“Narco cinema” offers B-movie depiction of “life” in Mexico

Mexico is famous for many things: tequila, a glorious cuisine, gracious people, beautiful beaches, puking spring breakers. Unfortunately, in the last year, the beleaguered nation is getting more attention than usual for its vicious drug cartels. Although the violence isn’t directed at tourists, fear is a powerful thing. Tourism- especially in Baja-has dropped drastically, further devastating an already impoverished country.

But. In the last decade, talented Mexican filmmakers such as Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Amores Perros”) and Alfonso Cuarón (“Y tu mamá también”) have made a major impact worldwide, proving that new Mexican cinema is a force to be reckoned with. Unbeknownst to most of the global market, however, Mexico is importing something way more awesome than Gael Garcia Bernal flicks (you’re still my boy, Gael) and coke: narco cinema.

VBS.TV broadband television co-founder Shane Smith visited Texas, Tijuana, and Mexico City to explore the films inspired, and often funded by, Mexico’s drug cartels, a genre known as narco cinema. Smith went so far as to talk himself into a role as an extra in one film, after outfitting himself in the requisite endangered animal-skin cowboy boots, Western-style suit, and cowboy hat. Fledgling narcos might want to consider investing in designer Miguel Caballero’s bullet-proof clothing line.

Smith also explored the musical equivalent of narco cinema. “Narcocorridos” are often the basis for the films. They’re reworked versions of traditional Mexican Revolutionary songs, but if musicians get careless and sing in the wrong territory or about the wrong person, they get whacked. According to a source interviewed by Smith, there have been 25 musicians murdered in Mexico since 2007, most of them narcocorridos.

According to VBS, Mexico is considered the superhighway of drugs entering North America. It supplies most of the coke, meth, marijuana, and poppy derivatives consumed in the United States, and today the Mexican drug trade is a $100-billion-a-year industry. Approximately 30 percent of that is reportedly repurposed to bribe government officials and law enforcement.

Smith explains that drug culture has infiltrated Mexican society, from religion (there’s a patron saint of drug trafficking) and music, to film. Narco cinema came about in the 1980s, inspired by the B-movie tradition of the Mexican cinema of the ’60s and ’70s. The genre is Quentin Tarantino meets Sergio Leon: extreme carnage, guns, big trucks and hats, explosions, slutty women, and drugs. Because 82 percent of the Mexican population can’t afford to see mainstream theater releases, cheap, straight-to-video accessibility have helped narco cinema become increasingly popular. Mexicans of all ages now watch these films, as something of a national pastime. Better that than DWTS, I say.