Monday, 27 April 2020

Tierra y Libertad

I know that you were all expecting your bloggist to have over-promised and under-performed (or "to go off half-Hancock" as we now say in the UK), but despite that here is a second post of period-specific book recommendations. Today it's the turn of the Mexican Revolution. There are many excellent academic and/or popular histories of the period available in English (I would particularly recommend Frank McLynn's 'Villa and Zapata'), but I'm going with memoir once again.

John Reed's 'Insurgent Mexico', is a record of the months the American journalist spent with Pancho Villa's División del Norte in 1913. He is of course the same John Reed who witnessed the Russian Revolution and was buried in Red Square.

Also serving, as a doctor, with Villa was Mariano Azuela, the author of 'The Underdogs'. The blurb on the copy I have sums it up rather well: 'a timeless, authentic portrayal of peasant life, revolutionary zeal, and political disillusionment'.

I'm going to extend the original challenge slightly this time to offer a couple of film suggestions as well. The Mexican revolution has been regularly used as a setting by Hollywood, but the two films that I would start with are:

Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn (who won an Oscar for his performance), screenplay by John Steinbeck; 'Viva Zapata!' is a classic about how the realities of revolutions never live up to the ideals of the great men who lead them.

'And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself' is, on the other hand, about what happens when those who lead revolutions have more ego than they do ideals and, incidentally, a reminder that US interference in other countries at the behest of the oil industry is nothing new. Banderas is good, as is a less obviously cast Jim Broadbent.

I am aware that Sergei Bondarchuk made an adaptation of Reed's book. If ever there was an opportunity to spend time watching a very long Russian film about an American in Mexico then it's now. Sadly, I've not yet been able to track down a copy.

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