Calabacitas Tiernas

Tribute to Mexican Film Comic TinTan at the Ford Amphitheatre, July 12

By Delia Lopez
Published on LatinoLA: July 12, 2005

Calabacitas Tiernas

The Latin American Cinemateca of Los Angeles pays tribute to one of Mexico?s most beloved film comics, Germ?n Valdez (Tin Tan) with a special one-night screening of his most enduring work, the 1948 musical comedy, Calabacitas tiernas, at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on Tuesday, July 12 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by logging on to www.fordamphitheatre.org, or by calling the Ford Box Office at 323- GO 1-FORD (461-3673).

The Latin American Cinemateca is pleased to present at the Anson Ford Amphitheatre Calabacitas tiernas, one of the best musical comedies of Mexico's Golden Age, starring Germ?n Valdez, or rather "Tin Tan," the name of his famous and still very modern screen character. Like Mario Moreno, "Cantinflas," or Nin? Marshall, "Catita," in Argentina, Germ?n Valdez belongs to the pantheon of great Latin American comedians of the forties and fifties who brought to the screen a unique comic persona, based on a type of humor that was primarily oral, relied on parody and the portrayal of popular characters, used as a vehicle for amiable social satire.

Mining his experiences as a radio announcer, impersonator and comic actor in touring tent shows, or "carpas," the character of Tin Tan initially embodied the attributes of the pachuco, the Americanized Mexican whose flamboyant fashion statements (baggy pants and long jackets) and use of Spanish and English slang turned him into an object of derision south of the border. Valdez made his film debut in the mid-forties, hitting his stride in Calabacitas tiernas, which marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with director Gilberto Mart?nez Solares and screenwriter Juan Garc?a. Calabacitas tiernas and El rey del barrio, released in 1949, are considered Tin Tan's best films.

In Calabacitas tiernas, Tin Tan's pachuco characteristics and comic routine, rooted in the clash of cultures of the Mexican-U.S. border - much like the music of Lalo Guerrero and Los Lobos - morphed into that of the street-wise p?caro of Mexico City. Tin Tan is a con man, likeable, flirtatious, impudent and remarkably incompetent at making an honest (and dishonest) living. His verbal skills - sprinkled with English phrases and allusions to American popular culture - and daring schemes lead him to impersonate a nightclub impresario. Writing checks left and right, spending the money the real (and bankrupt) producer doesn't have, Tin Tan puts together the hottest musical show in town, toplined by a Brazilian bombshell, a sultry rumba dancer from Cuba and a flamenco child singer from Spain (The "pumpkins" of the title allude to these Hispanic singers and dancers). Tin Tan himself sings and dances his way in and out of trouble - with creditors and these demanding musical ladies - while falling in love with a beautiful and no-nonsense maid, who sees through his deception. Mixing boleros and boogie-woogie, the romantic and the salacious, the protagonist raises the comic temperature with hilarious monologues delivered at breakneck speed, some delivered to his double on a mirror, and sketches aimed at deflating pomposity and middle-class manners. The film plays with Latin American female stereotypes, in a crescendo of lunacy and clich?s. Like the ending of El rey del barrio, the world of this p?caro will return to its hinges only after a loving wife, has roped him into the corral of domesticity. For how long? The audience can't help but wonder...

In his observations on the style and meaning of Mexico's two greatest comic actors, the famed cultural critic Carlos Monsiv?is notes that the source of Tin Tan and Cantinflas' art is based on the contrasting social worlds projected by these comedians - who, one might add, like Chaplin's Tramp, became their characters: Tin Tan, a carefree soul, is forever aspiring to be modern and 'hip'; while Cantinflas, an urban proletarian of natural wit, becomes the symbol of those forever marginalized. Monsiv?is concludes his essay, however, by stressing their similarities: "Their social satire was launched with incredible accuracy and great insight into the sentimentalism of their audiences. Celebrated actors seemingly without anything in common, and legendary icons in different ways, Tin Tan and Cantinflas are still today the greatest reference points for a multigenerational audience who learned to laugh while watching them and who, in revering them, smile triumphantly as if they just saw them at yesterday's fiesta."

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