BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
WHAT it’s about: A case of mistaken identity lands a black guitar case-toting traveling mariachi player in the centre of a drug lord’s vendetta against his murderous rival, who just happens to carry his weapons in a black guitar case.
WHO’s in it: Carlos Gallardo, Conseulo Gómez, Peter Marquadt, and Reinol Martinez
WHEN it came out: 1992
HOW come you haven’t heard of (or just seen) it: The first in director Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi trilogy is most famous as Rodriguez’s origin story — the film was made for next to nothing ($7K) and greenlit the Texan’s studio career. It did time at many festivals, winning the Audience Award at Sundance, before a brief stint in theaters with surprising success, especially considering it’s in Spanish. Most people found it on video after the popularity of Desperado, the sequel. Consequently, Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, the final film in the trilogy, are far more widely seen.
WHY you need to watch it–immediately!
- As Rodriguez notes in his making of book, Rebel Without a Crew, the film that results from his take-no-prisoners, low budget style is extraordinary if only for the sheer guts and thrift of it. While many action films are a study in budget inflation, Rodriguez’s smart approach and crafty editing showcase his mad skills and filmmaking savvy.
- Before the role was taken over in Desperado by the marquee ready Antonio Bandares, Carlos Gallardo was a less sexy, more raw El Mariachi, fitting well within the framework of the film’s narrative.
- Likewise, Rodriguez demonstrates his knack for casting feisty, captivating females with Conseulo Gómez as Domino. As with all members of the cast, Gómez was an amateur. Thus the performances lack a certain pretense and polish that works with the visceral feel of the film.
- While the movie is at times clichéd and repetitive in its style, it has such energy and grittiness it doesn’t matter. Rodriguez captivates, giving the audience a good time — in part because he is so thrilled by the ride. He, like his buddy Tarantino, is a guy who adores movies and it shows.
- The dog and the turtle. They are both kind of a big deal.
- If Tarantino knows dialogue, Rodriguez knows pacing. The film never drags, even in the rare quiet moments. It’s clever without trying too hard. Perhaps in part due to Rodriguez’s one man crew approach, the entire piece feels incredibly cohesive with nary a wasted element.
- Rodriguez is one of the major players who helped give indie films such relevance in the 1990s. Because of his work on El Mariachi, more young filmmakers were able to avoid the studio system and make personal, good films that weren’t mainstream.