22 March 2012

Author Jim Bentley

Twenty years ago the only thing stopping The Bodyguard being the top grossing film of the year was Disney classic Aladdin. Basic Instinct had just shocked audiences worldwide, Lethal Weapon was on its third instalment and that Christmas we had a second Home Alone film to slay the box office competition.

This was the year young filmmaker Robert Rodriguez released his debut feature, the Spanish language film El Mariachi. Funded by Rodriguez going through medical product trials, it had enough budget to shoot each scene once.

The entire film was shot in a couple of days in the small town Acuña in North Eastern Mexico. To win over locals who objected to a violent film being shot in their town, Rodriguez cast them as extras, mostly being shot or killed in violent ways. The movie has a high body count. The reason the 'end boss' is surrounded by teenagers is because the local adult population had been killed in the film by that point.

There were many money saving techniques used in the making of this movie you can read on the film's wiki page, it's an interesting read. Despite being a foreign language film, it was such an unexpected success that Columbia pictures paid more than the film's original budget to transfer the 16mm film onto 35mm film for major distribution. It was even inducted into the Library of Congress.

Through his follow up films, Desperado (a sequel/remake to El Mariachi) and From Dusk till Dawn, Rodriguez earned the nickname "One man film studio" for producing high quality genre films on a tight budget. He often served as editor, director of photography, camera operator, steadicam operator, composer, production designer, visual effects supervisor and sound editor with the philosophy that, "Creativity solves problems, not money." Rodriguez was set to become one of my favourite modern film makers, only to do a complete U-turn in style.

In 2001, he started making movies for his kids. Spy Kids was such a success it spawned three sequels with a forth on the way. These were unique in that they were kid's films that adults could enjoy, really raising the standard for what passed as kids' films at the time. It was 2005 before he went back to what his older fans were baying for, some grown up action.

Using some of the special effects techniques Rodriguez learned making the Spy Kids films; Sin City is a film adaptation of Frank Miller's cult graphic novels. It was one of the first films to be shot primarily on green screen or "digital backlot" with high definition digital cameras in colour. It was then converted to black and white, allowing aspects of the film to stay colourised. The film was treated for heightened contrast separating the blacks and whites making each shot more distinct. Nobody had seen anything like this before.

Frank Miller, who'd written Sin City and directed one of the segments in the movie with Rodriguez supervising, attempted to recapture the magic with black and white noir styled The Spirit in 2008. But without Rodriguez on board, the film fell flat on its face critically, financially and artistically.

There's no doubt that it was Rodriguez with his inventive movie magic; born of a decade learning the ropes to become a one of a kind, multi-skilled genre film maker for adults and kids that made Sin City such a one off that nearly 10 years later, hasn't been equalled in impact or style. 300 came close and was an amazing adaptation of another one of Miller's comics, but we wouldn't have had 300 and other movies of that style without Sin City first breaking the mould. Personally I can't wait for the long promised Sin City 2 which finally sounds like it's being put into production this summer.