The border. No, not the one between the U.S. and Canada, or the line between Chad and Sudan. I’m speaking of the Mexico-U.S. border, the locus of fiery political debate, fascist organizing, and just about every independent Latino film of the 1990’s. Without it there’d be no Guillermo Gomez Pena, no Lou Dobbs, and no narcotraficante billionaires.
But it remains as absurd and blood-drenched as it ever was. No wonder people become obsessed by this particular line in this particular sand.
Staying here on the south bank of the Rio Bravo I witness thousands of trailers daily moving northwards carrying loads of useless crap for gringos to buy, and yet this small time film production company I’m working for can’t get a damn camera kit from Austin across the river into Mexico without a week’s worth of red tape. Ditto for bringing a kit from Mexico City or Monterrey into the U.S. This would mean paying a week’s rent on something we can’t use, so we’re forced to do a juggling act of renting out two kits and sending one home as we move the other to location. That, anyway, is the plan as it stands now, since we need to shoot in both countries.
In order to set this trick up we (Becky G. the line producer on this project and myself) went to Monterrey last weekend. It’s a fascinating sprawling mess of a place, home to three million souls in a city ringed by mountains. It’s a place known for business, money, conservative politics and, thank god, cumbia music. Because salsa bands bore me to tears.
So after checking out the local production and rental houses and deciding that they had the gear we needed, and getting the “real deal” from some very helpful local film people (absolutely essential when working in Mexico), Becky and I hit the streets for some R&R in the form of a grimy, tough cumbia bar in downtown Monterrey.
An article we’d found on the interweb warned us not to venture there alone without a guide but we did what both of us usually do with such advice and ignored it and we were glad we did.
The place was called Bar De Max and it was absolutely pumping all night long. The men in the crowd dressed like a combination of Los Angeles homeboys and 1987-era Prince, meaning they all wore baggy shorts and bright new ballcaps but plastered their hair with oil in strings across their faces so that sometimes it looked as if they wore masks. While the accordion wailed on stage they jumped up and down and flashed fingers in proto gang signage like one sees in hip hop shows or videos, only the music playing was down-and-dirty Colombian-style motherfucking cumbia, with congos and timbales and whomping electric bass.
The women wore shorty shorts and tight tops and danced together as much as with the guys. The dance floor was so packed on every song that you could barely move, and everyone shuffled along in a big circle as the gordito singer hit perfect high notes and I actually had a few of those moments….you know those moments one can have when one is in the presence of excellently played live music. There’s absolutely nothing like it and it cannot be replicated or mass-produced…..it has to be worked at and brought forth by real and soulful musicians, which is why the only part of the music industry that thrives today is live performances.
It also helps if the crowd around you is loving it as well.
Futile as it may be to try and capture such an evening I tried anyway, using the video feature on my digital still camera. I’m still figuring out how to use it, and so the results are entre azul y buenas noches as they say down here, between blue and good night, or so-so. You be the judge.