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Thread: Glatzer and Westmoreland's QUINCEANERA

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    Glatzer and Westmoreland's QUINCEANERA

    Quinceanera is Spanish for "15 year-old girl" and for the elaborate and expensive party that celebrates latinas' reaching that milestone. The film opens in the middle of one such party, in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. It's Eileen's 15th but our attention is directed mostly towards her cousin, the sulky Magdalena (Emily Rios). She's worried about whether her boyfriend likes someone else and whether her upcoming "15th" will be as lavish as her cousin's. Blocks away, a young man with a neck tatoo steals a bouquet of flowers. He's Eileen's brother Carlos (Jesse Garcia), whose appearance at the ball is cause for consternation. His own father violently kicks him out. Carlos lives with his great-uncle Tomas, an affable octogenerian vendor of "champurrado" (spiced hot chocolate), in the back house of a property recently purchased by a 30-something gay couple. A plot development I'd rather not reveal causes Magdalena to be exiled from home by her religious father. She moves in with uncle Tomas and Carlos and the three form a makeshift family. But what of Magdalena's quinceanera?

    This little gem was only the second film in the history of the Sundance Festival to win both the Grand Jury and the Audience awards. Writer/directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer were inspired by the "kitchen sink" dramas common in Westmoreland's native Britain during the late 50s and early 60s, with Tony Richardson's A Taste of Honey providing the blueprint. Yet Echo Park is a more cheerful place than that film's environs and Quinceanera is firmly based on the filmmakers' own life experience. Like the gay couple in the film, they are partners who moved into a refurbished property in Echo Park a few years ago. Their Mexican-American neighbors asked them to serve as official photographers for their daughter's quinceanera. During months of preparations, they became intimately familiar with Mexican culture, and fascinated with how the event mixes religious and pagan rituals, as well as classic and modern elements.

    The resulting film is anchored by Carlos and Magdalena's bittersweet coming-of-age stories, but it also manages to incorporate with great fluidity and economy issues of class, race, religion and sexual orientation. Particularly laudable is the frank manner in which Glatzer and Westmoreland address how gentrification has changed the neighborhood's character and caused an exodus of the more vulnerable older residents. The gentrification of established, centrally located, ethnic neighborhoods affects most major American cities; a phenomenon that's happening more rapidly than anticipated because of the higher cost of commuting from the suburbs. I can't recall offhand another movie that makes gentrification so central to its plot, and that confronts its most dire implications.

    I also can't recall a better film about our largest minority. Quinceanera is more ambitious, or more polished, or fresher, or simply more effective than the rivals worth mentioning: Stand and Deliver, The Perez Family, My Family, Mi Vida Loca, The City, Real Women Have Curves, Raising Victor Vargas and Manito. It's a breakthrough film for Westmoreland, who's directed mostly gay porn and gay docs, and Glatzer (the campy Grief was his forgettable debut) . The Fluffer, a drama marketed almost exclusively as "queer cinema", was their promising first collaboration. Quinceanera evidences more skillful writing and direction. One wonders to what extent to credit executive producer Todd Haynes who is, in my opinion, one of our best filmmakers. Last but not least, the film's appeal is dependent on the affecting performances by debutants Rios and Garcia, and by Chalo Gonzalez, who was discovered by Peckinpah decades ago during the shooting of The Wild Bunch and finally, in his 81st year, gets to play a major character.

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    Yesterday, I picked up the Fall preview edition of Premiere magazine and discovered a full page ad for this film. Investigating at imdb.com, I found several assertions being made about this movie. One, it copied the plot of The Debut, a Philippian film about a young girl turning 18. In turn, another cinephile claimed this film had actually been released prior to this year, and this was a re-release of a film made six years ago. Someone mentioned this movie was going direct to HBO rather than a theatrical release. Five films have been released with the same title. I enjoyed the lively discussion by the Hispanic cinephiles that spoke of their 'coming out' parties, similar to a bar mitsvah? In my home town, young girls attended a debutant ball called the cotillion. I suppose its cheaper to do it for every girl that age than bear the expense of doing it for one. Released as "Echo Park, LA" in the UK (year not given).
    Last edited by cinemabon; 08-22-2006 at 08:24 AM.
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    This certainly makes it sound like a must-see.

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    Originally posted by cinemabon
    Investigating at imdb.com, I found several assertions being made about this movie. One, it copied the plot of The Debut, a Philippian film about a young girl turning 18.

    The message boards at IMdb is not a place to investigate a film. But you know this already (I read your post re:World Trade Center). I admit that perusing those boards can provide some sort of lowbrow entertainment. They get "all kinds" of people, if you know what I mean. The user states "the makers STOLE the idea from The Debut". The plot synopsis of that film happens to be "A young Filipino-American's dreams of becoming an animator are in conflict with those of his immigrant father, who is imtent on seeing him become a doctor". The second conflict in the film revolves around the young man being embarrased of his Filipino heritage. On the other hand, the IMdb user seems to be swelling with ethnic pride and wants to divert attention towards that movie by all means necessary. His comment ends with "I just want the world to know a Filipino movie with a similar idea came out first". Well, apparently The Debut is not bad at all_ might merit a rental, but the user is way out on left field in making any comparison between the two and the idea that the award-winning and widely hailed Quinceanera "stole" the idea from the Filipino-American movie is preposterous, to put it mildly.

    In turn, another cinephile claimed this film had actually been released prior to this year, and this was a re-release of a film made six years ago. Someone mentioned this movie was going direct to HBO rather than a theatrical release. Five films have been released with the same title.

    The typical misinformation one finds at those boards. The film is enjoying a successful theatrical release. HBO in no way involved with the production or broadcast of Quinceanera. Four other "Quinceaneras", including a short, A Mexican TV soap, a Mexican melodrama from 1960, and an "amerindie" that was never released. None merit any attention.

    I enjoyed the lively discussion by the Hispanic cinephiles that spoke of their 'coming out' parties, similar to a bar mitsvah?

    More of the same. Not at all similar to a bar mitzvah. One of my fellow hispanics there is angrily calling for a "boycott" of the film because the writer/directors are "anglo". Another user is quite upset at the damage the film will heap on the image of the gay community because one gay character in the film cheats on his partner. Again, more examples of the typical narrowmindedness one finds at that site.

    Released as "Echo Park, LA" in the UK (year not given).

    Indeed. Quinceanera is being released in Britain under that title.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 08-22-2006 at 04:37 PM.

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    Quinceanera totally unlike bar (or bat) mitzvah?

    Of course it would be a Bat Mitzvah, for a girl. But why the decisive denial, "not at all similar"? Any general description of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs would say they are traditional celebrations of coming of age and also are "elaborate, expensive" parties. In general ethographic terms, it would seem there are similarities.

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    Ok. Both are rite-of-passage celebrations that usually involve elaborate parties. They are markedly different otherwise, with the Jewish ones having a much more religious context (by the way, the Cuban and Puerto Rican "quinces" my daughter has attended differ from Mexican ones in that religious overtones are completely absent). I learned also that Jewish males can have a second Bar Mitzvah, at age 83! (Based on the concept that a lifetime lasts 70 years).

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    I did not mean to detract from your review or endorsement of the forementioned film. I could not agree with you more about imdb's postings usually appealing to the lowest common denominator. I did, however, find a common thread to the discussion by many latinos regarding the "coming of age" process unique to their culture; as Spock would say, fascinating. Any film so honored should garner further attention.

    83, eh? After receiving ones new declaration, does that clear you of any possibility of a paternity suit, I wonder?
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    To be fair, I have to admit there is some material of value at the IMdb boards, like latinos discussing what makes the coming-of-age process unique (no "quinceanera" equivalent for boys though). I haven't posted there but I have submitted a few reviews of festival films for the comments section. I was wondering if you've seen the message boards at turnerclassicmovies.com. Given your impressive knowledge and interest in Classic Hollywood, I would think you'd be interested. And the folks who post seem like nice people who truly love movies. I've only done so once or twice (under the name Orson Lubitsch) because I'm committed to FilmLeaf, but I recommend it.

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    IMDb is what got me here, and got me into reviewing movies online. I still believe it's an impressive site, which dominates the field. Smaller quasi-national film sites like the French Allociné refer their readers to the pages on films on IMDb. It is truly international, despite its obvious American focus, as is indicated by how the names of films are given in the original languages or translliterated versions of them. It's a truly democratic site, because it's open to everyone from the least informed, least literate viewer with Internet access, up to a well known movie director. I find that interesting. And I find it worthwhile. Time and time again I have logged in on the IMDb boards on a particular film to see what people are chattering about, and it's usually helpful. It's also possible to find out the various biases that the public brings to different films. An invaluable tool, and one that, however commercialized, belongs to all of us, because we can submit corrections to data. If you sift through the "lowest common denominator" in the Comments, you also will find a number of very knowledgable writers among the more prolific ones. I post all my reviews there. Cinema is a popular medium, after all. If you want something elitist, you need to go to avant-garde art or modern poetry... This is not to deny that misinformation is passed around on IMDb, as it is on the Web generally.

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    I wish we were discussing one of the best American films of the year so far. By now I expected us to be broaching plot aspects I avoided in my review (because I didn't want to spoil the experience for anybody). I recognize Quinceanera has just expanded from 48 to 96 screens last friday so many have not had access to it. So maybe there's still hope. I also recognize that the distributor has treated the film as a "hispanic interest" and "gay interest" film (the preview I watched was sponsored by the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Society) rather than one with mainstream potential.

    On the other hand, there's no doubt that the most popular movie website in the universe is worth discussing. I'd like to point out that within IMdb there are Message Boards and there are User Comments. They are quite different. The source of the erroneous and misleading posts about Quinceanera I criticized came from the Message Boards, where you will also find vile personal attacks and a lot of inane material. The User Comments, although not consistently insightful, are well worth reading. These have to go through a screening process and have to adhere to these guidelines.

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    Good to make this distinction. I think most users know that there are both messages and comments; there are also discussion threads such as the Classics, which have some knowledgeable participants, like jiankevin, whom Howard and I have discussed, and who is an independent filmmaker and interviewed Jonathan Rosenbaum on the site. You can get a bad impression of the movie page message exchanges, but they also can offer little tidbits of useful information, or trivia, not just vileness or misinformation... caveat emptor....

    we do get sidetracted sometimes....I coujld see the film, it is here last I saw, but have not been able to go out to movies lately, having other tasks plus a visiting friend (who isn't into moviegoing). I've also put more time into political writing since July 12th. Be assured, I will see Quinceanera, but it may not be timely...maybe in NYC....
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-30-2006 at 02:27 AM.

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    I've seen Quinceañera now and written a review , which is not as detailed and well informed as yours, Oscar, about the directors' careers or the milieu. It's also not anywhere near as entusiastic. In fact, it's so unenthusiastic, I won't print it here, so as not to cast a pall on your enthusiasm. Just as I make allowances for gay-themed or otherwise gay-appeal movies, anyone has a right to give an extra boost to ones that tell stories of their minorities, and HIspanic is, demographically, the big one, for sure--but according to census figures, only about 1.5% larger than the black population, or maybe less; current figures belittle the gay population considerably, though of course Kinsey (who looked into these things) thought it was 10%. Be that as it may, the Hispanic population has had less representation in American film than those other two groups, and I welcome and champion your enthusiasm. But I will say here that I don't think this is "one of the best American films of the year so far" (at least I hope not), and I can't see how one could possibly think it's superior to all previous Latino-themed American movies. For what it's worth, I saw Quinceañera with a Mexican-born friend, who is as big a film buff as I am, and we both were relatively unimpressed, and agreed that Raising Victor Vargas seemed to us considerably more successful. I believe Manito is stronger and more memorable in many ways, despite a certain roughness and an ugly DV look. You take an unnecessary risk in specifying that Quinceañera's " more ambitious, or more polished, or fresher, or simply more effective" than all the Hispanic-related movies you list, because various ones in the list excel over this new effort in each category, or so I would hope....

    I tend to agree with Lisa Schwartzbaum and Maryann Johanson, to mention two of the less favorable reviewers of Quinceañera. As Johanson says, it's "too nice." Schwartzbaum says this is "suds being sold as ethno-sensitive reality, a case of coveting thy neighbor's fiesta." I know that sounds cruel, but we must be cruel in order to be kind. Yes, the characters are real and specific (as far as they go). But Schwartzbaum brings out a serious question: why should a white Anglo gay male couple, with their social and economic independence and their mixed US/British backgrounds, be the ones to depict the world of Echo Park, with its long residency in the area, its Spanish-speaking, Mexican background, and its extended (but partially disintegrating) family structure, its poverty, its born-again Christianity? Are Westmoreland and Glatzer really as "intimately familiar with Mexican culture" (your words, Oscar) as an American Latino filmmaker fluent in Spanish who grew up in a low income neighborhood of L.A. would be? Just whom are we championing here?

    A serious weakness of your review, Oscar, is that you hardly go into the plot at all, and so you cannot confront its weaknesses and oddities. I know all about the "spoilers" issue, but if you refer to a main part of the story as "a plot development I'd rather not reveal," you avoid confronting the shortcomings of the screenplay, which also concern the treatment of the gay white characters. Why are they so unappealing? Is that really intentional?

    You don't consider the main criticisms of the movie, Oscar--its blandness, its saccharine elements; the lack of depth in the characters. I have objections to the main plot elements. The fact that the story brings in gentrification, and that may not have been much depicted in movies hitherto, doesn't make the film significant, and moreover, gentrification is only one, and not the main one, of what turn out to be too many plot elements.

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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Just as I make allowances for gay-themed or otherwise gay-appeal movies, anyone has a right to give an extra boost to ones that tell stories of their minorities

    Anyone, including you, has a right to make any allowances. And I have a right to detest that practice and to consider it patronizing or condescending. If I genuinely don't think a Latino-themed film is great, I won't "give it an extra boost" or rate it a notch higher than I would a film about pygmies or about Romanians. It wasn't a Hispanic majority among Sundance audience and critics panel that bestowed the film that festival's audience and Grand Jury awards. The vast majority of the critics that have given Quinceanera favorable reviews are not hispanic. I personally would be willing to wait an eternity to champion a film about Hispanic-Americans, if I felt Quinceanera didn't deserve it. I can even envision Quinceanera not making my Top 10 (which includes English-language films made elsewhere) if there's a high number of great films released by December 31st. As of now, it's "one of the best American films of the year so far".

    Schwartzbaum brings out a serious question: why should a white Anglo gay male couple, with their social and economic independence and their mixed US/British backgrounds, be the ones to depict the world of Echo Park

    This attitude stems from a type of tribalism called ethnocentrism. It proposes that a person needs to have certain credentials and ethnic background that matches the themes and characters depicted in his/her movie. By virtue of having spent my first 17 years of life in Latin America, I am relegated to an artistic and mental ghetto. I can possibly make a great film about immigrants or about Hispanics, as long as they are heterosexual like me, that is. God forbid I stray and become interested in making a film about a group to which I don't belong. The statement by the Entertainment Weekly critic might hide a subtle but insidious type of racism. This attitude doesn't promote or facilitate understanding and communion across people divided by race, religion, ethnicity or sexual preference. It says: "you can't possibly understand us because you are one of them". How sad.
    Last edited by oscar jubis; 09-12-2006 at 12:12 AM.

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    Of course one doesn't champion a story about one's group unless one think's it's well done, but I think you have to admit Quinceanera is naturally of more interest to you than to me, for the culture it refers to/depicts, at least in theory, which would bias you in favor of it, make you want it to be good, whereas I have no reason to care; I'm not a special fan of HIspanic culture or Chicano culture.

    I understand what you're saying and it's not too extravagant to say this is one of the best US films so far, but frankly, there isn't a very good list. I can think of few. And this summer, pickins have been slim, judging by what I've seen in theaters out here.

    I don't think that's really the usual usage of "ethnocentrism": you need another word for it. There is a certain value in an outsider viewpoint, which the boys certainly have on the chicanos of Echo Park, but they're not exactly the ideal kind of outsiders; what is needed are people born into the culture but not entirely of it -- which might be Carlos, since his being gay makes him feel like an outsider. Which suggests a logic to the presence of Carlos, as an informant for us (me, i.e., Anglos) -- except I don't think he's really used that way in the film.

    For the rest, I'm sorry that you let fly at Schwartzbaum, and her, no doubt, politically incorrect point that the filmmakers, she thinks, are patronizing or cultivating the 'colorful' culture of their neighbors. I did not print my review here, but you could have referred to my arguments, rather than just to accuse me and Schwartzbaum of prejudice, and hold up your own lack of bias for admiration. Believe me, I don't give you any special credit for where you were born and how you grew up, any more than I expect you to give me credit for where I come from and what background I have; but these are things that have to be taken into consideration where we are talking about a film one or the other of us may have a special interest in, because of our background. I can give at least one big example for myself, from last year, which you may guess.

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    (I came back here because there were two emails leading me back here, though there seems to be only one post from you.)
    Anyone, including you, has a right to make any allowances. And I have a right to detest that practice and to consider it patronizing or condescending.
    I think you may be completely misinterpreting what I said. If I make allowances for a gay-themed film because I'm gay, how can that be considered patronizing or condescending? It is "parti pris," it is bias in favor of, but it is not patronizing; and it is twisted to view championing something as a way of being condescending toward it. I realize that this is a very touchy subject. But why exactly is it so bad to be extra enthusiastic about a film because of one's background? If gay people aren't going to champion gay films, and Hispanic people aren't going to champion Hispanic films, who really is? Bias is not ipso facto a sin, but potentially a positive value, a source of expertise, enthusiasm, eloquence in interpretation. We have minds, but we also have hearts, and without both, we are nothing.

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