Friday, August 10, 2018

Zorro-Disney Series (Season 2)

Guy Williams is back in this second chapter of the Disney Zorro series. The first season was a total success. Disney commercialized the character creating a hero for the children of the 50's and 60's with costumes, toy swords, shows presenting Guy Williams himself (as Don Diego and as Zorro), and placing this Zorro production among the top places in the endless list of interpretations about Spanish-California and the masked fencer. Thus, the continuation of Zorro appears not only as a development of the series storyline, but it is also a response to an audience for which Zorro become nationally (and internationally) known.

Season one ended with the defeat of the Eagle and the uprising of the people to fight a civil war against the enemies of the Crown. Without the Eagle trying to take control of California, Zorro and his followers would turn their swords, their guns, and most importantly, their aristocratic influence to help the already decaying Spain. Thus we are taken to the southern coast of California, Monterey, a city which port welcomes ships from Spain bringing its people and war issues, and taking back California's resources to fund the waves of independence from the Crown resulting from the Napoleonic Wars.

Monterey is very different to Los Angeles. Its people, its culture and traditions have a lot of similarities with Mexico (Los Angeles, instead, resembles something really close to a Spanish village which is the principal attraction for Spanish to settle). In the central plaza, poor peons gather to sell tamales and ponchos, to sing mariachis and dance rancheras. And of course, Zorro will defend them from those powerful men that do not accept their Spanish-less appearance and personality. Theresa (Barbara Luna), a tamale peddler, is one of the characters that depicts the fascinating Mexican/Latino identity that in the film is proper of peons, poor, and indigenous and that Zorro apparently wants to protect and embrace. The debate about what kind of people belongs or doesn't to California is seen when a new governor is sent from Spain to Monterey. His first orders are to get rid of the peddlers' tents installed in the plaza because they distort the image of the colony that Spain expects to see. Diego de la Vega argues that the peons and peddlers deserve to be in the plaza because their families (and their properties) belonged to California even before the Spanish conquest. They are subjects of the Crown, but also Californian like everybody else. This argument is quite similar to the one made in favour of Mexican-Americans living in California nowadays, however in the film, it is clearly expressed that those peons are not Mexican.

Though the signifiers built since the beginning of the series are maintained consistently in this second part (for example same main characters, same Zorro with a romantic and courageous latino personality), there are unexpected changes that make this new story to continue on a path different to what we see in the first part, and in the Zorro tradition as a whole. The first difference is the location, but Bernardo, Alejandro de la Vega, and Sargent Garcia follow helping to keep the continuity of the plot. Zorro also finds Phantom, a new white horse faster than Tornado. Zorro, like Phantom, seems faster and stronger. He is even a better lover with more than one falling in love with him. Those changes are small and superficial, but before going back to Los Angeles, a very important change is made. Alejandro de la Vega reveals that he always knew his son is Zorro. How can Diego's father be the only one that noticed Zorro's secret? Perhaps everyone knows, but keep it secret. And perhaps that is also a part of what conforms the Californio identity, protecting Zorro at all cost and pretending to know nothing. The series does not account for this, but from then on, Alejandro de la Vega joins his son and Bernardo to plan Zorro's next appearances.

What else can be included to keep the interest in a long series like this one? How else can Disney satisfy its audience?

The director Norman Foster innovates this Zorro with a faster horse, but he also alludes to globalization depicting people arriving in California for more places than Europe or Russia as seen in the first season. We see South Americans, Chinese and an American. However, not all of them are seen in the same way. In the previous season, we saw people from Europe and Russia going to California to buy it or exploit it. The South Americans arrive as well to take advantage of California's richness. Spanish people even deeper in poverty and crisis arrive pretending to be powerful to settle in "the land of opportunity" where they can become hacienda and winery holders. This creates insecurity among Californians regarding foreigners but looks like Americans and Chinese are different. Neither of them looks for richness in California. The Chinese were kidnapped and taken into a ship that stopped in California. He is accused to be an assassin and robber, but in reality, he is a rich prince. The American, on the other hand, crossed the border by mistake in a day of work walking in the mountains.

The presence of the American in Los Angeles intrigues the people, especially women and those against foreigners getting in the state. Joe Crane (Jeff York) is an American mountain man that only wants to go back to work after resting some time. He is surprisingly strong, intelligent, and honest. "Americans are so different!" says Carlotta (Jean Wiles), the waitress of Los Angeles' pub referring to Joe when he peacefully leaves California back to the US after he recovers his belongings. This, however, is the only time we see something or hear about the United States.

In the first part of this series, McCulley's influence was evident with characters that were since the beginning part of his written stories, and of course in the construction of a plot that is intrinsically political (and colonial), but most of all, of Californian history. The second season maintains lots of commonalities with the first part. The most important characters like Zorro/Don Diego de la Vega, Bernardo, and Sargent Garcia, continue being part of every additional episode. However, Disney modifications of the story with of new characters and a new plot would gradually transform the traditional Zorro created by McCulley to something more similar to a modern superhero that fights delinquency, instead of fighting for social justice by protecting the poor and indigenous. The crime fight is simultaneously accompanying by the protection of the rising Californio identity that we saw coming in the previous season. The threats Zorro faces to protect California are not considered internal, but they all come with foreigners, from the Old Continent, and from South America. However, what comes from the North (the United States) and from the East (China) is different.

The Disney Zorro series brings lots of different elements to the traditional Zorro story. Though that in terms of scenography and characters it is close to McCulley's Zorro (he was directly involved in the filmmaking process), the development of the episodes, especially in the later ones, responds to an American audience and projects the climate lived in the 50's and 60's (after the Second World War) in California and in the world (from a Us perspective). What can be extracted from the series underlying messages is a California rising strong and as a sanctuary for the Mexican-American and Latin American community, but also sceptical about other foreigners (non-American Mexicans, the rest of Latin America, and the rest of the world, but the US); a Europe declining and constantly trying to put its hands on a place as lucrative and beautiful like California; a rising China moving towards the West; and a hero that gradually leaves the social fights behind to fight other crimes, like the current Hollywood superheroes.


Friday, August 03, 2018

Thirteen Days

"Thirteen Days" (2000) is a historical and political thriller movie directed by Roger Donaldson. It recounts the situation lived within the White House in 1962 when the United States discovered Soviet missiles in Cuba starting what it is known in history as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Donaldson movie is named after Robert F. Kennedy's book about the crisis, but the plot is based in the book "The Kennedy Tapes" written by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow. Both sources provide this movie with the facts but in addition to the Kennedy brothers that are part of previous portrayals of this historical event, Donaldson includes Kenneth P. O'Donnell (Kevin Costner) as a new main character which brings out to the plot a family drama happening outside the government.

The movie goes over the political atmosphere and decisions made during JFK's presidency after the US aerial surveillance discovers USSR missiles installed in the Cuban island that could potentially reach most of the United States. The plot emphasizes the US-USSR relations to disarm Cuba. While John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood), Robert F. Kennedy (Steven Culp), and O'Donnell try to negotiate the removal of the missiles through non-violent approaches rejecting any military attack, the USSR continues the occupation breaking every single agreement made with the US government to back off. Finally, JFK, RFK, and O'Donnell successfully mediate the end of what seemed like the beginning of Third World War by promising the withdrawal of the US troops in Turkey six months after their agreement.

Though the movie is all about the Cuban missile crisis, Donaldson clearly shows that Cuba and its politics were the least important aspect to deal with. The tensions of this event are between the United States and the USSR as any other matter during the Cold War, portraying the Latin American country as merely a puppet working for the USSR interests. During the film, very few times we see an opinion on behalf of the Cuban government, like the character of Raul Castro talking in a UN general meeting, or the people supporting Cuba, such as demonstrations outside the White House with posters asking for peace and freedom of Cuba. The most important scenes are when representatives of the USSR speak, and of course, when the US demonstrate that the threat is real.

"Thirteen Days" is produced almost thirty years after the missile crisis depicting the event highly threatening in which the United States was the closest to losing the Cold War. This movie is released during a period in which the anxieties experienced during the Cuban Missile Crisis are reawakened. The end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century are marked with a new wave of international tensions (mini-Cold Wars) and proxy wars in which the United States and Russia (former USSR) are directly or indirectly involved. Cuba like any other Latin American country becomes a problem for national security if its politics are manipulated against the United States. However, Donaldson portrays a United States with strong beliefs on non-violent intervention (which was not by the time this movie was made). Perhaps, this is a reminder that even in the worst case scenario the United States could ever face, a warlike response should be the last resource.

Labels: ,