45th Annual Seattle International Film Festival: Mexican Superstars Maria Felix and Pedro Armendariz in Enamorada (1946)

Before I put SIFF to rest for another year, I wanted to share one more film I enjoyed at the festival. It is the Mexican drama Enamorada (1946), starring María Félix and Pedro Armendáriz. For years I’ve admired the Mexican superstar Félix’s laser-focused gaze in photos from the forties and fifties and wondered about her films. I was delighted to finally see why she is a legend in her home country. I’d seen and enjoyed Armendáriz in the Hollywood films Fort Apache and 3 Godfathers (both 1948), but here I saw him for the first time in a leading role.

Félix is the staunchly feminist daughter of the richest man in her town and Armendáriz is a revolutionary who kidnaps him to try to force him to give him money before he kills him. When he also falls in love-at-first-sight with Félix, he decides call off the firing squad in the hopes that returning the old man will give him a chance with his daughter. Of course that is a ridiculous plan. Of course it works.

In his introduction to the film, SIFF programmer Marcus Gorman mentioned that Félix had only done European films outside of Mexico. She understandably felt that the roles available to her in Hollywood would be too demeaning. While Armendáriz found essentially dignified roles in American films, he rarely had the chance to star. One starring role Armendáriz did win in Hollywood was in The Torch (1950), a remake of this film, opposite Paulette Goddard. It is likely that Félix would not have had the opportunities he did, and that at best she would probably have ended up in supporting roles similar to those Katy Jurado did if she wanted to keep her dignity as well.

Enamorada is light on plot, focusing more on the fireworks between Armendáriz and Félix. For the most part this is satisfactory, though occasionally the pace slackened and I wished for something a little meatier. It is a gorgeous film though, with several beautifully-shot scenes in a cathedral that are effectively filmed to show the all-encompassing power of the church in this conservative community.

Armendáriz and Félix are the true draw of the film and they are a lively pair. They both have eternally raised left eyebrows and fire in the belly, but other than that, they are contradictory in a novel way. This is because in a way they switch traditional gender roles. With his long eyelashes and tender eyes, Armendáriz is almost pretty; as ruthless as he can be, he tends to lead with his heart in a traditionally feminine way. On the other hand, Félix is more handsome than pretty and with the liberal use of slaps and firm determination to have things her own way; she is somehow vigorously feminist in a time and culture where that was rare and her behavior would have been seen as masculine.

This odd juxtaposition gives the film its energy. The pair has great chemistry in their comic bits and the subtle role reversal adds an extra layer of interest in these scenes. When they inevitably connect, it makes sense, because in thoroughly irritating each other, they have also awakened themselves to new possibilities.

I’m glad I finally got the chance to see Félix in action. It was amazing to see her for the first time on the big screen. I would love to see more of her and Armendáriz’ work in the films they made in their home country. Maybe another screening next year SIFF?

Streaming Diary: Discovering Experimental Masterpieces for Free at UbuWeb

As a lover of experimental film, I’m a big fan of UbuWeb, a no-budget educational website founded by poet Kenneth Goldsmith to be a resource for all things avant-garde. My favorite part of the site is its massive page of links to films, most of them shorts, but some feature-length films. Arranged by filmmaker, the clips come from various sources online and can sometimes be of low quality, but the page is still a great way to explore the work of different artists and see new, wonderful things.

While the offerings can get as wild as the imagination, there are several artists here of interest to classic film fans. These are some of my favorites:

There are four short films by the recently departed Agnes Varda, including the fascinating Black Panthers (1968), which she made during her time living in the United States. There’s also an interview she did with Susan Sontag in 1967.

The Orson Welles page includes his eight-minute first film The Hearts of Age (1934) and a documentary about his life that was approved by his companion Oja Kodar, Orson Welles: The One-Man Band (1995)

I didn’t even know that Les Horizons Mort (1951), an eight-minute student film by Jacques Demy was available for viewing until I saw it on UbuWeb.

Jean Cocteau’s  page includes collaboration with Marcel Duchamp and Hans Richter, 8 x 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements (1957), a fascinating short about the images he painted on the walls of a French villa, and a short documentary about his life.

There’s also a couple of shorts from the early days of film: a live action comedy about a pair of dentures with a life of their own from Emile Cohl and the gorgeous Danse Serpentine (1896) from the Lumière brothers.

This site was also my introduction to decades of shorts by Portrait of Jason (1967) director Shirley Clarke: Dance In the Sun (1953), Bridges-Go-Round (1958), A Scary Time (1960), Savage / Love (1981), and Tongues (1982).

My favorite part of the Salvador Dali offerings on UbuWeb is the extensive list of links to his television appearances, including advertisements. 

If you watch anything on this list, check out the unusual animation of Tadanori Yokoo, a multi-faceted artist who dabbled a bit in film. Look out for bizarre cameos from Elizabeth Taylor, Alain Delon, and Brigitte Bardot.

There’s so much else to discover on UbuWeb. Like I said, it gets as wild as the imagination. If you’re feeling adventurous, I highly recommend exploring some more.

On Blu-ray: Tamara Dobson as the Heroic Cleopatra Jones (1973)

The first time I watched Black Panther (2018) and saw Danai Gurira in full warrior garb, grasping a spear and riding the top of a car with blazing confidence, I thought to myself, “There’s Cleopatra!” It immediately brought me back to an early scene in Cleopatra Jones (1973) where the titular U.S. Special Agent stands astride the belt of a baggage carousel as she sneaks up on the hapless henchmen she’s about to pulverize. When she follows up on the phone with a police captain, he notably doesn’t ask right away if she is okay, and when he does, he says it like he already knows the answer. After all, no one ever asked Charles Bronson that question.

There aren’t many heroines as uncompromisingly powerful as Tamara Dobson was in this classic action film, certainly not many at all starring black women. It’s a great film: entertaining, stylish and expert in weaving a strong social message into its fast-paced action, but I’ll always love it most for the power of its star.

Now available in a good-looking Blu-ray from Warner Archive, I recently rewatched this amazing film. As much as it is of its time, it is still ahead of the curve in the way it gives ladies, both evil and righteous, the upper hand.

Smart, strong, determined Cleopatra isn’t raped, menaced or undermined by anyone. Her man (a reassuring Bernie Casey as the delightfully-named Reuben Masters) doesn’t tell her to settle down and keep house for him. He encourages her ambitions to save the world and knows that if he didn’t approve, she wouldn’t give a damn. Even when Cleo’s finally captured, she doesn’t break a sweat and no one dares to lay hands on her with any conviction. If only this had been the start of many films with heroines who possessed her power and autonomy. Imagine what the world, and cinema, would be.

Shelley Winters is a torrent of rage as the evil boss lady Mommy. This was a magnificent period for the actress, because she ripped into her over-the-top exploitation flick roles with unselfconscious and endlessly entertaining vigor. Here she’s a horny, sloppy, magnificent mess; an outrageous Disney villain for adults. Cleopatra’s cool is the perfect counterpart to Winters’ complete lack of composure.

There is a plot. Cleopatra destroys Mommy’s poppy field in Turkey. Mommy retaliates by siccing corrupt policemen on the community home run by Reuben. Cleo returns from Turkey for revenge and a stand-off with Mommy. It’s a good framework for lots of action, one fantastic car chase, and the sight of Ms. Jones parading around in outrageous costumes that reinforce her superiority over anyone who dares to try her.

I wish there were more films with heroines as uncompromising as Cleopatra Jones. I’m as grateful for this film as I am entertained by it.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.
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