Monday, August 6, 2007

Reporting Live From the Campus of Montclair State University

I'm here handling some business with my alma mater, but I just wanted to inform folks that El Cantante, the film about Hector Lavoe's life, sucked inordinate amounts of ass.

It's not that it was all bad. The music was fantastic, particularly a stripped-down version of the title song, sung by Victor Manuelle as Ruben Blades. But that was five minutes of the movie. The rest of it was a highly stylized, highly disjointed, inept version of Lavoe's life story, which unfortunately will be perceived as a vanity project for Jennifer Lopez. I think that critique is a tad unfair, but well, if THIS is the kind of movie one decides to make for their money, then this is the kind of critique that happens.

I will have more a coherent article on this in the next day or so. Meantime, go to YouTube and check out the torrent of old-school Hector Lavoe performance videos that have popped up in the last week or so. If you fans of salsa care to reminisce about Lavoe, this may be your best bet.


Anonymous said...

I disagree with your critique of El Cantante... personally I think it portrayed the aspects of his life that most fans would rather not acknowledge. It is what it is, the man was brilliant, the man was a pioneer, the man is still an icon, but the man was a druggie. If you loved the man Hector "Lavoe" Perez, then you have to love the good, the bad, and the ugly. You also have to acknowledge that a lot of Jennifer's biggest critics from the Fania era also participated in the making of this film. Didn't they read the script before committing to do the movie? I think your being a bit harsh in your criticism. Everyone of Hector's fans could have brought his story to the Big Screen. The question is, why didn't they? If the version Jen told, which by the way, she didn't write, was so bad why not pay tribute to him by producing your own version?

Rich said...

I really hate anonymous comments, but okay, here goes.

This is precisely the kind of knee-jerk reaction I've seen all week on the internet, and most of it is utterly ridiculous. I don't claim an intimate knowledge of the film industry, but criticisms like this lack a certain logic.

Most fans, I think, acknowledge that Hector had a drug problem. I mean, you'd have to be stupid or dead not to acknowledge that.

Yes, we know that Hector was brilliant, yes we know he was an icon, blah blah blah. Here's the problem. WE DIDN'T GET TO SEE ANY OF THAT ON THE FUCKING SCREEN. I'd love to acknowledge the good, the bad, and the ugly, but all we got to see was the bad and the ugly. And sorry, interview footage does not a story create. I noticed that doesn't get acknowledged here...the fact that Puchi's extrapolations do NOTHING to move the story forward. The adage in poetry is: "Don't tell me, show me." This movie had a lot of telling, not enough showing.

Of course I acknowledge that Jennifer's critics participated in this film. I did stay for the credits. It's an inane argument that just because one participates in the film, that they can't make judgments about it. This assumes that the critics in question even read the script, and that is not always a given. Unless you were in the room with Leon Ichaso and/or any of the producers, the actors, or the writers, you can't possibly know to what extent one of those Fania-era critics participated. And what if they did read the script? Scripts are not always the final, completed product on film. And really, who cares? People have opinions, and they're just as valid as anyone else's. Which means, of course, that they don't mean shit.

And then, of course, the poster exonerates Jen from responsibility. She didn't write it. Oh. Right. So she had NO say on the story? Riiiight. Never mind that we get to see her onscreen every five minutes, and that it was HER production company all over the credits. Yeah, let's not blame Jennifer Lopez for turning the Hector Lavoe story into the Half-Story of Other People Besides Hector Lavoe, even though her company made it. That's so stupid, it hardly bears acknowledgment.

And then, the obligatory swipe. Why don't *I* produce my own version? Dude, if Nuyorican Productions wanted to be generous enough to pay for MY treatment of the film, you could have your wish. I don't have the studio connects to get a movie distributed, I don't have the money to promote it, and (MOST importantly) I wouldn't be able to sell MY version to a whitewashed Hollywood. But the fact is, Jen had the connections and the money to make this movie in Hollywood, whereas anyone else would have to settle for Hi-8's in East Harlem.

I'll say this though: more has been done with less. And in fact, Ichaso has done it before. Perhaps this film could have learned that lesson before the green light came down.

Oh, and if you think my criticism was harsh now, wait til I get done writing about it for real.