Five years after Carlos Valdes produced “Simply Tin-Tan” — a fairly comprehensive docu-portrait of his father, the great late Mexican comic actor and movie star known universally as Tin-Tan — his sister Rosalia has produced her own account, with director-editor-lenser Francesco Taboada and writer-researcher Aldo Jimenez. Beyond some sweet anecdotes from a bountiful number of surviving members of the actor’s core ensemble, “Tin-Tan” adds little to the record about one of cinema’s most brilliant funnymen and improvisers. The perennially popular Tin-Tan always translates into good biz, and the doc should perform in ancillary.
Over a dozen of Tin-Tan’s colleagues and former players serve as guides on this walk down memory lane, as they recount the comic’s successful career, starting at the bottom in Ciudad Juarez and — in a case of talent dovetailing with great timing — shooting to the heights of the Mexican movie golden era from the 1930s to the 1950s. Tin-Tan was, by all accounts (especially those of his glamorous co-stars, including Yolanda Montez, Silvia Pinal and Rosalia Julian, one of Tin-Tan’s string of wives), a charmer, a gentleman and a generous friend — few movie stars in any language have left behind such a legacy of affection among his fellow collaborators.
Still, despite a huge supply of (cleverly edited) clips from 49 of Tin-Tan’s 106 features, the film never includes a single mention of those behind the camera with whom the comic worked as closely as with his fellow players. The names of directors Gilberto Martinez Solares and Fernando Cortes, both of whom helmed scores of Tin-Tan movies and who receive suitable mention in “Simply Tin-Tan,” appear here only in fine print in the closing credit roll.
Taboada (“Pancho Villa,” “The Last Zapatistas”), one of Mexican film’s top chroniclers, includes the commentary and analysis of author Carlos Monsivais and enthusiastic Tin-Tan biographer Fritz Glockner, who plumbs the essence of the comic’s persona as a pachuco, the stylish figure out of Mexican-American culture whose Spanglish lingo and ultra-hip couture raised the hackles of Anglos in the U.S. and traditionalists in Mexico.
Non-Mexican viewers new to the Tin-Tan phenomenon may notice in the comic’s extraordinary ability to improvise, clown and deliver physically exaggerated antics traces of Jerry Lewis, as well as a certain resemblance to Ernie Kovacs and some of the antic singing of Louis Prima — all huge 1950s stars after Tin-Tan had long made his mark. To what extent Tin-Tan influenced Hollywood is something neither “Tin-Tan” nor its filmic predecessor explores.
Taboada’s shooting is mediocre at best, but his and Jimenez’s editorial selection of clips is ingeniously assembled to play off of the talking-heads commentary.