Monday, January 3, 2011

VIVA LA REVOLUTION! PART I: ROMERO (1989) AND SALVADOR (1986)


Sad but true. Governments sometimes kill those they consider less then them. Those in “the minority”, those who don’t necessarily agree with their ideas. Today’s blog post is part of a collaboration I will be working on with fellow blogger extraordinaire Neil Fulwood from The Agitation of the Mind. We decided that a collaboration between us was long overdue, so we came up with the idea of doing our collaboration on revolutionary films. These are films in which someone dares to stand up against the evil government and tells them “you are wrong!” These are movies in which characters stand up for their freedom and rise up against the oppression. So head on over to The Agitation of the Mind where Neil is conducting his own revolution, today Neil be talking about reasons why we rebel. Should be interesting! Dont miss it!

We’ve decided to divide this collaboration into three whole days. Today is our first day and I will be talking about films based on the lives of real life revolutionaries. This collaboration will continue for two more days ending on January 5th, so be on the look out for more interesting articles about movies dealing with revolution in the next two days, this revolution is just getting started!

I will be giving a small review of what is going on in Puerto Rico; all the pictures you see are representative of what students in Puerto Rico are living through right now. What is currently going on in Puerto Rico is so vile, I feel the need to speak up! Don’t know if you guys will find this interesting, but Puerto Rico is a country that is very angry with the way the government is running things because it is stepping all over it's peoples freedom. Freedom of Speech, freedom to be educated and the right to be treated like humans, with respect.

Just yesterday, when I got off the train coming from work, there was a protest in progress. I fell right smack in the middle of the whole thing, I was personally a witness to just how oppressive our government is. The police had just finished taking a bunch of students prisoners! And these are students fighting for their right to be educated at a reasonable price, these arent criminals, these are simply the poor speaking up, desiring to be heard! Its the poor defending their education with their teeth and claws. One of the ugliest moments I personally got to witness occured when a man was speaking against the abuse, as they were taking away students. Now this was a random guy, not a student. He was screaming, “stop this abuse! This university belongs to the people!” Guess what happened? I was shocked to see the police put handcuffs on the guy and  take him away for simply voicing his opinion. They threw him and the students inside of a van with tinted windows. If that isn’t fascism, I don’t know what is. Where’s that freedom of speech they talk so much about in the constitution?

Goverment militia taking over the University of Puerto Rico (students in the background)

Students have been protesting here for months now, but things heated up once again when the gates from the University of Puerto Rico were ripped apart by the Puerto Rican government to prevent the students from occupying the University. You see, in Puerto Rico, where I live, the government is trying to raise tuition by 800 dollars more, which means that the poor people who can study now because of the universities low coasts in tuition, will no longer be able to pay for their college studies. A lot of them will simply have to either call it quits and unwillingly turn into college drop outs or get into debt in a big fucking way. Start life out, by owing your life. Dont you just love how capitalism works? Anyways, students won’t have it, so they are striking as we speak. What students have done in the past in order to have their pleads heard is, they close the gates of the university and barricaded themselves inside of it. They occupy the university to show that the university belongs to the people. In this way, the students effectively paralyze any kind of function in the university. It is a desperate move in order to have their pleads heard by a government who doesn’t want to hear them. So in a move to prevent the students from barricading themselves inside of the college campus, the government ripped out the university gates and had the cops invade the college campus to take control of the university. Now these aren’t your regular every day cops, these are freaking armed soldiers, with armor, helmets, pepper spray, clubs and gas. And zero compassion for us humans.

Students standing on the University of Puerto Rico's Gate waving the Puerto Rican flag

If you ask me, what’s going on here is that the government wants to keep the poor dumb, deny them a higher education that they can afford. Turn the poor into a working class, and let the rich rule. You know the old saying: “the rich get richer, and the poor, poorer” This is not a new course of action as far as governments go; in fact, this is standard operating procedure if you want to be an oppressive capitalist government. And it makes people like me sad. I consider myself a humanist and when I see the National Guard and the police hitting innocent people with their clubs, and spraying pepper spray on their faces simply for exercising their right to speak up, it’s really upsetting. As a human being, you feel powerless. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? It's something that seems to disappear when it comes to speaking up against the powers that be. I’m not a political person, but sadly, I live in a very political world. I’ve never voted because I don’t think anyone who’s ever aspired to rule over my country deserves my vote. They have all been corrupt; they have all done their fare share of stealing and lying, and yes, even killing.

Students, peacefully protesting against the oppression

Interestingly enough, I’ve also had the opportunity to see how the media is manipulated to make the students look evil and the governments militia seem like heroes doing the nation a favor by controlling the “violent students”. They always manipulate the way things are written in order to make the students, look violent, when they are simply trying as best they can to hold onto an affordable higher education. Students and revolutinaries are demonized in the Puerto Rican media. But in reality, its just the poor fighting for their right to educate themselves at a reasonable price! Apparently, they powers that be want to manipulate the way the masses look at these events.

As I type this, the police is lining up in front of the university ready to hit any student who they think deserves it. And they have hit students blindly. I have personally been a witness to this violence, the governments’ militia act like blind programmed drones, they don’t even look at who they are hitting, they just know they have to hit! A similar situation erupted in the 70’s in Puerto Rico. Police took over the college campus and started hitting students for protesting. Sadly, during one of these protest, on March 4th 1970 a 21 year old female student called Antonia Martinez Lagares decided to look down from her balcony at the abuse that was going on. She saw the police hitting her fellow students and shouted “assasins!” This was a completely normal and humanitarian reaction to what was going on. When he heard her screams, a cop took out his gun and shot her in the head, injuring another student that was next to her as well. Shortly after she died. She was shot by the police that day for simply voicing her opinion. For saying the truth. She was just one of many victims of the government, who wipe people out if they are deemed too subversive. 

Antonia was a 21 year old student, studying to become a teacher. She was shot by the police.

But this is nothing new either; the films I will be speaking about in this article demonstrate that some governments believe they have the right to wipe those who they don’t like too much. Usually these people end up being the poor and the uneducated.


So to the task at hand! Films about REAL LIFE REVOLUTIONARIES. I will be talking about two films that I consider to be great examples of a person who at great personal risk decided to talk against an oppressive government. I speak of Oscar Romero. The first film I want to talk about is Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986). Like many of Oliver Stones films Salvador is based on real events that were truly terrifying. To think that a government can come and say: you know what? We don’t like the poor people anymore! Wipe them all the hell out! Sad to say that that’s exactly what began to happen in Salvador. Systematically, the government began to wipe out all the poor people that lived out in the mountains, living a humble life in poverty. And by wiping them out I mean shooting them with machine guns and simply annihilating their existence.


Oliver Stone’s Salvador is a film based on the real life experiences of photojournalist Richard Boyle, a photojournalist who was on assignment in Salvador right smack in the middle of all the madness. The fact that the films main character (played by James Woods) was a photo journalist serves the films purpose of telling a story from an objective view point, which is something hard to do when dealing with themes that talk about politics and religion. In this way, we can see everything from the objective eye of a photographer. A photographer is the ultimate voyeur, he doesn’t give his opinion, he doesn’t say what he thinks, he simply captures an image of what is happening. Photographers are often times first hand witnesses to many of the horrors in the world. “A picture can speak louder then a thousand words” and I can honestly say this is the truth. During the worst moments of oppresion here in Puerto Rico, I have seen pictures that can make any person cry. There is a moment in Salvador in which James Woods character walks into a mountain filled with corpses upon corpses of those slaughtered by the Salvadorian government. It is such a deeply saddening moment; Oliver Stone really lingers on this moment not only because it is so shocking visually, but also to make a point. After all, more than 60,000 Salvadorian people were killed during that whole ordeal which transpired during the last years of the 70’s and extended toward the early 80’s.

James Woods portrays Richard Boyle in Oliver Stone's Salvador (1986)

Things got so bad in El Salvador that even the priests began to speak up against the oppression. This was a really interesting development because suddenly religion; a tool often times used by the government themselves, suddenly turned against them. The catholic priests where using biblical teachings to tell the government that they were wrong. What ever happened to “Thou shall not kill?” or “Love thy neighbor?” One of the revolutionary priests who emerged from this whole situation was Oscar Anulfo Romero; an archbishop/priest who suddenly saw himself becoming the voice of the people of El Salvador. He recognized the abusive nature of the government at the time and decided to speak up against it. In Oliver Stone’s Salvador, we only see him briefly but we do get to see that pivotal moment in Romero’s life: the moment he became a martyr. You see, the government wanted to shut him up because he was saying what nobody dared to say: that the treatment the government was giving its people was inhuman. That it was barbaric. There is a chilling scene in Oliver Stone’s Salvador in which the government’s henchmen stop a bus full of nuns. They then proceed to rape and kill them. This type of behavior from the government shows what the truly think about religion. Do they fear any kind of heavenly judgment from a Christian God? Not in the least, which is why they can simply go out and kill a revolutionary priest they way they did.



But Oliver Stone's Salvador wasn’t the only time in which the life of Oscar Romero was represented on film. The film Romero (1989) from director John Duigan, has Raul Julia playing the role of Oscar Romero and on this film Julia truly does deliver a masterful, moving performance. There is this one amazing moment where Romero, from behind the bars of his own cell hears the police torturing a rebel inside of another cell. His fury begins to boil at the horror of what is happening until he can’t take it no more and screams: “Stop! We are all humans! We are all the same! In the name of God, stop!” Sadly, the horrifying screams continue, but the cry out for humanity was heard. We hear it as an audience, and its heart breaking to see such disregard for humanity.

Raul Julia portrayed priest Oscar Romero

The film reminds us once again its main theme: why does this abuse go on? After all, aren’t we all humans? We might all be humans, but the big difference between the people and the government is that the government has guns and ammo, armor and pepper spray, tanks and helicopters. The people don’t. The people have to struggle to get their guns and bullets while the governments get their guns thanks to their American buddies. Sadly, that whole massacre in El Salvador was partially funded by the United States government! Except for a couple of crazies out there, most regular folk like you and I don’t really care about carrying machine guns in our hands. The masses are usually peaceful people, caring about their own lives and hoping that the government they have chosen will run the country well. But sometimes the chosen government forgets they were put there by the people, and are supposed to be servants to them. Sometimes the people speak up, but most of the time they are too afraid to say or do anything. Can’t say I blame them considering the fear tactics that some governments put to use. Still, every once in a while, a leader rises. And if not a leader; then a voice. Someone to let the ruling know they are not acting human. They are not acting right.


Unfortunately, if you speak too loudly and you begin to forge the publics opinion, if you begin to light that revolutionary fire in the hearts and minds of people, then you are whipped out from existence, which is what happened to Romero, he got shot right smack in the middle of one of his sermons. And inside of a church no less! This film shows how the Salvadorian government wanted to embrace capitalism, so they decided to eliminate the poor, eliminate the rebels. Don’t know what that means really. I mean, did Salvador’s leader say “fuck the poor! Let them die!” As if they were less then scum? Why such disregard for human life? Why be so freaking haughty? You are better then the rest simply because you have more money? What a nauseating thought. There is one scene in which a rich lady wants to get her son baptized and so she asks bishop Romero to do it for her. And here’s the thing, Romero was priest to both the rich and the poor. The rich wants to baptize their son in the Catholic Church, but she wants a private baptism because she doesn’t want her baby to be baptized amongst the ‘peasants’. This scene reveals the true nature of the massacre: the governments and the rich hate the poor and see them as lesser human beings who need to be eradicated. It’s so sad that we as human beings can reach that way of thinking.

Mere moments after Romero was shot in his church. His body lays on the floor lifeless.

Romero was a true revolutionary; he used his life to point out an evil in humanity. He did not rest from pointing out a wrong in this world. He did not fear those with guns and power because he knew deep down inside of him that he was right. I leave you guys with a line of dialog from the film; it is the line of dialog he says before he gets shot point blank in the chest by the government for saying nothing but the truth:

“I’d like to make an appeal in a special way to the men in the army. Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are the same people. The farmers and the peasants that you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the words of a man telling you to kill, think instead on the words of God. “Thou shall not kill!” No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the Law of God. In his name and in the name of our tormented people who have suffered so much, and whose laments cry out to heaven: I beg you! I order you! Stop the repressions!”

This has been the first part in a three day event entitled, VIVA LA REVOLUTION! Come back tomorrow for day two of this event where I will be discussing more on the craziness going on in my country, and talk about various films dealing with the revolution. Be there or be square!

RomeroRomeroSalvador (Special Edition)The Ultimate Oliver Stone Collection (Salvador / Platoon / Wall Street / Talk Radio / Born on the Fourth of July / JFK Director's Cut / The Doors / Heaven and Earth / Natural Born Killers / Nixon / U-Turn / Any Given Sunday Director's Cut)

11 comments:

J.D. said...

What an excellent start to this series of themed reviews! I am a big fan of Stone's SALVADOR and it features one of James Woods, and Jim Belushi for that matter, best performances. The film kinda starts out as a FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS road movie but once Boyle starts encountering the atrocities of war, the film really gets intense in a way that only Stone can pull off. That mountain of dead bodies and the rapes of bus full of nuns are scenes that continue to haunt me to do this day. What a powerful film.

I had no idea that where you live is such a hotbed of conflict and protest. That must be really intense for you on a daily basis!

Neil Fulwood said...

This is one hell of an article, Franco, and the way you've used actual photos as well as screengrabs gives an even greater immediacy to your description of the state of affairs in Puerto Rico. I knew things were bad there, but like J.D. I didn't realize the full extent.

It's been a while since I've seen 'Salvador', but that mountain of bodies scene is an image I don't think will ever leave me. I have yet to see 'Romero', but I'll certainly be redoubling my efforts to track down a copy. Raul Julia was such an under-rated talent and it sounds like this was his career best performance.

The Film Connoisseur said...

It is very intense, on everybod who lives in Puerto Rico, the day they took 17 students prisoner, was intense as hell, and I fell right smack in the middle of it as it was all happening, I smelled the pepper spray and tear gas in the air, in fact, my eyes and nose started to get affected.

Then I saw a face off between about a hundred cops, and about a hundread protesters. It was an intense hour, where I thought the shit was going to hit the fan, fortunately, it started to rain heavily and both cops and protesters went, mother nature kind of saved the day that night.

But yeah, its kind of crazy, every cop drives around with a national guard next to them, with machine guns in hand.

You can go to the University of Puerto Rico and cops with shut guns will pass you by like it was nothing....its crazy, kind of like a war zone between the poor and the militia.

Agree about Belushi and Woods, I did get a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas vibe from the film, in those first minutes when they arrive to El Salvador. Belushi was like a semi comedic relief in the film, I guess that was necesary considering the dark themes the film addresses.

@Neil: Glad you liked it Neil, yup, its all very real, and its all happening right under my nose. Im currently doing a movie that has this whole mess as a background to the main story about this guy who works in a mexican restaurant and looses his job, and all this is going in his country at the same time, its turning out pretty good.

But I just have to do something will all the opression going on, making a film and writing these articles to inform the world and learn about similar stories from around the globe, is a way for me to deal and express myself about whats going on.

Its true Neil, Julia was underrated, he died too soon, I wish he'd gone on making movies. I loved his take on Gomez Addams in the Addams Family movies. But Romero remains his best and most memoroble performance, hope you get a chance to check it man!

Thanks for commenting guys! Dont forget to come back tomorrow, where we can talk a bit about the three Che films and how you all feel about them. I'll be posting more picks of whats been going on in Puerto Rico as well.

odenat said...

this is a very good post. Almost everywhere in the world the police is beating the students when the government orders. At France also, a lot of student activities happened at 2010 and clashes between them and the police. The police reaction was not very different from their Puerto Rican counterparts : beat them.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Odenat: While working on this blogpost I learned a lot about how the rest of the world is suffering of the same ailment. It looks like some governments around the world decided to make the same move. They want to assure that they'll have a working class serving their food at the local restaurant by making it impossible (money wise) to go to college and rise above poverty.

Thanks for commenting Odenat!

Bryce Wilson said...

Excellent post Franco.

Nice work choosing Romero. A sadly underrated film. But one that has really held up well.

Viva La Revolution!

The Film Connoisseur said...

Thanks Bryce, glad you enjoyed the article! There is more revolution on its way day three of this collaboration should prove interesting as well, I will be recommending 20 films in which rebels win against the evil empire. Be there or be square!

Carl Manes said...

An excellent intoduction into this month's event, Franco! I haven't seen either film, although SALVADOR has long been on my watch list. Sadly, this is even the first place I have ever read of Romero's story, but the reviews are enough to get me out of the Horror genre and check them out!

The Film Connoisseur said...

I am a horror fan at heart Carl, in fact, that is exactly how I started out as a film buff, but as you know, there are many fine films out there that are not horror that in fact will move you and make you think far further then any horror film will take you.

Both of these films are amazing, and chilling. Particularly because they are based on real life events. This is real life horror we are talking about with these films. Sometimes, films like this can scare you a whole lot more then Freddy or Jason will. And I dont mean to knock on these legendary horror icons, Im just saying, real life can be far scarier most of the time!

Hope you get a chance to see these films Carl! Let me know what you think about em!

venoms5 said...

Brilliant first article, Fran! I'm a bit late getting around to them, parts one and two, anyways.

The Film Connoisseur said...

Thanks for taking the time to check them out Venom, they were very personal articles, dealing with a lot of political issues in my country, but I'm glad some of my readers showed some interest in the articles anyways.

This type of situation is going on in a lot of countries around the world, I thought I would give my take on it since I live in the midst of all this craziness.

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