Extreme Latin Cinema
Cinema Junkie / March 10, 2016
Masked wrestlers, nunsploitation, monsters, and San Diego Latino Film Festival's Un Mundo Extraño — Cinema Junkie looks to extreme Latin cinema with Horrible Imaginings' Miguel Rodriguez.
Interviewer: Welcome back to another edition of the KPBS Cinema junkie podcast. I am Beth Accomando. Today we are going to talk all about Latin Cinema and especially the films that push boundaries and go someplace dark. The reason to focus on Latin Cinema right now is that the 23rd Annual San Diego Latino Film Festival kicks off on March 10th and runs through to March 20th. One of the side bars this year is called “Un Mundo Extrano” or “the strange world”. I will be speaking with Miguel Rodriguez, who in addition to programming Horrible Imagining Film Festival in the fall is the programmer for Un Mundo Extrano.
Interviewer: So Miguel welcome to the show again you have been on before?
Interviewee: I have and it is always good to be back, thank you.
Interviewer: And let’s start off with the Un Mundo Extrano side bar at the Latino Film Festival has been running for a few years, but what is your definition of a film that would fit into this category?
Interviewee: My personal definition is that any film that comes at their material from a very unique or fantastical perceptive. One way I would like to think of these is films that are pure cinema and what I mean by pure cinema is that the events that unfold on screen are vastly removed from what we would see in reality. So, I am looking for some things with a little bit more of a fantasy bend that could be dark, but something hyper real. I think is what I really want to look for because I am looking at things that are metaphorical that represent what the filmmakers is trying to say with these higher concepts.
Interviewer: So in terms of picking these films it’s less maybe about content and more about stylistic approach?
Interviewee: That is a huge of part of it. The stylistic approach and the content are kind of married in a way that it is hard to separate them. This is something that has been mastered by filmmakers Jesús Franco or David Lynch where you can’t have the content without the bizarre and surreal ways that those concepts are being presented. Presentation is a huge part of what we are looking for.
Interviewer: So maybe you can site a couple of examples from past programmes that really typify this particular quality that you are looking for?
Interviewee: Certainly, last year there was a film by Argentina I believe by director Emiliano Romero and that film was called Topos which means “Moles” [2:53-3:03 playing a movie clip]. It is kind of post apocalyptic story. Almost like Brave New World where the class strata have separated such that the rich people still live on the surface of the planet and where the poor people all live underground as Topos, as moles. There are all filthy and walk hunched over and they have kind of lurid and disgusting lives. One of them wants to escape and he ends up kidnapping someone from the surface and taking that person’s place. The person who he kidnapped was going into a ballet school. The rest of the film is this mole, this under dweller who spends the rest of the film in a ballet school. It is wonderfully bizarre and yet it also says a lot of the differences in class and the gap, the widening gap between rich and poor, but in a brilliantly fantastical way and then before that there was another film called Las Mariposas, Sidoney or Sidoney’s butterflies. It is another that is just as fantastical.
The lead character is a circus dwarf who was jailed for murder and who ended up... you know. . the story takes place after he is released and him trying to get on with his life again. It is shot, in this other worldly way and these different hues so the colour is monochromatic at times, but in very interesting and fascinating ways, both of those stories say a lot about the cultures in which they are made, but they are also very hyper real. They are not at all for what we would say Scena la Varita or something that is very realistic.
Interviewer: So, this year for Un Mundo Extrano there is one film that is little more accessible to a main stream audience because it stars someone that people are probably very familiar with which is Salma Hayek and this is Tale of Tales. [5:06-5:33 playing a movie clip]. This is an anthology film, what is this one like?
Interviewee: This one is an interesting film for a Latino film festival Salma Hayek, of course, is our big star especially for the Latino audiences so this should be a big draw. This one is a co-production of Italy, France and the UK, but it is a collection or an anthology of fairy tales. Some of them are pretty dark, some of them have monsters, but there are very fantastical fairy tales, they are kind of the morality tales of old. This one certainly is going to be, as you say, much more accessible to the regular audiences at the San Diego Latino Film Festival and what I hope will be audiences who might try the festival for the first time. I am hoping that a title like Tale of Tales especially, you know, in this age where fantasies and I do include things like superhero epics in fantasy are very well attended and popular with regular audiences. I hope Tale of Tales will reach out to broader Latino Film Festival and bring people to the festival for the first time.
Interviewer: You mentioned that this does not actually have Mexican producers or Latino production companies behind it. It is Italian, French and British which raises some interesting questions about Latin cinema. You were talking how this is showing how Latin cinema is kind of entering a different international stage at this point.
Interviewee: Yeah I think there are all based on James Basita Basil’s fairy tales which again might even make it more strange. I think that the Latin culture from all over world is becoming more recognised on the World’s stage as an arts and culture power house. So, whether its music or dance or film or regular art we are seeing some of these ideas represented from the perspectives of other cultures which I think is one of those things that is an indicator that you kind of made it you know where if your culture is recognised or dare I say, imitated by another culture then there is something there that shows you have some kind of staying power that you have something that people want to see. For example you know in the 60’s everybody wanted to be Italy. You wanted everyone making La Dolce vita from different countries.
I am hoping to see something like that now for Latino film and Latino culture. I think that Tale of Tales might be an example of that because there is definitely a Latin flavour not only to how these stories are told and what some of these fairy tales are, but definitely the way they look and the things people wear and, of course, using Salma Hayek as one of your main actors to, it says a lot.
Interviewer: There is a another film playing called Eisenstein in Gaunajuato which is from Peter Greenaway which is a British filmmaker. making a film about a Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein who visits Mexico with all these kind of preconceptions about what Mexico is. So, again especially in this year where we have had the Academy Awards being called out for a lack of diversity and a focus on how minorities are depicted in films. So, you get this very interesting kind of once removed quality to some of these films, but these are much more positive reflections on these cultures and looking to these cultures from the outside, but not looking to them in quite the stereotypical way as we have seen in the past.
[9:31-10:44 playing a movie clip]
Interviewee: That particular film sounds interesting because you have a British director looking at Mexican culture through Russian goggles. I think those layers could serve a multi-purpose where you not only have the depiction of Mexico from the perspective of these other cultures, but you also have the very real possibilities of the common thread running through all of them. That is something that I think film in particular that the art of cinema has a real monopoly on is the ability to start conversations, but also to grow empathy in an audience for people who are not of their culture. I think one of the reasons a lot of people what to see more diversity in Hollywood is for that reason, is to built an empathetic response in the majority of people for someone who might not look like them. As well as, of course, getting representation and getting different stories told, but I think this particular film is an interesting way to have us try to understand one another. I think that everyone should go to see it. It is also great that that is a film picked for the Latino Film Festival. You would not really expect it because it is not made by a Latino filmmaker and it’s not about a Latino. It’s a film not made by a Latino filmmaker about a filmmaker who wasn’t a Latino, but it is about their experiences in a Latino country. That is something that I think it could be enriching for an audience.
Interviewer: Yeah its a great film and it is interesting to because the Mexican characters who are in it, are definitely the wiser guides who are taking this whacky Russian filmmaker through different experiences and so where as in the past I think we have seen Mexican character depicted in a very stereotypical kind of comic light. I mean this guy is elegant looking, He’s smart. Eisenstein comes in going like I admire you people so much you had your revolution before ours. It is a really interesting film for a Latino film festival so I hope people go see it. Let’s get to some of the slighter darker films that you have chosen as part of this year’s Un Mundo Extrano. Let’s start with one where music plays a key part, in particular piano music. So, let’s hear a little bit of the music that colours Scherzo Diabolico. [13:38-13:52 playing a movie clip]. Tell us about this film because the character we initially meet who is listening to this music looks a little mousey, timid and that is total false advertising.
Interviewee: Yes. Now that you mentioned it this seems to be a hallmark of the director. The director of Scherzo Diabolico is this Spanish born filmmaker named Adrian Garcia Bogilano. He’s made his mark on a couple of films. He made a film called Here Comes the Devil and he made an English language film recently that anyone could see on Netflex called Late Phases it’s a werewolf movie and now Scherzo Diabolic. I think one thing that runs through all of them is the lead characters start out one way and then end up a way that defies expectation. Like for example, the lead character is Late Phases is blind and he ends up going against werewolves. Yeah that is an interesting thought, I think Bogilano likes to take these characters to places that an audience would not expect for good or ill. In the case of Scherzo Diabolico this particular character who is an accountant, you are right, mousey, has a nagging wife, all of those types of characteristics. He ends up going against type in a way that might not be, what’s the word, advisable.
Interviewer: And we won’t reveal anymore because part of the, I’m not sure I can say pleasure exactly but, part of what makes this film so good is that a couple of characters actually surprise you in terms of the choices that they make. Now one that is a little more claustrophobic and tense is what you would call a kind of a David Lynchian film, which is called Plan Sexenal.
Interviewee: Plan Sexenal I believe this is the director’s first debut film, Santiago Cendejas. David Lynch is a good bench mark from what people can expect from this and the sound scape the way things are presented, the way they are shot. Maybe A Lost Highway would be a good example of a way to compare Plan Sexenal. I would also compare it to a Haneke’s Funny Games in that it takes place in Suburbia. Actually you could also compare this to Blue Velvet then in that case, but it is all about the place that is supposed to be safe and what might be lurking in the dark out there. You got your suburban couple and they end up being visited by a stranger and things get very dark, but also very bizarre. It takes you on this ride through the darkest parts of the human nature, but in ways that are again hyper real and removed from something getting a little, I guess one thing you could say about Haneke’s Funny Games is that it is very real. It is opposite of something that is hyper real. This is more Lynchian and that it is surreal.
Interviewer: There is a sense of paranoia that runs through your final choice which is Los Parecidos. This all takes place at a Bus Station?
Interviewee: Yes Los Parecidos is Directed by Issac Ezban who I think again the fantasy element might be the hallmark of this director, last year he came to the Latino Film Festival with a film is called el incidente which was pretty popular. I remember both screenings I went to for that were full. That one was all about this warp in space in time where people are trapped in one second for an eternity, something very strange like that. In Los Parecidos you have a group of strangers that are waiting at a bus stop, I think it is twilight, 2 in the morning or something. Without giving much away, the fantastic things start happening and it creates a sense of paranoia, a growing distrust among these strangers for each other. They lose their sense of identity which is a big part of a lot of Mexican or Latino horror in general. They fight among themselves and things like that. It’s again, very bizarre, a lot is unexplained as to why this is happening, but it speaks to fears I think we all share, but are also somewhat specific to Mexico. That is somewhat specific to the Latino culture in which they are born. This idea of loss of identity, for example, not knowing where you are? Or where you are going? When you are going to get there? How you are going to get there? This idea of living amongst your peers and not being able to trust them.
Just on the ride here to do this interview, I was listening to KPBS mid-day edition and Maureen was talking to a reporter from Mexico City about all of the reporters and journalist from Mexico who are being disappeared because of cartels and drug violence and how that in the US that is not in the news as much as it was, but is still very real fear and it is something that people are living with and the reporter described it as being in quick sand. She’s a reporter and she is talking to government officials and she doesn’t know whether to believe a word they are saying, whether they are getting paid by the cartels, human trafficking and bringing all of these terrifying things into it. Hearing her talk I was thinking of Los Parecidos because it is that same kind of unknown danger lurking all around you that you feel in this film, only it is one setting over one night at a bus stop, but the emotions that are being expressed are the same. That is one thing that I like about programming for Un Mundo Extrano and for Latino film festival is that although I see lots of horror and genre stuff for Horrible Imaginings that‘s from all over the world with focusing on the genre output from one culture or one group of people you start to see lines of commonality, of things that are particular to that culture. I think that is fascinating because people think of horror as you know something very simple or something very simplistic, but if you really get down to brass tacks and examine it and look at surveys of genre stuffs from different cultures and different countries then you start to see these flavours appear and I think that is just wonderful.
Interviewer: Put these films into a bit of a context then are they representative of what is happening in Latin cinema? Do they represent a particular wave of Latin cinema? Or are these kind of odd ball entries?
Interviewee: I think that for sure we are getting more Latin genre films that are coming out, way more filmmakers willing to take risks. We’ve got film festivals that are huge that are strictly horror in Mexico, in Spain, of course. You’ve got Cejas things like that in Argentina and Brazil, you’ve got lots of horror coming out. I think we are saying a lot more, I mean certainly the films I get to Horrible Imaginings and to do something like this are growing in number and are also growing in variety. Different people taking different risks, for sure, in Spain they’ve got a lot of government subsidies, but a lot of that is going to genre stuff. There is a need, I think from some of these Latino countries to explore these ideas and I think that is in no small part to or in no small part due to things like being in a highly catholic culture or being in Mexico’s case in all three of the films we have talked about today, other than Tale of Tales those last three are all Mexican films. You’ve got some uncertainty in that country that drives this kind of narrative. I think this is a cathartic thing for a storyteller to offer.
Interviewer: You mentioned Catholicism is that part of what gives these films a unique flavour?
Interviewee: It depends on the film, but often by default from a Latino film you will have some kind of Catholic iconography somewhere in there. Whether it is just set dressing it doesn’t have to be central to the narrative, but if there is a crucifix and we are talking about a Mexican crucifix here. If there is a crucifix on the wall then that lends the atmosphere of flavour that you might not get from an American horror film.
Interviewer: You mentioned a Mexican crucifix?
Interviewer: Now some people may not understand what the difference is between walking into a catholic church in the United States and walking into a catholic church in Mexico which depicts the crucifixion in a very different sort of manner. So, how would you define that?
Interviewee: A crucify that you will see typically in the United States will generally be, I would use the word, minimalistic, to use an art term. It will be or sanitised, you could say, where it will probably be just two cross beams, maybe there will be a figure of Christ on the crucifix, but many times not. In Mexico it will be much less sanitised. The pain and suffering that is inherent to the crucifix, inherent to the passion of Christ is on full display typically in Mexican churches. There is blood, there is a very gaunt a Christ that is suffering for us, suffering for our sins. I think that is a huge part of what drives the iconography that appears in these films and the atmosphere of some of these films, because the fear and suffering and the darkness of what Christ experienced in that episode is something that they are not shying away from as much as we seem to be. Maybe you could say it is a little bit more honest, but at the same time it certainly lends its self to the imagery that would be in a horror film. I can tell you growing up Mexican especially as a young kid, very close to the Mexican border in South Texas. You got lots of imagery like that and it was scary. As a kid I was scared.
Interviewer: That Old Testament is scary. I am not Mexican, but I grew up Catholic and I remember being...
Interviewee: Well you got the Italians.
Interviewer: Yes, I’ve got the Italians and the French and being read some of the stories from the Old Testament and actually you know this comes into play a little bit in the scripts of Scherzo Diabolico this Old Testament sense of an eye for an eye...
Interviewee: The revenge.
Interviewer: Comes into play at the end in a way that is absolutely ruthless. I mean that is what I was thinking very Old Testament kind of... even though that is not upfront as the film does not play as kind of...
Interviewee: Yes the film does not have to be explicit, but just has to be a shared ideal.
Interviewee: I will never forget seeing as long as we our on the subject of film seeing Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ for the first time and how perplexed poor Judas is at the mixed messages he’s receiving from Jesus in that film. I saw that when I was very young and my father was very Catholic, he was a priest before he met my mom. So, I had lots of stories about Jesus in my child rearing days, but getting that view, I remember Harvey Keitel is Judas appealing to him, what do you want man? You tell us to use the axe now you telling us to turn the other cheek? We don’t understand what’s going on here? I think it’s that the two different messages that you get from the Old Testament vengeful God and then what you get later on from the New Testament, it’s the same kind of thing. They are very different fables written at very different times and it can be very confusing. That’s what makes it interesting and it also makes it just beautiful. It’s a feast for anyone who wants to make a film about terror because fear is a huge part of the Catholic tradition, whoever wants to believe that or not its true. The words fear of God; are spoken you know and that’s what horror is really. Okay I feel this and I want to express this and I need to get this out somehow and so that is a wealth of fear that you can. That is why you have movies like the Exorcist that did so well for that reason. One thing...
Interviewee:... go ahead.
Interviewer: What I was going to say, if people want to get an entry to this an accessible level Guillermo del Toro is a prefect director to provide that with his early film Cronus which represents the vampire as the kind of a Christ reborn figure and later like films Devil’s Backbone. Even in his mainstream Hollywood films like Hell Boy you get a bit of Catholicism running through and you can see how it colours his perspective on horror and on depicting some of these things.
Interviewee: Del Toro is an interesting director to bring up because he has said himself that he doesn’t fit in anywhere. He doesn’t fit in in Hollywood, he doesn’t fit in horror, he doesn’t fit in Indy. He’s kind of this and he relates that to being Mexican. He says that I don’t fit in with these gringos and I don’t fit in with the Mexicans anymore. I’m kind of in this nebulous purgatory as an artist and as a person. Well that goes back to what I was saying with Los Parecidos is this identity loss that is a genuine fear and that can be depicted in a lot of ways, but can be depicted in horror to in things like Los Parecidos and, if you don’t want to go Latin, Polanski’s Tenant, where loss of identity is a genuine terror. I think that is a particular fear that in minority audience and a minority group of artists and filmmakers can understand and I think that is why at a film festival like the Latino film festival or Asian film festival or the filmout or the LGBT film festival. You get a lot of films that is kind of the central concept. I don’t belong there, I don’t belong here, I have no identity. Where do I belong? There are a lot of films like that.
What I would to see with a side bar like Un Mundo Extrano is it, it can take that same concept, but present it in a different way, because if you see lots of those kind of films they all start to blend together. They can also be alienating I think to an audience, in this case, whose is not Latino? I love that Latino is going to have a Un Mundo Extrano because I would like to appeal to someone who is not Latino. I would like to give them an access point to come to the Latino film festival. I have talked to people who feel like; you know that film festival is not for me. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a Latino film festival, I’m not Latino. I think that is a real thing, but if we have something like Tale of Tales or Scherzo Diabolico which, granted has a very Latin flavour horror but, a very familiar horror as well. Then maybe that will get the attention of someone who would come to Latino film festival an access point into something different that they are not used to. Or they will see a trailer for Eisenstein in Gaunajuato, say you know what, I think I will that out to. Then they will come back next year and suddenly they will have this wealth of culture in front of them that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, horror can be that because it is a populist genre. It can be that welcoming entry point for people which I know is kind of funny because it would seem a way to scare you off but, I am hoping it will do the opposite.
Interviewer: I think genre making film, in general, is a great way to enter into foreign films because for so long people were hesitant to go to anything that had sub titles, but what broke through that, I think most effectively, were action films. We had Jackie Chan in the 90s we also had this French film The Brotherhood of the Wolf, which were action films, so even if you weren’t interested in reading those sub titles you at least got 30 or 40 minutes of action that you could watch and consume without any problems with translation. I think that made a leap for people because it wasn’t as hard to sell films like Hero and House of the Flying Dagger and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon because people had gotten to, oh okay, reading sub titles doesn’t have to be a painful thing.
Interviewee: Right. I think I remember almost the shift when it went from dubbed to let’s try some sub titles. I remember Rumble in the Bronx was dubbed and Police Story was dubbed, but then you started getting the some films or the sub title films started doing well.
Interviewee: When some of the Japanese horror stuff started coming up to, so then in the 2000s as well. I think that genre and horror, in particularly, is a great entry point not only into foreign film, but also into older films, classic films. The same could be said for getting someone to watch a black and white film, with drama and comedy, fewer people are willing, the people who are reluctant to see black and white films, if that their real grouse then they will just watch movies that started in the 1980s and on, but the horror people will flock to Nosferatu and Dracula and Island of Lost souls and some of the classics. I think that you are right, I think this is a great genre for bringing into the fold.
Interviewer: I hope people go and check out some of the films in Un Mundo Extrano and use that as a gateway to some more films. I wanted to kind of broaden the discussion from not just these four films that you are showing this year, but to talk a little bit about Latin cinema that does push boundaries and is a little different but, also something accessible. First of all, I want to talk about the films that got you first into Mexican cinema and; especially people maybe familiar with the terms El Santo. They may not know exactly what it is, but Mexican wrestling films are huge. To an American audience probably feel somewhat foreign, but they are on a certain level very accessible and this was one of the things that got you into Mexican Cinema.
Interviewee: Yes the El Santo films are huge, yes. All of those enmascarado films were masked Luchador wrestler films. El Santo is like James Bond and Batman rolled into one. [34:42-34:52 playing a movie clip]. The El Santo films are very strange and there are like almost 60 of them so how prolific they are that says something about it to. You know it is something for a time would seem so particularly and peculiarly Mexican. It was hard to think that would sell well in the states. There was one guy Kay Gordon Murray in the 60s who brought over a lot of Mexican horror into the States. That is why we have English translation of a lot of El Santo films and other even stranger films that came out at the time, but with El Santo you get so many different kinds. For the most part you could say that they are super hero spy movies with a masked wrestler is James Bond.
He drives fancy cars he’s got pretty ladies. He wears the mask everywhere even to the bank, but you will also have movies that will have monsters and ghosts and Ninjas and robots and whatever Santo happens to be fighting in that film. So, horror and the creature feature is also engrained into Santo. I mean one of the greatest, of course, is Santo, he blew them off with El Santo Blue Diamond contra Los Monstruos which is Santo and his buddy Blue Demon against every classic monster like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster and The Mummy. They are so fun and growing up in the as a monster fanatic you couldn’t beat that. You got Dracula wrestling with Santo it’s completely bizarre; there is nothing else like it. So, yeah, that was a big part of my growing up experience.
Interviewer: El Santo is a vey Mexican standard in Mexican cinema and he had a persona off screen as well. You talked about how he would wear his mask all the time...
Interviewer: Within the context of the film, but you are also talking about outside the film as well.
Interviewee: Yes absolutely, you don’t see him without the mask ever. That would be criminal.
Interviewer: You bring El Santo versus the monsters, but Mexico has a history of early monster films, my entry to this was a film called A Ship of Monsters. I had the pleasure of talking with Lorena Velazquez at the San Diego Latino film festival a few years ago. So, I want her to describe what this movie was about because it is this fantastical charming mix of genres. So, here is Lorena Velazquez talking about Ship of Monsters from 1960.
Interviewee: These is a beautiful picture. This is a history of a man, a Northern man in Mexico, that he is a big liar. He find us and he find the space ships. He came into the bar and said “Listen now this is the truth, two women from another planet in, I saw the spaceship, now you have to believe me. This is the truth I saw them. They say, come on you are a liar and then in that spaceship comes a monster.
Interviewer: Was it fun to shoot with these creatures?
Interviewee: Yes, I have to kiss one of them and this is a real experience let me tell you, because there was, I don’t know what they have it their mouth and here they look like they are sweating. They have here something in their mouth that when I kiss him, Oh my God. I said what I’m doing. But I also joined saying maybe it is water or something like that, but it looks like jello like jelly or something. No this is a big experience, but let me tell you in Mexico this is a classic films. It is a beautiful really, everything is like a comedy, no this is not a tragedy, this is you have to be laughing all the time and at least we did it. This is almost 40years no 50 years so you have to see the picture and see and in Mexico we don’t have all the money that the American have. No this is a little bit cheaper the picture.
[40:18-40:48 playing a movie clip].
Interviewer: The thing about that movie was that it was such a wild mix. There is a singing cowboy, there is women space aliens from Venus that are in these hot bathing suits outfits and then there are all these strange monsters at the end. It has this wonderful kind of naiveté to it where we can make props out of cardboard and boxes. It is a little bit of the Ed Wood of Plan 9 from Outer Space, but with a lot more of charm to it and innocence. I don’t know how you see that fitting into this kind of Un Mundo Extrano world?
Interviewee: It is the definition of Un Mundo Extrano because everything in it strange, but basically, it is everything, but a kitchen sink movie because as you mentioned of all the elements that it incorporates. It is basically all the most popular Mexican genres at that time. The singing cowboy that was very popular where cowboy music goes, norteno cowboy music goes so they throw in a ship of monsters. The space lady phenomenon is not just Mexico that was everywhere in the 60s. Yes, of course, you got to throw that in to. The monsters themselves, what makes so lovable is not only that they are made on shoe strings, obviously so, but there is so much imagination that goes into them. Every monster, there is a variety of sizes, some are really big, some are really small. They all have these bizarre features. One has a big head with a big brain and big eyes. There is such a variety of monsters and if you love monsters there are all there. In fact, some of those monsters in The Ship of Monsters show up in some of the El Santo films later on, so they get extra mileage out of those monster suits, but yeah anyone who loves a person in a monster suit movie, that movie is made for you. You need to see Ship of Monsters immediately. I was thinking of John Landes because John Landes is one of the voices we have and he’s like any movie can be made better with a man and a gorilla suit. It could be any suit for me, but I know what he means.
Interviewer: I believe that was the year that they had also brought back one of the Mexican vampire films. [43:17-43:42 playing a movie clip].
Interviewee: German Robles is Mexico’s Christopher Lee. Yeah absolutely, you could say he’s a Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, he’s the Dracula with the long black cape and the medallion and all of that. I would say he’s probably more in line with Hammer and Christopher Lee because in Mexico they can be a little more risky.
Interviewer: That is true.
Interviewee: They can show his fangs, Bela had no fangs some people forget. He just got this great presence. One thing about German Robles he wasn’t Mexican he was actually Spanish born. I think Spanish born, but did move to Mexico and had his whole career in Mexico and became a huge star with some of these films. The first one or one of his first one being El Vampiro, the vampire, where essentially he’s playing a Dracula type character, it’s not really Dracula per se, but the story is very familiar and it is timeless so it would appeal to people. It was so popular he ended up reprising that a couple of times and playing some other monsters on top of that and including, I believe, Nostradamus and some other crazy characters. He was a character actor for the ages and I hope that his name becomes more recognised for American audiences because he did contribute a lot to Mexican cinema. He just died this past November so this is a good time to remember him.
Interviewer: The films we’ve been talking about the El Santo films, these monsters films, these vampire films, they all have a certain charm to them and almost sweetness to them in a sense of nostalgia, but Mexican cinema more recently has ventured into some much more extreme territory. Do you see a lineage coming from this to the current cinema? And what kind of films are you seeing now getting submitted for your festival?
Interviewee: Well this past year we played an anthology Mexican film called Maheco Bab Vero, barbaric Mexico, take that title for what you will, but certainly more extreme. I think that the lineage is mirrored by the lineage we would see in the States. We have are Battellas which lead to our Hitchcocks which eventually leads to Texas Chainsaw Massacre and some of the other stuff we had. So, we had the same kind of lineage there. Mexico is slightly different story in that. It’s film industry has a very interesting history. So, while it used to have a film industry that was close to the United States and it started out with this kind of studio Ashfield, it ended up getting funded very much by the government until the late 70s early 80s when that money just dried up. For a long time in Mexico you had the entire film industry was basically composed of independent gorilla exploitation filmmakers.
Making Mad Max rip offs with punks on motorcycles like Intropidos Punks for example, you had horror movies, you had some anthologies, you had bizarre ghosts stories and Satanist stories and you just had this wild gamit where these people were getting money however they could to make their movies and because of that were doing whatever they wanted so that culture of that independent spirit, the exploitation video market that exploded in Mexico in the late 80s with an imprint called Video Home helped to breed our current era of filmmakers. So, our latest filmmakers like, I think in the past you have talked to Aaron Soto or Lecco Tega or Adrian Bogliano some of these other independent filmmakers that are not afraid of going a little bit too crazy because they grew up on movies like Intropidos Punks and as well as Return of the Living Dead and things like that. Seeing things like Mexico Barbaro, I’m forgetting the name of Lex Ortega’s latest film, but it is also very kind of extreme. You’ve got Morbido Film festival in Mexico City which gets government’s funding and you see posters for it all over. I was talking to Maurice Terebizki. He went for that and there are posters for it on the subway. It is huge thousands of people are going to this thing. So, there is definitely a thirst for something that pushes the boundaries for more. I think that is just natural, I mean you always want a top that came before it. I think that what they are in those stages now. I think we will always have that.
Interviewer: Do you see anything in common with kind of this latest wave of extreme film making coming from Mexico?
Interviewee: I think what I see most in common is that a lot of the film makers are still quite young and have rebelliousness about them. They want their films to be subversive that is a huge part of it. I think one of the big or two big heroes of Latino cinema is one, of course, Alejandro Jodorowsky who has his own bizarre history, but certainly a big hero of surreal and very subversive films. Juan López Moctezuma who made Alucarda is also very much looked up to by this new generation of Mexican filmmakers. One thing about Moctezuma is that for example Alucarda which tends to get grouped in a sub-section of exploitation films called Nuns exploitation.
[49:51-50:07 playing a movie clip].
Interviewee: It is actually a really politically sound film about the Catholic Church, but it is presented in that film with a cloister of nuns who practice in this dungeon with crazy art work on the walls and there is sex and there is Satan and there is all this crazy stuff, but that film is not just about shocking people that film is basically a rage on screen. It is someone expressing their anger at this system and their frustration with all the promises that are made by religion that you don’t feel like they are being kept because of whatever is going on in your country at that time. Whatever, a political strife is going on, whatever poverty is happening.
These artists want to express their disappointment and dissatisfaction with all the promises made by that. I think Alucarda is one of the potent examples of that and it is speaks to this generation of filmmakers and I think they want to make a film like that. Certainly for the time that was made that was a jaw dropping film. I think we want to see more of those.
Interviewer: We are coming back full circle around because both Jodorowsky and him are both raging against the Catholic Church.
Interviewer: I am wondering if this sense of rebellion because the Catholic Church again also ties into Turner Classic Movies is doing a current programme called Condemned as their spotlight programme for March which is all about the films in America that were condemned by the Catholic Church and the Catholic legion of decency. So, in America in the early part especially in the 30s, 40s and early 50s the Catholic Church had a very strong impact on the kind of things Hollywood films could show. In Mexico the Catholic Church also has in and still has to a degree a strong sensory impact on films. So, as part of what these young filmmakers are rebelling against is this kind of repression that you get in part from the Catholic Church?
Interviewee: Yes I think so, there what that question there. I think anytime you have repression you are going to have a backlash to it especially from the arts community because the artist mind cannot abide repression like that. I don’t think, I think that’s part that you can’t be silenced when all you are driven to do is shout on the mountain. See I thing repression is part of it. The same could be said in Japan where you have a lot of wild cinema that comes from a very repressive society. So...
Interviewer: Not Catholicism?
Interviewee: No not Catholicism, but repression...
Interviewer: But repression yes politeness,
Interviewee: Yes repression of a very different kind, but certainly repression. With the Catholic legion of decency in the States they had a studio system to battle and in Mexico for so long you didn’t. Who was the censor going to fight for example in Intropidos Punks. Like it’s just some guy with a camera running around on the highway. I think that DIY aspect of flying under the radar is something this newer group of filmmakers from anywhere really are trying to cling on for that reason because when you don’t have to answer to producers or studios and typically you don’t have to answer to censors either.
These independent filmmakers aren’t going to the MPAA. I think you get the same kind of things you get from Mexico Babaro, where we’ll make it ourselves and we will put it out ourselves and you know they won’t get censored.
Interviewer: Arturo Ripstein is a filmmaker is Mexico who also happens to be Jewish. He has a new film this year which always an exciting thing which is called Bleak Street and is definitely one of films worth checking out at the Latino film festival, but he has had a long history of making films in Mexico and dealing with censors. He’s made a lot of films critical of the Catholic Church and I remember talking to him about possibly making films in the United States or outside of Mexico where he might not face this kind of censorship and part of his feeling was it was the repression and the censorship that made him the particular filmmaker he was and I think the thing he pointed out was some Turkish filmmaker who made some wonderful film in Turkey and a repressive government who then went to France to make a film and then committed suicide. His point was something like you know you need something to bang your head against the wall to help get those creative juices going.
Interviewee: This is that great dichotomy I’ve had this conversation a ton. One of my favourite ways this was put is my friend Keith Allison who writes a blog called Teleport City. He was reviewing I think it was Life Force of all movies, but he said that if I ever have kids I going to be torn between letting them watch these movies or banning them from watching these movies so that they could get the joy out of going behind my back and watching them anywhere, which is how we all watched these kind of things for a time. You are right there is you get kicks, your soul get kick started when someone is telling you no. Another element to this is that whole video nasty thing that happened in the80s in the UK, where Mary Woodhouse and a bunch of other parliament types and censors in the United Kingdom banned this whole hundreds of films from being sold in the UK. So, video stores owners were getting arrested because they had the VHS on their shelves, it was crazy. Here we are in 2016 and all that video nasty thing did was make those films still remembered now because I guarantee you like Night of the Bloody Apes would be completely forgotten if there was a video nasty and you know what I mean and the same could be said for a lot of those movies. Some were okay, some were good, but a lot of them were just crap and would have faded away into the ether except they were banned, except they were video nasty. So, now they are on all these video nasty lists and now they have blu-ray editions and all this stuff. I could just see Mary Woodhouse turning in her grave because it is her fault that those movies are so prevalent now. The movies that she was trying to repress.
Interviewer: And again the TCM programme condemned a lot of these movies films we might be talking about if they hadn’t been condemned. Some of these films were the ones, the early ones I think a lot of people were following what the Catholic Church was dictating, but as you moved on a lot of those films became much more attractive and more recently condemning something like Scorsese Last Temptation of Christ. I remember crossing picket lines to go see it at the Fashion Valley Theatre and being in line with teenagers who would never go to a religious movie. They would not go see the Ten Commandments, but they were like, oohh this is a forbidden film. I’m going to see a film about Christ and it is ultimately a very religious film, Scorsese is very serious about...
Interviewee: That film is not anti-Catholicism.
Interviewee: At all.
Interviewer: Except for a few people in the Catholic Church.
Interviewee: Yeah because you know they want to have this ultra clean perfection of their ideals. I think actually this ties back to the, who is the Nun who is introducing them to?
Interviewer: Sister Rose.
Interviewee: Sister Rose when she is talking about it was Black Narcissist...
Interviewer: Black Narcissist.
Interviewee: She made this great line about she quoted a...
Interviewer: A Catholic newspaper. I think you are talking about she quotes a Catholic newspaper where they say something about the Nuns and how they are crazy and they insane, neurotic and how can you be
Interviewee: and Nuns would not be like this because they are driven by their faith whatever and her response was this person obviously didn’t know any Nuns.
Interviewer: Specifically she goes that was obviously written by a man.
Interviewee: Written by a man. Yes.
Interviewer: Who knows nothing about what Nuns go through.
Interviewee: Yes, that was perfect.
Interviewer: And if the Catholic Church was smarter Black Narcissist is a perfect example of a film where they condemned it on a kind of very narrow focus. Well it depicts the Catholic Church in a way we don’t want to see it, but ignoring a bigger picture which is, it is depicting people within the Catholic Church as human beings.
Interviewee: Yes that was the problem they had with Last Temptation of Christ.
Interviewee: All that that did was depict Jesus as a human being with human being feelings and that, I mean that threw people in an uproar.
Interviewer: I do have memories of my very Catholic grandmother who is the source of the Catholicism in our family, but she would go and wag her finger at the Nuns, at the Catholic Church telling them how dare they ban Last Temptation of Christ. Everyone should go see it. That is the kind of Catholicism I was brought up in. It was very confusing.
Interviewee: Yeah it is confusing...
Interviewer: I had an agnostic father read me from the Bible because he thought it was a beautiful piece of literature so I was very confused.
Interviewer: But it had...
Interviewee: But you figure it out all later.
Interviewer: A very strong influence and going to go the Catholic Church has a very strong influence.
Interviewee: And we are still feeling it in cinema today. You know, I’m sorry, just going back to the Latino aspect. When you have the Catholic Church such a position of power its a little bit different to...
Interviewee: It’s kind of going at a backlash against whatever is repressing. It is not just that it is Catholic that it is repressive.
Interviewer: Yes and that it is this establishment figure that you are rebelling specifically against, but I do think that a number of these recent films especially like the ones in, filmmakers in Mexican Bar Vero. You do feel the sense of rebellion and the Catholic Church is there, if not, in exact form has a presence of some kind. I think it colours those films and I think if you took those filmmakers out of Mexico or had not grown up in Mexico they would be making very different films and maybe films that aren’t quite interesting on a certain level.
Interviewee: Yes I agree.
Interviewer: If you had a few films a handful of films to recommend to people as kind of the best way to get a nice flavour of kind of Un Mundo Extrano style. Not necessarily the films that you are showing this year, because I’m hoping people will just go see these, but kind of a nice little sample of what kind of films might get you interested in this? What are the few films that you might recommend to people? Like these are the standards you need.
Interviewee: Well I would definitely recommend everybody come see the ones that we are showing as you said, but, let’s see if I wanted to go more recent, popping in my head right now is a film from Spain that you could see on Shutter which is a streaming service a really good one, called Sleep Tight.
Interviewer: Oh yes.
Interviewee: By the director of Wreck which he described as Hitchcocky and thriller which isn’t far from the mark, but is it very tense and very...
Interviewee: It is disturbing and also really suspenseful.
Interviewee: It’s great because of the suspense because you are following along a protagonist who is a terrible human being and doing terrible things, but the filmmaker gets you kind of in his corner in a very, you feel dirty by the end, Oh my Gosh, I’m being following along with this guy the whole time. That is perfect; I think that film is so good that is something I would absolutely show. I would show it at either of my festivals because it is a lot of fun. Other films, gosh on the spot now. Well I feel like a lot of the films that we have been talking about are the list of films, but to make things easier like if you want to go for something more bizarre, if you look for Alejandro Jodorowsky. I would probably start with Santa Sangre which is much more accessible film from his folio, but if you want to go for something a little bit more challenging he’s got a film called The Holy Mountain which is very surreal, but absolutely nails every point we have been making so far over the course of this discussion. [1:03:21-1:03:41 playing a movie clip]
Alucarda is a not to be missed film because it has all of these kind of points we have been making, but it also very entertaining with lots of nudity, it’s that point to. I don’t know if I should say that on this podcast. I was talking about that of Mexican exploitation films in the 80s the film Intropidos Punks is a lot of fun. There is a film called Masacre nocturna or Night Time Massacre I believe. It is an anthology movie, very cheap Mexican anthology movie, but it’s a lot of fun. Its got a vampire story and its’ got a Phantom of the Opera type story and it’s got a Big Foot story. If you can find that it’s a lot of fun and anything from El Santo, but I’m going to particularly point to El Santo Blue Diamond contra Los Monstruos. Santo and Blue Diamond fight the monsters or anything with vampire and werewolves. Going back to Spain I would recommend anything from Paul Naschy’s werewolf Waldema debinski group of movies. He makes a great werewolf, but the one that hit big in the States is called The Werewolf versus The Vampire Woman, which is a lot of fun. Jesús Franco films he’s a Spanish filmmaker from the 70s. He made erotic shall we say, nightmares. These films are like hallucinations and worth a watch. He also made on that point his own Dracula movie staring none other than Christopher Lee as Dracula in his Spanish version of Dracula.
Ship of Monsters you should go see. El Vampiro, the Germán Robles films. Germán Robles was also in El Barón del Terror which is known here as the Brainyiac where Robles plays a 16th century inquisitor for the Catholic Church.
Interviewer: Funny how that came up?
Interviewee: Yes, who ends up. No he’s actually tortured by the Catholic Church.
Interviewee: Only to come back in the future.
Interviewer: To get revenge on the…
Interviewee: On the descendents.
Interviewer: Descendents yes.
Interviewee: And, but he comes back as this demon with a forked tongue who eats their brains.
[1:06:18-1:06:33 playing a movie clip]
Interviewee: Gosh I could go on...
Interviewer: Yes I know there is a lot. I think it good to give people some very specific titles that they might.
Interviewee: You should have a list on your podcast page.
Interviewer: We can put a list up, yes.
Interviewee: Sweet, I am excited.
Interviewer: Yes put a list up. Well we could go on talking about these films forever, but we won’t. I want to thank you Miguel and remind people when your Horrible Imaginings Film Festival is and where they can find you for your podcast also.
Interviewee: Okay, well you can find both at HIfilmfest. com. The podcast episodes are on the home page there. That is H I [as in Horrible Imaginings] film fest. com or Hifilmfest. com. There you will also find links to films that we are showings, since I work with film geeks to bring other films so will find trailers for other films that are coming to San Diego throughout the year. The main film festival will be September 7th - 11th so we are ushering the season of fear. If anyone of you out there are filmmakers we are currently accepting submissions. You could submit on film freeway. For right now Un Mundo Extrano starts this week at San Diego Latino film festival and I am really excited about those.
Interviewer: Yes and for full disclosure Miguel and I are partners in crimes at the film geeks at the Digital Gym Cinema where we are volunteer programmers. Currently we have our “get Hammered” series which is going to have Curse of the Werewolf at the close of the Latino film festival on March 20th.
Interviewee: The last day.
Interviewer: Yes and that brings up like the earlier films that we mentioned this notion of looking at Latin culture from the outside so we have a British Hammer film depicting Oliver Reed as a Spanish baron, I think?
Interviewer: A Spanish Baron who is also a werewolf, but this is one of those imagined parts of Europe that never actually existed.
Interviewee: Yes it takes place in Spain with quotes around it for sure. Curse of the Werewolf is a lot of fun. It is also extremely dark. Like the origin of Oliver Reed’s werewolf in this movie, It would be challenging to get it made today. At the time we were naive enough to go along with it. I don’t know if I want to even say it now, but it’s like, wow that’s really dark. Should I say it?
Interviewer: You can say it.
Interviewee: All right so Oliver Reed is a werewolf because he’s a rape baby whose mother was raped in a Spanish prison by a crazy old potentially werewolf man. It’s like wow, it’s a pretty intense way to start your Hammer werewolf movie, but it’s got that Hammer flare, but it’s definitely stand out from all the others both, in tone and style because largely it was suppose to take place in Spain. It doesn’t feel quite so stuffily British like the rest of them do.
Interviewer: Well and you do have Oliver Reed also.
Interviewee: You do have Oliver Reed.
Interviewer: He’s not quite stuffily British.
Interviewer: On any level.
Interviewee: He’s the opposite of stuffy. He’s bombastic.
Interviewer: Let’s actually go out with the trailer for The Curse of the Werewolf.
[1:09:55-1:10:40 playing a movie clip]
Interviewer: That was the trailer for The Curse of the Werewolf which will be screening as part of both the Latino film festival and the Film Geeks at the Digital Gym Cinema on March 20th at 1:00pm that is a Sunday. Thanks for listening to another edition of the KPBS Cinema junkie podcast. You can also find my full interview with San Diego Latino film festival programmer Mosses Mar Jaon in the mid-day edition podcast. I will have another podcast from the San Diego Latino film festival coming next week, talking with some filmmakers and maybe pulling a few things out from the archive. Remember you can subscribe to this Cinema junkie podcast on itunes, where I hope you will leave a rating or a comment. You can also find it at KPBS. org/junkie podcast. So, till our next film fix, I am Beth Accomando your residence in junkie.
Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place