MMC! Double Feature #42: A Latin American History Starter Pack

In anticipation of MMC!’s next (and overdue) imagined Criterion edition, this latest “Double Feature” shares a couple of recent Netflix favourites in an unusual pairing linked by their celebratory treatments of Mesoamerican, South American, Caribbean, and Latin American cultures. Órale!

John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons (Aram Rappaport, 2018)

Presenting the 2017 Tony-nominated play, Aram Rappaport’s film version of John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons follows the performer’s survey through 3,000 years of Latin American history all in an effort to help his bullied son. The process is a heartfelt reclamation of Leguizamo’s history, an unpacking of his resentments, and an effort to offer something culturally redemptive to his son and himself. Leguizamo paints with a broad brush in this one-man show, reveling in cartoonish caricatures and historical overstatements while citing his scholarly and not-so scholarly sources, but his points remain sound throughout. This is a comedy and its lessons and its outrage are revealed through that lens, remaining true even while its outspoken tour guide sometimes colours way outside the lines.

Maya and the Three (Jorge R. Gutierrez, 2021)

Building on El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, his lucha libre-inspired series for Nickolodeon, and The Book of Life, his animated feature film drawing on Mexican Day of the Dead traditions, Jorge R. Gutierrez’s Maya and the Three is an epic adventure told through the histories and mythologies of Mesoamerica, South America, and the Caribbean. Maya, a spirited princess with the heart of a warrior, undertakes a mission to fulfill an ancient prophecy and save humanity from the wrath of vengeful gods by uniting four kingdoms and leading their unlikely champions. Gutierrez mines clichéd tropes with brilliant stylization, moving heroism, and multivalent representations that push back against stock family film conventions and fantasy movie presumptions. Sacrificing warrior mothers, multiple Akira slides, stone Olmec heads, Gatchaman helmets, a Rosie Perez voice-role, some post-colonial villains found in undead conquistadors, and the most spectacular closing battle seen in quite a while make this massive animated fantasy an easy MMC! favourite.

“The Spirit of Cuauhtémoc, Alive and Untamed!”

For no particularly good reason, Mexico and Latin America hold a place of special regard here at MMC! headquarters. We love the food, the art, the music, the history, the mythology, and the professional wrestling of Mexico and those of its sister countries and cultures. What is especially wonderful of both John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons and Maya and the Three is that neither is precious about its celebration of these histories. In these films, they are things to be embraced and enjoyed passionately, things to both applaud and laugh at, things that influence and are influenced upon as part of a global culture rather than being something hermetically sealed away for its own stultifying preservation. Above all, they are exceptionally entertaining, bringing accessibility while still remaining faithful to their vernacular origins. For those not too starched in their educational expectations, this pairing makes for a brilliant introduction to some Latin American study.

Both John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons and Maya and the Three are available on Netflix. And with titles like Uncut Gems, The Irishman, Roma, and Beasts of No Nation having already garnered Criterion canonization, who’s to say these titles might not be waiting for a wacky “C” of their own?

Maya (Raymond Bernard, 1949)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Maya.

Maya, a Hindu word describing magic and illusion, is embodied in Bella (Viviane Romance), a bewitching prostitute in an atmospheric port town who conjures the fantasies of visiting travelers and temporarily becomes the women of their dreams. The pragmatic Bella has no expectation of finding true love or leaving her profession until she meets Jean (Jean-Pierre Grenier), a passing sailor who saves her from the police and devotes himself to building a life with her, provided fate does not intervene. Based on Simon Gantillon’s successful play and produced by Viviane Romance herself, Raymond Bernard’s Maya deftly blends the styles and techniques of poetic realism, film noir, melodrama, and Cocteau-like fantasy to create a world of mystery and eroticism.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • “The Film That Made You,” a 1989 conversation between Viviane Romance and Louis le Roy
  • Interview with film critic Italo Manzi on the casting and distribution
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: Essay by filmmaker Guy Maddin

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Shura (Toshio Matsumoto, 1971)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Shura.

Experimental filmmaker and critic Toshio Matsumoto followed up his queer opus, Funeral Parade of Roses, with a “mere” samurai film, yet underneath its seemingly traditional surface lurks just as many subversions. In Shura, a samurai poised to join the famous 47 ronin and avenge the death of his master becomes distracted from his duties by his love for a lowly geisha, who in turn betrays him. Driven mad by his desire for vengeance, the samurai embarks on a bloody path of revenge marked by riveting intensity, a nightmarishly black aesthetic, and an uncertain blurring of fantasy and reality. A Borgesian satire in the guise of samurai horror, this nocturnal masterpiece is one of the darkest films of its era, both visually and politically.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
  • Security Treaty, a 1959 short film by Toshio Matsumoto
  • For My Crushed Right Eye, a 1969 installation piece by Matsumoto
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays on the film by Matsumoto and Nagisa Oshima, director’s notes, and an essay by Japanese film scholar Hirofumi Sakamoto

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Little Murders (Alan Arkin, 1971)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Little Murders.

criterion logoAfter directing the successful off-Broadway revival of Jules Feiffer’s acclaimed play, Alan Arkin made his feature film directing debut translating the senseless, hysterical world of Little Murders to the screen. Apathetic photographer Alfred (Elliott Gould) and feisty optimist Patsy (Marcia Rodd) are a young mismatched couple in a frantic metropolis where sniper attacks, power outages, and obscene phone calls are commonplace. With riotous supporting performances by Vincent Gardenia, Elizabeth Wilson, Jon Korkes, Lou Jacobi, Donald Sutherland, and Arkin himself, Feiffer’s satirical screenplay takes absurdist aim at the meaningless violence and spreading disenchantment in American life and produces a blackly hilarious comedy classic.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary from 2004 featuring actor Elliott Gould and writer Jules Feiffer
  • New interview program with director Alan Arkin, stars Elliott Gould and Marcia Rodd, and writer Jules Feiffer
  • Short films directed by Arkin – T.G.I.F. (1967), People Soup (1969), Samuel Beckett is Coming Soon (1993), and Blood (Thinner Than Water) (2004)
  • Gene Deitch’s Academy Award-winning short film Munro, written by Feiffer
  • Theatrical trailer and TV spots
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Jim Emerson and Roger Ebert’s original 1971 review

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Our Friends in the North (Simon Cellan Jones, Pedr James, and Stuart Urban, 1996)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Our Friends in the North.

criterion logoBased on Peter Flannery’s 1982 stage-play, this award-winning BBC mini-series charts the lives of four friends from Newcastle over four decades – Nicky, a radical socialist preoccupied with the class struggle; Tosker, a cocky young man with dreams of celebrity and success; Mary, who struggles with the pressures of marriage and motherhood while pursuing her own professional ambitions; and Geordie, a troubled young man who flees his hometown for London. Over its nine episodes, Our Friends in the North traces the fortunes of an ever-changing England through the break-out performances of Christopher Eccleston, Mark Strong, Gina McKee, and Daniel Craig. The Criterion Collection is proud to present this sprawling milestone in British drama for the first time ever in North America.

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Interview with Christopher Eccleston and Gina McKee
  • Retrospective with Peter Flannery, producer Charlie Pattison, executive producer Michael Wearing, and directors Pedr James and Simon Cellan Jones
  • New interviews with Christopher Eccleston, Gina McKee, Mark Strong, and Daniel Craig
  • Visual essay by playwright Michael Eaton
  • Complete soundtrack listing with chart history
  • Precis and color stills of the original first episode
  • TV spots
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by film scholar Marcus Hearn and television scholar Robin Nelson

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The Stratford Adventure (Morten Parker, 1954)

NFBAnother Oscar-nominated NFB documentary, The Stratford Adventure (Morten Parker, 1954) presents Tom Patterson’s efforts in establishing a Shakespearean Festival in his hometown of Stratford, Ontario, a Canadian namesake to the Bard’s birthplace complete with its own River Avon. Parker’s little docudrama relies heavily on plucky ’50s optimism and the rallying presence of famed Old Vic producer Tyrone Guthrie who acted as a consultant and director to the Festival’s first season. Now called The Stratford Festival, it remains one of Canada’s major arts events and an internationally celebrated centre for Shakespearean performance.  Criterion Collection fans will no doubt appreciate the behind-the-scenes perspective on the Festival’s inaugural production of Richard III and the appearance of Alec Guinness.

As per the NFB:

This short film depicts how a small Canadian city, bearing the name of Stratford and by a river Avon, created its own renowned Shakespearean theatre. The film tells how the idea grew, how a famous British director, international stars and Canadian talent were recruited, and how the Stratford Shakespeare Festival finally became a triumphant reality.