Friday, October 15, 2010

A discussion on the film "Machete"

On Machete (Rodriguez, 2010)

When my best friend asked if I'd seen Machete yet, I didn't really think twice.  She loves gore and action, so a Rodriguez film is right up her ally.  I replied, "no, haven't seen it..why?"  She then proceeded to explain that the film's main character is a day laborer and that they basically fight anti-immigrant people who I gathered were based on the Minute Men.  She also said that Michelle Rodriguez was in it and super hot and revolutionary.  I was floored.  A movie that actually portrayed day laborers?  And not as some joke?  I had to see it.  After watching it once in the theatre with a friend in the immigrant's rights/AB540 movement, and having the best experience in a theatre I had in a while (i.e. sudden urges to yell at the screen, laugh inappropriately loudly, and exchange knowing glances with said friend) I knew I wanted to write a blog about it.  But I hesitated because I wanted to get input from at least one day laborer.  Finally, one night it just perfectly worked out-my brother and his friend, also both  immigrant's rights activists, stopped by to hang out and I asked them if they had seen the film.  They had my same reaction, not knowing the film's premise, thus being disinterested.  Once I told them they had me look up showtimes immediately and we found a screening at the Drive-In Theatre in Montclair.  I suggested we bring Jose and the next thing I knew we were all sharing popcorn on a blanket in front of the big screen.  The experience differed for Jose partially because At times I had to translate dialogue, but generally the film is so exaggerated and action-filled that it was obvious what was happening.  Other than that, watching the three of them watch the film was super enjoyable because the movie depicts some cool shit.  For example:

1. A badass, impossible to kill, quasi-mythical character who is a day laborer
2. Said character is played by Danny Trejo, a former drug addict and convict who became a film and television actor, but usually as the villain and never the lead role
3. The film revolves around corrupt, anti-immigrant politicians (um, hello Joe Arpaio..) and "border vigilantes" (hello minute men) basically waging a civil war against undocumented people
4. The leader of the "revolution" on the side of the immigrants is a woman!  Michelle Rodriguez plays Shé, a female homage to Che Guevara, but in a cool, mythicized, taco truck vending, border crossing assisting kind of way
5. The film portrayed hilarious tropes and stereotypes that only people who live in states which border Mexico could understand.  Pachucas, low riders, hydrolics, paleteros, minute men, day laborers, taco trucks, "homies," and loads of culturally Catholic paraphenalia littered the screen as what felt like inside jokes for those of us that got them
6. Cheech Marin was in the movie!  After Born in East LA (Marin, 1987), Cheech's film that parodied the high occurrences of deportation of Mexican-American US citizens at the time and ended in an all out charge of the border, he has been high on my list of cool media makers.  
7. The existence of a "network" of workers, documented and undocumented, who all communicated and supported one another.

 But the movie was also super exploitative.  It began as a hilarious fake preview between Rodriguez's and Tarantino's Grindhouse (2007) double feature, Planet Terror and Deathproof, respectively.  It was meant to complement the nouveau-"B" movies  and be a spoof of 70's exploitation films.  But because it received such positive feedback (partially because of the preview's mention of Arizona, which was the center of controversy over SB1070 at the time) Rodriguez made it feature length.  Some problematic (And yes, I know that the over-exaggeration is meant to be a joke, but parody still perpetuates what it is parodying) features of the film were:

1. The sexualization and sexual exploitation of ALL the women in the film.  The white women, the nurses, the ICE agent, and Shé were all treated as sexual objects by the camera angles, the characters, and their secondary character statuses to the roles of the men.  And this might seem obvious, but huge breasts, tiny waists, big butts, flawless skin, and long flowing hair describes every female character. 
2. The extreme and graphic violence.  Did you watch it? I'll give you a hint: intestine.
3. "The revolution" ended after the minute men/network battle
4. Lindsay Lohan.  I don't care what role she played, this movie was too badass to let her be a part of it
5. Machete's lack of politicization. Sleeping with an ICE agent? Ew.
6. The cringeworthy scene where Jessica Alba's character  Sartana gives a speech to the day laborers and says "we didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!"  This is messed up for many reasons. a) Ms. Alba has made comments in the past that she doesn't know why everyone refers to her as Latina b) This is the first time she has played a Latina role c) Her character is an ICE agent.  When did she become part of the "us" that the border crossed?  d) She is not cool enough to say that classic immigrants rights tagline 
e) The scene seems out of place-Luz/Shé is the revolutionary,  Sartana is not even close

And something I'm ambivalent about: Steven Seagal as a Mexican drug lord.  Feeling weird about the brownface and Seagal's Spanish, but then liking the dying scene.  So funny.

The conversation I filmed was the second segment as my brother, his friend, Jose, and I had a good talk in the car on the way home and then my friend came and I taped round 2.  There was a lot to say, but I chose 5 minutes of some of my favorite critiques from the over-an-hour worth of footage I captured.  

As a positive addendum to my critique of the body sizes of the female characters, I would like to share some re-imaginings of Shé  and  Sartana by a talented Long Beach artist named Julio Salgado from a series he calls "Chubby Girl Art" in which he makes famous women "chubby." 

Luz/ Shé 

  I hope you like the discussion and please, if you haven't seen Machete, watch it and comment!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Una Mirada a los Invisibles

Video Essay: Una Mirada a los Invisibles

The assignment was to show visual culture and as filmmakers we were to work within communities with whom we were already working.  For this reason I thought of the jornaleros (day laborers) I teach English and computers to on the a local street corner.

Near the end of the film, one of the jornaleros who I will just call Jose, asks me why I am interviewing them.  I found the question a little uncomfortable, which is what I was hoping for. Filming a population that is in constant danger if made visible is a tricky thing, and though many of the guys were happy to help me just because we trusted each other, being asked “why are you filming us?” is a more than appropriate question.  Of course I had explained to everyone by email and in person what the project was, and Jose already knew, but asking me again I believe was his way of reminding me that (whether I was holding the camera at the time or not) was indeed filming them.  By answering, I was literally “writing” my thesis statement, but instead of placing it at the beginning so the audience knows what I am attempting to convey I placed it at the end.  I am then reversing the standard essay form and explaining my intent as a filmmaker which erases or at least influences the interpretive possibilities.  This will challenge “readers” to “see” what they saw, see my intent as the filmmaker, and to question my privilege along with the subjects in the film.

Aside from the form change, creating a visual essay rather than a written one enabled me to create something to be shared among a wider audience.  This is one way that the theory is able to turn into practice.  This video can be used for educational purposes or promotional purposes (i.e. volunteer recruitment), and the actual act of making the film created a dialogue among the corner community.  Were this to be a written essay, even if it were in Spanish, it would only be accessible to those who speak the language of academia.  This video, being in English and Spanish, can be shared with a larger population of people.  Another thing about making a video essay rather than a written essay is that it is a lot of work, but the work is very different.  In being different, I was motivated to learn in a fresh sort of way.  Putting this video together has already given me incredible appreciation for film form and peaked my interest in being more playful the next time around.  

Catching the uncomfortable was an important part of capturing the humanity of all of us.  Just as Jose made me uncomfortable, I believe I made who I will call Pancho uncomfortable when I talked about sexual harassment, and our interaction is meant to make the viewers feel a twinge of something as they wonder what will happen when he defensively says he wasn’t trying to make me uncomfortable when he called me pretty and when he brushes off sexism meanwhile taking racism seriously. 

Though I explained the concept of the video to the guys, the conversations were organic and I took a lot of footage to be able to select the parts of conversations which were appropriate for the film.  Many times I asked questions expecting certain answers and was reminded that this is a naive method of research.  For example when I asked one of the men if he feels that he is in a community, I was expecting him to talk about the jornalero community, the immigrant community, or something like that and he instead saw community as the dominant and himself as on the outside.  His answer was a teaching moment and forced me to think about the terms we use in grad school and the meanings attached to them "on the outside." 

The title of my film was created by Jose, as he is a poet.  It literally means “a look at the invisible.”  The title is the thesis, in short.  However, the title doesn’t quite convey my role as subject in front of the camera.  As I stated in the film I am sometimes too visible, and my presence as a filmmaker is also visible.  However, the title is also about power-the truly invisible character which we attempted to make visible in this movie. One may literally and corporally see the men and me: see our gender expressions, the color of our skins, interpret our class positions.  But what I hope to bring “into the visible” is the power relations that decide these divisions.  As one of the (anonymous) men said in the movie: we as human beings all feel the same emotions, “the same pain,” and ending these divisions would ultimately mean ending the power structures which aim to victimize and separate us. 

After "finishing" the film it went through a series of peer reviewers (Dr. Juhasz and a Pitzer professor) and I ended up making several edits and moving footage around.  Since my brother, his partner and I invited Jose to see Machete (for another blog post I'm ruminating on) I showed the video essay to Jose afterward and asked him what he thought about it.  He thought it was very interesting and was adamant about taking all my footage and all the other footage that people have taken over the years and making a documentary and we had a long talk about the complicatedness of making a film for a a wider audience.  I included footage of his viewing practice and his reception to indicate the participatory and consensual nature of the film as well as the agency of the subjects.  I just hope that the setting-change isn't too distracting.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Visibility pensamientos

"...and that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength." Audre Lorde

When i was thinking about my visual project and my thesis of visibility vs. invisibility I thought of the famous Audre Lorde quote listed above.  I emailed my brother, my most trusted translator, and asked about translating her quote in the best way for my video on the guys.  Instead of translating it he said he wasn't sure that the quote really applied to the jornaleros in the way it applied to queer women of color (whom Audre was referring to).  I thought about this and just kind of dropped it.  Then tonight I saw a woman who is running the queer women of color collective I am interning with post the same quote on facebook and it made me think more about the difference between being "visible" as an undocumented person (which to a large percentage of the population makes you a criminal and/or a terrorist) and being "visible" as a person of color or  queer or a person with one breast (which Audre also theorizes about in terms of visibility), or being a woman.  I have a dear friend who was running a very respectable, political and highly artistic website consisting solely of videos of AB540 students "coming out," becoming visible, showing their faces, revealing their names and their legal statuses.  In this case, Ms. Lorde's quote can work; the students are politicizing themselves by making themselves visible and fearlessly confronting the risk of being "outed."  In the case of the men that I filmed however, my intent is to show them representing themselves and being visible while not putting them at any risk by revealing their names, legal statuses or locations.  So though I agree with my brother about the quote not applying in this particular case, I think it can apply to undocumented people whose visibility makes them incredibly vulnerable, but whose fearlessness can inspire and motivate people in ways that those who have the privilege of not being at risk just by existing can not.