Thursday, April 25, 2019

It's the FRIDAY'S BEST POP SONG EVER podcast! "I Can't Let Maggie Go'

On this latest episode of the Friday's Best Pop Song Ever podcast, I tackle a question that has haunted man since the dawn of lunchtime: Could Honeybus have been as big as the Beatles? Though perhaps the more pertinent question might be "Who is Honeybus?"

Check it out on Stitcher and, while you're there, rate, review and subscribe.

Friday's best pop song ever

Monday, April 22, 2019

Embrace the Offense

I don't mind telling you that I had a pretty turbulent week last week. Fortunately I had Pop Offensive to help me blow off some steam. And now, you do too, thanks to the miracle of streaming technology. You can also check out the full playlist from the Pop Offensive Facebook page is you need proof that it really happened.

Friday, April 19, 2019

El Aguila Descalza, aka The Barefoot Eagle (Mexico, 1971)

Though Christa Linder is forcefully stripped to her skivvies at one point, El Aguila Descalza is still somewhat less lowbrow than most Mexican genre parodies of its day. Whether that presages its director’s subsequent arthouse cred is a guess best left to the tea leaves.

El Aguila Descalza was the directorial debut of Alfonso Arau, who, under the mononym “Arau” also played dual lead roles in the film. If his name is familiar to you, that is probably because, some two decades later, Arau directed Like Water For Chocolate, the movie that muscled out the competition to become that year's one foreign film embraced by mainstream America in 1992 (you could say it was the Roma of its day.)

In the film, Arau portrays Ponchito, a hapless man-child who still lives with his mom and works by day as a product tester at a pogo stick factory. An avid comic book reader, Ponchito indulges his superhero fantasies by night, roaming the city in the guise of the The Barefoot Eagle, a masked crimefighter. Though whether the Eagle’s intention is to fight evil or promote it is initially unclear, as, in an early scene, he breaks into the house of his boss, Don Carlos Martinez (Jose Galvez), only to spy on his beautiful daughter Sirene (Linder) as she sleeps. However, when an American mobster named Englepass (also played by Arau) kidnaps Don Carlos and Sirene, Ponchito takes it upon himself to rescue them.

While most superhero films traffic in fantasies of transformation, El Aguila Descalza injects into that fantasy the nagging realization that, if one were to attempt becoming a costumed hero in real life, he or she would make an absolute fool of himself. Ponchito’s costume consists of what looks like a dime store pirate costume topped by a backwards baseball cap with eyeholes cut in it. Though this is a result as much of Ponchito’s dire economic circumstances as it is of his haplessness, as the film pulls no punches in depicting the grime and squalor of the lives of Mexico’s working poor.

This aspect of the movie lends an aspect of pathos to Ponchito’s slapstick humiliations that you wouldn’t see in a film starring the likes of Eleazar “Chelelo” Garcia, Jose Angel “Ferrusquilla” Espinosa, or any of the other Mexican comedians whose names require a quotation bracketed diminutive. Which is not to say that the film doesn’t draw upon Mexico’s tradition of broad, MAD Magazine-style screen comedy, although it at the same time hints at the arch pop cultural savvy of the hip, adult oriented comedies that were starting to proliferate worldwide in the late 60s.

This tendency accounts for the film's few winking references to the lucha genre, which was, at the time, on the upward end of a decline in favor with Mexican audiences. Englepass’ henchmen are a team of burly masked luchadores, anonymous bullies whose threat to the malnourished Ponchito not only cements his status as an underdog, but also makes it that much more comedic when they are humiliated by him. Santo appears both as the subject of a comic book Ponchito is reading and in a wedding scene where the ring-bearer is a small boy in a child-sized version of the Enmascarado de Plata’s iconic mask.

It could be said that Aguila Descalza employs something of a comic book motif. Among other examples, Chona, Ponchito’s would-be girlfriend (Ofelia Medina), is seen reading a Kaliman comic and another of Ponchito’s friends has a Batman poster on his wall. Comic book racks are prominently displayed in a couple of the bustling establishing shots. All of this could be meant to underscore the cruel irony of the powerless seeking refuge in fantasies of super power, or perhaps Alfonzo Arau just really liked comic books.

But, of course--and perhaps predictably—Ponchito is not powerless. With Don Carlos and Sirene locked away, Englepass puts his whip wielding goons in charge of Don Carlos's factory and imprisons the workers families in cages. Ponchito's appeals to the authorities fall on deaf ears and he and Chona are thrown into an insane asylum right out of Marat Sade. They of course affect a clever escape and crash Englepass' forced wedding to Sirene with an army of lunatics.This adds an extra air of mania to that classic 1960s comedy climax in which every member of the cast takes part in a madcap brawl rife with trippy sight gags as, all the while, psychedelic rock plays on the soundtrack. Take that, respectable society!

While I have to credit Aguila Descalza for being a hair more progressive and socially conscious than films like Cazadores de Espias and Agente 00 Sexy, I have to shamefacedly admit to sometimes wishing that it was as fun as those films were. But with the vaguely hippie-ish tone of some of its comedy comes the awareness of all of those things that, in the dark days of the late 60s/early 70s, the hippie culture rose up in opposition to: war, corruption, and repression. That the film brings to its subject an unexpected amount of empathy and compassion makes it worthy of a compensatory admiration, while at the same time giving it an ineffable charm.