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El Mariachi: Special Edition

Reportedly made for the ridiculous sum of just $7,000 (more on that below), Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi (1992) is a funny, clever, bloody action thriller about a young guitar player who finds himself in circumstances that quickly escalate beyond his control. Rolling into town with his guitar case in hand, the titular musician (Carlos Gallardo) just wants to find a job singin' and playin' — but instead, people start shooting at him. It turns out that there's another guitar-case-carrying mariachi expected in town — but that one's a hitman, and our hero's smack in the middle of a deadly case of mistaken identity. A sexy barmaid (Consuelo Gomez) believes him, though, and the two are drawn to each other … but wouldn't you know it, she's the unrequited lust object of the local warlord that the real assassin has come to town to kill. Directed, photographed, and edited by Rodriguez, El Mariachi reflects the youthful exuberance of a young filmmaker working for the sheer joy of the project — while it's obviously an homage to Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, Rodriguez crafts the film with so much energy that it feels new. One watches it from two perspectives simultaneously, with neither detracting from the other. On the one hand, it's a dandy tale well told, funny and brisk and exciting. At the same time we're watching Rodriguez spreading his wings as a director, playing with pacing, figuring out the best ways to use his camera, all the while obviously stealing every trick he can think of from classic filmmakers of the past. Rarely does a film scream of such future promise as El Mariachi — and if we're still waiting for Rodriguez to truly fulfill that promise, it was at least a stunning debut. Columbia TriStar's El Mariachi: Special Edition DVD release offers an anamorphic transfer that's essentially the same release they offered previously as part of a double-set with Desperado, with the addition of a preview of Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico. It looks really, really good — far better, you may think, than it makes sense for a $7,000 movie to look. Well, Rodriguez did make the film for seven grand, shooting on 16mm. But after Columbia bought the film for theatrical release, the studio spent over $100,000 remixing the sound, creating better subtitles, and making pristine 35mm prints from Rodriguez's 16mm master. It's still pretty grainy and looks a little raw at times, but it's a very good transfer nonetheless. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish audio is acceptable, if unspectacular — unless you speak Spanish, you'll be reading subtitles anyway. A French 2.0 dub is also available, as are subtitles in English, Spanish, French and Korean. Extras include an excellent commentary track by Rodriguez that originally appeared on the earlier DVD release (author of "Rebel Without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player," the director has a lot to say on the subject of indie filmmaking — young wannabes will get a lot out of his anecdotes and advice here); a featurette titled "10 Minute Film School," which continues the instructional theme; Rodriguez's short film "Bedhead"; that five-minute, behind-the-scenes look at Once Upon a Time in Mexico; and theatrical trailers. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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