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MACLA's Cholo Film Festival sheds new light on a stereotype

By Richard von Busack

QUE PUES, ESE? Whatever happened to my Luther Burbank Junior High School gym shirt with "El Busack" on it in gothic letters? They always say that all white people want to be black; not in Highland Park they didn't--I wanted to be Chicano. Tragically, it never happened. So, spared the attentive treatment the L.A. Sheriff's Department gives those whose skins are darker than beige, I'd memorize Cheech and Chong records. I'd gape at those big cars that knew how to hop and kneel, and listen to the doo-wop KRLA dedications ("From Sleepy to Esmerelda," "Lo Mucho Que Te Quiero"). I'd daydream about being the kind of man you'd see in the murals: steely gaze, macho mustache, one arm around his statuesque woman, the bumper of his faithful low-rider behind him, a full moon and a brown eagle in the background.

I knew that "cholo" wasn't a polite word, but I knew what it meant. It meant a particular wardrobe: sunglasses after dark, snowy white T-shirt, Pendletons open at the waist and buttoned tight at the neck--a real man never shows his adam's apple, any more than he'd show his knees. How to exaggerate the gravitas of a bunch of young men who had classical names like Nestor, Hector and Alejandro? The fierceness of these warriors was a matter of schoolyard gossip. We knew of their fearsome gang initiations--a dogpile on the novice who endures the fists for a minute or two to become a lifetime member. "Blood in, blood out," as the great Hispanic director Taylor Hackford titled his own study of gang ethics in East LA.

What? You never saw 1992's Blood in, Blood Out a.k.a. Bound by Honor? Boy, did I ever. Whenever there's ignorance, there's always a movie out there just waiting to fill your head full of received ideas. The Bay Area is near saturation point with filmfests, but there's definitely plenty of room for the first-ever Cholo Movie Marathon, at the MACLA gallery in downtown San Jose. It's billed as "three days and over 30 hours of khakis, hair nets and flannel shirts!" It's a whimsical yet provocative approach to a diverse chunk of movie history; it includes discussions of Chicano popular culture by visiting lecturers Jose Montoya and Arturo Villareal.

The opening and closing of this fest features Edward James Olmos, the Salman Rushdie of cine-cholo. First, Olmos' oscar-nominated performance in Stand and Deliver (1988) as a strict math teacher (How strict? The real life Jaime Escalante was a Republican). The series ends with Olmos' opus, 1992's American Me--"the mother of all cholo movies!" asserts programmer Marc Pinate. Olmos, seeking to make the Chicano version of The Godfather, wows the crowd with the grisliest prison-rape scenes ever--the film was so extreme that Olmos went into hiding after death threats from the Mexican Mafia. Speaking of the MM, Hackford's disastrous Blood In, Blood Out is on view, summed up by Pinate as "white guy takes over the Mexican Mafia, yeah, right." Sean Penn's own dabbles in cholo film, Bad Boys and Colors, are accompanied by De Palma's Scarface, probably because of Pacino's outrageous Cuban accent. Yet this free festival is not all guns and ammo. Here also are videos by the Chicano improv comedy group Culture Clash, and Cheech Marin--the Pope of Pocho, most beloved of screen cholos--in his debut film, Up in Smoke, and his comedy Born in East L.A. And MACLA is also screening Zoot Suit, Mi Familla, and the 1979 Boulevard Nights--the title referring to Whittier Boulevard, naturally.

Consider this 30-hour marathon of cholo movies as a sort of initiation rite, and roll with the punches. Seen in total, this festival provides a small window onto the types--scary, comic, and reverent--that made up the screen image of the Chicano during the last thirty years.


MACLA's Cholo Movie Marathon is free to the public and runs from Friday, Nov. 10, until Sunday, Nov. 12, at MACLA, 510 S. First Street, San Jose. Screenings run from 6:30pm to 2am on Friday; 1pm to 2am on Saturday; and 2:30pm to 10:30pm on Sunday. Lecture presentations take place on Saturday, Nov. 11, beginning at 3:45pm. (408.286.8695)

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From the November 9-15, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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