When I started writing this piece I thought about titling it with some more poignant analysis, like, “Is Robert Rodriguez the new John Carpenter?”. I remember when Erik came back from his viewing of Grindhouse, and the first thing he was asked was, “Okay, so how much better was the Tarantino half?” Erik responded, “Prepare to be shocked”, and went on to christen Planet Terror as “The best John Carpenter movie John Carpenter never made.”
So Erik truthfully gets all the credit for bringing that into my head, even though Rodriguez has long been known as an unabashed fan of the classic Carpenter works. In fact, the story goes that it was a viewing of “Escape From New York” in 1981 that first lit the fire under Rodriguez to become a filmmaker.
Anyhow, I decided I didn’t want to get anywhere near as analytical as that hypothesis would entail. I haven’t seen everything Robert Rodriguez has made, nor have I seen everything John Carpenter has made, and I don’t have the film study background some of the other Satelliters do: so hell with it, it’s a neat thought but I’ll leave it to someone else if they want to really discuss and support it (or deny it). My point for today is simply that I went and watched Machete last week, appropriately enough on Mexican Independence Day, and–to indulge in some horrible Spanglish–me gusta lots. And then thinking about it, I realized that while I haven’t seen them all, I’ve seen a lot of movies helmed by this Rodriguez dude and enjoyed every single one.
Yes, that does include Sharkboy and Lava Girl, although it leaves out the Spy Kids trilogy (cuz I haven’t seen it). It includes From Dusk Till Dawn, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and The Faculty, even though each one has had its vehement detractors. I still just get carried away by them in a tide of unapologetic escapism… beyond that, I find Rodriguez to be a talented director. Maybe not always a coherent one, and he’s not really gunning for making “films that matter”, but the enthusiasm he has for the medium always shines through. He’s like his buddy Tarantino, but without the need for fancy storytelling gimmicks.
How enthusiastic is Rodriguez about movie making? How about literally selling himself for scientific experiments in order to finance El Mariachi? That happened, although I have no idea what super soldier serums he might have been exposed to.
We might also lay blame at Rodriguez’s boots for bringing Frank Miller into the movie scene, but no one can deny the man did it out of love. The time “Sin City” was being filmed was still a time I think a lot of us, myself included, felt that The Dark Knight Strikes Again was a momentary stumble, before the horrors of AS(s)BAR. I love the Sin City movie, even in its cheesiest moments, and after watching “The Spirit” I credit all of that to Rodriguez. For me he’s always been able to tread that fine line between the awesome and the ridiculous, to the point where even as my brain rebels against a plot hole or a nonsense reaction, the rest of me overrules the objection.
Rodriguez believed in Frank Miller and the Sin City property so much that he resigned from the Director’s Guild of America just so he could follow through with giving Frank a co-director credit. Because of this, he lost a job he already had lined up directing a movie adaptation of John Carter of Mars, and is barred from who knows how many others… but it didn’t matter. He did it because he made a promise and felt it was the honorable thing to do. That cowboy hat Rodriguez often sports ain’t just for show, hombre, and things like this make me think Sex Machine’s high-caliber codpiece was but a pale shadow of the director’s actual genitalia.
In Machete, he not only made absolutely damn sure to include every last bit of footage from the joke Grindhouse trailer in the full-length film (which is a rarity even for films that start out as actual films), but scuffed up the entire first ten minutes or so in Grindhouse-y fashion, and even afterwards still deliberately uses phenomenon like skipped frames to remind us that we’re watching a gleefully realized retro-schlock that even at its most dramatic we should feel absolutely free to have fun with. He puts a lot of effort and (yes) technique into his movies, but never once feels like he has something to prove. He loves you, his audience, but doesn’t need you… not like the way some directors feel like they’re all but begging to be acknowledged and praised.
Does he tackle sensitive issues? Sure, although I think it’s more accurate to call them collateral damage on the way to the awesomeness. I could draw a comparison again to early Carpenter, but we’ve been over that. Not going there. And actually, hoping Rodriguez doesn’t go the way of Carpenter where he just somehow loses his mojo. Right now he’s still in that sweet spot for me of making movies that, no matter how insane they get, I walk out of with a grin on my face, a feeling of 11 bucks well spent, and some memorable scenes that stay with me. I don’t have to be rational about my enjoyment, and for someone like me who tends to overthink everything, that’s always a refreshing feeling.
That Robert Rodriguez guy. I like him.