Was away for the past three days in Seattle giving a presentation at the Experience Music Project's Pop Conference, an annual gathering of music critics talking about all things cultural, musical, and pop. Amazing time, in an admitted geeky fan boy kind of way. Best part of the weekend was meeting two of my heroes, Griel Marcus, who's idea of Lipstick Traces led me to apply his theory of Secret Histories oh-so-appropriately to U.S. Latinos, and my main man Greg Tate, who's seminal book of essays on Black culture and music, Flyboy in the Buttermilk, taught me how to be a better post-Chicano. I've been carrying around my tattered paperback of Tate's book for almost fourteen years now freely appropriating vato's still radical ideas on race and culture.
Allow me to quote from a piece I wrote on Latino filmmaking for the San Francisco Bay Guardian many years ago (full article here). The essay not only distills Tate's particular ideas on fusing specific ethnic sensibilities with "white" influences to create something new, but also gives a snapshot of the sad state of Latino filmmaking eight or nine years ago. But even more lamentable? The situation of Raza cinema hasn't improved much since then. Oh well, at least we had Elisa Jimenez from Project Runway last year and, of course, Alex Rivera's upcoming post-border sci-fi epic, Sleep Dealer. Punto!
It is with some irony, then, that I turn to the ideas of the one African American writer who most captures the emerging hybrid sensibility/strategy of a new post-movimiento generation of Latino filmmakers, and future of brown film.
There is a patented, vertiginous moment in a Greg Tate essay ("Cult Nats Meet Freaky-Deke") where the self-described Flyboy in the Buttermilk expounds in his usual dizzying and apt rhetoric on a liberating aesthetic current among certain enlightened Black artists. He talks about those anti-essentialist folks who "feel secure enough about Black culture to claim art produced by nonblacks as part of their inheritance." (Substitute “black” for “brown” in the above quote and it sounds like many contemporary U.S. Latinos.) A 150 plus word litany then ensues where the provocative writer headbumps pairings of seminal influential artist types as evidence of his theory of how seemingly disparate cultural influences actually make cogent sense when incorporated by certain enlightened black artists.
Just a sampling from Señor Tate’s intentionally contradictory two-page list: "...George Clinton and George Romero, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Lisette Model, Zora Neale Hurston and Akira Kurosawa...Jah Rastafari and Johnny Rotten...Anthony Braxton and Bruce Lee...Antonin Artaud and Amira Baraka...Fredric Jameson and Reverend James Cleveland," and on and on and on.
Absent, of course, in Tate's glib Who's Who are any American artists of the Brown variety. Now I mention this not so much to dis brother Tate (OK, maybe just a little -- those who preach post-modern pastiche, after all, should practice it) but more so because the guy's on to something.
“...Malcolm X and Jimi Hendrix...?”
That’s cool. But how about certain Chicano/Latino artists that also easily navigate and reference and knowingly subvert all that pop America -- North and South -- has to offer. Take Luis M. Meza's sublime 1996 ultra low budget feature, Staccato Purr of the Exhaust. In that very cool ultra low budget feature Meza mixes the influences of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jim Jarmusch, and lo-fi rock and roll into a new American idie film sensibility.
The point being, of course, not to lay down some unproductive one-up-manship in referencology with African American artists -- 'cause Prince Paul or the RZA would totally kick our Latino ass in that kind of sampling mano-a-mano -- no, what matters here is illustrating just another example of the culturally specific, all-encompassing power of mestizaje -- our people's predeliction for hybridity and mixing -- our necessary mastery of two cultures -- the creation of a natural brown aesthetic informing our movies. It's a distinct creative strategy that's worked in the past, and being transformed for the future.
Will be posting more details and observations the next few days on all the things Latino and pop and relevant I encountered at the conference. Not to mention pontifications on Alberto "The Geneva Convention is Quaint" Gonzales' job search (no one wants to hire him); the Spurs loss to the hated Lakers (we'll get 'em in the playoffs); and a response to a way fucked up review by a clueless gringo critic writing on the Phantom Sightings show. Stay tuned...