EL MARIACHI (1992)
Out of the desert and into a small Mexican town roams a down-on-his-luck guitar player, seeking out his destiny to continue the family tradition of being a mariachi. But as fate would have it, the black-clad, guitar carrying mariachi bears the same trademarks as a local crime figure, who is being hunted down by his rivals. The Mariachi quickly becomes the target of the shoot-first-don't-bother-asking hitmen who only know that they are looking for someone carrying a guitar case. But when the Mariachi also comes into possession of some guns, it becomes a Mexican stand-off of epic proportions!
Robert Rodriguez's debut film came out of nowhere in the early nineties and became caught up in a storm of movie festivals and praised by basically anyone who laid eyes on it. Originally shot for Mexico's direct-to-video market, it was quite apparent that there was something much more going on here than simply a low-budget quickie actioner. And no sooner than the film discovered than the stories and rumors circulating about Rodriguez's insane fundraising ploy (he became a lab guinea pig for a month), the actual production costs. In an age before digital cameras and home computer moving editing equipment, Rodriguez's name became synonymous with the late 80's / early 90's DIY filmmaking firestorm that was sweeping America and ushering in the directors and writers that would help close out the decade.
Looking back at EL MARIACHI, Rodriguez's trademark energy and excitement that he instills in any project he touches can already be seen breaking out and maturing during the film's short eighty minute running time. Via camera flourishes, quick-but-steady editing, a simple storyline that is easy to follow and rally behind, and some wicked jaw-dropping action sequences, Rodriguez spins a tale that had action junkies reaching for their remote and rewinding their favorite bus-jumping-on, blood-squib-bursting, hand-being-shot-through scenes again and again.
As much as this is Rodriguez' baby - he practically did everything himself, which lead to him being dubbed "the rebel without a crew" - it is the face of El Mariachi, Carlos Gallardo, that really help sells the film. Gallardo's boyish and innocent face, and his slightly messed up curly hair, paints the portrait of a man who goes to great lengths to stay out of trouble and just wants to play music. Gallardo really gets behind his character, and really enjoys being the characters. His physical change is painful to watch, as the confused and mistaken nameless mariachi realizes his life has basically been destroyed, and in order to survive must unwillingly transform the gun-toting vengeful El Mariachi.
EL MARIACHI's international success of course lead to the big-budget sequel/re-do DESPERADO which fully lionized him into the hearts of over-the-top action fans, the SPY KIDS trilogy, and SIN CITY among others. He continues to stay the course as the rebel without a crew, shooting, editing, scoring, and producing via his Troublemaker Studios. But it is here, in a movie that he made as "practice", that Rodriguez's lays bare his cinematic soul for anyone willing to take a peek. Right here, in a dirty and grainy Spanish language flick that was never meant to get beyond the shelves of Mexican video stores, the true heart of what being a filmmaker is beats to sound of machine gun firing and chord strumming, and waits for you to request a song.