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Mexicans would like to forget this 'Alamo'

Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (04/14/2004)
By Susan Ferriss

This film is getting panned south of the border. Americans 'want to see themselves as Rambos, and this film is no different,' one critic says.

MEXICO CITY -- Growing up near the Texas border, Mexican writer Arturo Ortega Blake used to wear a synthetic coonskin cap and sing along with the 1950s television song about Davy Crockett.

Now, Ortega says, if he were to see pictures of himself decked out like the American adventurer he would burn them.

Ortega reacted much the same way to "The Alamo," the new movie about the San Antonio mission turned fortress, where Hispanic and Anglo Texans were killed in 1836 by Mexican troops urged on by Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

"It's the American way to want to see themselves as Rambos, and this movie is no different," said Ortega, a Mexico City novelist who wrote a scathing review of the movie that was published in the newspaper El Universal after the film's April 7 opening in Mexico.

Texas-born filmmaker John Lee Hancock reportedly intended to include more of a Mexican perspective of the Alamo siege than previous Hollywood productions, especially the 1960 movie starring John Wayne.

But so much Mexican character development was sacrificed to make the movie shorter for commercial release that the film ended up failing to accomplish Hancock's goal, said Frank de la Teja, an adviser on the film and a historian at Texas State University in San Marcos.

Although the characters are condensed, the movie does feature several Tejanos, Spanish-speaking Texans who also wanted to break away from Mexican rule.

Hancock also steps back from past hero worship of Crockett, Jim Bowie and others by reconstituting them as flawed human beings.

Despite these revisions, Ortega and other Mexican critics said the movie whitewashes U.S. ambitions to seize Texas.

Santa Anna, in Ortega's view, was rightly portrayed as venal and a traitor who was willing to give away Texas to save his life. But Ortega was offended by Hancock's portrayal of Mexican troops, who were disciplined enough to have won their independence not long before the Alamo. In the movie, Ortega said, battle-seasoned troops were reduced to "tin soldiers" in awe of Crockett.

"That was ridiculous. They had never heard of Crockett," Ortega said.

Stephen Harrigan, who wrote a novel about the Alamo and advised the filmmakers, said the history surrounding the Alamo is much more complex than many Americans or Mexicans want to accept.

"It wasn't all white guys in coonskin caps fighting against Mexicans," Harrigan said. "It was Mexicans against Mexicans--whether they were Tejanos or Anglo pioneers who had sworn allegiance to Mexico."

Despite the poor reviews in Mexico, some Mexicans who saw "The Alamo" thought it has redeeming qualities.

Mexico City schoolteacher Emma Ligia, for example, thought the film is a welcome departure from the John Wayne version.

"I think it basically went with the facts," Ligia said. "It showed that some of the people at the Alamo were Mexicans who were from Texas, which a lot of Mexicans don't know."