December 20, 2012

Mixed Blood (1985)

This article on Mixed Blood (1985) originally appeared on tcm.com and is reprinted with permission.


"...you must always do what your mother tells you, you hear? Always." - Rita (Marília Pêra) to her son, Thiago (Richard Ulacia).

Director Paul Morrissey returns to the same territory he chronicled in his earlier films Flesh (1968) and Trash (1970) - the squalid existence of criminals, drug users and various low-lifes living in New York City. Mixed Blood (1985) is a new chapter focusing on the drug dealers and subsequent drug war between two rival gangs in NYC's Alphabet City (the Lower East Side); The "Master Dancers" led by Juan the "Bullet" and the "Maceteros" led by the indomitable and feisty Rita La Punta.

The character driven film centers primarily on Rita's "family", one which consists of her beautiful and devoted son, Thiago, and a large group of underage boys that she recruits to do her criminal bidding. She enlists her boys young so that they can kill without the worry of them serving jail time. The character of Rita is endlessly fascinating and Brazilian actress Marília Pêra is an absolute marvel in the role. She alternates between loving mother figure to her "boys" (in one amusing scene, the idea of motherhood is spoofed when Rita tells one of her boys to take out the trash – "Do it now or no television!") and executing her ruthless duties as the reigning drug queen. This role is so perfect, so unique and complex on so many levels that one is reminded of some elaborate Shakespearean female character along the lines of Lady Macbeth mixed with the violent criminal streak found in Ma Barker complete with the blind devotion of her son and surrogate "children". It's a fantastic character and one that absolutely holds the film together
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Similarly, the film, like Rita's character, changes tone and mood from scene to scene. One minute it's jet black comedy, the next, followed by shocking violence. For example, the film's best and most joyous sequence is the scene at Rita's grandchild's christening, where she sings and dances around to a rendition of Carmen Miranda's "Tico Tico". It's lively! Vivacious! Only to be followed a couple of minutes later by a violent infiltration and shootout between the "Dancers" and the "Maceteros." It's on this unpredictable balance that the film succeeds. Even the mix of acting styles, amateur alongside professional, adds to this uneasy mix.

Also of note is the palpable atmosphere of the film. The viewer can almost feel the grime and smell the dank living conditions that lay amongst the maze-like back alleys and graffiti-covered, abandoned tenements of Alphabet City. The flavorful Latin soundtrack also adds a distinctive touch to the film. With all of these elements "mixed" together, flaws and all, we come away with a film that can definitely be considered one of Paul Morrissey's best films.

The DVD from Image Entertainment provides no supplemental materials save for a brief commentary track by director Paul Morrissey that plays over an extensive gallery of behind-the-scenes photographs of the film. Morrissey mentions that this is his favorite film and goes into great detail in describing the casting for the film as well as his inspiration for the story, one which was lifted directly from the headlines of NYC newspapers at the time.