Thursday, January 31, 2008

Touch of Evil, Orson Welles, KPBS San Diego, and These Days

I was the guest of producer Angela Carone, and on-air host Tom Fudge on KPBS's These Days this morning, talking about the screening of Touch of Evil that Neil Kendricks's and I are hosting tonight at MCASD.

Click the link above or the ear here/'hear' to your right for the audio! Orson Welles's Touch of Evil is the focus of the first chapter of Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucination of the 'Mexican' in America published with UT Press in 2007; the chapter is entitled: "Hallucinations of Miscegenation and Murder: Dancing along the Mestiza/o Borders of Proto-Chicana/o Cinema with Orson Welles's Touch of Evil."

Here's a great short scene from Touch of Evil featuring Welles and Marlene Dietrich--there's a terrific short piece on Welles and Dietrich's friendship and 1958 collaboration here at A plaintext version of it appears below the YouTube clip.

Tanya's chili

In "Touch of Evil" Welles made the aging Dietrich into the quintessential femme fatale.
By David Thomson

Dec 20, 2001 | This Dec. 27, Marlene Dietrich would have been 100. It's entirely provable that she died, in 1992 in Paris, in the Avenue Montaigne apartment she had retreated to, because she preferred not to be seen or photographed anymore. There's a death certificate. They took the body back to Berlin and buried it. There are witnesses, and so on. But you don't have to believe anything you don't want to. She may be dealing the cards still in some small cantina on the Mexican border, with the chili pot alive and warm in the tiny kitchen. That woman, Tanya, had a wisdom and fatalism -- not to mention the sex appeal -- that could have suited 1,000 as easily as 100.

Tanya, you may recall, is the character Dietrich played for Orson Welles in "Touch of Evil." That was 1957, when they filmed it at Universal. Her movie career was largely over by then. She was more famous as a nightclub performer and just for being "Marlene Dietrich," the woman Josef von Sternberg had found in Berlin and cast in "The Blue Angel." This was the woman he had brought back to America, where they'd made six more great films together about the impossibility and the absurdity of enduring romance. They'd been lovers, yes, but she never bothered to get a divorce from her husband, and certainly never stopped taking any sexual opportunity that came into view. "I can't help it," was one of the things she sang, and you understood that it ruled out anything like fidelity. And in the early 1930s, the attitude had been far too unsentimental for the American audience. The films with von Sternberg ran out of audience. His career was finished and she was called box office poison.

But she was and always will be the supreme image of the femme fatale, holding her face straight, severe and beautiful so as not to break out laughing at the idiocy, the feebleness and the hopefulness that still, somehow, lingers in men.

And she knew Orson. During the war, in Los Angeles, in a tent on Cahuenga Boulevard, they had done a show together where he was the magician who sawed her in two and then brought the divine parts together again, properly aligned. What a film that could have been, for Buñuel, say -- the adoring magician who can enjoy the lower or the upper half of his beloved (each has its charms and flavors), but who has forgotten the word that reunites them.

Anyway, on "Touch of Evil," after they had started shooting, Welles called up his old pal. He asked her to find the dark wig she had worn once in a very silly film called "Golden Earrings." He threw together a cheap cantina set, adding a pianola that keeps playing sad, romantic songs. He gave her cigarillos to smoke, and for a moment his own character -- the crooked, bloated border cop Hank Quinlan -- stumbles into the cantina and sees some kind of past.

"Have you forgotten your old friend?" he asks.

She looks more closely with those pitiless eyes and tells him, "You're a mess, honey." So he was, padded up to a size that Orson himself would attain in later years -- a size so grisly you have to wonder how any man that gross could actually have conventional sexual relations. So he might dream of having the separated parts of his goddess, nimble enough to play in the air above him.

That scene in "Touch of Evil" is camp, of course, with its barbed double meanings about the glory that once was Orson and Marlene and the different ways time and chili had treated them both. At the same time, it's a perfect summation of the kind of woman von Sternberg had created with Marlene -- the femme fatale, the beautiful woman who will be an angel of death for her stupid men.

People seldom notice the other meaning in "femme fatale" -- that the woman is dying, too, getting older, losing that youth that is so often the engine of desire and desirability. The femme fatale in so much film noir is a creature made to torture the adolescent self-pity of the guy. Whereas, in Dietrich's real life, in her songs sometimes, she faced the universal tragedy of adult life -- that we all grow older, less lovely and hopeful. We can't help it. What does it matter what else you say about people?

David Thomson is the author of "A Biographical Dictionary of Film," "Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles" and "In Nevada."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Anyone south of Thousand Oaks, make a beeline for La Jolla this coming Thursday for the sinematic event of the century! Touch of Evil on the big screen! Neil Kendricks, the supersuave indy film-maker, director and cinema curator for the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego and new lecturer for and yours truly will be there to introduce Welles's opus and do the Q&A after this severely twisted and amazing flick. Be there or be square!

Michael Ansara, Mexicanesque Cinetalent!

Syria-born American actor Michael Ansara channels the ghosts of Mexican bandits past, present, and future (while stylin' in 70s polyester glory), in this amazing trailer for The Doll Squad--surely Quentin Tarantino watched this at least 20 times before embarking on his directing career. Warning--the violence in this video is 'in your face.'

Ansara's been in more productions than you can shake a stick at and like Anthony Quinn before him, he's populated the more bodies of more swarthy "Mediterraneans" than you can imagine--American Indians, Klingons(!), 'Arabs'--you name it, he's been there.

Monday, January 28, 2008

"Troll" Mexicans Pushed Off the Front Page by Lusty Mexican Spiderman!

Si puedes leer español, this followup posting clarifies the odd, elusive, back-narrative of apocryphal Mexican Spider-Man stories!

I must select someone to bequeath this site to lest I croak before I chronicle every damned licentiousness-laced stereotype of Mexicans in the United States!

Case in point? The usual and reliable puerile delights of againWITHtheCOMICS, has been intercepted today by a jocular diatribe against Mexican-rendered issues of 70s Marvel Spiderman comics. Dubious? Look to your right!

Yowza. My favorite passage from the blog:

El Sorprendente Hombre-Araña (the Surprising Spider-Man) was published in Mexico from 1963-1973, and for a long time, it simply reprinted the American run of Amazing Spider-Man in Spanish ... After awhile, it looks like the publisher either ran out of or overtook the available licensed material, and original stories created in Mexico specifically for El Sorprendente Hombre-Araña started to see print....I've been to Mexico a few times, and they are most definitely aware that sex sells, with slinky busty babes adorning most advertising and even the most innocuous products. Their comics are no different, as you can see....I also have to wonder, are these stories considered canon to Mexican collectors? Is "Misterio del vampiro de la playa del bikiní" held in the same esteem as, say, the Master Planner arc or the Stone Tablet Saga? Inquiring, idiotic minds want to know! (emphasis added)

Idiotic indeed! I am going to zap this blog entry to Ask-a-Mexican for his expert assistance with this tumescent meme. In the interim, here's the source of againWITHtheCOMICS's stash.

Feral House: Mexican Pulp Art

Just enough time this morning to send right out of here to Feral House, an indy, alternative book publisher in Los Angeles that has an eclectic stable of texts--including this one on Mexican pulp art that has to be seen to be relished! The provided .pdf pages are worth the price of downloading--gratis!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

English 493 Info Sheet

Click the image here for a full-size link to the INFOpage!

Mexican Wrestlers, Safe Sex, Peter Kuper, Antonio Prohias's Ghost, and Tex[t]-Mex!

The internet can teach you things.

As a frustrated, wanna-be illustrator, one of my favorite haunts is kind of virtual hang-out for famous, infamous, and up-and-coming illustrators like Cathie Bleck, Nate Williams and Edel Rodriguez.

One of my favorite illustrators there (see his Oaxaca travel diary) is a cool, lefty artist by the name of Peter Kuper, who I ran across back in the 80's in Art Spiegelman's and Françoise Mouly's Raw and whose work I have followed since, especially since he assumed Antonio Prohias's mantle and began producing Spy vs. Spy for the revamped (with ads, yuck!) Mad Magazine.

In any event, the Tex[t]-Mex connection to all of this underground comics-laced, inky nostalgia are the condoms Kuper markets at with the Lucha Libre logo. Here, then, is the safe-sex antidote to the theories espoused in my book regarding the overdeterminedly sexual nature of the word "Mexican"--in the book I try to show (especially with regard to the critical analysis of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil) how the adjective "Mexican" becomes a synecdoche, a handy-dandy shorthand proxy for a gnarly, dark, swarthy, sort of carnal sexuality.* And it is not just the word "Mexican" that assumes this metonymic magic, it is anything even vaguely connected to Mexicans and Mexico--in this way Latina bombshells, oily, leering bandits, etc serve the needs of directors, artists, photographers and writers alike.

So Kuper's decision to market a line of condomsSanta Maria, holy prophylactics!) with the mug of toothy practitioner of the arts of lucha libre strikes me as a xicanosmosis of sorts, a fusion of America (sic) and the Americas that is decidedly sexual and decidedly safe and squeaky clean at the same time. This "branding" then, becomes part of a metamorphosis, part of a transformation where the subterranean and nefarious emanations of a Mexican sexuality or a Mexico (Lucha Libre wrestlers, in this instance) are stifled and redirected, stopped and transformed--and all in the interest of safe, hot, sex.

Also by Kuper on the net and not to be missed--especially by comparative literature types--is his Kafka "Metamorphosis" book with Random House.

*Regular Tex[t]-Mex Galleryblog contributor Professor Michael Wyatt Harper, Esq., wrote in yesterday to make me aware of a Japanese [oops! Chinese--thanks for the correction! see comment below] poster he ran across that he found particularly blogworthy--while the poster says more about the locale of the particular restaurant (could a reader write in and tell me where it is: Tokyo? Osaka? Kyoto?) than about the sexualization of Mexicanicity, it still deems a posting here in this gallery of lascivious Latino artifacts: