique culture. For example, Saturnina is the guard of the figure of the Virgin Mary and like her, all the people from the village attend to church and worship the saints. But simultaneously to the traditions acquired during the colonial period, they continue adoring the Sun, the Moon, Mother Nature, having rituals with corn, and speaking their own language, Quechua.

Saturnina's fiancee dies due to mercury poisoning. This event is a breakdown not only for Saturnina but for everyone concerned with Turubamba such as the mining companies and the doctors of the mission. The problem of the mining spills becomes sounder and people start protesting. Max (Oliver Gourmet), Grace's husband who was trying to investigate the causes of the poisoning with the rest of the medical crew dies accidentally during one of those protests. Overwhelmed with both casualties (her friend in Iraq and her partner in Turubamba), Grace travels to understand the situation in which Max died which was not recorded or reported anywhere. She finds Max's camera which contained a video of Saturnina's suicide. In the video, Saturnina leaves messages explaining her decision and the situation of her village. "Without images, there is no history" and "the mother Earth will never forgive our deed" are some of the shocking phrases that will remain in Grace's mind to help her find redemption.

Towards the end of the movie, the scenes are presented in black and white accompanied with sad music and shots of the faces of the indigenous killed by the contamination and their grieving families as a way to emphasize their feelings. The change in colour makes those moments more dramatic than the rest of the movie. The story does not go on relating the result of the protests for the mining or missions around, indeed, by the end of the movie those factors disappear completely leaving us only the images that reflect the feelings, the tragedy, and the fantasy of indigenous beliefs. Again like in other movies depicting Latin America, ecological problems and the struggles faced by minority groups seem to be the least important matter in the film. They are part of the movie just to propose plots that appeal to the audience for its realism.

Like in Gibson's "Apocalypto", Elliot's "The Debt", or even in the Zorro movies, the Latin American "real" drama is called to the screen with elements such as the language (Spanish or a native tongue), exploitation or the memories of it (resentments from colonization), and the combination of these with actual history of the region or of its people, especially of indigenous people.

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Friday, July 27, 2018


"Apocalypto" (2006) is an adventure and action movie directed by Mel Gibson which portrays the Mayan civilization myths and decline, and the oppressive rule it had over the surrounding indigenous communities. Gibson takes us to late pre-Columbian Mesoamerica where the Maya empire was located and anxiously waiting for the Apocalypto, a new era in their calendar that is marked with the arrival of the Spanish explorers. Thi movie shows us a different version of colonization which is imposed by the Mayas over smaller communities in Latin America, and which makes the European colonization seem nothing compared with the brutality of human sacrifices and manipulation practiced by the pre-Columbian empire.

The movie is filmed in is full-length in Mayan language and in the tropical jungle of Veracruz and Oaxaca, Mexico, where the community Zapotec developed before the Mayan conquest of their territories. Its plot is built up over myths and legends of the Zapotec culture and historical accounts of the Mayan civilization. The indigenous looking characters speaking ancestral languages, the historical plot, and the jungle and Mayan pyramid sets provide this movie with an extremely realistic atmosphere and a feeling that we are watching an "insider" point of view.

It all starts in the middle of the Mesoamerican rainforest in which a group of indigenous hunt the food for the whole village. With a couple of laughs arose from jokes about the marital life of one of the men, we know that Gibson tried to portray the "normal" life of an indigenous tribe of that time creating feelings of sympathy among the viewers. But then something strange and terrifying happens. Another tribe is migrating because its village has been destroyed. The encounter of the hunter with the tribe migrating in look for a "new beginning" (the meaning of the word Apocalypto) profoundly marks the life of Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) who fears the cause of the migration and the end of the world as he knows it. Then the action begins. Jaguar Paw's village is invaded and destroyed by warriors of the Mayan civilization who kill almost all the people and take prisoners the survivors, except for the children. In the middle of this tragic scene, the expressivity shown by the characters while praying to their Gods or accepting their destiny to connect with nature in the afterlife reinforces the imagination of a Latin America that suffers real struggles.

The plot is based on traditions, myths and prophesies of the Mayan culture. However, Gibson chooses only those controversial practices that will boost the drama and suspense of the movie. The most shocking scenes are the destruction of the villages to take war prisoners, the human sacrifice of men on the top of the pyramids, and the use of astrological knowledge by the leaders to manipulate people making them believe fearful of a false God, the sun. The anxieties of the people become stronger when a plague infests them and their crops which is understood by some as the beginning of the end (the Apocalypto), while for others it is just a call by the Gods to render more sacrifices. During one more of these sanguinary rituals, a solar eclipse takes place and it is translated by the shamans into the words of the God Sun that has heard the Mayan petitions after hundreds of sacrifices. This event saves Jaguar Paw to be the next sacrificed man. He manages to escape by getting into the jungle where no guns or fighting skills surpass ancestral knowledge of nature.

The persecuted Jaguar Paw comes back to the destroyed village where he hid his pregnant wife and son. The surviving Mayan soldiers that followed Jaguar to the coast are about to catch him, but the arrival of the Spanish ships steal their attention. Jaguar rescues his family and hides in the middle of the jungle to start "the new beginning".

Gibson portrays a part of Latin America that seems quite realistic. It is hard to think that the level of expressivity and historical accounts involve in this movie are not accurate. It is the same strategy Gibson used to screen the Passion of Christ. From the beginning, this movie divides indigenous into two groups: the good and the bad ones, the sanguinary Mayans and the peaceful jungle inhabitants. The division, however, projects more than the complex history of the Mayan civilization. The interpretation of indigenous culture and traditions portrayed in this movie supports the European colonization that aid by Catholicism, demonized practices such as human sacrifices to the Sun. By showing two different "types" of indigenous from what seems an insider point of view, this movie criticizes unacceptable traditions of a (un)civilized culture.

Apocalypto represents in the movie the end of the Mayan empire, but it is also the beginning of a new one when the Spanish arrived. In the last scene, we see the ships getting close to the Mesoamerican coast and it is when Jaguar Paw finally escapes and decides to hide in the jungle. Gibson finishes this adventure film with airs of a promising future, at least for those communities oppressed by the Mayans. The end is paternalistic towards the indigenous communities (Did they need help to survive the Mayan rule?) and reflects the coloniality of justifying in some extent the superiority of religion over indigenous beliefs and colonization itself. The depiction of indigenous practices as inhuman is implicitly contrasted to the imaginations of the audience when the Spanish ships appear on the screen. There is no need for a further development of the storyline that would include the establishment of colonies and overthrow of Empires in the Americas.

Latin America and its history (the myths, the culture, the traditions, and even the language) brings to the film industry the complexity and beauty necessary for creating a plot that is both realistic and fantastic at the same time. Apocalypto might convince its audience that the purpose is sharing the struggles lived by indigenous, even before the colonial period. And even though it does show events that are part of history, it only reaffirms imaginaries of implicit Western superiority that were once used to justify colonization.

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Tailor of Panama

"The Tailor of Panama" (2001) is a British movie directed by John Boorman. Based on a spy novel written by John le Carre and filmed almost in its majority in Panama, this movie satirizes the secret intelligence operations set by England and the United States to protect their unilateral interest in controlling the Panama Canal. Boorman's movie portrays some of the motivations and consequences of surveillance and military intervention in developing countries such as Panama by the Great Powers. Ironically, both England and the United States are victims of their own anxieties which make them create and also believe in conspiracy theories when in reality there is no reason for such, rather ridiculous fears.

The movie starts with a long shot that shows the huge bridge crossing over the Panama Canal with written descriptions about its importance, especially its security and economic value for the United States. The bridge is the only connection by land between North and South America, and since its control was handed over to the Panamanian government, the United States has kept an eye out for any possible threat that would shift its jurisdiction back to their hands to control South to North mobility, and the commerce in the area with all the world. In these circumstances, a British spy, Osnar (Pierce Brosnan) is sent to Panama to investigate the government's future plans and negotiations over the Canal. Once in Panama, Osnar contacts an ex-convict British, Harry (Geoffrey Rush), that has hidden his shameful past from his wife and became a well-known tailor (a talent that learned in prison) who is not only famous for dressing high-rank officials like the President, but also for knowing their secrets.

Convinced that the tailor knows important information about the Canal, Osnar blackmails him to become a spy in exchange for money and keeping his dark past in secret. The tailor has a huge debt to pay for which he accepts the deal. However, he discovers that there is nothing threatening the Canal's security. But Osnar insists in finding at least a little piece of information. It is then that Harry creates a whole conspiracy story in which supposedly Panama is in negotiations to sell the Canal control to China, Japan and Russia, and the United States secret intelligence wants to interfere. Harry gets his money without presenting any other proof than his own word. Osnar communicates this to the United Kingdom who decide to also fight for the Canal's control, but first, they need official documents to back up this senseless (but expected) rivalry. Boorman's portrayal of the tensions about controlling the Canal resembles the anxieties of the Cold War of the previous decade.

Once Osnar is totally aware that Harry's statements are just lies, he continues pushing the United Kingdom to intervene, but once the United States discovers what the UK has been working on, it gets impossible to keep lying. A fictional "silent opposition" (another of Harry's lies) against the United States is the perfect excuse Osnar needed to finally convince the government to act. Funding them to destroy the little influence the US has over the Canal will give them the advantage over the other countries interested. Of course, this "threat to American security" (though everything nothing takes place in the US) increases the anxieties to its peak. Suddenly, we see a large part of the US airforce, marine corps and politicians go to Panama to regain the missing star from the flag.

By the end of the movie, Harry and his wife who is the secretary for the office of the Canal affairs talk to the Panamanian president and England's ambassador to explain everything and.

Boorman shows as a Latin America that is really important for developed countries, not because of its beauty, its people, or the social problems that need to be addressed, but instead, it becomes the centre of attention only when the politics of its countries signify a threat for national security (in the case of the United States), or to take advantage of its strategic geography/resources. Ironically, we see that in the movie those "threats" are originated from uncertainty, fear and lies that confirm the initial suspicions. But on top of all, there is ambition. Even after knowing that the Canal is totally secure, they will make up stories taking them up to levels that could result in armed conflicts just to calm their thirst for power. We also see the contrast between the local people and foreign visitors or settlers. While an overwhelming number of poor Panamanians have become street-sellers, or work to entertain the tourist, all the characters are British or American and for them, Panama is the place of huge banks, nightclubs, resorts and good music.

"The Tailor of Panama" might be also a left-wing criticism to the international military campaign led by the US and its allies in which the US national security rhetoric is used to justify attacks in developing countries, while at the same time taking control of their resources, and influencing their politics. In this movie, Latin America becomes the perfect scenario for one more of these campaigns. Though the poverty is shown in the film, any country that takes control there, whether it is militarily, politically, or economically (or all) would increase its power and become a threat for others looking. Boorman ridiculizes the secret intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom and of the United States. What intelligence is there in looking for biased information that confirms what you want to believe and disregards whatever contradicts it?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Zorro-Disney Series (Season 1)

Zorro (1958) is a series created by the Walt Disney Company based on the stories of Johnson McCulley. Disney decides to continue the Zorro tradition that by the time has been going on for more than 30 years. Most of its direction is credited to Norman Foster, however, the series is a collaboration with other directors such as Lewis. R. Foster, Robert Stevenson, John Meredith Lucas, Charles Barton and Charles Lamont, who put together two seasons of about fifteen to twenty hours each, making this series the longest Zorro storyline in the tradition, and also the most popular one (at least before Bandera's interpretation of Zorro in 1998). Though of its popularity, this series continued to be cataloged among commercial B-movies, together with previous serial versions such as Republic Pictures' series. Though this series length requires creating more stories and additional characters which differ from the first Zorro movie, this incarnation of Zorro might be one of the most traditional ones and the closest to the original version since Johnston McCulley himself was involved in the development of the serial.

Norman Foster take us to the traditional time and location of McCulley's "The Curse of Capistrano". It is 1820 in the old Spanish California and Don Diego de la Vega (Guy Williams) has just arrived from his temporary stay in Spain to Los Angeles. Even before the ship gets to the pier, he and his mute assistant Bernardo (Gene Sheldon) are informed about the tyrannical government that Capitan Monastario has imposed to oppress the poor, the Indians, and the just blue-blooded aristocrats of the region. Don Diego believes that his duty as a loyal subject is to defeat all of the Crown's enemies, and to do so he will hide his intentions behind the mask of Zorro, while pretending to be a coward man interested only in literature and music in front of everyone else, even in front of his father Alejandro de la Vega (George J. Lewis). But he is not fighting alone. Bernardo who is also highly skilled at sword and whip fighting adopts a second identity to help his master (Bernardo pretends to be a silly deaf-mute instead of only mute but smart) and his fast and well-trained horse called Tornado will make of Zorro an invincible legend.

California is presented as a beautiful place to live in and to take advantage of for people around the world. Its location, resources, but also its instability as a colony of the Spanish empire after the Mexican emancipatory revolutions have attracted the most ambitious men who will try to use their influence to destroy anyone who steps on their way. Spanish occupying positions in the highest power hierarchies because of their names and appearance reflecting aristocratic or even royal ancestry become Don Diego/Zorro's nemeses. Don Diego, however, does not condemn the special privileges of being aristocrat or Spanish, neither he critiques colonialism. The problem arises when those are corrupted or lead to unacceptable treatment. What is acceptable or what is not is obviously determined by the elites, thus things like increasing taxes for the poor and the rich is considered unjust, but making indigenous work without any pay for the church's missions or as servants in the aristocrat's houses are seen as not only as just, but they are the necessary means to guide the Indians towards civilization.

A plot in support of European elitism is a characteristic of the traditional Zorro movies because of the period in which it takes place when Spain had legitimate control over California. However, in this series, the underlining "good" social constructions imposed on Californians by the Crown are challenged as the storyline goes on, and the elites (like the De la Vega family) will use their powerful influence to protect and differentiate their Californian from Spain.

Don Diego opposes the enemies of the Crown, but on top of it, as Zorro, he fights in the name of California, even if this means breaking the conventions of his aristocratic class and of his Spanish roots. During the first quarter of season one, Zorro fights the corrupted Captain Monasterio, but after defeating him, new threats appear to destroy the beauty and wealth of California, and the tranquillity of its people. These new enemies are each time people closer in the hierarchy to the Crown and those conflicting loyalties develop in Zorro and in all people of the village a stronger feeling of patriotism but not towards Spain, but towards California. The Californio identity rises as Zorro also become part of California's cultures through legends and songs. While children dress up like Zorro fighting with swords made out of wood, Zorro, the De la Vega family and many other Californian aristocrats get ready to go on a civil war against those trying to destabilize the peace of Los Angeles and the rest of California. Soon they will realize that the enemy is the appointees of the Crown themselves.

The last part of the first season tells us a lot about the construction of the Californio identity which becomes more visible because of the tensions of a possible civil war. The Californio identity and patriotism appear as the civil war creates a sense of "otherness" towards the foreigner. Interestingly, the dual identity of Don Diego/Zorro seems to fade away under these circumstances making Don Diego act as Zorro without the need of wearing the mask to cover his face. He starts to get more involved in the matters of California's governance, he tricks and fights his enemies, and he opposes injustice, whether this comes from criminals or if this part of the Spanish law. The Californio identity is also defined in relation to other identities. Though that in many aspects such as in culture and traditions California is a mix of Spain and Mexico, Californians consider themselves totally different from both. This is especially true after we start hearing about the Mexican independence war. From here Disney made clear that California is not part of those newly independent Mexican states mentioned in the series. And despite the fact that people know they are subjects of the Spanish King, the attempts to control and exploit the people and resources by every Spanish that arrives in Los Angeles will soon make all Californians remove the "Spanish" from Spanish Californio when referring to themselves. One thing can be clear, California might separate itself from the Mexicanidad, but it cannot escape its own Latin American essence.

One of the additions Norman Foster made to the original Zorro storyline is introducing the character of "The Eagle". Like Zorro, the Eagle has a second identity. During the day he is Jose Sebastian Varga, the new California's Magistrado, but at night he becomes the Eagle, a far-right wing Galindo that wants to re-built Spain's lost grandeur. For that, the Eagle will try to take control of California and sell it to other countries such as England, France, and Russia. England and France retire their offers when they realize that Varga lied about the state of California, but the Russian count retires only after he knows the people cannot be contained even with force.

This first part of the Disney Zorro portrays California in interesting ways. For the language and the culture, it perfectly fits under the Latin American umbrella, but at the same time, Californians have developed a totally different identity. Zorro is the personification of that identity and its evolution. We see that as the threats against California become sounder with the civil war, the courage and mobility characteristic of Zorro (performance of Latino personality) show up not only in the unmasked Don Diego but in all the patriotic people trying to defend California, from the richest to the poorest. California/Latin America is as well the scenario in which different countries expose their weaknesses and strengths. We see a Europe in decay trying to take control of California because of its gold, its haciendas, its wine, and everything that makes it seem like a paradise. We are also exposed to the idea of a growing Mexico approaching with its revolutionary ideas, the fear of the little left from Spain in California.

Like other Zorro incarnations, the plot of Disney Zorro implicitly projects events in history and its effect on Hollywood. Douglas Fairbanks' Zorro provided Latin America and California with a hero right after the Great War. This renewed Zorro appears after the Second World War after which European countries became dependant on The U.S wealth, just like it happens in this series, though California is not considered part of the United States yet.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Zorro: Generation Z

Zorro: Generation Z (2006) is a short animated series directed by Chris Evans that recount the adventures of futuristic Zorro/Diego de la Vega. This incarnation introduces us to the Scarlet Whip/Maria Martinez, another hero inspired in Zorro (sharing a lot of similarities with the 1944 Black Whip). Both superheroes fight using high-technology weapons against Maria's father, the corrupt Mayor Martinez, who has no idea about her second identity. This animation is remade into the movie Zorro: Return to the Future one year later keeping the same characters, but adding to the plot an explanation of how this Don Diego becomes a hero, after finding out about previous Zorro generations in his family, which is not clarified in this series. Zorro now looks more like a modern superhero: his costume is bulletproof, fights to stop crime, and his fights are tracked and endorsed by the media.

In the fictional city called Pueblo Grande, Zorro and Black Whip fight with robots while trying to unveil each other's identity behind masks. But not only them have a second personality. Sometimes Bernardo (Diego's mute assistant) takes Zorro's mask, cape and motorcycle called Tornado (like the traditional black horse) and fights crime when Diego gets injured or when there is a threat of discovering Diego's secret. It seems that with technology there is no need to skill or swordfight practice to become Zorro. Bernardo has managed to even insert voice simulation into Zorro's costume to fake his identity. And thus Bernardo turns into a superhero as well.

If we look at the many different plots made about Zorro, there is tradition and addition. As the list of Zorro movies adds up, we see a repetition of certain aspects such as the fight for justice, the dialogues with few words in Spanish that remind us of the history of the village and Zorro's aristocratic ascendance, among other details. But there is also an addition of new elements. Some of them are part of a particular Zorro movie, and other innovations stay as part of an updated tradition. In the Republic series, and then in the Disney series, Zorro is multiplied and the dual identity characteristic is not seen only in him, but it is displaced on other characters, especially on his enemies, or in Zorro replicas. Here again, this resource is used almost in every episode. Bernando dresses up like Zorro and Maria is also the Scarlet Whip, but in addition, Diego's cousin also pretends to be Zorro, which leaves us with three Zorros, something seen in previous incarnations.

In the list of the additions for this unconventional plot for a Zorro movie, modernity stands out. Modernity, on one hand, has allowed people like Zorro to become more efficient fighting injustice with the technological advancements. On the other hand, it has changed almost totally the geopolitics in which the story of Zorro takes place. Clearly, this Pueblo Grande location of the movie has nothing to do with Latin America or old California. With no need to mentioning it, we know that this Pueblo Grande is a city in the United States, though most of the characters' names are in Spanish and sometimes they speak in Spanish. Pueblo Grande is also a city with lots of immigrants and interestingly, those are the ones causing the most trouble. Zorro fights against an Italian mafia gang, and Sergeant Garcia with his strong Mexican accent, appearance, and attitude (lazy and always eating cake and burritos) could be easily pointed as a foreigner among the rest. Zorro, however, does not fall into this category though we know about his origin from previous movies. He is not a foreign hero, or at least he is not one coming from south of the border.

Towards the end of the movie, Zorro's enemies are harder to destroy since they have discovered how to hack Zorro's technology. Then Diego decides to come back to the old Zorro costume, with the sword and whip used by his ancestors. Though that without technology it is almost impossible for Diego de la Vega to be an undestroyable hero (the old costume requires from him to use his own abilities), he successfully finishes his last battle.

What does this movie tell us about generations of Zorro to come? Will future Zorros renounce to their Latino identities and become more American-like in name of modernity? In the movies about old California, Zorro was known for protecting Indians and local people in poverty from the elitist exploitation imposed by the Spanish royals. But now that we are presented with a futuristic version of Zorro in which there is not a single trace left of the colonial period other than Spanish sounding names. We do not see priests or Mexican indigenous like in the traditional stories (though we do see a native American woman who is Diego's aunt), and thus there is no exploitation against them for which Zorro's fight is not to protect indigenously (and hardly ever is seen protecting the poor) but he fights crime in general, more like what a Marvel superhero would do.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Zorro: Return to the Future

The animated film Zorro: Return to the Future (2007), directed by Stuart Evans, relates the adventures of a new Zorro (sometime in the future), this time helped by high technology and an equally skillful partner called Scarlet Whip. Instead of a sword, Zorro is equipped with a laser weapon in the form of a Z that works equally as sword, whip, or a laser shotgun as needed. And instead of riding the traditional black horse, this new generation Diego de la Vega rides a purple motorbike.

The movie is a spin-off from the series Zorro: Generation Z (2006), whose animation is identical to this one and which likewise presents Zorro and Scarlet Whip in a futuristic scenario. However, the movie provides a back-story to explain how Diego became Zorro, which is not a part of the series.

Diego de la Vega is a rich guy from Pueblo Grande city. He spends his family's money buying expensive toys like cars and bikes. He also has a personal assistant of the same age as his who is dumb, like the servant of McCulley's Spanish Californian Don Diego. His deceased grandfather, the Diego de la Vega of a previous generation, leaves a note for young Diego introducing him to the legend of Zorro which was carefully kept as a secret from Diego's dad, Alejandro de la Vega. In a hidden cave under his house, Diego finds the tools of all the previous Zorros, including swords and whips. "Every generation has a Diego, and so every generation has a Zorro," young Diego's grandfather had told him as a kid while relating Zorro's fairytales and legends.

Evans uses several of the resources of previous Zorro movies. He takes inspiration from "Zorro's Black Whip" to create the character of Scarlet Whip. Just like the Black Whip, Scarlet Whip is a female hero with a mask and a whip inspired by Zorro, but she is a totally different hero. Although the plot of this animation seems to be much further away from the old California to be developed in the future and combine previous incarnations of Zorro in one, there are many returns to base elements of the established tradition. It is then repeated names and very familiar stories of past occasions. Diego de la Vega fighting to remove the corrupt Mayor Martinez from power. Martinez helped by an incompetent Sergeant Garcia who is now presented with a strong Mexican accent and spends most of his time eating.

The repetition of characters and their names are explicit (although with the futuristic touch that predominates throughout the plot). But it is not a simple repetition of the original story. In addition to returning to the name Diego de la Vega and showing that this is one of a number of generations of Zorro, Evans has borrowed characters from incarnations of this hero that are very particular. In this movie the plurality that was seen in Blasco's Three Swords of Zorro since just like that movie, this animation shows us three Zorros, two men (one Diego de la Vega, the second is the dumb assistant Bernardo) and a woman (Scarlet Whip) which adds on to the complexity that is already present in masked heroes' dual identities.

So beyond the laser weapons, motorcycles, cars, and planes, Zorro: Return to the Future is hardly as innovative as one expects it to be from its title. Moreover, Zorro's motivations are not futuristic at all. There are the same problems of government corruption, and the poor are still poor (this time living in shelters). What has changed is the geographical situation. Pueblo Grande is a city named in Spanish, and a few words in Spanish are heard throughout the movie, but the reasons for this are unclear unless the audience has some prior knowledge of the Zorro tradition.

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Friday, July 06, 2018

The Legend of Zorro

Once again Antonio Banderas puts on the mask and takes the sword and whip to play the role of Zorro in this new film directed by Martin Campbell. "The Legend of Zorro" (2005) is a sequel of Campbell's 1998 "The Mask of Zorro" starring Banderas as Alejandro de la Vega and Zorro, and Zeta-Jones as Elena, Alejandro's wife and Zorro's fighting partner. They both fight together for the freedom and peace of California, but also for their ten-year-old kid who knows nothing about their secret identities.

Visually, the movie has a lot to give. Though it takes place in the 1850's pre-statehood California, the airs of modernity are easily perceived. Modernity promises to come from the Northen Union. There are big explosions, and the threat of a conspiracy to destroy the country that has taken Europe's post in leading the world, the United States. With these modifications, Campbell tries to transform Zorro in a real Hollywood-like superhero, a legend. In contrary to previous movies where Zorro protects the Spanish rule (the problem is not colonialism, but corruption within it), here he is a populist leader accepted by the people and the government who carries out the wishes of Californians of becoming finally free from exploitation by joining the US. Though the movie points out that the exploitation is coming from the aristocratic elites in California, it is not clear whether these aristocrats are from Mexico, Europe, or America.

At the end of the movie, Zorro and Elena disclose their secret identities to their son whose latino blood has taken him to act as a little Zorro, even before it was revealed to him that his father was the masked swordsman. He jumps around, fights with rulers (instead of swords), and speaks a bit of Spanish like Zorro would do. Latin America is in his blood. The three of them fight together until California finally joins the Union.

Zorro movies portray California's colonial and post-colonial history, directly or indirectly. Campbell shows the process of California's Americanization, however, in this movie he rewrites history to make it more American friendly. It presents a unanimous agreement from all Californians, rich and poor, indigenous or aristocrat criollos, to become American, which in reality required a civil war.

Even though all Zorro incarnations are influenced by McCulley's stories, each director portrays the justice Zorro fights for in their own way. Campbell's interpretation of Zorro and his sense of justice (in the previous movie but even more in this one) are completely different from the established film tradition surrounding Zorro. What Campbell has maintained from McCulley's original stories is only the character of Zorro, his bravery, his Spanish aristocratic ancestry, and his solidarity with the Catholic church and indigenous people. But Zorro has abandoned his devotion to the Spanish Crown as an aristocrat, and his interest for Latin American identity of Mexican California of the old Latino Zorro. America symbolizes true justice and freedom. Freedom from what? Not even once Mexico is mentioned in the movie's portrayal of civil war. It is like California passed directly from being a colony of Spain to democratically decide to join the United States. And whoever opposes to that decision is an enemy of democracy and modernity.

Nevertheless, this fictional depiction of California's history does tell us something about Hollywood's opinion of the complex demographics of the state. It is difficult to generalize Californians' ancestry. Are they Mexicans, Europeans, or Americans? Like Zorro, Californians are all and none at the same time. It is precisely that complexity and openness which makes California a fascinating place, but also a weak point for the otherwise collective identity of the United States.


Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Many Faces of Zorro

"The Many Faces of Zorro" (2002) is a documentary directed by Brett Ellis about the filming tradition in Zorro movies throughout time. This documentary contains three sections. First, there is a summary of the different versions and characters behind the mask of Zorro since its creation in McCulley's comic-like, Californian adventure stories, to the latest (at that time) incarnation in Campbell's "The Mask of Zorro" (1998). Second, Ellis interviews the stars of Codwall's Zorro: Caroline Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins, and Antonio Banderas; additionally, there are interviews to few actors and actresses of previous Zorro versions such as Linda Stirling from Zorro's Black Whip and Britt Lomond from the Zorro Disney series. And third, Ellis includes two interviews with sword and whip choreographers who explain the importance of those instruments in history and in Zorro movies.

Appart from being a documentary about Zorro, it is a documentary about "The Mask of Zorro". According to the research made for this documentary, the stories of Zorro were widely popular since its first appearance on screen with Douglas Fairbanks acting as the dual-identity hero. With the time many other producers found the potential of Zorro's character and its versatility to inspire new stories with the same, or new heroes that were basically imitations of Zorro. Nevertheless, none of those reincarnations of Zorro reached the popularity McCulley's writings had. That seemed to have changed with the Zorro Disney series. With a bigger budget, talented actors, and under the Disney slogan, Zorro became one of the favourite TV shows of a Saturday morning. All previous or future movies about the masked legend stayed under the shadow of Fairbanks for being the first or Disney for its fame. But there it comes Ellis' Zorro, the promise of reviving the old Californian hero and take him finally to the big screens of Hollywood.

Why did a hero that has been incarnated more times than we can count take so long to arrive at the big screens? For Ellis, Campbell movie is the final and necessary come back to the traditional Spanish Californian Zorro that helps the less fortunate. History and tradition kept Zorro stories alive, but relegated to low-budget production, to easily forgotten weekend matinee series, or to inspire imitations of new invincible superheroes that over the years have lost almost every connection to their father, Zorro. Ellis tracks and shows those connections of the most famous Hollywood superheroes such as Superman, Spiderman, Captian Marvel, Batman, among others, with the original stories written by McCulley. All of them emerged from the Spanish and later the Mexican California popular legends and reflect its history of struggles for decolonization and national independence. And each new modification in the plot again reflects a period of instability or conflict. Lots of Zorro movies are produced after wars or are about wars.

Through interviews with sword and whip choreographers we introduced to the history behind the use of those instruments and their importance for the Zorro movies plots. Just like dialogues in Spanish remind us of California's past as part of Mexico, swords and whips create a permanent attachment between any Zorro movie, and colonial Latin America, especially with Mexico and the Spanish rule of California before becoming part of the United States.

But more importantly, Zorro and the performative nature that is deeply-rooted in the duality of the character (one actor performing the roles of two different characters) say a lot about what is acting itself. Since its beginnings, Zorro's double personality was used by Douglas Fairbanks to demonstrate and promote his acting skills on screen. This is the case as well in The Mask of Zorro. From learning how to use the sword and whip as Spaniards would use them, to pretending to be a romantic Latino in Banderas case (as an actor), or an aristocrat when he is the peasant son-on-law to-be of Don Diego de la Vega (as Alejandro de la Vega character).

Though we have become more familiar with the repetition of heroes hiding second identities, Zorro is by essence different. It carries in itself the origins of those new masked heroes. It portrays Latin America's history from the colony to how we know it today. It is a reflection of California's evolution and transitions out of Latin America to being an American state. And it is the display of character appropiation in acting, making the viewer forget that is seeing Banderas, de la Vega, and Zorro at the same time, instead we are convinced of being seeing one at the time.

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