[Metroactive Movies]

[ Movies Index | Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Oh, Ché, Can You See?

Antonio Bandaras
Ch-Ch-Ché-a Pet: Ché Guevara (Antonio Bandaras) leads the workers in revolt.

'Evita' spells a decade of doom
for bloated movie musicals

By Richard von Busack

SOME BAD TASTE is invigorating; it can make you admire the vitality of life. Other bad taste makes you despair of the human race. It must be a matter of degrees; a little bad taste intoxicates, a lot of it poisons.

Evita is sheer poison, a concentration of the abilities of Alan Parker, Oliver Stone, Tim Rice and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber: a veritable Pandora's Box­load of entertainers unlatched by Madonna. It's a monstrosity, the kind of galumphing horror that makes people loathe musicals.

Evita traces the career of the courtesan Eva Duarte (Madonna) from her countrified beginnings to her marriage with Argentina's President (Almost) for Life Juan Perón (Jonathan Pryce). The story is commented upon by Ché Guevara himself (Antonio Banderas).

The filmmakers, figuring that the movie audience didn't know from Ché, don't identify Banderas' character as the once-noted revolutionary, and thus bypass the principal irony of Evita the musical--the notion that Eva Perón and the great revolutionary had been bedfellows. It wasn't much of a notion, but at least it was a notion; watching the movie version, all you can suppose is that Banderas is playing some sort of spurned busboy stalking the great lady.

Operetta usually has a plot you can follow, too; there's a student prince or a singing bandit or something. Evita is near incoherent; whenever there's a change of scenery, they send in the tanks and the mounted police and the explosions. (During the slow parts of the show, daydream about Oliver Stone and Alan Parker's other versions of musicals: West Side Story with Uzis, a Camelot with Braveheart-style broadswording.)

Argentina is restless, my friends. The cast of thousands mills around, blows up a building; a newspaper spins; gratuitous violence wows audience; and then we're back to Eva sleeping her way to the top. Are the Peróns nationalists, communists or fascists? Is the moral of the studiously apolitical show that, as a lyric has it, "there's more to statecraft/than entertaining peasants"?

In any case, amid this bellowing chaos, all you can tell is that the country is aggravated because they can't see Madonna on a balcony. The giant crowd scenes are intercut with close-ups of weeping faces. The whole film is in tears from the beginning; it begins in mourning with the funeral of Eva Perón, and comes full circle to the bitter end of Eva laid out in a glass coffin. She's dead before we even have a chance to know who she is.

The use of real-life peasants, instead of obvious Broadway dancers and professional spear carriers, violently dislocates the film. You're made to see Evita as a lady bountiful, a martyr; you don't understand--as the play reminded you--that when a rich person in a very poor country gives, it's a gift on his (or her) own terms.

In any case, it's not hard to see how the wispy little story has been wrapped around director Parker's own show-business view of the crowd: We lie to them, we falsify history, we're corrupt, but we give them a loud, flashy spectacle, and the peasants love us for it.

Cry Baby Cry: Evita Perón (Madonna) accepts the praise of the world.

THE SHOW'S one memorable song, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," is treated with less reverence than the cue for "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in a Civil War movie. Here is a musical about one of the most musically gifted countries on the globe, and just listen to this audio farina: dripping-wet guitar strings, tentative understudyish voices and big chunks of wobbly acid-guitar feedback.

As for Madonna--the focus of all of this peasant devotion--at least she didn't grab her crotch. This is probably because she's throwing her arm up in a helpless gesture of accepting the praise of the world. She has brown contact lenses to make her gaze look puppyish.

In close-up, her blank face is no longer young; the stoned-looking, hanging lower lip outlines David Letterman's sarcastic mouth even unto the somewhat gapped front teeth. No wonder the two of them feuded on television--two identical bullies in an enclosed space. Even in pantomime, she's astonishingly off.

See her in a casting office, called in by a secretary. Madonna's Evita taps her chest with a humble look of surprise: "Who, little old me?" As if! She hands out bread to the dirt farmers, gets wrapped in furs, endures pathetic illness by candlelight, languishes on embroidered pillows as she sobs out her swan song, and gets carried off to the cathedral to lie in state. Her worst enemy couldn't have come up with a scheme to make her look more overblown, more arch-queenly, more completely free of any talent.

In short, she's finally been given enough rope to hang herself. Evita is bad enough to keep the screen free of musicals for the next 10 years. At the risk of exaggerating the scope of this disaster, it's also a certain death-knell for Madonna's movie career and--the soundtrack being as laughable as her performance--it's perhaps even bad enough to finish her recording career.

Evita (PG; 130 min.), directed by Alan Parker, written by Parker and Oliver Stone, photographed by Darius Khondji, and starring Madonna, Jonathan Pryce and Antonio Banderas.

[ Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the January 9-15, 1997 issue of Metro

This page was designed and created by the Boulevards team.
Copyright © 1997 Metro Publishing, Inc.

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate