AND STARRING PANCHO VILLA AS HIMSELF
US, 2003, 114 minutes, Colour.
Antonio Banderas, Eion Bailey, Alan Arkin, Jim Broadbent, Matt Day, Michael Mc Kean, Colm Feore, Alexa Davalos, Anthony Head, Kyle Chandler, Saul Rubinek.
Directed by Bruce Beresford.
And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself was written by celebrated comic writer, Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H, Oh God, Tootsie, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum). Gelbart’s contribution ensures that this is not only an insightful film into character and situations, but also highlights the comic aspects as well as some of the ludicrous aspects.
The film is one of the best directed by Bruce Beresford.
Pancho Villa led part of the revolution in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century. Already, in 1912, a film had been made about his life. In 1914 he proposed to the Mutual Company that they film the war action. Jim Broadbent portrays the head of the company, Eion Bailey his nephew, Frank N. Thayer, who goes to Mexico to arrange the contracts and the filming. He begins to admire Pancho Villa (a charismatic performance by Antonio Banderas) even though at times he is dismayed by the violence and the cruelty.
While the initial war film is striking, it does not make much impact on the executives in New Jersey. However, Thayer has a brainwave that they should make a film of Villa’s life. Michael Mc Kean, looking and sounding as if he had just come from a Christopher Guest spoof, is the director. Scenes are invented which Villa is very critical of but finally agrees to because of their propaganda value.
Included in the strong cast are Alan Arkin as a hard-hitting, hard-talking mercenary who helps Villa, Matt Day as John Reed, the famous journalist who was to report on the Russian revolution in October 1917, with Colm Feore as famous director, D.W. Griffith.
The film is quite spectacular in its way, some vigorous war sequences. However, it also gives a portrait of Pancho Villa, his hopes, his ruthlessness, his compassion. Eion Bailey is very good and is also the centre of the film as Frank N. Thayer.
The film is also interesting in its presentation of early days of film-making, embedded journalists working with the war action, the risks that the cine-journalists took, the manipulation of sequences and stories for propaganda purposes as well as use of footage in entirely different contexts. It also shows the premiere of the film, the great reception – and is an ironic critique of the American movie industry.
1.The quality of the film? As a television film? Audience interest? Enjoyment?
2.The tradition of Pancho Villa in films, as hero, as villain, the Robin Hood aspects, the Zapata aspects? Mexico, social conditions, from the 19th into the 20th century? Socialist revolutions? Autocratic governments?
3.The scope of the film, Mexican history, 1914, the experience of war and revolution, American-Mexican? border, relationships, the raids and battles, propaganda, the Hearst papers and the condemnations, John Reed as observer, the importance of film, the American audiences – within twenty years of the invention of cinema? American politics?
4.The re-creation of the period, Mexico, the dingy villages, the desert terrain, the costs of the war, the contrast with New Jersey, the film companies? The film sets, the ways of filming? The boardrooms? Theatres?
5.The history and development of cinema, the American companies, Aitken as the head, the money man, the role of the producer? D.W. Griffith, his personality, reputation, making films, supervising films? The locations for filming? The breakthrough with action, embedded? The nature of the footage, the fixed cameras, running from place to place and set-ups, the importance of editing? Fiction – and manipulation of truth, reality, editing? The belief to give the audience what it wanted? Films as constructions? Relevance for the whole history of the American film industry? Now?
6.The title, the background of the 1912 film, the requests for 1914, cinema verite, the Mutual Company, Aitken, the gold and Thayer taking it to Mexico, the use of the money for war? Thayer as focus? His visits, the contracts, in the thick of battle, the failure of the footage? The idea of the biography, Villa’s objections, the false scenes, the farewell, the return? Using the local prostitutes for these scenes? The audiences? The harsh realities and the way they were edited?
7.War verite, the danger? William Cabanne as director, his vanity, creating the fiction, creating the attack sequence by the police, the farewell scene, the return home, his exasperation? The vision of the president – and Villa’s objections? Yet nevertheless filming it, dressed up, his speech – and the scene in the premiere in America?
8.Aitken, the portrait of the new industry, the industry language, money, public relations? The role of D.W. Griffith? Aitken and his disappointment in his nephew, the footage? Changing his mind? Ultimate commercial success?
9.D.W. Griffith and his status, seeing him on set, haughty, the celebrity, the supervisor, at the premiere?
10.Cabanne, the comic style, on set, manipulation, not going into battle, Villa and the desperation of his playing the trick on Cabanne, putting him before the firing squad? Cabanne preening at the premiere?
11.Frank as the focus, the opening of the film, receiving Villa’s medal? The film as his memory, as assistant to Villa? The friendship with Teddy Sampson, his initial going to Texas, seeing Eli Morton, watching the war through binoculars, Morton waving, the arrangements, the discussions about the gold? Sam as the translator? The meeting with Villa, going into action, the decisions, the language difficulties? Listening, learning, mixed feelings? The battle success and his enthusiasm? The deaths? Going back to New Jersey, the failure, his return? His ability to persuade Villa? His affair with Teddy Sampson? The mock-execution and his reaction? Villa and the choice of the two boys as soldiers, his disagreement, the race, keeping the winner, the irony of his later death? The other boy going to work as an editor? Seeing the footage of his brother dying? Its being used in the final film? The woman appealing to Villa, his shooting her? The way that this was used in the film? The premiere, Frank’s disgust, his going out, talking to Reed? The news of the young boy’s marriage, the baptism of his son, going to Mexico to show the film? The enthusiastic applause?
12.Sam Drebben, mercenary, tough, translation, with Villa, shooting, his advice? Frank meeting him at the end – and the irony of meeting his mother?
13.John Reed, his reputation, work, observing the action, his views, his going to the premiere, his comments about the burden of office?
14.The patriotic view of Villa, as myth, reality, history, the revolution, his followers? His behaviour towards his men, women, relationships, the priest and the pregnant girl, the bombing of the town, the ammunition dumps, especially the church? Social concern? Tactics – and their asking him to film out of the sun? The incident of the firing squad, the choice of the two boys, the death of the woman?
15.The premiere, the effect of the film – and the power of the cinema? The effect of this film on the contemporary audience?