Monday, June 4, 2012

I got my dose of propaganda in a place where I was trying to escape it

I went to a movie theater this weekend to see actor Andy Garcia’s attempt at an epic statement about the glory of personal freedom and the need to fight for it at all times.

Yet I fear that his film, “For Greater Glory,” is so laden with partisan rhetoric at its base that I hope not too many people try using it as a history lesson of sorts about Mexico and that nation’s relations with the United States.

A PART OF me believes that Oliver Stone’s film “JFK” is more historically correct than Garcia’s attempt to tell the masses about conditions in Mexico back in the 1920s when there were many elements that tried to undermine the results of the Mexican Revolution and the bloodshed became rampant.

Perhaps I should point out that it was in this era that both of my Mexican-born grandfathers fled the country, heading for the United States where they wound up living the bulk of their lives. Which is why I was born in the South Chicago neighborhood – rather than in Guanajuato or Guadalajara.

The desire to avoid being caught in the middle of the gunfire was their motivation for wanting to leave – even though neither of them had yet turned 20 at the time they left their homeland.

They both remained proud of their ethnic origins until the days in the 1970s that they died. But they also both desired a chance to stay alive, and have a life.

SO I’M NOT about to dispute the images given to us throughout the film of people being hanged from telegraph poles, or being randomly shot or of cavalry on horseback riding right into the church – with officers then giving the order for the premises to be ransacked.

I have no doubt those things happened. Because my own knowledge of Mexican history (of which I’m sure most of the people who watched this film with me on Friday have none) lets me know that there were actions that appear completely irrational – if not outright insane.

But I also know that the Mexican Revolution of the late1910s was meant to overthrow an oppressive government, and it succeeded. Which means there were elements in the 1920s that were just as eager to try to restore the status quo. It wasn’t really until 1929 and the 1930s that things settled down somewhat.

I also know that the Catholic Church, which in Mexico is far more dominant a presence than it is in this country – even in an overly Catholic city such as Chicago, was one of those influences.

WHICH MEANS THE policies viewed as oppressive by the church in that period were an attempt to suppress a rebellion against revolution. Much of the desire to raid (ie., inventory) the church was an attempt to get a handle on what had been stolen from the people whom the church was claiming to represent.

Not that any of this comes through in the film, although I realize that if Andy Garcia wants to get on his high horse and deliver some “spin,” he has every right to. We also have the right to read through the propagandistic rhetoric.

But some people won’t.

In the theater in which I watched this film, there were certain people who insisted upon applauding during the end-of-film credits (and who probably will be offended to learn that the Rotten Tomatoes consensus of film reviews indicates most critics can’t stand this film).

ONE WOMAN LITERALLY shouted out at film’s end, “That’s where our country is headed!”

That is just nonsense, and that is the reason why this film is going to linger in my head for quite awhile.

I suspect that many of the people who were in that theater with me were of a certain mentality on religion that they would like to think of as having a strong faith, but that others would argue means they want the church to be a force allowing them to push their thoughts and beliefs off on others.

These are the same people who view any attempt at sympathy towards people on issues such as gay rights or religious tolerance as being oppressive against themselves.

PERHAPS THEY REALLY believe that Barack Obama saying he has finally come to his senses on gay marriage is the equivalent of the strong-arm tactics used by Mexican government officials against the church.

Although until the day comes that U.S. troops, under orders of Obama, storm their way into the studios of “The 700 Club” while that show is on-air and shoot host Pat Robertson in the head while co-host Terry Meeuwsen looks on in horror, then we haven’t come close to the tyranny that occurred in Mexico that caused mis abuelos to flee for a new home.

And yes, I realize that image I just created is gross and over-the-top. But that’s really how far we are from anything resembling religious oppression in this country.

Then again, I’ll also concede that none of the “religious right” rhetoric that we hear these days to undermine the current president is anywhere near as intense as the Catholic efforts in Mexico some 90 years ago to undermine that fledgling government.

PERSONALLY, I THINK Garcia’s own politics (his family fled Cuba when he was a baby) are more in play here than any interest in recounting history.

View then-Mexico President Plutarco Elias Calles (played rather sleazily by singer Ruben Blades) as a dandified equivalent of Fidel Castro, and you get the image this film presents. Even though the real Calles had his own fascist ideological leanings and was a U.S. ally because of his willingness to resist Communist influences for his country.

Would it have made more sense for Garcia to try to make a period piece film set in Cuba? Perhaps, although it must be stated that he did just that back in 2006 with “The Lost City,” in which he played a Havana nightclub owner whose family was torn apart – first by the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, then by Castro. If I recall correctly, the critics didn’t think much of that film either – even though I remember it for a mysterious, unnamed character played by Bill Murray.

Maybe Murray, and another script rewrite by a historian, is what this film could have used as well?


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