In the past four days I’ve hung out twice with actor Jeremy Ray Valdez, better known as the actor who plays Benjamin Bratt’s son in La Mission. On Thursday I spent an evening trailing him as a hired photographer at a benefit screening of La Mission. In between photographing Jeremy with attendees and donors at the event we got to chatting about La Mission and some burning questions I’ve had about it. I also met up with Jeremy this past Sunday at the SF Pride festival at the La Mission booth. Here’s the scoop on some mysteries of La Mission.
Mystery #1: Bootleg Flattery?
A couple of weeks ago I made a short video with Mission Loc@l’s Amanda Martinez contemplating the appropriateness of bootleg copies of La Mission being sold on Mission Street itself. Is a Mission bootleg the ultimate tribute to La Mission or are we ripping off hard working Latino directors and actors?
To get the answer I asked Jeremy what he thought of bootleg copies of La Mission being sold on Mission Street. He told me a story of an autograph session he did in the Mission District during Carnaval and how a young girl brought him a bootleg copy of the movie for him to autograph. Jeremy was highly offended at the thought of signing a bootleg copy of La Mission and expressed his extreme displeasure that Mission locals are pirating his work as an actor. According to him, bootlegs have a more adverse affect on smaller productions like La Mission as opposed to large big-budget Hollywood films.
Answer: It looks like the official word on the bootleg question is that Mission Street bootlegs of La Mission = bad.
Mystery #2: Is Che a Sureño?
The one thing that haunted me after seeing La Mission for the first time was Benjamin Bratt’s wardrobe in the film. His character, Che Rivera, wore a lot of blue throughout the whole movie. It left me wondering if there was an implied subtext that Che (and by extension his son) were Sureños. There’s no acknowledgment of the Mission’s color-coded terrain in the film and how much it weighs heavily on the minds of Latino residents of the neighborhood. To me, it bordered on offensive to have no recognition a Sureño character being a Sureño in the Mission District.
I asked Jeremy if Che and/or his son were intended to be Sureños and he answered absolutely not. He told me that Peter Bratt and the production crew were very conscious not to portray Norteños and Sureños in the film and that no character in the film was intended to be a former or current gang member.
Answer: Ain’t no colors in La Mission, blue Pendletons be damned.
Many thanks to Jeremy for solving these mysteries and for being so friendly on both days our paths crossed.
Alright folks, today I’m going to a screening of La Mission with the amazing Margarita Azucar. I’m down with the Bratt brothers, we’re all LHS alumni, but I haven’t seen a movie that Benjamin Bratt has been in since Catwoman. It takes a lot of fuckin’ guts to give a movie a monolithic title like La Mission so it better be good.
It’s been surreal to see this movie get national press attention and hear film critics discuss the dynamics of the Mission District. This might lead one to think that La Mission has been the only “Mission” movie-but not so. There have been many pretenders to the throne.
First up is a movie simply titled Mission. I remember the main draw of the film when it was initially released was that it starred a cast member of the Blair Witch Project. Here’s its official synopsis:
“A young aspiring writer, Marvin, from New York moves to California to write a novel. He ends up rooming with a chaotic, bohemian musician named Jay. Marvin finds himself inexorably drawn into the vibrant youth culture of San Francisco’s Mission District as both Jay and himself watch their worlds disintegrate. They discover that each has a lot to learn from the other. Mission is a coming of age story casting a spotlight on a place and time, moments before artistic aspiring types yielded the Mission to the dotcom entrepreneurs.”
As a movie, Mission is alright. The only thing saving it from mediocrity is that it captures a unique moment in time for the neighborhood. It shows the Mission while it was experiencing gentrification (as opposed to already being gentrified) during the upswing of the dotcom economy. It’s interesting to see creative and eccentric young White people in the Mission before the emergence of hipster culture. Funny enough, Mission Street is almost nowhere to be seen in the film. Of all the areas in the Mission, Guerrero Street gets the most play.
Next up is Mission Movie. I know a lot of people who are hesitant to give an honest assessment of this film because it was supposedly a sincere “community effort” but I’m here to tell you that it’s utter dog shit. To view Mission Movie‘s official trailer CLICK HERE. Here is a section of its long winded synopsis:
Mark, a white, traditionally trained artist, is forced to seek the help of Roger, a Latino artist born and raised in the Mission, to confront a group of kids who have been tagging his mural. Meanwhile, Mark and his troubled hipster roommates amble into activism as they face eviction from their apartment. Also being evicted from the building are Rosario and Rene, recent immigrants whose marriage is tested by their new environment. Antonia, a third-generation resident, finds the fruits of her success making her an “accidental” target. And George, a Palestinian shop-owner struggles as his love for his decidedly American children is challenged by conflicting values.
Mission Movie plays out like a Disney fairy tale version of the cultural and class conflicts that occur in the Mission every day. Taken straightforward as a piece of cinema, Mission Movie is bad. The acting is terrible, the camerawork is sloppy at best, and it’s just straight up corny. Each character is an ideal depiction of the different demographics that populate the Mission District and in the process of simplifying and sanitizing what they represent Writer/Director Lise Swenson has sucked the soul out of all of them. I’d take Mission‘s depiction of an angst-filled White writer over Mission Movie‘s all encompassing storyline that does a disservice to everyone involved. There’s no other way to say it, this shit is all kinds of fucked up.
Unlike Mission, I’ve only viewed Mission Movie once but I’m still haunted by one particular scene of the movie. In it, a young woman walks down Mission Street (pretty much the only scene actually shot on Mission Street) and is followed and harassed by a group of stereotypical cholos. The sad truth about Mission Movie is that with the exception of one central character, this is the only time you see young Latino males. For the most part Latino males are depicted as either cute lovable kids or wise and respectable men. Watching it was a like a punch to my Chicano gut; the pain of which I still haven’t forgotten.
If my assessment of movies filmed in the Mission is a little depressing, don’t despair. There is at least one masterpiece out there that’s been filmed in the Mission District. One such work of cinematic excellence is The Wesley’s Mysterious File (and no that’s not a typo the title really is “The Wesley’s Mysterious File”). It’s a Hong Kong production filmed in San Francisco and it makes better use of the city than any other film before or after it.
While some have speculated that The Wesley’s Mysterious File is one of the worst movies ever made; I contend that it’s one of the most fun movies ever made and perhaps the most hilarious movie filmed in San Francisco. Here is the completely nonsensical official synopsis:
Wesley, is responsible for handling all the incidents that relate to extraterrestrial life on Earth. One day, Wesley meets Fong when he is looking at a blue human bone in an antique shop. Fong is an alien from the Blue Blood Planet, she left her home 600 years ago to look for the Blue Blood Bible. Wesley tries to stop Fong going away, the Double X Unit lead by Wai and So is ordered to handle the case. At the same time, Kill and Rape arrive Earth from Blue Blood Planet. They come here to take Fong back to the Blue Blood Planet.
If that’s confusing check out this awesome trailer
Simply put, The Wesley’s Mysterious File is batshit crazy. Its genius is that it takes the Mission District to a place it’s never been before: science fiction. About ten minutes into the film there is a scene in which main character Wesley stumbles onto a residential motel that’s been taken over by zombie-like aliens. The Wesley’s Mysterious File earns its ghetto pass by setting the scene on 15th and Valencia, right across the street from the notorious Valencia Gardens housing project. It doesn’t get much more Mission than that. The scene includes a Mexican stand0ff followed by Wesley and a swat team storming the building and blowing holes in the occupying aliens. Eventually they are overpowered by a massive demonic-looking computer generated creature and the fight breaks out into the streets again. It has to be seen to be believed.
The Wesley’s Mysterious File can be purchased in Chinatown at almost any DVD shop or from Amazon. Mission can also be purchased from Amazon. Mission Movie, thankfully, can’t be found anywhere and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Well, that’s it for now. I’m off to check out La Mission. I will report back with a review later this weekend.