Friday, July 10, 2009

Flashback Friday: Evita

I admit that I was inspired to feature the 1996 motion picture musical Evita for this week's Flashback Friday due to three recent events: Governor Mark Sanford's confession that he had spent five days crying in the arms of his Argentine lover in Buenos Aires, Governor Sarah Palin's resignation speech, and the death of Michael Jackson.

Okay, you're probably wondering...you can see the first connection, but not the last two. Well, of course, the first one is quite obvious. Who would've thought Governor Sanford would sing "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina"? Not that he did, but its funny to imagine it.

The second one (Palin) is more a comparison between Sarah and Eva, the First Lady of Argentina. When Palin first appeared on the national scene last August, the more we learned about her, the more she made me think of Eva Peron. I know that Madonna wants everyone to associate Eva Peron with her (a possible past life thing?), but the similarities between Palin and Peron are striking. Both used their looks to climb the social ladder into positions of power. Both had long-standing grievances against slights experienced at a developmental stage. With Eva, it was being born an illegitimate daughter to a man who had a wife (Eva's mother was his mistress). She was looked down upon, not only for her illegitimacy but also her poverty. She carried this grudge all the way to the balcony of the Casa Rosada. In fact, she practically looted the Argentine treasury to live a lavish lifestyle as well as bribe her "descamisados" (shirtless workers) with tokens (food, wine, soccer balls, bicycles, whatever works) for their votes and support. Nothing she did impressed the upper classes. They simply looked down their noses at her. She was little more than a slut who slithered her way to power by the men she slept with.

My favourite line in the musical is when Eva leaves the balcony to tell the snobby people that the masses of people outside love her. The retort comes, "Statesmenship is more than entertaining peasants." Gosh, I love that line!

So, what about Palin? Ever since her public debut, she faced the scorn and ridicule of the media elites in sophisticated New York. You can hear it in her speeches, the way she talks about "real Americans" versus the fake ones, or blames the media and liberal bloggers for making fun of her. Her rallies last fall were scary in a way that even seemed to creep out John McCain. She appealed to the worst and basest instincts of her followers...those people who are also fed up with being looked down upon for their choice to remain ig'nant. She'll show those snotty literati types! But, didn't she know..."statesmenship is more than entertaining peasants"?

Both Eva and Sarah spent gobs of other people's money on clothes. It was all about fashion and making sure both women looked good for the people who supported them. Peron understood that the poor class saw her as one of their own, so they bought into her dramas as she fought "the oligarchs" for their wealth, power and prestige. Same with Palin. She is the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of many an uneducated redneck woman with an unwed pregnancy. Palin was proof that you don't need to waste time learning in fancy universities. You could increase your societal standing by looking good and winking and flirting with powerful men who will open doors for you. Hinting at sexual availability is just one way to the top.

Finally, the connection with Michael Jackson. Well, Michael changed the format of music videos from a pretty bland and unimaginative visual for a song (as most videos were before 1983) into a mini-movie with bigger budgets and a storyline with some mesmerizing visual effects and dance sequences. After stunning MTV with "Billie Jean" and "Beat It", he moved into short film territory with his 14-minute "Thriller." Since then, there have been many artists who have copied his style and made essentially mini-movies (Madonna, Duran Duran, Janet Jackson, George Michael, Paula Abdul, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey to name only a few).

Well...the motion picture Evita is essentially a two hour long music video. The film has very few moments of actual dialogue. The brilliance of the film is the ability to tell the story completely through a diverse range of songs. The lyrics are important, and each song sounds unique.

I'm generally not a fan of musicals, but because I liked the majority of the songs in Evita, I prepped myself into seeing this film by thinking of it as a superlong music video, which it most certainly is. Since I've had it on DVD, I usually only watch the scenes of the songs I like. The film is great for the first 2/3rds of it. When the story finally crests as Eva's health problems causes her to slow down and ultimately die an untimely death, the movie really loses steam. Can't really complain, though, because the film arcs quite nicely that way.

My favourite songs are: "Oh What a Circus!", "Eva Beware of the City", "Buenos Aires" (would've made a great single), "Another Suitcase in Another Hall", "I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You" (I love when both Eva and Juan sing to each other simultaneously), "Peron's Latest Flame", "High Flying Adored" (great melody, especially. Madonna looks radiant in this scene), "Rainbow High", "Rainbow Tour", "Santa Evita" (love the children's choir), and "The Money Kept Rolling In." The famous song, "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" is the show-stopper (though I like her dance remake of the song much better). There's no other way to describe this music style other than "rock opera."

My favourite musical remains Les Miserables and I would love to see that make it to theaters (I saw the Broadway road production of it in Atlanta in the mid-1990s). And my all-time favourite film is none other than The Sound of Music, the classic I never get tired of (the music can always put me in my happy place). Finally, there's only one other musical I like and that would be Sarafina! The Sound of Freedom.

When Evita came out in late 1996, I thought it was interesting that Madonna was starring with Antonio Banderas, who played the all-purpose narrator Che. Just five years earlier, in Madonna's notorious Truth or Dare documentary, there is one scene when her Blond Ambition Tour is in Spain and she makes a play for Antonio Banderas in full view of his wife. She loved him from watching Pedro Almodovar movies (the Spanish director who made Penelope Cruz famous). There's a scene in which Madonna is in the bathroom after having faced the scorn of Banderas' wife and she laughs nervously with one of her female dancers about how embarrassed she was to discover that Antonio was married. Its a hilarious scene as she tries to think of a way to re-enter the party (who should she flirt with next?) with some "dignity", but then she belittles Antonio to her friend by saying that she doesn't think he's such a great actor after all, as well as speculating on the size of his manhood. Shameless, that Madonna.

Anyhow, when I watched Evita, I couldn't help but wonder if Antonio Banderas had seen Madonna's documentary and what he thought of her comments about him and his wife. His marriage didn't last, though, as he fell for another American lady: actress Melanie "Working Girl" Griffith, who was married to Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame. If there was any friction between Madonna and Antonio Banderas, I didn't notice it in the film.

I consider the film to be Madonna's best acting performance because she truly does capture the essence of Eva Peron, based on what I've seen in videos and an Argentine biopic about their controversial First Lady from the 1950s. The film had long been in pre-production with actresses Meryl Streep and Patti Lupone (who played the role on Broadway) attached at one time or another until Madonna sent a personal letter to the director stating that only she could play Eva Peron (I'm sensing that there might be a past life connection between Madonna and Evita). I'm glad that the role went to her, even though Argentine Peronistas were livid. Many hate the film because of how it portrays their beloved Evita.

After seeing the film, I read a few biographies about Eva Peron just to get a more factual account because I couldn't tell if I actually liked Eva or if I was liking Madonna as Eva (big difference!).

This is a photo of the actual Eva Peron. She was pretty in her day and its hard to imagine that she rose to become the First Lady of Argentina by age 26. I can't recall offhand, but she might've died before she turned 40. She had cancer, which prevented her from running for president.


The photo on the right shows a rather stylish Eva Peron, who was not only a Peronista, but also a fashionista (and an outright fascist).

In college, I wrote a paper (in verse) about Eva Peron. The assignment was to write about a political leader or historical figure and compare their qualities with what Machiavelli wrote in The Prince. For me, it was easy. Eva automatically came to mind due to a line in the song "Rainbow High": "It's vital you sell me, so Machiavell me!" Basically, the Perons, like other right-wing dictatorships, looted the national treasury and left Argentina (once a growing economic power) in financial ruin. Their economic policies did not make sense. For example, Eva required everyone to give up one day's pay each month to go into her Foundation. She would draw a lottery to give prizes to people, so they feel like they won something from her. And you know she skimmed money off the top.

To this day, Eva Peron has fans and detractors. Is she a villainess or a working class heroine? Its the same question I wonder about Sarah Palin. Is she using her base of redneck idiots to propel her into higher realms of power, or does she genuinely want to improve their lives?

So, if you want to see a highly visually attractive film with some great music, as well as learn about politics in another country, watch Evita. It's simply a classic film that has even more relevance today than it did more than a decade ago when it hit movie theaters and a decade before that when it played on Broadway.

1 comment:

Betty said...

Your comparisons are very interesting, and right on. I would never have thought of them. I didn't see the movie, but I did see a road company production of Evita. It went on too long, just as Palin's popularity has. lol