Mixed Blood

(Paul Morrissey, France/USA,1985)


Paul Morrissey‘s film – remarkable in many respects – runs a certain primitivist nostalgia through with a cold blade of catastrophic escalation.

It celebrates, in a certain sense, a believably pure situation of urban warfare: the modern feudalism of gangs and clans in a New York ghetto, well beyond the checks of conventional law and order, and complete with a contemporary embodiment – appropriately twisted – of the all-powerful Lord; for this once, in the figure of Rita La Punta/Marilla Pera, we will have a matriarchal Ms Big (not without precedent, of course – think of Corman’s Bloody Mama [1970] – but exceptionally striking and subversive in the context of mid ’80s cinema).

In a sense, the catastrophe which Mixed Blood traces is more cool than calamitous – more operatively everyday than symbolically millenic. It’s a messy and extreme escalation which miscegenation (‘mixed blood’) induces, but nothing which can’t be returned to an uneasy equilibrium of murderously functional relations. For catastrophe is inscribed and calculated upon at every moment in the unpredictable, trigger-edge transactions of this world.

Power – pure power, absolute killing function, the decisive split second move – resides within and is wielded by individual bodies; and this idea of power (which the film ‘celebrates’ in the sense of conjuring, imagining it) is embodied most particularly in one character, whose name is his function: Juan the Bullet.

One can begin to write the cultural history of a certain genre backwards from the amazing Juan the Bullet. For he, generically speaking, is the deposed Mr Big, acting out in an exaggerated and utterly animalistic way the once glorious functions of the gangster hero and the urban warlord. Juan the Bullet is who the gangster hero becomes now that he has been De Palma’s Scarface (1983) – now that he has completely blown out (Juan is truly like the living dead, the symbolic phantom of a genre). But that blow-out has not been singular but gradual and historical, subject to all kinds of revisions, raidings, reversals and wish-fulfilment nostalgia operations along the line of the genre.

OTHER fables of male power: The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, Brother, Extreme Prejudice

© Adrian Martin December 1987

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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