Friday, August 10, 2007

Puerto Rican Activists Dish on the Film EL CANTANTE

The following is the text of a cyberdiscussion I've
been having with several friends about the film El
Cantante. We are all Puerto Rican, in our 30s and
engaged in a range of social movements. With folks'
permission and no changes (except for minor edits and
occasional pseudonyms), this is our honest
conversation about our complex and sometimes
conflicted thoughts about the film and the film
industry overall. I was moved by so many aspects of
the discussion that I had to share it here and invite
you to join in. I so appreciate the complexity of the
discussion, the ability to challenge each other yet
respectfully disagree (something rare in cyberspace),
and most of all, the warmth and humor. Never let it
again be said that activists don't know how to laugh!


__________
I am writing some rambling thoughts to you because I
am interested in your (yes, be honored) reactions to
the film and in expanding my own thinking about it.
(My pops is seeing it tonight and I am eager to get
his reaction. My mother said she expected something
else but couldn't
explain what, other than to say she didn't think they
were going to get to the drugs scenes so early in the
film.)

I had heard different comments about it before. I saw
the film on Sunday and plan to see it again. (Thanks,
Sonia, for reminding me about the importance of
opening weekend.)
I have criticisms of the film, but overall, enjoyed
it.

Janet, your friend brought up a good point about how
some people receive the film – that is, that it
depends on their relationship with Lavoe.

For me, that one is bittersweet.

His music makes me nostalgic for the bodega corner
hang out times back, back in the days in Williamsburg.
I'm in awe of his/its sheer brilliance.

It also makes me think about the uncles I lost to
alcohol abuse and AIDS. Fania was really their time,
their songs, their direct experience. Fania and Lavoe,
of course, reflect a community experience.


I've heard more than a few people criticize the drug
scenes and that point is bullshit. That's how it was –
pervasive, in our communities and music industry. We
also saw that in Walk the Line, Ray, Elvis Presley
flicks, etc. But I understand the ambivalence some
Boricuas have about
reliving what's historically been an over-projected,
singular dimension of our community favored by blancos
(e.g. the genius on a downward spiral).

For the musicians criticizing that aspect, I'm like –
shut the fuck up. They were in it too and now are
offended? Unbelievable. (BTW, read Gerson Borrero's
column in El Diario tomorrow – he touches on this,
very sharply).

This is not necessarily a musician's or aficionado's
film. It's Puchi's story, or an interpretation of her
story, and maybe it should have been titled as such,
as a colleague suggested. Yes, I wanted to see Fania
go to Africa for the Ali-Foreman fight. I wanted a
massive production. I was
annoyed by Marc Anthony's inconsistent accent. There
appeared to be a few chronological and musical
inaccuracies. I was not crazy about how the film was
shot. How many times can you use the slow motion
device?

Maybe I was bouncing between genuine criticisms that
cut across the board (meaning our community – I don't
care about Variety) to the film that "I" would have
done to my personal framing of Lavoe. It's all
subjective in the end, isn't it?

I did love the Aguanile performance, the Ruben
Blades-Lavoe transition into El Cantante, the way the
lyrics appeared on the screen. I thought the acting
was decent, even better than decent at some specific
moments. And the costumes and makeup were no less than
fierce.

I was moved by some of the scenes. For example, I
thought the Iris Chacon scene was a sweet snapshot.
(It reminded me of how when we were little, Mely and I
and our cousins would try to imitate her – and then
snort coke – just kidding). And I like that they tried
to play with the
Nuyorican-island dynamic.

What I also liked is that we are finally offered more
than a few minutes about the woman "behind" the famous
man. Unlike Ray or any Presley flick, you get a sense
of that—in
this instance Puchi, who yes, is a classic spitfire
but is not helpless or in need of being rescued.
That's a voice you don't typically get to hear in a
substantive way in these types of films.

I also think that the Lavoe flick shouldn't be seen as
the definitive project. I hope several eatures and
documentaries are produced about him, Fania and salsa,
and from different vantage points.

For all the flaws, I feel that at least J-Lo and Marc
intention and with heart. I can't say that for a bunch
of other Boricuas. They could have done a thousand
other movies. And I hope they do more Puerto Rican
stories and get better at it. I applaud their
potential.

We're too quick sometimes at devouring our own and
squashing a meaningful sign of development. Of course,
that doesn't mean I'm going to accept, promote or
endorse crap like Empire. That film was farted out.

Without excusing El Cantante for its flaws, I know
that it's really difficult to make a film, period, and
then on someone so important to our community. I doubt
that any film on Lavoe would be received without
searing criticism. Amiri Baraka, etc., was all over
Malcolm X and not all of Johnny Cash's family was
happy with Walk the Line.

Another note…

When The Capeman was playing on Broadway, I was ready
to trash it. I still feel that we should tell our
stories, not Paul Simon.

But I couldn't launch into a real critique without
seeing it. And you know what, I have to admit that it
was a good show. (And I was a ruthless criticona in
those days). Capeman had flaws, although very few. But
more importantly, it unfolded a piece of the migration
experience that's been so central to our community
here. It humanized someone who had been so demonized.
The show I attended was packed and got an ovation. And
El Cantante was packed at UA on 13th and
Broadway and got applause at the end of the showing I
went to on Sunday.

So am I becoming too patient in my older age?

Evelyn
- - - - - - - - - -
Hey gente,

If you are as naturally inquisitive as I am, once I
saw the film and especially after the Aguanile scene,
I wanted to find out the meaning of Aguanile. I defer
my santo questions to Tata Chambe who is both a palero
and santero. According to him -gua is great spirit and
-ile is house. So the word asks the great spirit to
come down to one's house for protection, blessing etc.
Lots of folks had the impression with the agua
reference that it either referred to the Nile River or
Yemaya. Also, there is a bomba song called Aguatile,
hmm. (and I learned to snort by watching my big sis)
I got the info below from Google/ WillieColon.com, it
seems to be 3+ yrs ago. Colon's response is in bold.

What does the song "Aguanile" from the Jucio album
mean? What is it about? Very interested Nuyorican
transplanted to Colorado named Jose Fernando Rosario
wants to know! That song is what got him still in
diapers in '72 to identify with the Afro-Cuban-Boricua
rhythm like a fish does water. Thank you!

WC: I hate to talk about thing I don't know too much
about. I think Aguanile is a prayer to Elegguá (San
Lazaro.)
- - - - - - - - - -

E, thanks for your feedback and setting off a
discussion within our group.

I saw the movie a 2nd time last night, watching it
with a more critical eye and you know what? I enjoyed
it as much as I did on the first viewing. I even got
calo frio a 2nd time when Marc first hit the stage to
sing El Cantante. Yeah, I wanted to like it but there
have been lots of films I wanted to like but couldn't
'cause they came up short. This one was gratifying. I
was glad to see Jennifer finally act and not "do the
cute" like she usually does in her flicks, that
America's sweetheart bullshit Julia Roberts does. I
thought Marc was amazing and vulnerable and embodied
all the qualities Latino detractors said the film
lacked: he was funny, sweet, accessible, troubled,
complex. Thanks, Papo, for sending that article out
yesterday, which talked about the controversy
surrounding the film within our own community. That
article pissed me off so much, I couldn't even finish
reading it. I'm going to that Yahoo group and post my
thoughts there tambien. It kills me how we are not
that vociferous against a film like Empire but will
maul Jennifer & Marc's attempts to honor a complex but
beloved hero in our community. My thoughts on that
article:

* pissed me off that Willie Colon, Ismael Miranda and
other musicians that worked with the film came out
with negative feedback after the film came out, as if
they had not seen the freakin' script beforehand.
What, were they surprised by the content? Was the
script a secret?

* Domingo Quinones feedback that the film focused too
much on the drug use: hello?! So did the play "Quien
Mato a Hector Lavoe?" which he was the star of.

* Biopics on musicians with drug problems tend to
magnify that problem, the drugs b/c it is one of the
biggest manifestation of the artist's self-sabotage.
El Cantante is NOT the only film to do this, as E
mentioned. Also, films and plays are DRAMATIC and are
interesting precisely because audiences want to see
how an individual or group of people overcome
adversity (or don't); a happy-go-lucky musician who
was funny and lovable is not drama and not necessarily
interesting to watch for 90-120 minutes. The more
adversity, the better. People LOVE films about the
excesses of an artist, whether they're drugging,
sexing, or being assholes in general; I think b/c it
provides us a vicarious thrill of someone who has it
all and rolls in that shit like a pig in slop. Am I
wrong?

* To diminish the drug use would be disingenuous. Even
before the movie and play, people in our community
would talk about his drug use AS MUCH as they did his
music. Same thing with La Lupe. If I had a dime for
every story about the coke in her long fingernails
during shows, I'd buy (fill in the blank). Am I wrong?
I think that b/c there aren't that many good films out
there about us and since there are so many drug
dealing movies involving us, we become rightfully
self-conscious about our image, even when the
portrayal is accurate (in the case of Lavoe). It's
fucked 'cause American Latinos have a real tough time
making films about our community that the "powers that
be" find marketable. When we want to make a
coming-of-age film about a young man, it's not
marketable, according to "powers," but when a white
guy makes "Raising Victor Vargas," it's precious b/c
it's an outsider view into our community as if we're
animals in a safari. I loved RVV but I hate how
decisions are made about what films get made and by
who. The recent success of Mexican filmmakers (Cuaron,
Del Toro, Gonzalez Arriaga) has not turned into
success for American-born Latinos unfortunately so
we're as fucked as we ever were.

I'm also annoyed by the reductionist critique of
non-Latino critics who state this flick was about two
junkies without contextualizing the significance of
Lavoe in our community. That's not how Johnny Cash was
described.

The two times I saw the flick, the theater was full
with Latinos and non-Latinos alike. Last night when we
left the theater, I caught (nasal) snippets from a
couple of blanquitas behind me who seemed to very much
enjoy the film.

E, regarding your thoughts that you may be becoming
too patient in your golden years ;-), naa, ma, you're
as criticona as you've always been and that's a good
thing.

Sone
- - - - - - - - - -

Evelyn,Thanks for setting off this dialogue, and
Sone-Boogs, for your contribution to it.

I went to see the film on Friday around my Mom's way
in Chelsea, and it was sold out. Hoping to catch it
at a larger theater, I trooped it to 34th St., and it
was also sold out (granted I went about 1/2 before the
start of each). So while I slept on the film, I was
glad to know people were coming out to see it. I
finally caught it on Sunday afternoon, and I have
mixed feelings about it (if I say "ambivalent",
Evelyn's gonna say I'm using "big words" ;-)).
Seriously though, it is extremely important that this
film was made, which will connect a new generation of
(predominantly English-speaking) Puerto Ricans and
other Latinos to Hector Lavoe's life and work. Mark
Anthony's interpretation of the music was beautiful.
Like Sone, I had very emotional reactions to some of
the songs he sang (El Cantante, Aguanile, and the slow
jams). Jennifer Lopez was ok, although inconsistent.
I just didn't know when she was being "Puchi" or Jenny
from the Block (maybe there's no difference). I did
enjoy the scene when she said she'd agree to be with a
woman...as long as Hector agreed to get with Willie
Colon first! I also loved Nelson Vasquez' portrayal
of Johnny Pacheco. On Point!

With that said, film and other art forms are at their
best when they portray the subtleties and humanity of
complex characters, including famous drug addicts and
their wives. The screenplay didn't provide that, and
Sone, I would say definitely needed more context
precisely because his life was so reflective of the
Boricua experience. Hector was important not only
because of his unique talent, but also because his
songs reflected a particular time, and particular
places: NYC in the 1960's and 1970's experienced
riots, white flight, revolutionary movements, went
bankrupt, increased proliferation of drugs (as we
saw), among other tumultuous events. We know that by
the time Hector arrived in the NYC, 1/3 of Puerto
Rico's population moved to the U.S. in the span of 20
years, mostly to NYC - the ultimate World City. The
1980s saw Reagan and crack, and return migration to
Puerto Rico. Reflecting a jibaro ethos and working
class Boricua Spanish, his music and his life captured
the realities of our everyday struggles with profound
emotion, nuance, dignity while struggling with his
addiction and personal shortcomings. But with this
film, I have to agree with the critics Sonia
criticizes: the predominant image I get is the
combative relationship of an extremely talented dope
fiend and his wife.

Evelyn, I appreciate your comment about how it was
unique to get the woman behind the man's perspective.
But I sincerely feel that we could've gotten a more
profound understanding of him not by ignoring his drug
abuse (it's all about engaging taboo), but by focusing
more on the tensions his addiction created, the fears
and insecurities he sought to mask through his use,
perhaps even the creativity it sparked (not saying
folks should use to get creative), and of course, the
messy, tragic ending. This was straight up
Hollywood, and I wanted something special: the Puerto
Rican "Raging Bull" or "Godfather", in which taboo
subjects like the mob, or even despicable real life
characters like Jake Lamotta in RB are portrayed in
their complexity.

And while this may sound trifling, I also think more
of Hector's dialogue could've/should've been in
Spanish. He was island-born, and in listening to much
of his music, especially in his live-recordings, you
get a much better feel for of his great sense of humor
in Spanish, which is difficult to translate.
Incidentally, I think Mark Anthony, when using Spanish
in playing the role, did an outstanding job.

Regarding the criticism of the film by some of his
contemporaries, if that was my boy, I might have had
beef too. Willie Colon doesn't count: he has no
credibility. Domingo Quinones, though, has a
particular perspective, having played Hector Lavoe
(extremely well, I might add) in the play Quien Mato
Hector Lavoe, and he must've learned a great deal
about him in preparation for the part.
I know that's asking for a lot (I'm definitely still a
Criticon). Still, I sincerely applaud the effort put
forth by all involved, especially the risk that
Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony took in putting this
together. No doubt, who but these two- with their own
star power, wealth, etc., could've made this happen?

Alright, I have gone on quite enough. Thanks for
entertaining my ramblings, which I submit with love
and respect, and of course, for critique.
Siempre,
Papo
- - - - - - - - - -
Papo, you're so good with context. You're right, the
film would've been richer if the filmmakers would've
focused more on the protagonist in his surroundings. A
lot of these biopics as well as the ESPN film "The
Bronx Is Burning," usually focuses on the character to
the point of making them their own island, you know
what I mean? Why do you say Willie Colon has no
credibility? I know his campaign in the late 90's was
a joke but what do you mean exactly?I would imagine
biopics are hard, especially with people who are still
living b/c people remember shit differently and often,
each of them conceivably are the stars of a particular
event (in their own minds), hence the unreliability of
recollections.Sone
- - - - - - - - - -

Pues, I'm firing this off (and my crack pipe) at eight
this morning before I head out the door so forgive me
if I'm not coherent or thorough in responding to all
the insight already shared. In a nutshell, I have many
conflicted feelings about the film with respect to
both craft and content, yet I'd be lying if I didn't
say I did not enjoy it. I'm not upset that I shelled
out $11 on opening weekend to support it, and yet I'm
disheartened that when we make our own films, this is
the poor quality that we're producing and that the
film will fail financially because of it. If J. Lo
with her money and experience can't get it right,
we're in some serious trouble, people. :( On specific
points of craft, content and criticism.

1. The drug use. There's just no way to be true to
this story without it. However, I think there was too
much emphasis on it. The film opens with it for
Christ's sake. Can we see Hector rise before we suffer
through his fall, damn? We learn about Hector's
addiction before we learn a thing about who he even is
or why we should care who he is. I'm not down for
sanitizing the truth, but I do believe had we seen
more of what made Hector great (I don't know if Marc
had one scene where wifey wasn't in b.g. or cut to her
backstage - even when she wasn't there physically, she
was there in flashback, it was fuckin' annoying), the
numerous scenes of him getting high might've been more
palatable.

2. Too much tell and not enough show. I don't want
to hear Puchi tell me Hector was funny. I want to see
him be funny (more than a fleeting one-liner here and
there.) I don't want to hear Puchi tell me that Hector
was loved. Let me see him be loved. I mean, J. Lo and
Marc had the loot to tell this story right. They
wanted to tell the story from Puchi's perspective,
fine (in retrospect, I think it was a big mistake and,
while I feel the remark about "that's what happens
when you have two strong women in the macho world of
salsa" was downright sexist, the critique of the
result was on point. What should've been Hector's
story became Puchi's story and methinks that was
because instead of being a Marc Anthony vehicle, it
turned into a J. Lo vehicle.) Anyway, they still
could've told the story from Puchi's perspective and
still place greater emphasis on Hector's talent and
its subsequent influence on salsa and American music
overall. Even if told from her POV, their
relationship still could have and SHOULD'VE been the
subplot not the main story. The first and biggest
problem with this film was the script which just
sucked.

3. That said, I'ma hold off on attacking any of the
musicians that worked on the film as consultants and
let me tell you why. You really don't know if they
ever saw a script. We don't know if they worked on
their little part of the script and saw nothing else.
This film has been in the making for a long minute and
we do not yet know -- and may never know -- if the
script these cats saw and signed on to support is the
same one that actually got produced. I'm even going to
give J.Lo the benefit of the doubt and not assume
subterfuge on her part. This is especially true if
they got down with the project before the director was
hired and put his own stamp on the script. Remember,
this probably wasn't and still is not the only Lavoe
script out there. In fact, word is that la India is
developing one, too. There are of Lupe scripts out
there and probably a shitload of Albizu and Lolita
scripts out there, and it's par for the course in
filmmaking that what you write and what you actually
shoot can be vastly different.

4. I was SHOCKED to read the LA Times article and
realize that so many of the musical icons of that time
served as consultants on this film. I truly walked out
of the film thinking (1) Puchi was the only person who
talked to the filmmakers and (2) wondering why that
was. To find out that they were consultants on the
film that ultimately gave us so little sense of who
Hector was as a man and as a talent really floored me.
Still does.

5. Here's where I'm most conflicted. I do think that
to some extent the extreme praise within our community
on this film of the oh-my God-it-was-great variety is
terribly unwarranted. Trust me, we criticons are the
exception not the rule as progressive folks usually
are. I believe this uncritical praise is really driven
by nostalgia and as well as deep hunger to (1) be
visible in a nation that still views race through the
false Black-White dichotomy and (2) be recognized
within a larger community where we are a minority
given that most Latinos in the U.S. are of Mexican
descent. That's why films about the Puerto Rican
experience of any sort are rarely made (and the reason
why they usually exist in the vein of Empire is
because Hollywood in all its equal opportunity racism
thinks those movies will at least also crossover to
the African American and hip hop wigga audience.)
They just don't think there is enough of us to make a
film about us that doesn't play to the urban thug
stereotype is commercially viable.

One minute, I feel, hell yeah, why not have a movie
just for us? There ARE enough Puerto Ricans to make a
low-budget film a box office success. We shouldn't
have to cater to the white crossover crowd to have our
shit made and succeed.

The next minute, I'm like, fuck, if you don't already
know who Hector is and why we should know who he is,
you sure as hell are not going to get it from this
film. I think despite our criticism of the film, I
think we're generally going easy on it because we
already know what it's supposed to have shown us. You
don't walk into a film tabula rasa; a basic principle
of media literacy is that audiences make meaning of
the media, they bring their own experiences,
assumptions, values to the joint. So I think the fact
that we all could find value in the film for all its
flaws -- present company included -- is not about what
the film gives us but what WE as proud and
knowledgeable Puerto Ricans BROUGHT TO IT. So even
though the film fails to show why Hector belongs among
the ranks of Ray Charles and Johnny Cash, we're
straight. The problem is that we are the minority, and
this film does Hector's legacy a serious disservice.

Now don't get me wrong. It's not about proving to
White people that we got shit to offer so they should
be open to us. It's about Hector doing the damn thing,
changing the landscape of American music in a way that
still resonates today, and getting his damned due for
it. So yes, for non-Puerto Ricans to walk out this
film not understanding that really bothers me.

OK, I'm just getting started, but the crack pipe is
burning and I gotta get ready to do a writing workshop
for some teenagers downtown. Oh, and to tell them to
say no to drugs.

Be back later with more. :)

SQ
- - - - - - - - - -

First, Evelyn you ain't getting softer, mujer, we just
have more experiences to draw from as we get older.
Plus, if you still asking, then you're still thinking.
Right?

Sofia, you made me laugh ironically about your comment
about drugs being real, and them going to a workshop
with NY teens where you have to tell them to say no to
drugs. I have been heartened by the dialogue among
Puerto Ricans. It feels good.

Papo (we met once via Sofia at Camaradas), I really
appreciated your comment as a 'mano about Puchi
checking Hector about her being with women. It
actually surprised me coming from Jennifer. That was
a definite high for me in the film.

I like many of you saw the film on opening weekend.
It was interesting in that I saw it in Bergenfield,
New Jersey. In many ways I was curious to see what
folks in a place beyond NYC would say. For those of
you who don't know Bergenfield is a town with MANY
Latinos (mainly Colombians and Puerto Ricans with a
smattering of Dominicans) in northern New Jersey, near
Teaneck. It was one of the few places I could see the
movie in northern New Jersey, and the theater was
packed with Latinos (mostly Colombians). I saw it
with my husband Alex who is a Colombian born in
Colombia but has lived on the east coast since he was
fourteen. Despite the fact that he's not Puerto
Rican, he too grew up on Hector Lavoe in both Colombia
and being in the United States. I being a Cali-Rican
who grew up in California, also never left a family
gathering without Hector Lavoe being played. He was a
staple for a lot us beyond even the Puerto Rican
Diaspora. I've become frustrated by some of the
reviews saying that only Puerto Ricans related to
Lavoe. That once again, a Latino or really a Puerto
Rican story can't be universal. After all, we've all
seen films with no Puerto Ricans and found some
connection. Right? Yet, during the film they had the
opportunity with music to really draw everyone in, and
still what Sofia said about SHOWING NOT TELLING (which
is the first thing you learn as a filmmaker) happened
throughout the story. In Ray, you saw his impact on
BLUES, we traveled with him. Hector went to Puerto
Rico once, but we didn't see him impact the world. Or
even other Latin American countries, like Colombia
which many Puerto Ricans like Tito Gomez (who recently
died) who was Puerto Rican and joined Grupo Niche and
lived for the past twenty or so years in Colombia and
was integral to the success of Grupo Niche in the
formative years.

Which leads me to one of my many frustrations with not
only the film, but also the industry (we could have a
whole conversation about how industry and capitalism
coverts creativity and art) Sorry if it sounds like a
gripe, but being a socially conscious filmmaker it
something I think about all the time. But, though I
too can be a criticona, I really wanted to love this
film. How thirsty we become to see ourselves, for
once and be like wow, they really represented.
Honestly, I can't remember the last time I left a
Puerto Rican film and was like, they nailed it!
Really, I never have. The closest I got was GLORIA by
Cassavetes, but even that film had MAJOR issues that
as a young girl I couldn't yet break down. I also
think in my heart I knew that J-Lo and Marc Anthony
didn't have the chops to give El Cantante depth. But,
I guess part of my own process in getting older is not
allowing my self to become so cynical that I lose
hope. For me being revolutionary has always been
about hope. Though the tools I use may change from
direct action, to education to now writing and film.

Alex and I had this discussion that we really wondered
if EL Cantante had been in Spanish, folks may have
been able to embrace the film. I'm not saying it
needed to, though I agree with Papo about Marc
speaking Spanish would be more reflective of Hector.
And I appreciated that Puchi brought up when meeting
Hector's sister that as a Nuyorican she hadn't been to
Puerto Rico nor did she speak Spanish. Though many of
us growing up in the States do speak Spanish too.
Though I would have loved for that scene to go deeper,
it touched on the differences between mainland and
island Puerto Ricans which often times can also be
attributed to class and colonialism. Lots to
decompress here. Pero what I'm trying to get at is
that US blanquitos or gringos to use my cali-rican
lexicon really can't embrace US based Latino doing
English languages films that reflects our experience
in the USA. Especially ones made by us. And if they
do, it either has to have a multi-racial cast where
they see themselves reflected or has to have some
exotic connection to what they "acknowledge" as real
artist like Frida Kahlo or a Diego Rivera. I think
it's similar to how they can't deal with African
Americans in films like Beloved, but they can deal
with them in comedy.

Also, more regarding the music and it might be
contributed to budget, but many of the Lavoe songs
they used were ones written by Fania and not
specifically Hector. Maybe they couldn't get the
rights. But, if you're going to do a film about this
man and his brilliance, I would have loved to see more
of him and his songs. And more on story, though I
liked seeing a romance between Puchi and Hector. And
for once it wasn't solely the brilliant man with his
wife in the shadows. This should have been more of a
subplot to Hector's story. They basically had two
main plots for an hour and half movie. Plus
flashbacks which also can take away from character
development and story. This change could have made
the script better.

I have more to say, but much of it has already been
said. Don't want to sound like a broken record. But,
I will say that the homegirl, raised poor and working
class Boricua in me did feel some nostalgia and even
some emotion in the film. I know the AIDS and drugs
stuff could have been deeper, and dealt with better.
Like in Ray, it was an issue, but it didn't side track
from his brilliance. But, I too did a lot of
activism around AIDS/HIV and saw some people die.
Have the uncle that's still doing life for drugs.
Anyone of us could have been that hood rat. But just
like my homies that are either locked up, dead or
around the way some of us made different choices.
I've seen enough films about gratuitous drugs and
violence. If we're going make a film about that which
is fine, I want to see context or a new angle.

Yes, Papo this exposes a generation of young people to
Lavoe, but I don't think that's enough. I had the
Lords and Panthers, even with all their imperfections.
We also had the birth of hip-hop as counter culture
that wanted to make moves and give us a voice.
Movement that pushed us to dig deeper. In Bergenfield,
some of the younger Latinos were like, "yeah, we got
salsa!" They said it with pride, and I ain't gonna lie
my heart sunk, and I was like I want more, we're
entitled to have more. I wanted more from this film.
More from the two Puerto Ricans in Hollywood that have
the closest access.

Maybe as a friend said the other day, it's expecting
too much from a movie. He said you gotta look at the
entire body of work that an artist or filmmaker does.
I still believe it can be entertaining and make a
point without feeling preachy. We have the skills.
It's not easy, but if I lifted my colonized mind,
maybe we could all think WAY outside the box.

Orale pues, sorry for my brain dump, uncensored just
sharing my two cents. I say it all with an open mind
and I'm very appreciative of the dialogue!

Pa'lante, Siempre Pa'lante!
Elisha
- - - - - - - - - - -

Thanks to all of you who've contributed thus far.
I've got mad things in my head, but will try to touch
upon a couple of things before I head to a meeting.

Sonia, you're right. Commercial tv/film is not
necessarily interested in the big picture. In the
Bronx is Burning, they're giving you "The Son of Sam"
drama, and eventually the image of the car burning
outside of Yankee Stadium during the World Series,
from which the "Bronx is Burning" (thanks to Howard
Cosell), got its title. (My sense is that Hector
Lavoe was in NYC somewhere performing ;-).) All of
this plays up the whole "Bronx Zoo," Fort Apache,
urban blight metaphor...but I'm getting off topic.

Regarding Willie Colon, forgive me for sounding so
dismissive. His music has always been beautiful, but
I'm put off by his personal "style" (penchant for self
promotion and arrogance). Moreover, while he may
have legitimate objections with the film, he's quoted
as saying something like "Puchi was never good for
Hector", etc., etc., which may or may not be true, but
the finger pointing bochinche is tasteless and
self-serving, not to mention disrespectful. Who else
was stunned to learn at the end of the movie that
"soon after the filming of this interview, Puchi died
in an accident???'" This was especially chilling
when earlier you hear Puchi say. "I'm the only one
left." You don't speak that way of the dead. From
there, I tuned Willie out, but very much appreciated
Gerson Borerro's take on Willie's response, b/c he
needed to be held accountable.

Sofia, I'm totally feeling your analysis, especially
on the points of "Show, don't tell me", and the fact
that we do bring our particular subjectivities when
viewing the film. The first point both you and Elisha
(wassup sistah?) lay out wonderful points, so I won't
belabor. Regarding what we bring to the film, I
found myself just waiting for the part when Hector's
son dies; waiting for when he jumps out the window,
etc. Without the laying out of the story, without
character development, the film felt "long" to me b/c
I guess I knew what was coming. Too much time was
wasted on the drug scenes, which further exoticized
(is that a word?) and glamorized "the life." Save it.

Elisha, I do understand what you mean that without the
context, young people may simply claim salsa as
authentically "ours". But for me, just being exposed
to the music is how I got started. Remembering those
songs from the family gatherings that elicited
nostalgia in me for those times. As I got older, I
understood them more. My hope is that even with the
film's shortcomings, that it will get this generations
-- even those who don't speak much, if any Spanish -
to listen to the music, and understand the time and
place, and be moved by the beauty of Hector Lavoe's
unique talent. And before I bounce, you are so on
point about the revolutionary being about hope. I too
hoped to like the film, and like i said, it was
alright, even if the typical Hollywood production.
It's funny, before we went into the theater, I told
Sofia that J-Lo should've given Chica Luna the money
to do it! You never know...we can hope ;-). I gotta
bounce.

Mad Love,
Papo
- - - - - - - - - -
OK, I'm back and very excited and appreciative of the
additions to the discussion since I last logged on. I
was looking forward to it! :) Some additional
thoughts:

1. Getting the aside out first. Yeah, "The Bronx is
Burning" is another one I've got mixed reviews about
it. I started the book and didn't get far before I put
it down and have to finish it and compare. BUT I
remember watching this week's episode and feeling all
weird about the air time given to the FALN and
wondering if Puerto Ricans would've gotten any play if
this mini-series had not been made in the post 9-11
era. I'm like, "Oh, NOW y'all wanna be inclusive...
muthfuckas...."

2. I'm having a hard time determining if my being
generally unimpressed with J. Lo's and Marc's
performances has a little, a lot or everything to do
with how I feel about their allotted screen time.
There just wasn't enough of Marc and way too much of
Jennifer, so I wonder if that is coloring my ability
to appreciate their performances. I loved the Iris
Chacon scene because I do remember being
fascinated/proud/shocked/jealous of her as a little
girl... that is, until J. Lo was shimmying her famous
caboose for the close up. Intellectually, I
understand why that was real 'cause many a Latina
danced in front of the television when Iris was on the
screen. But J. Lo herself just brings too much baggage
to a scene like that, no pun intended. I couldn't
help but think, "Aw, man, otra vez con el jodia
fondillo grande." Had than been another Latina
actress, it probably wouldn't have bothered me as
much. Especially since that also was a scene used in
the trailers to promote the film.

3. Yeah, I'm with Elisha about just when the hell will
White folks -- particularly the powers that be in
Hollywood -- are going to see the universality in our
stories? The assumption is that this is a "Puerto
Rican" movie. It's no more a Puerto Rican movie than
"Ray" is a Black movie or "Walking the Line" is a
White movie. It doesn't seem to matter whether we
play to the stereotypes or not; we remain "other." And
that's the biggest issue here for me:

4. We should be able to support a quality film and
ignore wack films about us without having to worry
about the message sent to Hollywood. The point is that
we feel compelled to support everything even if it's
basura because if we won't go see films about us --
good or bad, on point or trifling, they use that as an
excuse to do what they don't really want to do anyway
-- put our experience front and center. And yet no one
has convinced me that going to see some porqueria like
Empire or Soul Plane or whatever ensures that we might
get Chasing Papi this week, but Girlfight next week.
Nah, I'm convinced if we see Empire, we get Illegal
Tender. If we support Soul Plane, we're going to get
Soul Cruise, Soul Low-Rider, Soul Tricycle, whatever.
No one has been able to prove to me that they see,
"Wow, they take care of their films i.e. we don't need
a crossover audience so maybe we should give them MORE
and DIVERSE films." That's the ultimate issue for me.

Individual Latinos should be able to say if they truly
feel, "You know what? I don't want to see that shit,"
and it should be OK, with no fear that if we don't
support it, -- even if we have damned good reason not
to -- we're going to be rendered invisible.

THOSE are the dynamics of capitalism, colonization,
etc. as they are reflected in the entertainment
industry that really bother me, and they are not of
our making. I hate that we are being put in this
damned if we do and damned if we don't position.

How do we break out of it? Well, like Evelyn says, we
tell our own stories. And like Elisha suggested, we do
so well. Get on that craft. And, yes, we stay
criticona pero con compasion because it is hard to
make a film, especially when you don't have access to
the requisite resources.

I guess that's what ultimately disappoints me about
this film because I did want to like and supported it
despite my reservations. While some of the reviews of
Anglo critics are tinged with racism, anti-J.Lo
sentiment, and other factors that should have nothing
to do with the film itself, some of the criticism --
especially with respect to the craft -- are sadly on
point.

The play was off the chain, and I thought this film
was going to be much more informed by that. Yes, the
play focused on his drug use, too, but I remember
clearly how much you also got a sense of Hector's
showmanship, his bawdy sense of humor, and of course,
his amazing artistic gifts. This was very scant in
the film which by virtue of the medium gave the
storytellers much more to work with.

I, too, applauded at the end of the film. But I
applauded for Hector. I applauded for John Ortiz and
Nelson Vasquez who should work regularly and not be
waiting for calls just from Leon Ichaso, Dick Wolf and
Tom Fontana. I applauded for our resiliency as a
people and the richness of our culture.

Sadly, I didn't applaud because I thought the film was
good. And yet I was not surprised, to be real with
y'all. I've been weary ever since I heard that
Jennifer wanted to do this project. I always whiffed
blatant opportunism. You can't expect such a willfully
apolitical and self-centered person to do this story
justice. I cringe at the thought of her getting her
hands on a Lolita Lebron script. I'd rather she go
back to her cutesy rom-coms and sappy melodramas.
Really. If she's not going to educate herself beyond
preparing for her specific role she does us more harm
than good. It kills me knowing that there are so many
conscious and talented filmmakers that are still
waiting to be put on to see over and over again that
(1) Latinos who do get a break are trafficking in
stereotype or skimping on craft and (2) White folks
getting the resources to tell OUR stories and doing it
better than us almost as often as they're fucking it
up. Most of the Latino films that I genuinely like
are NOT being made by Latinos, and that breaks my
heart because I know we have folks in our community
who are MORE than capable of delivering the goods.
It's the folks among us whose first and sometimes only
objective is to make money, be famous, live large,
etc. however, the ones who are getting the
opportunities, not the ones who are going to truly
represent. And y'all know what that's about. Still I
should be compelled to support that someone who, for
all intents and purpose, could really give shit about
doing right be me? Does it really change anything?
Will it really trickle down in a positive way?

That's what I'm still trying to sort out in an effort
to remain a hopeful revolutionary.

SQ

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys, I just wanted to let you know that I watched the film tonight. I had been wanting to see it for a long time but couldn't get to the movies. Just another example of a young, misdirected, talented man - so consumed by the effects of drugs and a myriad of other issues that he probably never got help for. I was saddened throughout the entire move because I knew he would die. Another tormented lost soul...what can I say? I think I need to watch it again so that I can digest it more slowly this time. I love Jennifer and Mark and though I am not PuertoRican, I applaude them for their efforts and their PR pride! God Bless to you all!

Black Artemis said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. You raise a good point about Marc not getting any help in the film. That might've been an interesting thing to have seen... his attempts to seek help for his substance abuse.

Shortly after seeing the film, I read the book PASSION AND PAIN: THE LIFE OF HECTOR LAVOE, and it talks about the mulitiple (yet failed) attempts by Hector to get clean. We have to remember that this was at a time when we didn't have the range of treatment services we do today.

It would've been fairer to Hector to see that he did try even if in the end he never succeeded in kicking his habit.

Carmelo Millan said...

To be honest I saw "Quien mato a Hector Lavoe" and thought it was much better than "El Cantante" as far as telling Hector's life story was concerned.

"El Cantante" made Hector seem like a sorry tecato with, no talent, and no life outside of drugs. I think that is a shameful interpretation of a man that graced us with such beautiful music and obviously had much more going on than what was captured in the movie.

This movie was all about Puchi, and
Puchi was obviously an outspoken hoodrat that overstepped her bounds with Hector and took away more than she ever contributed to his legacy and life. She should have been happy for the times they spent togethere instead of obviously hating on the fact that he was a talent and she wasn't. She was involved in the movie so you know she tried to clean up her image, and even then she still comes across like a bitch.

I'm sure aspects of J-Lo's relationship with Marc Anthony also played into this film, which is petty in my opinion. While I applaud them for trying to stay close to their roots, it is obvious they have a long way to go before they are ready to be trusted with the responsibility of creating a movie about an Iconic Salsa singer like Hector Lavoe.

Many aspects of Hector where not covered very well like his childhood, his work, his family, and his relationship with Willie (which if you have listened to their music you could tell was way more intersting and complicated than this bullshit ass movie).

All in all this movie gets to big thumbs down from this Rican and J Lo and Marc should be ashamed they had the balls to name it "El Cantante" when they should have named it "La Cabrona" or "Los Pendejos"... lol