Review: ‘The Lost Reels of Pancho Villa’

In 1914, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa was signed to N.Y.-based Mutual Film Co., agreeing to play himself in a quasi-factual feature, "The Life of Pancho Villa," long since lost. It's the fate of the original film itself that obsesses Gregorio Rocha as he chases its elusive trail. Pic is compromised by Rocha's insistence on placing himself center-stage.

In 1914, Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa was signed to N.Y.-based Mutual Film Co., agreeing to play himself in a quasi-factual feature, “The Life of Pancho Villa,” long since lost. It’s the fate of the original film itself that obsesses Gregorio Rocha as he chases its elusive trail around the globe. Movie-history enthusiasts, among others, will be intrigued by featurette’s quest for a cinematic “Holy Grail.” But pic is compromised by Rocha’s overbearing insistence on placing himself center-stage as a soul-searching sleuth.

This weird early instance of media driving news — the Battle of Ojinaga was apparently fought by daylight for benefit of cameras — was the subject of a recent Showtime dramatic feature toplining Antonio Banderas as you-know-who. “Lost Reels” starts out consulting film historian Kevin Brownlow in London, then travels to various points in Europe, the States and Mexico hunting for leads. En route, Rocha interviews other notables, muses on colonialism, sketches Villa’s career, and finally does discover a couple stores of rare (if partial and damaged) footage. Some of this content fascinates — but helmer’s endless voiceover natterings and constant on-camera presence strike a very indulgent note. Tech aspects are OK.

The Lost Reels of Pancho Villa

Mexico-Canada-U.S.

Production

A Gregorio Rocha/Archivia production in association with Universidad de Guadalajara, UPA and the Banff Center. Produced by Rocha. Executive producers, Sara Diamond, Hector Mendoza. Directed, written by Gregorio Rocha.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DV), Jose Maria Serralde, Ruben Luengas, Edgar Serralde; editors, Craig Anderl, Bernice Ma; music, Horacio Uribe, Raymundo Salazar. English and Spanish dialogue. Reviewed on videocassette, San Francisco, Nov. 24, 2003. (In Margaret Mead Film & Video Festival.) Running time: 55 MIN.

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