October 17, 2012

Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson

The movie that set Gibson on the road to press purgatory, 2004’s The Passion of the Christ, was hugely popular with Mexican-Americans, perhaps because it was shot in the cinematic equivalent of the Counter-Reformation Baroque style of Mexico’s greatest churches. Moreover, it touched upon that Mexican fascination with suffering, torture, and sacrifice that pre-dates Columbus.

Few apologized to Gibson when The Passion didn’t cause the predicted pogroms. Never having to say you’re sorry is one of the benefits of not “losing control of the media,” to quote Sarah Silverman in her 2005 movie Jesus Is Magic.

Gibson next directed Apocalypto, with an all-Amerindian cast speaking Mayan. This 16th-century period piece outraged various blue-eyed ethnic activists over its insensitive depiction of pre-Columbian civilization. But there are reasons the native masses converted to Catholicism, although sometimes the old death cults pop up again, such as in the recent renaissance of Santa Muerte worship among the narcos. (When is somebody going to make that into a big-budget movie? Even Oliver Stone wouldn’t touch Santa Muerte in his Savages.)

Gibson is currently scheduled to appear in the sequel to Robert Rodriguez’s execrable La Raza race-war movie Machete. (Perhaps Mel’s mania can intimidate Rodriguez into working harder.)

Get the Gringo is set in one of those staggering Latin American penal shantytowns (like the jail in Hector Babenco’s Carandiru, only funnier) where the prisoners can’t leave but anybody else can enter for a modest fee. Since crime is the mainstay of the local economy, prison is the hottest ticket in town. El Pueblito held 5,000 inmates, plus as many wives, children, whores, shopkeepers, taco-stand operators, realtors, cable-TV installers, carnival-ride operators, and gangsters holing up from the law as cared to bribe their way in.

This factual prison epitomizes the Mexican entrepreneurial knack: “You can buy anything, except your way out.” As Mel’s character notes on a Sunday when the prison yard fills up with even more small children running amok amid the (literally vibrant) pup tents set up by entrepreneurs for conjugal visits: “It’s visiting day, so take the whole family to the crappiest place on Earth.”

Was El Pueblito’s seething Hobbesian community a triumph of the human spirit or a lesson about where America is headed?

Who knows? All that Mel knew ten years ago when he read about how the Mexican army had to send in 2,000 armed soldiers to shut down the prison is that it would make a great setting for a Mel Gibson movie.



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