Saturday, August 4, 2007

El Cantante

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: J-Lo Back in Bittersweet Bio-Pic about Seventies Salsa Singer

At the age of 17, Hector Juan Perez Martinez (1946-1993) dropped out of high school and emigrated to the U.S. from Ponce, Puerto Rico in pursuit of the American Dream. Upon his arrival in New York City, the aspiring singer was disappointed to see that the streets of Spanish Harlem were simply paved with asphalt instead of gold. Since the barrio failed to measure up to his expectations, he decided to move in with his sister, Priscilla (Romi Dias), who had an apartment in the Bronx.
Because he was blessed with such a gifted voice, Hector was able to land a gig as the front man for a sextet within a week. But it would be for another four years before he would change his last name to Lavoe (aka “The Voice”) and collaborate with trombonist Willie Colon on some groundbreaking salsa albums for Johnny Pacheco’s new Latino record label, Fania Records.
The association would catapult them to superstardom in Nuyorican and Spanish-speaking circles, however, Hector was ill-prepared to handle his newfound status as an overnight sensation. Despite marrying Nilsa Rosado, the mother of one of his young sons, in 1969, he kept up his boozing and womanizing behind her back.
Worse, he began to shoot drugs intravenously which speeded the trajectory of his downfall. Ultimately, he became so unreliable, that Willie Colon abandoned the band and retired. It wasn’t long after the arrival of AIDS in the early Eighties, that Hector discovered that he was HIV-positive. Meanwhile, he went broke and his son was shot to death by a friend. So, it’s no surprise that he eventually attempted to commit suicide by leaping off a ninth floor terrace. What is shocking is that he even failed in that endeavor.
One would think that Hollywood would have a hard time successfully turning the life of such a loser into a romantic love story, but that’s exactly what we have with El Cantante, a bittersweet bio-pic starring Marc Antony as the ill-fated Salsa pioneer. Marc’s real-life wife, Jennifer Lopez, co-stars as Nilsa, though he only refers to her as Puchi, a nickname which might be a bad word in Espanol.
In fact, my only complaint about the film is that there were no subtitles accompanying about half the Spanish dialogue. As a result, I distinctly felt left out at those moments when the audience would laugh or otherwise react and I had no idea what had just been said.
El Cantante flourishes because of the outstanding performances on the part of Lopez and Antony, who throw themselves into the roles wholeheartedly in what was obviously a labor of love. Plus, the picture achieves much more than simply chronicling Hector’s checkered career and shaky relationship with his cranky, coke-addicted spouse. For it simultaneously serves as a reminder of all the great Latin sounds created in the Seventies not just by Lavoe and Willie Colon, but by their equally-talented colleagues with names like Ray Baretto, Eddie Palmieri, Cheo Feliciano, Mongo Santamaria, Joe Bataan and Larry Harlow.
Certain to evoke a few tears from Fania fans with feelings of nostalgia for the bygone era.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity.
In Spanish and English, but only partially subtitled.
Running time: 116 minutes
Studio: Picturehouse

4 comments:

Daniel said...

can't wait to see this movie
thanks for the review

Anonymous said...

The Creators of El Cantante missed an opportunity to do something of
relevance for our community. The real story was about Hector fighting
the obstacles of a non-supportive industry that took advantage of
entertainers with his charisma and talent. Instead they did another movie about two
Puerto Rican junkies. The impact of drugs in the entertainment industry is
nothing new; look at Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Whitney Houston
today.

I think Hector deserves the recognition the movie pretended to give him.
However, as someone who advised the producers, it's painfully obvious that
they didn't understand what made him so important. It was the music. It was
his talent. They didn't understand or respect the true importance of our
music to people around the world. It's difficult to comprehend how two
individuals who are in the music business like Marc and Jennifer are not aware of the damage
and the consequences of promoting only the negative side of our Latin music
culture.

I was disappointed that there wasn't minimal efforts to correct what I felt were serious chronological and factual errors. Similarly, the wrong story was
told in The Capeman with disastrous economic consequences.

After the premier of El Cantante in Puerto Rico there were several statements of protest by people who had supported and participated in the project until
they saw it.

Their complaints were not about sour grapes or J-lo and Marc bashing but
from a sense of betrayal and disappointment. We are all invested in the world that this movie
represents.

For many of us the hope of our story finally being told sank into the horizon with the
final version of this film.

Willie Colon

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

The movie was FANTASTIC…they DESERVE OSCAR NOMINATIONS. Jennifer’s BEST work to date. I live in Aventura Florida which is a predominantly Caucasian community and it was quite packed on a August 6th Monday night. When it was over EVERYONE got up and CLAPPED!!!! That’s how
AMAZING AND EMOTIONAL this movie is. I AM PROUD OF JENNIFER
LOPEZ...PROUD OF MARC ANTHONY AND PROUD TO BE PUERTO RICAN. Everybody
else is simply jealous of two successful powerful growing Puerto Rican influences. Together they are a TRUE POWERHOUSE and deserve more respect than what those bashing critics give them. If the Latin community LEARNED how to support each other better instead of tear each other down every chance that someone rises, life in America would be much better and much more opportunity and respect would be shared by all. BUT the ignorance that comes from hating or jealousy is such a way of life for so many "latinos" that it clouds their ability to see there is a better way to live and you start by supporting your people not by putting them down or their work down. The truth depends on everyones own perspective of life. Everyone lives a different truth according to the circumstances of their life and their life situation. This movie was being narrarated by PUCCHI...Hector Lavoes Wife's PERSPECTIVE. If Hector Lavoe or Willie Colon would have narrarated the story I am sure we would have had a VERY different movie. In any case it is SUPERB! I applaud J.Lo and Marc Anthony and I have a newfound respect for both.