Monday, December 15, 2008
On Wednesday, December 26th of 2001, a day most American kids spent playing with their toys, Leslie Zepeda, the eleven-year-old daughter of Julia and Benito, was no exception. Earlier that day, she had gone to visit her neighboring friend Kenia Salinas, bringing with her the large, and beautiful, blonde doll she had gotten for Christmas.
Soon after, Kenia's mother, Nelida Avellaneda, and a friend, Jose Aguilar, took the girls to the mall where they would spend most of the evening. It was at around eight-thirty p.m., when about to be dropped off at her house, that Leslie remembered her doll. She had left it at Kenia's house. Not planning to let a day pass without the gift she had grown so attached to, Leslie requested to go back to pick it up. Since both lived a few houses apart it was just a matter of turning around and backing into the driveway.
Sadly the doll never got to her. Right after getting to the driveway a shoot-out between alleged gang members ensued in front of the house, causing a stray bullet to wound Kenia, and another to end Leslie's life.
On Saturday, December 29th, at Hawthorne's Saint Joseph Catholic Church, Julia and Benito Zepeda gave their final farewell to Leslie with a funeral Mass at the end of which the casket received the blessing of the priest. Walking right behind, one of her sisters followed the somber procession holding Leslie's doll.
There's not much we can say or do to appease the pain of the Zepeda family, because there's absolutely nothing we can do or say to bring their daughter back to life. We have two choices: We can add Leslie's story to our memories of tragic events, and go "back to normal," or we can take action to prevent further happenings like this one to repeat.
In Hawthorne, Leslie's death brought about some action on the part of a group of her neighbors that came together to form the Eucalyptus Neighborhood Association -- an effort to control the level of delinquency in the area, and plans to honor her memory culminated in a Memorial Fund that carries her name. If any positive came out of this tragedy it was the pulling together of the community and its city officials. But organizations and fundraisings are not enough of a solution.
There are an overwhelming series of social problems that we have yet to confront.
If we come to think of the person that shot the gun, we have to consider that this person has also grown up under our social system and that somewhere and somehow society failed. As a society we failed to offer Leslie the right to a full and blooming life, and conversely, we failed to prevent another life from developing into a host of violence that only serves to destroy, and cause tragedy to families like the Zepeda's.
Can we look at our children and know which ones will be the victims and which the victimizers. Of course we can't. But how can we prevent them from going into the wrong paths. Yes, we have the schools with all their special programs but what can we do if some of our children have to go back home to an environment plagued with poverty, crime, violence, and drugs.
Why do we as a city have to wait for this irreversible tragedy to bring light to an issue that is the very cancer of our society? Why live in denial? Why let it drag on and on? Why ignore the severity of the consequences of adapting, and accepting as normal, the violence that surrounds our everyday life?
When I was growing up I had respect and faith in the adult world. I thought they had the answers to everything. The day I attended Leslie's funeral mass I was reminded of the contrary.
What is left to say but the facts: A young and beautiful girl of eleven, from Hawthorne Intermediate, lost her life to the war that we have not been able to win -- the war on crime. And whose fault is it? Ours only.
I would like to finish this article with the childlike ideal I once had -- that there's hope for change -- and that we, as a city, have the right leaders and citizens to make it happen.
On Friday, December 13, 2002, twenty-four year old Hawthorne resident Juan Baeza, was charged with the murder of Leslie in what was considered an attack meant to harm a member of a rival gang who lived right across Kenia's residence.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Hector Babenco's The Kiss of the Spider Woman was recently released in Blue-ray and DVD for all to enjoy, hopefully this release will shed light upon the life of Manuel Puig (1932-1990) author of the novel that inspired the film.
The film The Kiss of the Spider Woman, based on the novel published by Manuel Puig in 1976, and adapted to the screen in 1985, revolves around the relationship of two prison inmates who share a cell in the sinister humidity of an undisclosed Latin-American country.
Valentin Arregui Paz, interpreted by the late Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia (1940-1994), is a leftist revolutionary obsessed with justice and the woman he loves. Luis Alberto Molina, played by American actor William Hurt, is a fragile homosexual who has been imprisoned for pederasty, and whose only desire is to reunite with his sick mother.
In spite of their striking differences, Molina has no problem in asserting his "feminine role" with confidence by considering himself a "normal woman," only capable of loving men. In contrast, Valentin struggles with an ideology that keeps him from accepting his devotion for an upper class woman. With time, Valentin opens up to Molina by allowing him to care for his wounds, and admitting his fear of revolutionary martyrdom by expressing his desire to have a “normal life.”
During the night, when the lights are turned-off, Molina makes use of his repertoire to recount old film plots. His visual memory, and his attention to detail make his narratives ever more palpable for a sick and bitter Valentin. From a thriller set in a Nazi occupied Germany, to the terror of a Zombie island, or the heat of a tropical night, Molina succeeds in drawing Valentin into his fantasy world. Every film tale, every anecdote, every word, slowly penetrates the remoteness of Valentin, who eventually succumbs to the workings of Molina, the "spider woman."
In one of the most defining moments, Molina sings a Mario Clavell bolero, titled My Letter, that summons what is going to became the core of the inmates relationship:
"Querido, vuelvo otra vez a conversar contigo. La noche trae un silencio que me invita a hablarte. Y pienso, si tu también estarás recordando, cariño...los sueños tristes de este amor extraño." Mi carta, Mario Clavel
"Dear, I come back, yet once again. The night brings an inviting silence for conversation. And I wonder... if you also remember the sad dreams of this strange love."
Unlike the collaboration of filmmaker Barbet Schroeder and author Fernando Vallejo in the literary adaptation of Our Lady of the Assassins, or the more recent collaboration of director Eloy de la Iglesia and author Eduardo Medicutti in The Bulgarian Lovers, there never existed a collaboration between The Kiss of the Spider Woman's director Hector Babenco and Manuel Puig.
Though the end result caused major distress upon the author, who never agreed with the changes of screenwriter Leonard Schrader, the film managed to gain an Oscar nomination for best adaptation. Another criticism of Puig fell upon the casting of William Hurt. The author did not agree with the choice, and never approved of the performance, which he considered shallow, but a performance that gained the actor an Oscar. In spite of Puig's disagreement, Hurt delivered a heart-wrenching final scene not to be forgotten in the history of contemporary cinema.
Excerpt of interview with Manuel Puig.
Could it be that there was too much of Puig in the character of Molina to let just anyone take a hold of it? Regarding the closeness of an author to a special character, French novelist Andre Guide, pioneer of "homosexual" literature, once expressed "How many buds we bear in us that will never blossom save in our books!" If Manuel Puig's passion for nostalgic boleros and classic cinema was the bud that sprang through Molina's persona, his political stand against dictatorial governments, cause of his exile, was also reflected in the persona of Valentin.
In an interview with Jorgelina Corbatta, following the 1979 Congress of Hispanic-American Writers in
For those interested in discovering the genius of this author here is a list of his novels:
- 1968: La traición de Rita Hayworth (Betrayed by Rita Hayworth)
- 1969: Boquitas pintadas (Heartbreak Tango)
- 1973: The Buenos Aires Affair (The Buenos Aires Affair)
- 1976: El beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman)
- 1979: Pubis angelical (Pubis Angelical)
- 1980: Maldición eterna a quien lea estas páginas (Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages)
- 1982: Sangre de amor correspondido (Blood of Requited Love)
- 1988: Cae la noche tropical (Tropical Night Falling)
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Film still from "Casta de Roble / Oak's Caste" (1954)
Manolo Alonso at Noticiero Nacional
William Rebustillos, entertainment journalist for Fuste's Show magazine, wrote a column, dated May of '52, depicting the director's pioneering vision, not to be "the dream of a romantic poet," but "a reality.” Rebustillos comment was formulated as a direct attack against the lack of governmental support for the development of Cuban Cinema. "Each government that has taken public office invariably has promised Manolo Alonso, lead supporter of Cuban Cinema, its outmost collaboration, then, the days go by, and the purposes of the executive focus on the political currents, which by turn, absorb it all.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
"Y digo yo, bueno, lo que nunca me esperaba yo. En primer lugar yo nunca pense en ser actriz y con un padre que teniamos tan estricto y nunca ibamos al cine. Usted se imagina, de repente alguien me ve en la escuela y me hacen la prueba y de la prueba vino todo esto"
"I never considered becoming an actress with such a strict father. We never went to the movies. Then, out of a sudden, somebody spots me at school, I do a screen test and from there it all began".
~Interview w/ Lupita Tovar (2007)~
Lupita Tovar daughter of Maria Sullivan and Egidio Tovar was born in Oaxaca (Mexico) on July 27, 1910, a year that witnessed the downfall of President Porfirio Díaz and the birth of the revolution.
Her film career began to shape in 1928 when Tovar auditioned for a contest, organized by El Universal Ilustrado newspaper. The judge was none other than filmmaker Robert Flaherty who chose her the winner of a contract with Fox film studios. In November of that same year, Tovar arrived in Hollywood accompanied by her grandmother Lucy Slocum Sullivan.
Following bit parts in three films directed in 1929, The veiled woman, King of the Khyber Rifles and The Cock Eyed World, Tovar joined Universal studios. The transition from silent films to "talkies" had started and Hollywood - in an effort to retain foreign audiences- began producing different language film versions of a same film.
It was during this period that Tovar was assigned the starring role of La Voluntad del Muerto (1930), Spanish film version of Universal's The Cat Creeps (1930). In December of 1930, Tovar returned to Mexico for the premiere of the film. Images of her arrival illustrate the excitement of the fans and the satisfaction of the young starlet who had met the expectations of her nation. During her stay Tovar had an important meeting with Carlos Noriega Hope and producer Juan de la Cruz Alarcón. Noriega Hope, editor of El Universal Ilustrado, represented an important group of film critics that scrutinized what they considered the often deplorable results of Hollywood Spanish films, productions that congregated under one film actors from different regions of Latin America and Spain, whose accents proved unnerving for the Mexican audiences. Juan de la Cruz Alarcón was a successful businessman who had fought in the revolution and who had turned his attention to the distribution and exhibition of films.
Noriega Hope and Alarcón had come with an offer, the starring role in a film that was to be the first sound film made in Mexico. The film was to be based in Santa, a novel previously adapted to the screen in 1918 by Luis G. Peredo. A meeting was arranged to introduce Tovar to the author, Federico Gamboa, who in turn introduced the actress to Emerenciana, the old lady whose life story had served as the basis for the novel. The event was documented by Noriega Hope in an article: "I remember her temper [Emerenciana's] when accusing Gamboa of portraying her as a bad woman. And Federico, a gentleman at heart, smiled and took some photographs with Emerenciana and Lupita."
Excerpt of Agustin Lara performing "Santa".
"In the eternal night of my despair. You've been the star that brightens up my sky. And I've imagined your rare beauty which has illuminated my darkness."
"En la eterna noche de mi desconsuelo tu has sido la estrella que alumbra mi cielo. Y yo he adivinado tu rara hermosura que ha iluminado toda mi negrura."
Santa premiered in Los Angeles at the California Theater, on May 20th of 1932. The event gathered the likes of Jose Mojica, Luana Alcañiz, Mona Maris, Ernesto Vilches, Jose Crespo, Mimi Aguglia, Ramon Pereda, Adriana Lamar, Barry Norton, Conchita Ballesteros, actors who had come the world over to join the Hollywood "Hispanic" film productions, and who had witnessed in Santa the promise of an emerging Spanish language film industry.