Robert Rodriguez

Indie Intros: Robert Rodriguez’s Bedhead

Love him or hate him, Robert Rodriguez is on of the biggest names associated with guerilla filmmaking, a form of independent filmmaking that uses low budgets, small crews and stolen locations to get the best out of production value while still keeping cost extremely low. His book Rebel Without a Crew is an interesting read for any indie filmmaker. It recounts the making of his ultra-low budget feature El Mariachi, where Rodriguez goes as far as to sell his body to science to finance the film. From the mid nineties to early 2000’s, there was a surge of guerilla filmmakers like Rodriguez. Kevin Smith, John Linklater and Quentin Tarantino not only were getting features made for thousands of dollars, but also found the films getting picked up by major studios and winning big at film festivals.

Rodriguez’s short film “Bedhead” was made in 1990 and if you watch closely you will see common themes that he would come to revisit in later films. It tells the tale of a girl who gets in a fight with her older brother and as a result gains super powers due to a small case of head trauma.

From the opening credits, we begin to see some trademarks that would define Rodriguez’s career. I’ve already discussed Rodriguez’s love for comics before and we see that reflected in the film’s introduction.

Although Rodriguez is probably best know for films like Sin City, Machete and From Dusk Till Dawn, he is also the guy responsible for the popular Spy Kids franchise. In fact, despite his penchant for directing highly stylized, violent action movies, his highest grossing films come from his work with children. “Bedhead” foreshadows Rodriguez’s penchant for making children’s films like Spy Kids and The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl as well as the many familial themes those films explore.

Another common characteristic of Robert Rodriguez films is his exploration of Mexican and Mexican-American cultural themes. Films like Machete and Once Upon a Time in Mexico borrow heavily from classic Mexploitation films, where films like Spy Kids portray the life a common Latin-American family with extraordinary abilities. “Bedhead” has shades of the latter, depicting a sibling rivalry within a Latin-American family unit.

Finally, there are a few homages to other filmmakers that can be found in “Bedhead”. It’s pretty clear that Rodriguez borrowed heavily from Sam Raimi and his Evil Dead films. The famous high-speed POV tracking shot from The Evil Dead can be seen in “Bedhead” along with Lock and Load montages popular in many of Raimi’s films as well as the Rambo franchise.

“Bedhead” is the type of short I like to see from famous visionary directors like Rodriguez. The type that someone can watch and immediately recognize common themes that will come to define a director’s more iconic films. Shorts like these show how an amateur director can start with an idea and then expand upon it later in life.

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Comics and Film

So in the never-ending battle to clear up space on my DVR, I began watching The Director’s Chair on the El Rey network. For those of you not familiar, The Director’s Chair is a sort of interview/master class program where Robert Rodriguez sits down with an established director and the two talk shop (sort of what I plan to do with this blog).

In one episode, Rodriguez was talking to Guillermo Del Toro about actor choices and how they both have that go-to actor that has come to represent their work.   Rodriguez mentioned how he keeps using Danny Trejo just like Del Toro uses Ron Perlman. He likened it to Scorsese’s early work with Robert Deniro. The two directors agreed the reason they keep going back to Trejo and Perlman is because the two actors have such a unique look and that it’s impossible to interchange them with any other actor. I couldn’t help but agree. Their are no Danny Trejo types you can use if you can’t get that trademarked grizzled look that Trejo is so known for. The same goes for Perlman. I mean seriously, can you imagine anyone else playing a live action, sewer dwelling version of The Beast?

Glamour Shots were so popular in the 80's.

Glamour Shots were so popular in the 80’s.

This got me started on my own little theory (really just a hypothesis).

Both Rodriguez and Del Toro have both said in the past that they’re highly influenced by comic books. Both draw and Del Toro has even published his own series. As the two of them discussed the type of presence Trejo and Perlman brought to the screen due to their unique looks, I couldn’t help but wonder if comics played a large role in their casting choices.

I have always respected the amount of detail that comic book artists put into their characters, specifically facial features. They say all you need to play Batman is a good chin, but this is only the case because comic book artists over the years have correlated square jaws with strength. One could also look at the casting of Schwarzenegger in Conan and how it relates to the artistry of Frank Frazetta as an example. Arnold was probably the only one Hollywood could think of that could capture the look Frazetta had attributed to Ron E Howard’s literary series. Frazetta’s scant usage of clothing combined with rippling, inhuman muscles and dark features gave Conan an almost primal look.

Before Electric Muscle Stimulators were invented, all you needed was a bolt of lightning and an epic hawk

Before Electric Muscle Stimulators were invented, all you needed was a bolt of lightning and an epic hawk

As the two directors went into detail about Trejo and Perlman, I realized how the attention to detail found in comics could truly enrich a film production. Del Toro noted that the studio didn’t want to make Hellboy unless he cast a bigger name than Ron Perlman. Del Toro refused to cast anyone else, demanding that only Perlman had the look to pull off the role and it’s a good thing he did. Really, is there any another actor alive that could play that character?

I’ve always kind of looked at comics as a good starting point for anyone interested in making film. By analyzing comics, you can get a good feel for things such as camera angles and what to capture within a frame. Attention to details, specifically when talking about facial features seem to me to be yet another example of how comics can further enrich a film.