Friday, January 2, 2015

When Brad almost came to San Miguel

There he was, Brad Pitt, in the lobby of our one local cinema, if only on a huge poster for “Fury” his latest movie which premiered in the U.S. almost three months ago.

On the poster Brad seemed to be brooding about war and peace or some similarly weighty topic, with his arms resting on the cannon of a Sherman tank, his face and army fatigues covered with grease and dirt, his haircut eerily reminiscent of Kim Jong-un’s, the North Korean doofus dictator who looks like a meatball in uniform. Moronic haircut and all, Brad looked pretty buff for 51.

Brooding Brad
More auspicious yet was the banner across the bottom of the poster: ¡Próximamente! or Soon!

The prospect of seeing Brad and his movie, which had received quite favorable reviews in the U.S., raised our blood pressure a point or two. You see, for all its colonial enchantment San Miguel is not a main stop on the international cinema circuit. Often it feels as if we live in French Lick, Ind., pop. 1,801.

Indeed, “Fury” hasn’t come to San Miguel yet. Meryl Streep’s new flick, “Into the Woods” as well as the acclaimed biography of Stephen Hawking, “The Theory of Everything,” and “The Imitation Machine,” about the guy who helped break the Enigma Code during World War II, may not make it here any time soon if ever.

Our hopes for a Brad sighting were dashed again at a street market in Mexico City a few weeks ago when we saw a DVD of “Fury” on sale along with dozens of other recent releases for the today-only bootleg price of three for $10 pesos, or about 25 cents apiece. You’re right, it was a stupid purchase. That price doesn't cover even the cost of a blank disk.

Neither “Fury” nor another movie played at all, and the third movie was not the one on the jacket. And the damned vendor assured me his DVDs were “guaranteed.”

The Brad Pitt chase is a good introduction to the movie market in Mexico, controlled by a few giant chains like Cinepolis and Cinemex—but with a huge bootleg market on the side, despite all the warnings at the beginning of every DVD about how the FBI and Interpol will send you to Guantanamo if you dare show or sell unauthorized duplicates of any film.

Jong-un to Brad: Didn't we meet
at the hairstylist? 

Large movie distributors’ tastes in movies naturally control which ones are shown in Mexico, and judging by their selections the chains must have a pretty low regard for the IQ of the average moviegoer. Anything more intellectually riveting than “The Penguins of Madagascar” might take months to get San Miguel if at all.  

But more baffling is where all the bootleg movies come from. We have an established distributor in San Miguel, the widely revered Juan the Ripper, who for $40 pesos will sell you DVDs of just about any flick or TV show making the rounds in the U.S. Reportedly he also sells some gay videos that he calls "happy movies."

Judging by the crawlers that appear periodically at the bottom of the  screen, some of Juan's originals were DVDs sent to reviewers for Golden Globe or Oscar nominations. Helpful movie lovers sometimes also give Juan legitimate (or not) DVDs that he copies in exchange for four free DVDs of other films.

The rest of the bootleg DVD cornucopia at Juan’s or on the streets of every town in Mexico must come directly from Back of the Truck Entertainment or Over the Transom Productions.

More ominously I’ve read that drug cartels may control the bootleg video industry though it’s hard to imagine they would want any more money to launder. I’m not going to ask around about the narco’s business strategy; those guys are very touchy about their privacy. 

Unfortunately, Juan’s duplication apparatus is not up to snuff yet and while the video comes out perfectly the audio is often garbled. And seldom are there subtitles to help you figure out, say, what’s for supper at Downton Abbey, where the characters speak in a mixture of upper- and lower-class British, depending on whether they sleep upstairs or downstairs.

The bootleg DVD for “Babel” (2006), also starring Brad Pitt, must have presented the biggest language challenge of all time. The characters spoke English, Japanese, Berber Arabic and Spanish. In fact one of the characters was a deaf-mute Japanese girl who communicated in sign language or by pointing at her privates. So if you bought the bootleg version with Spanish subtitles or none at all your head probably exploded halfway through the show.  
  
Where the rest of the millions of bootleg copies of American movies comes from is indeed a mystery in broad daylight. The movies are for sale practically everywhere, along with bootleg CDs, for as little as ten pesos each. From our experience, the majority of street DVDs play pretty well and occasionally have English subtitles.

The Mexican government clearly is not very interested in enforcing national or international copyright laws or busting the manufacturers and distributors of bootleg videos that are as common on any Mexican street as tacos al pastor or ears of corn with mayonnaise.
   
Many Americans here bypass all these problems by downloading or streaming films through the internet, an option not available here at Rancho Santa Clara where we rely on a very leisurely wireless internet connection. Downloading “Gone With the Wind” would take us a week before we even got to the burning of Atlanta.

Instead we send away for DVDs from Amazon—legal and with clear sound and subtitles—or get some from Liverpool, the local department store. It comes out to between five and ten dollars each. That's about as much as going to the movie house, buying popcorn and soda, and a McDonald’s sundae afterward, and it beats watching grainy Claudette Colbert retrospectives on the Turner Movie Classics cable channel. 

In case you’re wondering about Brad’s whereabouts, I checked the Cinemex website for San Miguel yesterday afternoon and it claims that “Fury” is in fact arriving—you guessed it—¡próximamente!

I don’t believe it. Brad and his movie already have taken me for a ride twice, and I’m not falling for his hype one more time.

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