Perdita Durango (Alex de la Iglesia, 1997)

Drafthouse Films Logo“One of the best films of the year.  I just hope the rest of America gets to see it.”  — Ron Wells, FILM THREAT

Move over Bonnie and Clyde.  Hold on Mickey and Mallory.  Cult filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia brings an even wilder vision of outlaw love in his 1997 Tex-Mex tribute to sex and violence, Perdita Durango.  Tough-as-nails Perdita (Rosie Pérez) falls for Romeo (Javier Bardem), a bank-robbing, corpse-stealing, coke-snorting sorcerer and Tihuana Brass enthusiast.  Together, the pair kidnap a couple of American teens and drag them into a plan to smuggle a truckload of fetuses to a Las Vegas pharmaceutical company for a Mexican crime boss.  Along the way, they are pursued by an unlucky DEA agent (James Gandolfini), a betrayed accomplice (Santiago Segura) and fated tragedy.  Boasting supporting performances by filmmaker Alex Cox and musician Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Álex de la Iglesia’s English language début, seen here in its complete form for the first time, is an unrecognized classic of the new brutality cinema of the 1990s.

Special Features:

  • The previously unreleased and complete 126-minute version of Perdita Durango, approved by Álex de la Iglesia
  • Introduction by filmmaker and actor Alex Cox
  • Making of featurette with interviews of cast and crew
  • Perdita in Flux: UK writer Brad Stevens on the making of Perdita Durango, casting and filmmaking changes, and the various versions of the film released globally
  • Interview with the source novel’s author and screenplay writer, Barry Gifford
  • Theatrical teaser, trailer and TV spot
  • 60-page booklet reproducing the film’s press book and an interview with Álex de la Iglesia

“Trust in Science” Edition – Package includes:

  • Perdita Durango on Blu-ray or Standard DVD with reversible sleeve art by Mondo artist Phantom City Creative
  • High quality 720p HD Digital Download of the film
  • The 25-track Original Motion Picture Soundtrack including 10 original tracks composed by Simon Boswell in 320kpbs MP3 Audio
  • de la Iglesia autographed 27″ x 40″ theatrical poster
  • Barry Gifford’s novel 59° and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango
  • Limited Edition Happy Pet Dog Food flying disc

The popular and critical success of Álex de la Iglesia’s The Day of the Beast allowed him the opportunity to make his first foray into English-language cinema, and with a substantially greater budget (moving up from $1M up to $8M).  The result was Perdita Durango and the film was generally considered a flop in both his native Spain and in the international markets.  Domestically, de la Iglesia was perceived as selling out and going far too commercial in his approach, while outside of Spain he was caught in the wash of Tarantino-emulators who traded in pop culture citation, stunt-casting, and ultraviolence.  Notwithstanding that the film’s screenplay was written by Barry Gifford, the creator of the film’s characters, Perdita Durango was immediately compared to an earlier Gifford adaptation, Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990), and was deemed a poor cousin.  All of this has led to Perdita Durango falling into a limbo of multiple released cuts of the film, retitlings (also known as Dance with the Devil in North America), and out of print DVDs that have only served to diffuse the energy of this firecracker, and it’s a loss to action and cult film fans alike.

A strong argument could be made that, in retrospect, Perdita Durango is the most accessible of de la Iglesia’s films to a North American audience, and not just for it being an English-language film (although that certainly helps).  At the time, only Rosie Pérez inspired popular recognition and it was unusual to see her as the leading woman of a multi-million dollar production, while Javier Bardem was only a cult star in his native Spain and James Gandolfini was still 2 years from his breakout lead role in The Sopranos.  Part of the real appeal to Perdita Durango involves seeing these now-well-known stars exist in a high production value movie doing ever more shocking and twisted things.  Further, de la Iglesia’s emphasis on low culture spectacle over high culture narrative, his cartoonish parody of middle class America (cited by some critics as demonstrating his cultural lack of understanding), and his occasional pop culture references put his film at the forefront of stylistic changes still being observed in commercial cinema, and arguably done with more exuberance and daring than contemporaries like Guy Ritchie and Robert Rodríguez.  Perdita Durango is a high-as-a-kite road picture dripping with blood, sweat and tears.  It’s an $8M body genre monster that demands you ask how you’d never heard of it before and how it ever got to be made in the first place.  Plus, it’s great to see the ever-sexy Pérez channel her own version of Varla from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (Russ Meyer, 1965)

Perdita Durango PosterAs mentioned before, Drafthouse tends to rely on existing promotional materials for their cover treatments.  Of the available material, I prefer this poster, which has the benefit of showcasing the film’s lead actress Rosie Pérez and the now-international star Javier Bardem, as well as offering some stark appeal in its inky blackness.

Credits:  Perdita Durango exists in multiple editions, none of which are definitive, so a version approved by the director and incorporating all cut footage is a real necessity.  Brad Stevens’ Senses of Cinema article, “Perdita Durango: A Case Study,” canvasses the various versions and Stevens’ commentary tracks for the Masters of Cinema line makes him an easy choice for a special feature on a Drafthouse Films edition of Perdita Durango. I’ve also tasked Stevens to review the interesting pre-production history of the film.  (The IMDB states that filmmaker Bigas Luna originally intended a cast of Madonna (Perdita), Javier Bardem (Romeo), and Dennis Hopper (DEA agent Dumas).  When Madonna dropped out, Luna recast the film with Victoria Abril (Perdita), Johnny Depp (Romeo), and Ray Liotta (Dumas), until Luna left the project and de la Iglesia took it over.)  Alex Cox is a frequent personality on special features for the Criterion Collection and the Masters of Cinema series, as well as being an advocate for unappreciated films in his 10,000 Ways to Die column for Film Comment magazine.  Cox’s experience on Perdita Durango must have been at least somewhat agreeable, as he acted for de la Iglesia again in his 2008 film The Oxford Murders.  Author Barry Gifford recently did a Q&A at a screening of Perdita Durango at the Pacific Film Archive and was apparently quite comfortable discussing the production (including his desire to cast up-and-comer Jennifer Lopez as Perdita!).  Gifford, an entertaining personality willing to speak publicly, could provide an interesting viewpoint on the film.  A 15-track soundtrack exists, however it appears that it may be out of print and Simon Boswell’s score does not seem to have ever been released.  With regard to the alternate art commissioned from Phantom City Creative, the Drafthouse Films series already seems to have a good relationship with Mondo affiliated artists, but Phantom City’s highly detailed art, knack for multi-character images, and their use of bold, intense colours makes them an ideal choice to reimagine Perdita Durango.

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