Academic journal article Bilingual Review

The Caballero Revisited: Postmodernity in the Cisco Kid, the Mask of Zorro, and Shrek II

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

The Caballero Revisited: Postmodernity in the Cisco Kid, the Mask of Zorro, and Shrek II

Article excerpt

Although by the 1990s the Robin Hood heroes embodied by the Cisco Kid and Zorro had been absent from cinema screens in North America for a number of years, they had not disappeared from the popular imagination. Luis Valdez, who was to direct The Cisco Kid in 1994, had long been fascinated by the figure of the rebel bandit. His darkly comic 1986 play I Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges! features Hollywood extra Buddy Villa, who has made a career of portraying stereotypical Mexicans in Hollywood films. The highlight of this less than illustrious but lucrative career was his role as a defiant bandit opposite Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. This film continued an exploration of stereotypes of the Mexican bandit that also informs Valdez's 1982 drama Bandido! The American Melodrama of Tiburcio Vasquez, Notorious California Bandit. In the foreword to the earlier work, Valdez expressed his desire to recover the figure of Vasquez from the stereotypes propagated by Western conquest fiction. He also notes that his decision to concentrate on Vasquez was largely due to the fact that his story was far less well known than that of Joaquin Murrieta, whom he describes as a "legendary icon, even among Anglo-Americans." (1) Murrieta was instead to become the inspiration for a new Zorro in Martin Campbell's The Mask of Zorro (1998). Prior to this film, the character of Zorro had appeared on the small screen in the comedy series Zorro and Son in the early 1980s and in the 1981 parody Zorro, The Gay Blade, which starred George Hamilton as both Don Diego Vega and his outrageously campy gay brother.

The release of the 1990s Cisco and Zorro films was preceded by Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, a film that has much in common with them despite its more contemporary setting. Rodriguez's debut feature centers on a nameless mariachi who is mistaken for a hit man known as Azul, known for carrying his weapons in a guitar case. Azul has recently broken out of prison in order to kill his former partner, Moco, a North American drug lord who double-crossed Azul and cheated him out of his share of a deal. The mariachi becomes embroiled in a web of violence and deception and relies on his wits and skill in battle to defeat his corrupt adversaries. He evolves from being a journeyman musician to a lone warrior who is the sole embodiment of honor and decency in a border community on the verge of implosion because of corruption and drug trafficking. He is further distinguished by being the only character in the film with a sense of identity and a reverence for Mexican traditions, as his interior monologue at the opening of the film makes clear: "Desde que era pequeno siempre quise ser un mariachi, como mi padre, mi abuelo y mi bisabuelo ... Mi idea era seguir sus pasos hasta el final y morir con mi guitarra en la mano."

Like El Mariachi, The Cisco Kid and The Mask of Zorro also focus on protagonists who deal with difficult circumstances, particularly corrupt regimes, and engage in violence, but whose actions are not motivated by self-interest but by a desire to defeat the evil potentates whose actions are destroying their environs. Eric Hobsbawm's groundbreaking theories on the social bandit, a figure motivated by a desire to avenge the oppression and racism endured by his community, find a parallel both in the 1990s caballero films and in El Mariachi. Furthermore, his ideas are useful in elucidating the motivation behind Valdez's (and other filmmakers') enduring fascination with the bandit character. As Hobsbawm points out, there was a glaring discrepancy between attitudes toward the bandit north and south of the border. Commenting on the emergence of the popular myth of the bandit during the reign of Porfirio Diaz in nineteenth-century Mexico, he notes that "Thanks chiefly to Pancho Villa, the most eminent of all brigands turned revolutionaries, this has brought banditry a unique degree of national legitimacy in Mexico, though not in the USA, where in those very years, violent, cruel and greedy Mexican bandits became the standard villains of Hollywood, at least until 1922, when the Mexican government threatened to ban all films made by offending movie companies from the country. …

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