Mexico City was too macho for me to hit the bars alone at night, and I’m scared of mariachis, so I caught up on the movies instead. For a few dollars I passed each evening as respectably as any spinster-governess, and got the fix I’d missed since July.
At Gangs of New York, I restrained myself from clocking the gentleman behind me, who spent three hours elaborating loudly on his explanation that in Ireland the Protestants and Catholics had always been at war over transubstantiation, and that Martin Scorcese felt deeply about this due to his Irish background. But the story was enough to carry me, and I was transported when the peasant women getting off the coffin ships in Chelsea muttered Hail Marys in Irish.
Sé do bheatha Mhuire
Atá a lán do ghrásta
Tá an Tiarna leat
Agus is beannaithe thú idir mná
I hadn’t heard this prayer since primary school, and it was eerie to hear it my first night in Mexico, the first country I’ve been to more Catholic than my own.
At Chicago, I wanted to stand and cheer at the opening performance of All That Jazz. I would have watched it five times in a row, not least for Catherine Zeta-Jones’ stylish bob. And I would have watched it again in place of any of Renée Zellwegger’s numbers, just because I was plagued by The Hamster Dance whenever she appeared.
I was interested in Two Weeks Notice because the production had closed downtown Brooklyn for a month last year. One night I spoke to a Teamster who was waiting in his truck for the big love scene by the bridge to finish. It was an okay job, he said. Sandra Bullock was pretty nice. In Mexico, I wanted to see her wander around Coney Island and Brooklyn Heights onscreen, and maybe glimpse Smith Street. As far as I could judge through a pounding headache, the film was a perfectly competent chick flick, with some chemistry between the stars and a script that someone had put through a few drafts. The romantic comedy algorithm functioned smoothly. Unfortunately, I had to leave halfway through due to sudden altitude sickness, which is what happens when you fly from sea-level to Mexico City. It wasn’t intended as a film critique, though I’m sure those who heard me barfing in the garbage can outside the cinema door wondered.
´Must be pregnant,’ whispered the ushers, while I heaved.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding made me wish I’d timed my altitude sickness better. This is the biggest-grossing romantic comedy of all time? Bigger than Pretty Woman? I am horrified. It was storyboarded on an Etch-a-Sketch, has a stick figure for a leading man, and almost every single scene was done better in some other movie (including in The Frickin’ Mirror Has Two Faces). People. Please. Don’t rent this bollocks. Get Monsoon Wedding instead. Or even Moonstruck, if you must have broad, hyphenated-American humor. This level of artistic achievement should be stuck on a fridge with an alphabet magnet. It should not turn into the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time. I wish Rita Wilson had blown the production money on several Humvees and another Chanel suit.
Frida was cinematic redemption, by comparison. I saw it the day I visited the Frida Kahlo Museum and the studio she shared with Diego Rivera (actually, two studios joined by a footbridge, which is the best professional/romantic set up I’ve seen since Woody Allen and Mia Farrow bought apartments facing each other across Central Park). It was well-acted and beautiful to look at. Looking back, now that I’ve seen Mexican schoolgirls, even the school scenes were convincing, though at the time I laughed out loud at Salma Hayek’s overripeness.
Mexico is as movie-mad as it book-mad. In Puebla, I found an independent film café, with a selection of titles for rent and sale that was extraordinary in a smallish town. In the evenings they showed art films for the price of a coffee. The owner was a middle-aged woman in a sun-dress, and her staff were true buffs. She had been running it for eighteen years.
‘I think it’s the only place like this in the country. It’s not a business, you know. It’s very difficult to get the tapes. The people support it as best they can, and Puebla has a good artistic community. Still, I know that every time I show a movie for free, that’s another one that won’t be rented. But what can I do? It’s a love affair, the cine del autor. ‘
She shrugged. The café seats were director’s chairs, and they had hand-stencilled the names of the greats. I sat in Fellini’s chair and watched Train de Vie, a French movie with Spanish subtitles (a bad one, unfortunately, of that unsettling genre, Holocaust slapstick). At the end, when I was saying goodbye, the owner came over again.
‘When you go back to New York, say hello to Woody Allen for us. Maybe in Michael’s bar on Monday nights. They might hate him the United States, but in Puebla we still love him like Chaplin.’