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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Sided
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • German: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • German: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English, Spanish, German, Hebrew, Czech, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Turkish, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Hindi
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Featurette - director's short film 'bedhead' and a 10 minute 'anatomy of a shootout'
  • 2 Music video

Desperado/El Mariachi

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 179 mins . G . PAL

  Feature
Contract

The film-maker Robert Rodriguez has fascinated me since I first saw Desperado and learnt that it was in fact a remake of a $7000 film that Rodriguez wrote, shot and edited single-handedly. After winning several awards for his 8mm short films, Rodriguez knew he wanted to move onto a full feature, but couldn't raise the funds.

His solution was inspired. He booked himself into a medical research facility for a month as a human guinea pig and wrote his screenplay. With a borrowed 16mm camera and a wheelchair acting as a dolly, he cast non-actors and friends who worked for free, and edited El Mariachi on 3/4" videotape rather than expensive filmstock. He intended to sell the film to the Spanish-language video market, perhaps make $20,000 from it and invest the money in his next, more ambitious project.

Rodriguez's excellent book, Rebel Without a Crew, details the insane, whirlwind five months that follow as the 23-year-old from Austin gets taken under the wing of one of Hollywood's biggest talent agencies, has his $7,000 'experiment' shown to all the major studios and presented at Sundance and winds up with a multi-picture deal and hundreds of thousands of dollars for rights to El Mariachi.

The plot is a fairly basic story of mistaken identity, where a travelling guitarist enters town looking for work. Unfortunately for him, an identically dressed hitman who keeps his arsenal in a guitar case is also making his presence known, and before long, the Mariachi is forced to trade his guitar for a gun to defend himself from the local crimelord. Rodriguez makes the film work with his astounding editing skills, keeping the energy level up despite the lack of money onscreen.

Once signed to Columbia, he remade the film as Desperado, his homage to action god John Woo (The Killer, Hard Boiled) with a much larger budget of $7 million, real prop guns and real actors!

  Video
Contract

As there are two films being reviewed here, I have decided to rate the picture and audio of Desperado and give a subjective opinion of El Mariachi.

Both films are presented in anamorphic widescreen, as are the majority of Columbia transfers. Desperado looks very good. The overall colour balance leans towards red, which seems to be a stylistic choice, as Rodriguez used the same look in From Dusk Till Dawn a couple of years afterwards. Blacks are good and deep, and there is plenty of detail without the image ever appearing processed or 'digital' - every bit of sweat on Antonio Bandaras' face is present and correct.

When the image does appear a little bleak or washed-out, it can be attributed to the original photography, as the film was shot very quickly (according to Rodriguez, about five times faster than a conventional action film) with a minimal crew, and weather was not always in their favour.

El Mariachi is obviously not in the same league as the remake visually, but for $7,000 would you expect it to be? By the time Columbia had managed to make a decent blow-up of the 16mm original to strike 35mm theatrical prints (their constant mistakes drove Rodriguez nuts!), they'd pretty much destroyed the original negatives, and it couldn't be used to make the home video transfer, so the original 3/4" videotape actually looks far better than the DVD, as Rodriguez mentions in the supplements. Why didn't Columbia just use the videotape to make the DVD, then? Read on...

  Audio
Contract

The original 3/4" master of El Mariachi has a basic mono soundtrack, compiled by Rodriguez who shot the film silently and recorded the sound separately onto a Marantz portable tape recorder with a Radio Shack microphone! When Columbia paid for the 35mm theatrical prints, they also poured in some funds for a Dolby Surround soundtrack, which does lift the sound quality somewhat, but doesn't for a second disguise the low fidelity of the original sound, which is certainly good enough to enjoy the film, but never makes any attempt to recreate a full 360 degree soundfield.

Desperado has a far bigger budget to play with, and it's obvious that Rodriguez loves pushing up the Woo-style mythic elements of his movies. You can hear low-end roars when characters leap about in improbable slow motion ballet, and every spent cartridge can be heard bouncing on the floor, and there's a lot of them! The 5.1 channel sound mix is very exciting, with strong bass and lots of usage made of the surround channels, but again, the soundtrack sounds a little artificial because each effect was recorded separately, so there's no real sense of location in many scenes.

  Extras
Contract

The two films were originally released separately on laserdisc a few years ago, and Rodriguez added excellent commentary to both. Pretty much all the laserdisc extras have made it to this DVD, with more to boot.

  • El Mariachi
    • Theatrical trailer - Columbia push the film well, mentioning their discovery of John Singleton who coincidentally made Boyz N The Hood at 23.
    • Bedhead - the award winning 8mm short film. Very rough video quality, but highly entertaining.
    • 10 Minute Filmschool - a segment that Rodriguez demonstrated at 'guerilla' film seminars he spoke at after the success of El Mariachi. It demonstrates how he got so much coverage from a single camera and a minimal amount of film.
    • Commentary - For me, the most valid reason for buying this DVD is the huge wealth of knowledge Rodriguez gives on making low-budget films. He's entertaining to listen to and obviously has a huge love for film. However, he's not at all afraid to point out where a scene doesn't work the way he intended due to time and equipment limitations - he never intended the film to be seen by a large audience and admits he would have done some things differently if he had the chance.
    • Filmographies - For Rodriguez and the Mariachi, Carlos Gallardo.
  • Desperado
    • Theatrical trailer - presented in fullscreen, with virtually no dialogue or voiceover, this makes the film look like a real lowbrow knuckledragger, and probably lost some audience potential.
    • Commentary - Having explained how to make $7,000 look like $1 million, Rodriguez explains how to make a $7 million film look like a $30 million one! It's full of interesting exposition, and you won't be able to view the film the same way once you find out that two people talking to each other actually weren't even on set in the same week as the rapid shooting schedule and narrow time frames for some actors prevented it.
    • 10 Minutes More - In which Rodriguez continues his ten-minute film school, analysing how he prepared for the complicated shoot-outs in the film.
    • Music videos - two in fact, one by Los Lobos, the other by Tito & Tarantula.
    • Filmographies - of the main cast and Rodriguez.

  Overall  
Contract

It's great to see Columbia beginning to release Australian versions of all the glorious special editions that have been available in the US for so long. In my opinion, it's titles like these that will really push DVD to the VHS-owning public, who still tell me that they don't see any reason to leave analog tape behind. In fact, I've had people say they couldn't see any difference! If you can't lure them with quality, lure them with extras, and this disc delivers. Both films on the DVD are entertaining enough to watch, but the real pull is the extraordinary commentary. If you have any interest in film-making, it's a must.


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