Nostalgic Images of Mexican Masculinity in the Films of Robert Rodriguez: From El Mariachi to Machete

Curator's Note

Robert Rodriguez’s films have often offered his audience a comfortingly familiar, nostalgic pastiche of popular genre forms of the past, such as Spaghetti Westerns (Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico) and the cultural relic of the ‘Grindhouse’ style (Planet Terror and Machete). This could be viewed as an attempt by the writer-director to revive and recreate his favourite film forms from his own cultural memory, in the mode of his friend and collaborator Quentin Tarantino. In the case of Rodriguez, however, there is an interesting ethnic dimension to this nostalgic recreation in that the Mexican American recreates these films with Mexican or Mexican American, characters in the heroic roles previously reserved for Anglos.

Indeed, from his debut feature El Mariachi (1992) to his recent Machete (2010) the Mexican American Rodriguez has persistently presented his audiences with nostalgic images of Mexican masculinity in genre films aimed at a mainstream, largely male, audience. El Mariachi introduced viewers to a hero out of time, a relic of a purer Mexican cultural past when ‘guitarists were heroes,’ forced to become a warrior when the woman he loves is threatened by an Anglo gangster. In the later films in the series El Mariachi becomes a nostalgically macho Mexican reincarnation of a mythologised Spaghetti Western hero, cast first as the biggest, darkest Mexican Steve Buscemi had ever seen in Desperado and later as the saviour of the Mexico and its president in Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

In Machete, as is evident in the trailer here, the titular hero is also recognisable as a relic from another time as is emphasised in the recurring joke that ‘Machete does not text.’ Pancho Villa arguably used the idea of Mexican masculinity as the ultimate macho to fuel the Mexican revolution and Machete can be read as another hyper-masculine Mexican revolutionary fighter, leading the charge against anti-immigration vigilantes.


It's interesting how different the tone of that trailer is than the tone of El Mariachi or Desperado or even the less-serious From Dusk till Done--the music and editing of the trailer show that there's a substantial amount of playing for laughs here--is that just a product of the promotion for the film, or is there a different kind of ironic nostalgia going on in Machete?

Good point, Michael -- and very much in line with the way Grindhouse, Rodriguez' earlier directorial collaboration with Tarantino, plays with cinematic technology and protocols as well -- the fragile materiality of celluloid stock, the faux promos and trailers, including one for Machete itself (h/t to Sunny Stalter, who first pointed out to me the way the film plays with cinematic media and nostalgia). Perhaps Machete resists the digital in more ways than just not texting...

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.