Friday, January 04, 2008

Scene From the Movie Giant -- And a Few Bits

Manuel Ramos

Tino Villanueva
(Curbstone Press, 1993)
It's been several years since I watched the classic movie Giant, whose cast included James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Sal Mineo, and Rock Hudson. The first time I saw it, I was a young boy, probably eight or nine. It was the middle of the 1950s and I was in the Rialto Theater on Main Street, in a small Colorado town. The Rialto was one of those movie palaces that used to occupy places of respect in almost every American town -- a gaudy, blinking marquee, deep red carpeting, elaborate wall fixtures, and thick curtains that majestically opened when the lights dimmed and the newsreel flickered on the screen.

I remember Saturday afternoon matinees with my buddies and an occasional midweek night out with my parents and younger brother for some special screening. The Rialto was where I first encountered American icons of comedy such as the Three Stooges and the Little Rascals, and red-blooded heroes like John Wayne and Burt Lancaster. It's also the place where I practiced my recently acquired reading skill. Sitting on a worn cushion and scraping my shoes on the sticky floor, I read all the credits as they rolled up the screen; I learned that the director was always last and when his name appeared, the flick was about to start.

But my experience with Giant was different. Going in, I thought it was only a love story but it had some attraction for me because of James Dean. Back then, and maybe for years afterwards, I deluded myself that I was something of a rebel, even at that young age, and so I was drawn to teenage outlaw myths created by the movies and other facets of mass culture in the immediate post-War years. In another movie I thought Sal Mineo was perfect when he sauntered down a nameless New York street hunched over in a shiny red jacket, smoking a cigarette and flashing a switchblade. I saw the first four Elvis Presley movies and every rock and roll melodrama that passed through the Rialto.

And so I checked out Giant, mainly to see what James Dean had been up to after his surly bulldozing of the decaying middle American landscape in Rebel Without a Cause. Of course, I didn't think of it that way when I was a kid -- he was cool, man, and that was enough.

But what I got from Giant was this amazingly complicated story about Texas -- quick money from oil, cowboy aristocracy clashing with political tensions created by a vanishing Old West; rich and poor whites mixing it up in their own private class war; and, eventually, Mexicans: people who looked like my grandparents, who were scattered throughout the film as so many props.

I felt uncomfortable watching this movie. I didn't like the way the Mexicans were treated in the film but somehow I thought that maybe it was the Mexicans' fault. Why were they in a movie anyway? Movies were for slapstick comedy, outer space monsters, the glory and bluster of John Wayne on the shores of Iwo Jima, and juvenile delinquents.

Texas poet Tino Villanueva has focused his own reactions to this movie and created an epic poem entitled Scene From the Movie Giant. In his marvelously written book he capsulizes a lifetime of provocations inspired by the movie. In particular, he deals with one scene where a trio of quiet, almost submissive Mexicans are subjected to blatant and violent racism.

Villanueva agonizingly chronicles his own attitudes about the crucial scene, which portrays the apparent victory of brute force and hatred over the humble Mexicans. Sarge, owner of a diner, refuses to serve a Mexican family. When cattleman Rick Benedict (Rock Hudson) objects, Sarge savagely beats him up. Villanueva stretches his images over the years and miles to Boston where, as a graduate student, he still grapples with the real meaning of the scene from the movie. As Villanueva writes, he constantly must turn back to the time when his offended small world was disrupted, unresolved. As is made clear in Villanueva's pages, his own resolution comes through the words he has chosen to present to the reader, so many years after he watched a movie in fear and awe. He has presented the truth as only a poet can understand it.

(this review first aired on Denver radio KUVO in 1995)


How Else Am I Supposed to Know I'm Still Alive?

If you can't read the image, it's an announcement of a presentation of How Else Am I Supposed to Know I'm Still Alive, written by Evelina Fernández and starring the very talented and always entertaining Debra Gallegos and Yolanda Ortega on January 19 at 7:30 PM at the Troutman Theater at Aurora Central High School, 11700 E. 11th Avenue, Aurora, CO. $35 for adults, $10 for students and seniors. The performance benefits the Nuñez Foundation College Scholarship Program. We love these women and their enthusiastic performance art, and I know I'll see many of you at the play.

Nation of Immigrants
The Art Students League of Denver sent the following announcement about their upcoming exhibit, Nation of Immigrants, curated by Tony Ortega and Susan Sagara Bolton: "This exhibit brings together a wide range of media, styles, concerns, and sensibilities from artists whose inspiration is the immigration experience. Walking through the exhibit, you will experience the history each artist brings to their art and how culture and heritage resonate through their work." Participating artists include Polly Chang, Manuel Cordero, Carlos Frésquez, Ken Iwamasa, Clara Martínez, Emanuel Martínez, Sylvia Montero, Adriana Restrepo, George Rivera, Danny and Maruca Salazar, Carlos Santistevan, and several others. Exhibit opens January 4, 5:30 - 8:00 PM and runs through February 27. The Art Students League is at 200 Grant Street, Denver, 303-778-6990.

Dolores Huerta
Dolores Huerta will be the keynote speaker at the Latina/o Advocacy Day event to be held February 24-25 at the Adams Mark Hotel in downtown Denver. Sponsored by the Latina Initiative and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, the event provides advocacy and lobby training on policy issues of concern to Latinas and Latinos in Colorado. For those who might not know, Dolores Huerta is a long-time human rights activist and a co-founder with César Chávez in starting the United Farm Workers in the 1960s. Info., send an email to: Image courtesy of

Sacramento Poetry Center
I'm passing on the following piece:

Another great night of poetry is coming up this Monday, January 7 at the Sacramento Poetry Center, 1719 25th Street, at 7:30 pm.

Starting off the new year will be Barbara Jane Reyes and Oscar Bermeo. It will be an exciting night of powerful poetry hosted by Arturo Mantecon. Don't miss it!

Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila, Philippines and raised in the SF Bay Area. She is the author of Gravities of Center (Arkipelago, 2003) and Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish, 2005) which received the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. Her other honors include an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship and numerous Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Asian Pacific American Journal, Chain, New American Writing, North American Review, Notre Dame Review, among others. She lives with her husband, poet Oscar Bermeo, in Oakland.

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is a BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) award winning poet, educator & literary events coordinator. Oscar now makes his home in Oakland, where he is the poetry editor for Tea Party magazine and lives with his wife, poeta Barbara Jane Reyes.

Sacramento Poetry Center
1719 25th Street
Sacramento, CA
916.451.5569 -


1 comment:

Culdebra said...

Thanks for the plug on our production "How Else" La Bloga is great!

Debra Gallegos