#ThrowbackThursday – Machete

Original US release date: September 3, 2010
Production budget: $10,500,000
Worldwide gross: $44,093,316

The origin story of Robert Rodriguez’s Machete is an interesting, yet simple, one.  In 2007, Rodriguez and fellow director Quentin Tarantino teamed up to release a self-contained double-feature called Grindhouse with each director helming their own film and then combining them into a single theatrical experience.  The idea was to replicate the days of the seventies when audiences would head to the movies, pay a single admission with the benefit of being able to stay as long as they wanted, and catch the campy sci-fi exploitation flicks that permeated the industry decades ago.  Rodriguez created a film called Planet Terror for the project while Tarantino gave us Death Proof.  To further enhance the authentic grindhouse theater atmosphere, they also created phony trailers for upcoming films.  One of those trailers was for a film starring Danny Trejo called Machete.

Fast-forward to 2010 and Rodriguez has decided to actually make the film and give it a nationwide release.  Machete is at once an homage to and a parody of the low-budget Cabrito Western “Mexploitation” films of the 1960s and 1970s – although it is certainly much more of a parody than an homage.  Co-directors Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis go the extra mile to increase the illusion of authenticity.  For the opening segment and continuing through the opening credits, they add a veneer of dirt and scratches, much like audiences were used to seeing on prints of films back in those days.  That illusion is abandoned once the credits conclude, but the authenticity is retained in other ways.

Grind House

Just like the Mexploitation films of that bygone era, Machete features hyperstylized violence, sex, dialogue, characterization, relationships, and plot developments.  However, those were simply hallmarks of the genre, forty years prior to this film.  They presented themselves as serious entertainment, giving their target audience all of the depravity that they desired.

On the flip side, Machete has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, relying entirely upon its audience’s awareness of the content and practices of those earlier films and using that assumed awareness as a source of comedy.  And, make no mistake, in the face of all of the beheadings, dismemberments, bare skin, curse words, political commentary (more on that in a moment), and grandiose dramatic speeches, Machete is a comedy above all else.  It even features one of my favorite humorous lines of all-time, delivered in a deadly serious deadpan by Trejo.  But I won’t spoil it for you, in case you haven’t seen the film.

Jessica-Alba-as-Sartana-machete-14095012-1140-770

It had been a number of years since I’d watched Machete, and while I remembered the highlights and certain moments, I had very little recollection of the actual story.  As it unfolded and it revealed itself to be centered around illegal immigration, it was impossible to not draw parallels between the film and today’s American political climate.  I even half-seriously wondered if Donald Trump once saw the film and used Robert DeNiro’s Senator McLaughlin as the blueprint for his campaign and eventual presidency.  McLaughlin takes a hard stance against illegal immigrants, threatening to build an electrified fence along the Texas/Mexico border and even gunning them down in the desert, himself.  Now, Trump never went that far, but the mentality and McLaughlin’s policies and ideas are close enough to Trump’s to make anyone paying attention wonder at least a little bit.

But McLaughlin isn’t the only aspect of the film that is exaggerated for comedic effect; literally every component of the movie is approached in this way.  And it works.  It’s all too over-the-top to take any of it seriously – including the politics.  Political commentary is not really what Rodriguez and Maniquis are attempting to accomplish, here.  It’s all about a loving parody towards a genre of film that clearly had a place in their childhood and their then-burgeoning love of film.  The violence is too cartoony to be disgusting.  The sex is too silly to be erotic.  The dialogue is too convoluted to be affecting or impactful.  It’s all about entertainment.

Michelle-Rodriguez-as-Luz-machete-14095714-1136-770

And Machete is also the kind of film that many general moviegoers won’t understand and will therefore mock, as though the movie is truly guilty of the very things that it’s parodying.  In spite of its bombastic silliness, the film is actually fairly sophisticated just by nature of its being a satire, a storytelling device which often goes over many people’s heads.  In spite of that, the film was a financial winner and spawned a sequel, Machete Kills, three years later.  That one wasn’t as successful, neither creatively nor financially, but the original still stands tall as a unique piece of filmmaking that managed to stand out in a crowded marketplace with a small budget.  It has developed a bit of a cult following (and rightfully so) and I really hope more people continue to discover it as time goes on.  Everyone should take the time to meet the blade-wielding luddite, Machete!

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