And so with Frevier Francais done and dusted, possibly until next year (or on the Wild Card), we begin what I will call El Mariachi March – or more specifically, Robert Rodriguez Month. This time, we will get hot and sunny weather in Western settings, numerous bars, several mistaken identities, various murder-inducing instruments, handsome men in black, and the beautiful women who fall for their dangerous existence. Let’s get started.
Set in the modern-day (1992), El Mariachi is “A Tale Of Two Guitar Cases”. You have the unnamed musician known as El Mariachi (played by Carlos Gallardo, who was also co-producer), who arrives in a small Mexican town with the dream of becoming a famous singer-guitarist like his father, grandfather, and great grandfathers. After receiving a free coconut upon entering, he believed his luck was good. At the same time, there is Azul (played by Reinol Martinez). A ruthless killer who had just escaped from jail. Much like El Mariachi, Azul also has a guitar case. Only in Azul’s case are numerous weapons, including a sub-machine gun. Azul’s goal is to get money owed to him by the Drug Lord known as Moco (played by Peter Marquardt). This goal leads to Azul beginning a killing spree, which, through mistaken identity, puts El Mariachi in great danger and puts him at the mercy of the lovely bar owner Domino (played by Consuelo Gómez).
Now to look at what is and isn’t a mistaken identity:
The acting is excellent for the budget, and I will get to that soon. While the Film borrows from spaghetti westerns in parts, Rodriguez needed people for the roles and didn’t look for everybody to “have the right kind of face”. Many of the actors and actresses are probably either family, friends, neighbours, classmates or civilians. The Prison-guards at the beginning of the Film were real guards, and that jail was theirs. But he edited the Film well enough to hide most of the weaknesses that could show them up as non-actors. The only actor with any experience appears to have been Carlos Gallardo (El Mariachi) – and with that considered, you begin to appreciate how well everybody else did, especially Consuelo Gómez as Domino, who had a lot of dialogue. Then there was Peter Marquardt as Moco, who said his lines phonetically, as he didn’t speak a lick of Spanish. Reinol Martinez (Azul) was studying to be Doctor while making this. If he followed through on that path, I wonder how many patients bring up this role.
The characters are their wants: El Mariachi wants to become a famous musician (but not like this), and he laments for the days when musicians were ‘gods’. Azul wants his money. Domino wants her security (and to be loved), and Moco needs to protect his business. We are less interested in what Domino’s favourite book is and more interested in how she handles this situation that we’re thrown into. She could be any bartender anywhere, and El could be any musician. It is that kind of fast-paced movie.
The story is purely plot-driven. But it is a good kind of plot-driven. The kind that makes sense and keeps your interest. It drives forward like a spaghetti western, as it follows a stranger (El Mariachi) who enters an unfamiliar town and gets caught up in a scenario that could have been avoided had he not worn black or carried a guitar case. Scene after scene, he makes the situation worse by staying and rescuing his belongings when he leaves them behind or loses them. Very much, he is in the wrong place at the wrong time, with some exceptions.
Now for the part that shines the brightest: The artistic approach, cinematography and special effects are incredible because of several details. Here they are: Not only was this Robert Rodriguez’s first Film, but he also did almost everything behind the scenes. He was the director, the co-producer (along with Carlos Gallardo), the writer, the editor, and the cinematographer. He would have played El Mariachi himself if he was not operating the camera (he said). The film budget was $7,225 (about $13,647 in 2021) and would have cost only $600 ($1,133 in 2021) if he didn’t have to pay for camera film. It is in the Guinness World Record for the lowest budget film to ever make a million dollars, and in this case, it is a triumph for “The little guy entering the world of cinema”. The Film was also surprisingly good at its presentation of gore and violence. The condoms full of fake blood worked out well.
The music is fascinating in its own way. Even though it is about a musician, we receive one song from him (recorded by a real Mariachi that Rodriguez put a tape-recorder beside during a performance). The other music is very energetic and driven by fast, congo-style drums, guitars and synth – or it is ambient (almost dream-like), which gives a different feel compared to the films that are to come later.
Would I recommend El Mariachi? Yes, I would. It was the beginning of what would become a very memorable Film Director in Robert Rodriguez, and it is one of the best low-budget action movies ever made (in my opinion). It is a must-watch for film students who need to know how to make a good film on a small budget (Watch the behind-the-scenes feature. It is very inspirational). Even after all this time, it still holds the energy and excitement that it intended to create. So, go and find it.
Acting: ***1/4 (***** for being 99% inexperienced actors)
Special Effects/CGI: ***1/4 (****3/4 considering the budget)