Sunday, May 18, 2014

¡Viva Zapata!

I'd seen a fuzzy video version of this before and thought it absurd, but this time around thanks to a sharper DVD copy, I liked Elia Kazan's Viva Zapata! (1952). Kazan, despite getting into hot water during the Cold War, directed some of the most famous films in the American repertoire -- A Streetcar Named Desire, for instance, plus On the Waterfront and East of Eden. Add Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn as the Zapata brothers -- riffing from a script by John Steinbeck no less (Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath) -- and presto, you've got some interesting fireworks. 

Best not to approach Viva Zapata! through a filter of "realism." We do form a pretty good idea about Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919) and his outlook, and we catch some glimpses of the chaotic nature of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1920, too. But everything is streamlined and simplified, even distorted. 

The unfolding of the Mexican Revolution was as complex and labyrinthine as Game of Thrones and just as brutal -- and it really happened.  
In Viva Zapata!: 

Several Mexican army generals are depicted merely as cynical ghouls. 

Francisco Madero (1873-1913) is presented as if on a stage set or silent movie; extra almost clown-like makeup highlights his feckless leadership. 

Fernando Aguirre, a character played by Joseph Wiseman (Dr. No in Dr. No), appears almost everywhere in the film. By the end, he seems like an emissary of Satan or maybe even the Devil incarnate. Whether this was intended or not, I have no idea. 

Francisco Pancho Villa (1878-1923) is given a pass by only appearing in a couple of scenes set in Mexico City. 
Brando's Emilano Zapata is as taciturn as Quinn's Eufemio Zapata (1873-1917) is boisterous. Indeed, Quinn's character is a sort of "Zorba the Zapata;" that is, Zorba the Greek with a mean streak. And in case there was any doubt, the actor Anthony Quinn (1915-2011) really was born in Mexico in the middle of the Revolution. He won an Academy Award for his role in Viva Zapata!

Today's Rune: Partnership.    


the walking man said...

When I read this "...despite getting into hot water during the Cold War..." I just knew it had to do with the HUAC hearings. So he rolled over eh? Maybe he should have let Coleman Young be his counsel.

Reminds me of John Wayne who didn't go to war in WWII because as a B actor he finally had his chance with all the A actors at war. wonder he made it through without Ford to direct his wrangley ass.

Oh well I guess we all do what we have to do to get as high as we can. No moral can remain uncompromising for long.

Charles Gramlich said...

Did not realize there was a Steinbeck connection. That raises my interest levels.

jodi said...

Erik-I forget how handsome Marlon was!