Coco - A minor introduction to Mexican cinema and more...

A minor introduction to Mexican cinema and more from Film School Rejects

Gran Casino (1947)

Jorge NegreteJorge Negrete is one of two Mexican music and movie icons who inspired the Coco character Ernesto de la Cruz. He also has a cameo in the animated feature at de la Cruz’s big party. The easiest introduction to this Golden Age star is with this Luis Buñuel flop that barely kicked off the filmmaker’s stint in Mexico. Negrete, guitar in hand, sings his way out of prison and into the story of a murdered oil man. Libertad Lamarque, Argentine star of song and cinema, plays the oil man’s sister and eventual love interest for Negrete.

Gran Casino is little more than a B-movie Western, representative of the country’s cheapie “churro” variety and is arguably a lesser example of the otherwise popular charro singing cowboy genre. For the start of this kind of ranchera musical, see the 1936 Tito Guízar vehicle Allá en el Rancho Grande, and for Negrete’s breakthrough there’s ¡Ay Jalisco, No Te Rajes!, which isn’t easily seen in its preferred full version. Another easily seen but not beloved Negrete classic is the Hal Roach-produced Fiesta.

Nosotros, los Pobres (1948)

Nosotros Los PobresPedro Infante is the other icon on whom del la Cruz is based. Also a famous singer outside of his movie stardom, he was not as much known for leading in musicals. One of his most famous films is the Golden Globe-winning export Tizoc, a romantic drama for which he was posthumously named best actor at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1957. Another, also by Ismael Rodríguez, is this first entry in his popular “Pepe the Bull” trilogy, which also includes Ustedes los Ricos and Pepe el Toro. Translated as “We the Poor,” Nosotros, los Pobres is a social melodrama about a carpenter (Infante’s own initial trade) trying to get by while raising an adopted daughter in a poor neighborhood in Mexico City.

Both Negrete and Infante died young in the 1950s, which surely helped cement them as cultural legends. Like de la Cruz, though, Infante’s death was in an accident — the aviation fanatic was killed in a plane crash rather than being crushed by a giant bell. Despite being one of the inspirations for the Coco character, he too makes a cameo appearance in the party scene. And if you want to see both real Mexican cinema icons together on screen for real, you should check out Two Careful Fellows, a musical comedy in which they play best friends who become enemies, not unlike de la Cruz and Hector in Coco, though their clash is over a woman rather than their professional collaboration.

I should note that some are also referencing Javier Solís as an inspiration for de la Cruz, because he was the third of the iconic Mexican stars who made up the “Three Mexican Roosters.” He was younger (and died younger) than the other two and didn’t even appear in his first movie until after Negrete and Infante were dead — he may have actually been seen as a replacement for fans. I can’t say I know a good title of his to recommend.

Day of the Dead (1957)

Ff DdndbCharles and Ray Eames are much more known for their furniture and architectural design, but they also made a number of films. This one, inspired by Charles Eames’s time in Mexico in the 1930s and produced for the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, is of course about the Day of the Dead. Instead of being a straightforward educational documentary on the subject, the 15-minute film is a cultural tribute, sharing a slightly informative yet emblematic look at the special objects and rituals of the occasion.

A good portion of this short is devoted to the significance of the ofrenda, particularly to all the food placed on the altar and how dead ancestors will come home to feast on their favorite treats. You’ll also see the aztec marigolds, the sugar skulls and skeleton art, and the visiting and maintaining of grave sites that are also part of the story of Coco. While it’s not going to make you much more knowledgable of Mexican culture than Pixar’s movie already provides, there’s no better documentary about the holiday, as far as I’m aware (the Fernando Rey-narrated short Día de Muertos seems decent but I’ve only seen it available in Spanish). Watch Day of the Dead via the Eames Office here.


The Little Priest (1964)

AjaarAnother Mexican cinema icon seen in Coco, easily caricatured in skeletal form, is Cantinflas. He is often likened to Charlie Chaplin, because every national cinema apparently needed their own Chaplin equivalent. He’s also been called a kind of cross between Chaplin and Groucho Marx. Fans of the Mexican comedy legend would probably rather he be honored on his own without need for comparison. Even Chaplin apparently referred to Cantinflas as the greatest comedian alive. I haven’t seen it mentioned officially, but his trickster characters may have been an influence on the creation of Coco‘s Hector.

While the easiest introduction is with the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days, for which he earned accolades including a Golden Globe as the valet sidekick Passepartout, and maybe the best place to start is with his 1940 breakthrough Ahí Está el Detalle, which established his catchphrase (translated literally as “there’s the detail”) and cemented him as a star. But many consider his 1960s features, following his Hollywood debut, to be his best work, and El Padrecito, aka The Little Priest, is arguably his best among those. He stars as a young priest who becomes a bullfighter and politician to the delight of the townspeople.

Land of the Dead (1970)

Muertos SantoAnother easily spotted figure in CocoSanto is the most iconic Mexican masked wrestler, or luchador. In addition to his professional career in the ring, he became a movie star specifically in his own genre of lucha libre superhero movies, which actually began without him in the role of his own character back in the early 1950s. They also tended to involve horror premises where Santo fights zombies or vampire women or mummies or Martians. Sometimes, as in this installment, Santo would team-up with fellow Mexican wrestler Blue Demon.

This one is neither his best known (Santo Versus the Vampire Women is most famous for being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000) nor one of his most celebrated. But, in case the title doesn’t make it obvious, Land of the Dead has Santo visiting the afterlife. As imaginative and colorful as the Land of the Dead is in Coco, the one here is pretty lackluster and only comes into play near the end. Tinted in red and accompanied by stock footage and clips from other movies, the Hell that Santo and Blue Demon encounter is sort of a joke. A lovably cheesy joke.


David Fincher: A Life In Pictures

The BAFTA-winning director behind Gone Girl, The Social Network, Seven + Fight Club on his craft + career. From the BAFTA Archives.

12 Angry Men- A Lesson in Staging

So, let's say you've got a 90-minute movie that features twelve characters and is all set in one location. How on earth can you shoot it in a way that's unique and exciting, and not just an endless series of mids and closeups? Let's dive into Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men, and study what it has to tell us about scenic density.

Six Ways to Build Scenic Density:

1) Move your characters through the spaces inside the frame
2) Have the background and foreground interract
3) Let characters take over shots
4) Move from one story to the next instead of cutting
5) Allow conversations and reactions to play in the same shot
6) Hold off on closeups for moments of prime emphasis

You can support this channel at Patreon-

Sources/Further Reading:

Walk the Talk by David Bordwell-
You Are My Density by David Bordwell-
Making Movie by Sidney Lumet-

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It's a Jazz Thing by smilingcynic is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

Top 10 Tensest Movie Moments of All Time

What is it really that makes our stomachs churn in film's most tension filled moments? This week, we're looking at all the different types of cinematic tension and our picks for the best versions of each.

The Picks

10 - Romantic Tension - Before Sunrise
9 - Sexual Tension - Moonlight
8 - Positive Tension - Deliverance
7 - Hopeful Tension - Saving Private Ryan
6 - Dramatic Irony - Rope
5 - Hiding Protagonist - The Raid
4 - Subtextual Aggression - Zodiac
3 - Looming Standoff - Sicario
2 - The Powder-Keg - Boogie Nights
1 - Race Against Time - Back to the Future

Recreating Game Of Thrones' Dragon Battle

might be a spoiler if you are not up to speed on GOT...

Lensing for Character Perspective

From Travis Lee Ratcliff

In this video essay I explore specific examples of how lensing can be used to create subjective perspective. Using lenses strategically is one of the most powerful tools at a filmmaker’s disposal for crafting psychology, imbuing images with richer visual meaning, and creating character perspective. Many new filmmakers struggle with the terminology and differences between various lenses, but overcoming that initial confusion can result in one of the biggest distinctions between the novice filmmaker and the experienced storyteller.

This video follows up on the concept of subjective and objective perspective, which I explain more completely

Visual references: Apocalypse Now, Before Sunset, Big Lebowski, Blue Valentine, Brazil, Citizen Kane, Ex Machina, Fargo, Her, In the Mood for Love, Out of Sight, Requiem for a Dream, The Master, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


1 Brilliant Moment of Tension

Scene from Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, break it down into the tiniest pieces we can and take a look at how it really works. By ratcheting up the tension for nearly 30 minutes, Villeneuve pays it all off with a mere 9 seconds of violence!

Guillermo Del Toro's 11 Rules for Becoming a Visionary Filmmaker

Guillermo Del Toro's 11 Rules for Becoming a Visionary Filmmaker

1. Find your mentors
2. Form is content
3. Know your strengths and weaknesses
4. Follow your passion
5. Give 110%
6. Be promiscuous
7. Trust your instincts
8. Make mistakes
9. Be brutal
10. Be patient
11. Be generous more here