“Salvador” Is More Revolt Than Revolution

No matter how radical or anti-establishment some American films appear to be, they usually find themselves getting caught up in the same old Hollywood paradigm. Mark Fraser looks back at a noble work which ultimately betrays its leftist sensibilities by pandering to bourgeois aesthetics.

"Salvador" Is More Revolt Than Revolution, by Mark Fraser - Top 10 Films

By the time Oliver Stone directed his breakthrough movie Salvador in the mid 1980s, the fundamentals of Third Cinema were well and truly established.

In their landmark 1969 essay ‘Toward a Third Cinema’, Argentine filmmakers Fernando Solanas (born 1936) and Octavio Getino (1935-2012) described their art as “guerrilla cinema”[1] – one which “democratises”[2] film making while opposing capitalist Hollywood and its role in spreading US cultural imperialism across the globe.

Third Cinema, the pair argued, is the domain of the Third World, and includes movies from regions like South and Central America, the latter of which serves as the backdrop for most of Stone’s 1986 politically charged melodrama.

According to Solanas and Getino – who along with fellow director Gerado Vallejo (1942-2007) founded the Grupo Cine Liberacion (the Liberation Film Group) in the late 1960s – Third Cinema is more concerned with issues pertaining to the group production, distribution and screening of a film rather than narrower considerations such as aesthetics and art.[3] In other words it’s all about the collective – not the individual.

Unlike the First (spectacle) and Second (auteur) cinemas, both of which are produced in Hollywood, Third Cinema opposes works made purely for consumption, instead embracing ones that either fight cultural penetration, colonisation and mass communication or are so problematic for First World audiences they simply cannot be readily assimilated by the so-called (and predominantly American) imperialists.

“(It) recognises (in the struggle of Third World peoples and their Western equivalents) the most gigantic cultural, scientific and artistic manifestation of our time, the great possibility of constructing a liberated personality with each people as the starting point – in a word, the decolonisation of culture,”[4] the film makers noted.

In addition, Third Cinema eschews First World systems of mass communication which, in Solanas’ and Getino’s eyes, destroy national awareness by equating truth, reality and rationality with bourgeois law, as well as associating violence and crime with peace. Mass media, they said, sees “national reality” become a vehicle for subversion.[5]

Meanwhile, film theorist and author Teshome H Gabriel (1939-2010) – in his 1976 paper ‘Third Cinema in the Third World: The Aesthetics of Liberation’ – argues that Third Cinema tries to capture the revolutionary impulse of Third World peoples by exposing, and then demystifying, the machinations of mystifying cinema. For this liberating process to take place, he said, audiences require an implicit understanding of the oppressed.

Third Cinema, the Ethiopian-born Gabriel stressed, associates itself with the “aspirations, values, struggles and social needs of the oppressed classes”[6] as it addresses a wide range of issues pertaining to class, culture, religion, gender and national integrity.

It also points a damning finger at the common enemy – the ruling elite of the First World – and lambasts the Third World’s aristocracy for aligning itself with Western imperialists as it furthers its own interests.

“Regardless of a particular style that a film adopts, the ultimate goal of Third Cinema is to present its audiences with a rational interpretation of a historically-defined reality so that a line of causation can be established which they can use in order to understand and change their condition,”[7] Gabriel wrote.

New criteria

"Salvador" Is More Revolt Than Revolution, by Mark Fraser - Top 10 FilmsSoon after Salvador was released, however, the parameters of what constituted Third Cinema were expanded by Paul Willemen (1944-2012), the Belgium-born film theorist who suggested in his 1987 article ‘The Third Cinema Question: Notes and Reflection’ that the model should not just be restricted to a “codified aesthetic”[8], but could also embrace any formal device which tackled class issues from a critical and committed position.

Third Cinema is, Willemen concluded, “neither of nor for the people; nor is it simply a matter of expressing opposition to imperialism or to bourgeois rule”.

“It is a cinema made by intellectuals who, for political and artistic reasons at one and the same time, assume their responsibility as socialist intellectuals and seek to achieve, through their work, the production of social intelligibility,”[9] he wrote.

For Willemen Third Cinema should not be confined to Third World film makers and their parochial beefs. Rather, it is an answer to post-structuralism and the “petrified” English cultural criticism of the 1970s which, he rightly observed, is “captivated by the mirrors of dominance/independence (and) commerce/art”.[10]

Furthermore, Willemen opposed the Latin American film makers’ anti-Hollywood stance, suggesting they were merely using it as a podium to espouse their own agendas. Additionally, he dismissed the idea of a socialist cinema, saying it faced the danger of drawing inspiration from pre-capitalist feudal nostalgia.

Perhaps more importantly, Willemen also championed cinema’s capacity to deal with the notion of “otherness” – whereby an individual from outside a particular culture can, in some meaningful way, identify with that culture and legitimately ask questions and provide answers about it – arguing this was not restricted to the films made in the Third World. If anything, the writer acknowledged that not all non-Third Cinema movies were insulting, childish, lazy, stupid, politically suspect or outright evil.

“Without one’s questions, one cannot creatively understand anything other or foreign,” he said. “Such a dialogic encounter of two cultures does not result in merging or mixing. Each returns its own unity and open totality, but they are mutually enriched.”[11]

In effect, Willemen significantly expanded Third Cinema’s boundaries, making it flexible enough to embrace works from both the First and Second cinemas so long as they had the integrity to reject the main objectives of popular films (to entertain, manipulate political discourse and make money) while positioning the viewer within a social-historical framework instead of an art-historical-aesthetic one.

Possible contender?

With this easing of the rules, one could legitimately ask if Salvador – a seemingly sincere liberal-leaning work which is set in the Third World and actively crosses the line dividing First and Second cinemas – should be considered part of Third Cinema given its open criticism of First World politics and sometimes misguided attempts to subvert the classic Hollywood narrative film model.

On one level the answer is yes given Stone and his movie effectively stick it to US foreign policy in both Central America and (to a lesser extent) Vietnam, while making some damning observations about the abuse of political power, media complacency and poverty in El Salvador circa 1980.

Also, the fact Salvador does not have a happy ending also puts it in anti-Hollywood territory. By the end of the film the protagonist (played by James Woods) has lost both the girl and his freedom despite overcoming an endless barrage of blood soaked hurdles – his failure reflecting the futility of his quest. This kind of denouement, which is absent from almost all popular mainstream American works, may well have been acceptable to Solanas and Getino, who wrote: “The historical perspectives of Latin America and of the majority of the countries under imperialist domination are headed not towards a lessoning of oppression, but towards an increase.”[12] If nothing else, Salvador’s outlook remains justifiably pessimistic.

And, despite the fact it is directed by a New York-born auteur with an obvious penchant for Hollywood flourishes, the movie is not entirely a purely Tinsel Town product, having been bankrolled by the English company Hemdale Film Corporation (although Stone is credited as the co-producer and most of the film’s funding probably did come from imperialist sources).

Salvador, nevertheless, fails to make the grade as full-blown guerrilla cinema for three major reasons.

"Salvador" Is More Revolt Than Revolution, by Mark Fraser - Top 10 FilmsFirstly, it doesn’t treat issues relating to class, gender and culture in the same respectful or prostrate way as they are dealt with by Third Cinema. Or, to put it bluntly, the film’s point-of-view remains distinctly American – it’s not really about a society in peril; rather it’s about a couple of Yanks who are caught up in some perilous adventures abroad. In this regard, Australian critic William Routt made quite an astute observation in his September 1986 review of the movie in the Australian trade magazine Cinema Papers: “It does not want to stop injustice, exploitation, violence, racism, sexism or repression. It only wants to stop the hurting.”[13]

Secondly, the film’s overall political thrust is undermined by the director’s insistence on incorporating some high level melodramatic tricks into his narrative, a ploy which ultimately makes the whole thing comes off as appealing flick fodder for the want-to-pleased audiences of First Cinema.

Finally, while it isn’t entirely a Hollywood work in the classic sense – with its abundant use of pseudo docudrama mise-en-scene and dramatic focus on a couple of totally abhorrent characters who haven’t seemed to have gone through any real transformation by the time the closing credits roll – Salvador can lay claim to being a hybrid of contemporary commercial cinema, blending the road movie, the buddy-buddy film, the war correspondent flick* and the Third World colonial love yarn into its story telling mix.

When bundled together, this narrative recipe results in a work which remains stuck somewhere in the combined realm of the First and Second cinemas – an intelligently made and sometimes polemic, but nevertheless brazenly Hollywoodesque, spectacle that is so melodramatic it was even deemed too commercial for Cannes.[14]

Going south

Set in 1980 and partly based on fact, Salvador starts as a road movie when broke scumbag photojournalist/war correspondent (and the film’s co-writer) Richard Boyle (Woods) – along with his whining disc jockey pal Dr Rock (James Belushi) – leave San Francisco in Boyle’s beat up red Mustang convertible (a la the opening of Hunter S Thompson’s landmark piece of gonzo journalism Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and drive down to San Salvador, where the unemployed media hack is hoping to find work covering the early days of the Salvadoran civil war.

Like the Thompson book, everything at this stage is played for laughs as the degenerate pair cheerily guzzle booze, smoke weed and pop pills on their way to a destination where (according to Boyle) “all the people do is fuck” and “you can get a virgin to sit on your face for seven bucks”.

The mood rapidly changes, however, when they are stopped at gunpoint by members of the right wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (NRA), who have just wasted a few rebels in a violent roadside skirmish and are now looking for more agitators to execute.

At this point the viewer gets it right in the ear – Georges Delerue’s recurring and mostly overbearing Hollywood chords-by-numbers melodramatic score, which aurally imposes itself upon the scenery at pretty much every available opportunity. Given Third Cinema’s apparent austerity, it’s unlikely this kind of overwrought stimulus would be welcome within its domain.

The pair is arrested and taken to the compound of Boyle’s old friend Colonel Julio Figueroa (Jorge Luke), who has a soft spot for the journalist after being the subject of one of his favourable stories – written some years before by the foreign correspondent during mid 1969’s so-called Football War between El Salvador and Honduras – in which the military man was portrayed as leading “the last great cavalry charge in history” (all the way to Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa).

“Not since Attila the Hun had there been such amazing cavalry tactics,” the sycophantic scribe gushes, momentarily turning his back on the liberal sensibilities he so passionately espouses later on in the movie. Interestingly, in a subsequent bitter twist, it is Figueroa’s troops (with US backing) that guns down Boyle and kills his fictitious photographer friend John Cassady (John Savage) during the Santa Ana guerrilla uprising which occurs in the second half of the film.

This reunion proves fruitful for the relieved Americans, who are plied with hookers and booze by the military thug – a goodwill gesture that effectively kicks off their boys’ own wild working holiday in the Third World.**

Familiar environs

"Salvador" Is More Revolt Than Revolution, by Mark Fraser - Top 10 FilmsStone wastes no time in exploiting the natives as the gringos go about their business, revealing in the process an El Salvador that could easily be Sam Peckinpah’s Mexico (where most of Salvador was actually filmed) or any other stereotypical Central American country as depicted by Hollywood. Upbeat Latino music plays on the radio, providing an ironic counterpoint to the poverty seen on the screen; the streets are littered with small piles of rubbish; stray vultures, chickens and dogs scavenge for food; rundown cantinas provide refreshments for the locals who mill around listlessly; a small group of armed militia marches by; a quartet of coffin bearers look set for the graveyard – all this in less than a minute of screen time as Boyle and Dr Rock seek the services of Bruja (Queta Carrasco), a witch doctor-type who’s bulky and archaic Third World metal syringe contains a secret potion that will rid the San Franciscan disc jockey of all the digestive and venereal ailments he has thus far picked up. It’s at this point the director delivers one of his many annoying continuity errors when Bruja jabs the needle into the side of Dr Rock’s right buttock after wiping down his left one while preparing for this painful-looking procedure.***

Boyle then goes to see his old flame Maria (Elpedia Carillo), an attractive peasant mother with two small children, who chides the journalist for having “another woman in the north” before quickly joining him in the sack (or, in this case, the beachside hammock). Post coitus the naked couple are interrupted by Dr Rock and her younger brother Carlos (Martin Fuentes), who arrive on the scene and start smoking Guatemalan Gold much to Maria’s chagrin. No one in this part of El Salvador, it seems, cares too much about privacy or modesty. If anything, this gives weight to Boyle’s earlier claim that the Central American country is indeed copulation city where a horny Westerner can get a virgin to sit on his face at a Third World discount.

Later, in downtown San Salvador, some haggard looking Latino beggar (Angel Vargas) shows his complete disregard for any social etiquette when he drunkenly holds his hand out in the faces of Boyle and Dr Rock as they argue over money at Cassady’s alfresco café table. The old man doesn’t seem to care that the whining disc jockey is spitting bits of chewed fries over him as he begs for a few coins; nor is he put off by the fact the Americans are totally ignoring him as they comically bicker at each other. Like an inebriated clown in some cheap spaghetti western, this poor derelict’s poverty is bereft of any dignity; his plight is pretty much played for laughs as the hapless Dr Rock – who complains that “I can’t speak the language, I’ve got the shits and I’ve only got three fucking dollars” – goes into meltdown. Moments like these don’t really provide any implicit or meaningful understanding of oppression; rather, the oppressed are taken for granted and assigned a fate they somehow seem to deserve. One can only wonder what Gabriel would have thought when (or if) he saw this movie.

It’s around this point that Salvador reveals its first big set piece – the mass grave site at El Playon, where the bodies of death squad victims are being dumped. In an opening moment which wouldn’t look too out of place in Victor Fleming’s Gone With the Wind (1939), Stone’s camera tilts up from a rotting human carcass to a two-shot of Boyle and Cassady busily getting ready for their photo shoot before pulling back in one tempered crane movement to reveal a hillside littered with dozens of dead bodies. The dramatic impact is emphasised by a sombre and angelic Delerue orchestral adagio as the newsmen climb over the corpses, this tragic setting providing a convenient backdrop for Cassady to reveal one of his life goals – that being to take as good a war photograph as Robert Capa, the Hungarian-born cameraman who (amongst other notable achievements) covered the civil war in Spain (1936-1939) and the American landing at Omaha Beach (1944) during the Normandy invasion before being killed 10 years later by a landmine in Indochina.

“Do you know what made photographers like Robert Capa great, Rich?” Cassady asks. “They weren’t after money. They captured the nobility of human suffering.” He goes on: “He got why they died. That’s what Capa caught – he caught that moment of death.” Then the clincher: “You got to get close Rich, to get the truth. You get too close, you die. Someday I want a shot like Capa. Someday. (Reflective pause). Someday …”

As profound as it is pointless, this kind of dialogue reeks of First Cinema stoicism, essentially lacking the kind of social intelligibility that might have satisfied theorists like Willemen. After all, here is a moment when an American war correspondent is admiring the transcendental abilities of an Eastern European counterpart – almost lamenting the fact he hasn’t achieved the same level of artistic prowess – as he clambers across some deceased victims from the Third World looking for the money shot. Under these circumstances it’s difficult to identify any mutually-enriching moments between cultures, especially when one of the participants is literally stepping on the other. The fact Boyle and Cassady are, in effect, a couple of Yankie war profiteers only serves to make matters worse.

To boost the visual impact of this moment Stone and his set designer Bruno Rubeo go for the metaphorical jugular, turning the scene into a literal rendition of Hell. Burning fires billow plumes of black smoke into the air; a collection of human skulls suggest the early stages of a mass genocide have taken place; bodies remain unclaimed to the point they have become decaying corpses; even the pets have been slaughtered. Meanwhile the buzzards sit and wait, eyeing off their next meal. As with all spectacle movies, this is all hammered home with a sense of self-indulgent bombast. Under these circumstances it’s difficult to view Salvador as anything but First Cinema.

Artistic licence

"Salvador" Is More Revolt Than Revolution, by Mark Fraser - Top 10 FilmsGiven his penchant for using historical events to suit his narrative needs (as seen in films ranging from The Doors and JFK in 1991 to W. in 2008), it’s not at all surprising that Stone throws his characters into some real-life situations to give Salvador some of its dramatic kick.

Arguably the most glaring example of this is the way he utilises the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero (1915-1980) to quicken the pace after Boyle – somewhat amusingly – decides to repent so he can marry Maria and get her out of the country.

In the build up to this moment, the director includes an earlier scene when Major Maximiliano “Max” Casanova (Tony Plana) – a dictator based on Roberto D’Aubuisson (1944-1992), the co-founder of the NRA (the party which dominated El Salvadorian politics from 1989 until 2009) – recruits the assassin (Arturo Bonilla) at a dinner gathering of his goons, parading the room not brandishing a baseball bat like Al Capone in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), but holding the bullet to be used in the planned murder.

Plana, who subsequently had supporting roles in Stone’s JFK and Nixon (1996), chews the scenery with Latino relish, declaring with theatrical gusto: “With this bullet he will be the first to die.”

Later, just after Romero (Jose Carlos Ruiz in a short, but passionate performance) gives his last, powerful sermon (assumedly in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence where it all took place on March 24, 1980), he is shot point blank by the killer, who is kneeling at the altar and about to receive communion.

From an historical point-of-view this recreation is highly flawed. To begin with the archbishop’s final angry public verballing of El Salvador’s military junta was the day before. Furthermore, the real gunman was hiding behind a church pillar when he shot the clergyman – he was not standing inches away from his victim in front of the entire congregation (which conveniently includes Boyle, Maria, Cassady and Dr Rock).

Finally, it wasn’t until May 7 of 1980 that D’Aubuisson was arrested for Romero’s murder by the authorities, whereas in the movie a committed human rights worker (Salvador Sanchez) is immediately pinned for the crime by an evil and malevolently omnipotent Colonel Figueroa/Major Max enforcer (Juan Fernandez).****

Interestingly, one of the biggest shortcomings of this scene is not historical, but technical.

In what may be Stone’s lousiest editing indiscretion throughout the entire movie, the director makes the assassin’s pistol – which has a silencer attached to the barrel – sound as if it is being discharged in a Sergio Leone movie, the loud gun blasts triggering a mass panic which is so imperative to the gist of the story that shots of it are used as a visual backdrop during the film’s sensationalised opening credits.

If, as Gabriel insisted, Third Cinema strives to present a rational interpretation of a historically defined reality, then it’s simply impossible to include Salvador in its collective oeuvre given Stone’s reinterpretation of history is, at times, a tad irrational.

Another misfire

Top 10 Films Salvador James WoodsShortly after it was released, American film commentator/academic/writer and documentary aficionado Bill Nichols (born 1942) criticised the movie along these lines, arguing it turned history into the imaginary while transforming real people into mythical beings. Narrative film, he suggested, tries to authenticate itself when attached to an historical event.[15] Although he mentions the assassination of Archbishop Romero as an obvious example of this, Nichols is particularly critical of Stone’s depiction of the rape and murder of US aid worker Cathy Moore (Cindy Gibb) and three nuns (Danna Hansen, Sigridur Gudmunds and Erika Carlsson), a scene which again is based on fact.

By way of background, on December 4, 1980 the bodies of lay missionary Jean Donovan (27), Maura Clark (49), Ita Ford (40) and Dorothy Kazel (41) were exhumed from an unmarked grave outside of San Salvador before a group of reporters (which, in the film, becomes the whole gang, including Boyle, Cassady, Maria, Dr Rock and his Salvadoran girlfriend Wilma [Juliana Urquisa]). Clark and Ford were Mary Knoll missionary nuns; Kazel was an Ursuline one. Two days earlier, just after leaving the city’s airport, they were raped and killed by members of a military death squad (read the Salvadorian National Guard).*****

As with the murder of Romero, Stone conveniently slots this event into Salvador (although, in real life, it occurred some eight months later), making Moore/Donovan not only a victim of this brutal crime, but also a long-time friend of Boyle.

For Nichols, this rape scene – in which the women are violated before being cold bloodedly executed via a rifle bullet to the head by some stereotypically slobbering and sweaty Latinos (Tomas Leal and Rene Pereyra) – is gratuitous; not only does it raise “enormously disturbing issues about the film’s voyeurism and sensationalism”[16] but it uses an historical figure like Donovan to tell the audience more about “the character of the protagonist, his compassion and decency despite appearances, and the immoral nature of those around him”[17] than about the poor victim herself (especially when Boyle, in a moment of mourning, takes off his ring and slips it on the dead Moore’s finger).

“In Salvador the event becomes exemplary of the fictional universe and its characters; it remains contained within a diegetic frame it only exceeds metaphorically (being like real death, like the real death of Jean Donovan) rather than footage of an actual death,”[18] he wrote in his 1987 Film Quarterly essay ‘History, Myth and Narrative in Documentary’.

“It is just another fictional death – powerful in its effect, informative in its placement, disturbing in its representation, but fundamentally removed from the historical realm to which it metaphorically alludes.”[19]

Ultimately, this suggests the rape and murder of Moore and the others is not so much a tragic depiction of a real life event by a concerned film maker, but a dramatic device used to help legitimise Boyle’s presence. And, as is the case in many other classic Hollywood narrative films, this scene has been incorporated into the story’s chronology “to present the cause-effect chain most strikingly”[20].

Patriarchy reinforced

Given the fact Stone – in true First Cinema fashion – doesn’t leave too much to the imagination when it comes to his brutal and somewhat sordid reconstruction of this moment, it should come as no surprise that Salvador also has issues when put under a feminist spotlight.

In her book Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema, for instance, Annette Kuhn (born 1945) talks about “structured absences”[21] and how the omission of particular details in narrative film, such as a woman’s voice, has political significance – particularly when this occurs within a male-dominated discourse.

Within this scenario, Kuhn argues, “women do not tell their own stories or control their own images, but are ideologically positioned in patriarchal terms”[22].

This is particularly true in Salvador, where the female characters are either subservient to men or are defined as being something of a threat to the existing male order, thereby having their influence over the film’s enunciation essentially cut off.[23]

Maria, for example, eventually turns out to be nothing more than a victim – both of the Salvadoran military government (which has already taken the father of one of her children away before murdering her younger brother) and Boyle’s alcohol and drug-fuelled antics.

Meanwhile, the only female journalist amongst the international press corps – Pauline Axelrod (Valerie Wildman) – is portrayed as an aggressive shrew who not only tows the mainstream media’s line by asking Dorothy Dixers at press conferences, but has the cold hearted temerity to suggest to Boyle at Moore’s makeshift gravesite that perhaps the missionaries were running supplies for the rebels. Fittingly, she gets her comeuppance when Dr Rock laces her drink with acid before she has to do a television stand up report.

Then there’s the female guerrilla leader at the battle of Santa Ana (Leticia Valenzuela), who cold bloodedly executes prisoners of war with a bullet to the head as Boyle angrily protests “Is this your sense of justice? You’ve become just like them.” With scenes like this, it’s hard to argue that Salvador speaks directly to women.

Finally there’s the violation and murder of Moore and the nuns who, in Nichols’ view, ultimately represent “myth-like figures of identification” and are subjects of “voyeuristic, fetishistic or masochistic fascination”[24]. While this moment is not as excessive as some other Hollywood rape scenes (such as those in Michael Winner’s first two instalments of the Death Wish series in 1974 and 1982), it is nevertheless “extensively” depicted, providing a moment in which the sight of one of the nun’s well-lit set of exposed breasts “shocks and distracts”[25].

War zone

At the end of the day it is difficult to find much in Salvador that would allow it to be construed as Third Cinema even if – at its core – it is an undeniably brave piece of Hollywood guerrilla film making in its own right. Aside from the fact it does not provide any meaningful insight into Latin American culture, its left-leaning liberalism tends to treat traditional Third Cinema issues rather superficially. Given this, Salvador is not so much a revolution as it is a peasant revolt.

Around the time the movie was released, well-known American film maker/theorist/academic and founder of JUMP CUT: A Review of Contemporary Media, Julia Lesage (born circa 1940), made a pertinent point regarding this kind of cultural disfiguration in her essay ‘For Our Urgent Use: Films on Central America’, in which she suggested that audiences who are being spoken to in a mainstream way are effectively being denied the existence and validity of a Latin American voice.[26]

“The need to understand Latin America culture on its own terms often gets bypassed, even within anti-imperialist organising – and that has to be acknowledged as a form of racism,”[27] she wrote.

There’s no denying Salvador suffers from this fatal flaw. It has no real Latin American voice – rather its point-of-view is dominated by an American liberal who relies on clichéd sensationalism, First Cinema sensibilities and the subordination of historical truth to help make his points.

Furthermore Stone himself has indirectly admitted that, while making this film, he was – in a modest way – part of the problem.

Speaking to Films and Filming’s Sally Hibbin (born 1953) during late 1986, the director described how he had originally planned to make the film in El Salvador, but had to switch to Mexico at the last minute after support was withdrawn by the Salvadoran Government for fear it would tarnish the nation’s tourism image.

“It was a complete scam,” Stone said regarding this location change. “It involved acts of high piracy, buccaneering and various skulduggery. I must tell you it was not easy. A lot of people were unpaid in Mexico – we escaped across the border just in time. We told them it was all false so we could get the insurance. And we said we could make the movie for US$2.5 million which we couldn’t. We ended up making it for less than US$5 million.”[28]

While this might sound a bit like mischievous (albeit arrogant) guerrilla film making, such antics could also be called deceitful. Whichever way one looks at it, it’s unlikely this is the kind of noble cinema the Grupo Cine Liberacion – with its emphasis on the collective and producing movies that are “fit for a new kind of human being, for what each of us has the possibility of becoming”[29] – would have wanted to make.

Words by Mark Fraser

Discover more writing on film by Mark Fraser
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1. Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino: Toward a Third Cinema – Tricontinental (Havana), October 1969, page 127
2.Ibid, page 126
4.Ibid, page 116
5.Ibid, page 117
6.Teshome H Gabriel: Third Cinema in the Third World – Studies in Cinema, University Research Press (Michigan), 1976, page 15
8.Paul Willemen: The Third Cinema Question: Notes and Reflection – Framework, Number 84, 1987, page 34
9.Ibid, page 35
10.Ibid, page 36
11.Ibid, page 34
12.Solanos and Getino, op.cit, page 118
14.Sally Hibben: Blood From Stone – Films and Filming, Brevet Publishing, London, January 1987, page 18
15.Bill Nichols: History, Myth and Narrative in Documentary – Film Quarterly, California Press, Volume 16, Number 1, 1987, page 18
17.Ibid, page 17
18.Ibid , page 18
20.David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson: Film Art – An Introduction, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1979, page 59
21.Annette Kuhn: Trouble in the Text – Women’s Pictures: Feminism and Cinema, Routledge, Kegan and Hall, London, 1982, page 87
22.Ibid, page 88
23.Ibid, page 104
24.Nichols, op.cit, page 16
25.Ibid, page 18
26.Julia Lesage: For Our Urgent Use: Films on Central America – JUMP CUT: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1986, page 381
28.Hibbin, op.cit., page 18
29.Solanos and Getino, op.cit., page 132

Footnotes and references

*Which was in vogue at the time – notably Volker Schlondorff’s Circle of Deceit (1981), Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), Roger Spottiswoode’s Under Fire (1983) and Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields (1984).

**Having said this, things do get a bit grimmer later on when – in a continuation of the scene which was left out of the theatrical release but briefly appears in the DVD extras – Colonel Figueroa drunkenly pulls out a bag of ears while the boys are getting their rocks off with a couple of whores and claims (according to Stone in a 1987 interview with Film Comment): “Left wing ears, right wing ears, who gives a fuck?” before throwing one them into a glass of champagne and downing its contents. Perhaps somebody told the director the meaning of subtlety in the editing suite.

***One could argue that by making such a mockery of continuity editing – a key tool of the classic Hollywood film narrative – Stone is again attempting to slap the form in the face. However, it’s difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one as many of his works suffer from some glaringly obvious and uncomfortably sloppy continuity errors.

****/*****Sourced from Wikipedia.

About the Author
Mark is a film journalist, screenwriter and former production assistant from Western Australia.

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  1. Avatar
    Callum Reply

    A bit over my head but fascinating nonetheless.

  2. Avatar
    Roger That Reply

    I don’t think Oliver Stone gets the credit he deserves, perhaps because he has a somewhat ambiguous political leaning. On the face of it, he’s a leftist thinker but there’s a conservatism to his patriotism: World Trade Center and JFK seem world’s apart (same director – really?!). Yet, Salvador gets pushed behind some of his most prominent work – the aforementioned, for example, but Platoon has too big a media presence. I believe Salvador gave Stone an opportunity to do what he does best: wallow in leftist sensibility while criticising right-thinking propaganda when it was easy to turn heads with anti-patriotic thinking during Reagan’s reign.

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