Adapted from his own play of the same name, Valdez's Brechtian musical, "Zoot Suit," is a semi-factual account of Los Angeles' 1942 anti-Chicano Zoot Suit Riots that followed the corrupt convictions of several Latino barrio leaders -- teenagers sentenced to San Quentin for a murder at Sleepy Lagoon they didn't commit. The flick is good agit-prop for the wronged Chicanos and the two lawyers who worked to win their release, In straightforward narrative set in a filmed production of Valdez's drama, as staged on revolving sets (shown inter-cut with audience reactions), the clever, busy staging, sad to say, isn't as sharp on film as it was on the stage, and viewers will rightly be annoyed when the camera cuts off dancers' legs. Another weakness it that the dialogue, influenced by Clifford Odets, unconsciously links Valdez's characters' morality to how well they speak English.
But, Valdez's 1981 "Zoot Suit" is far better than a recent television movie with a similar name ("The Zoot Suit Riots"), was underrated, and is a welcome addition to DVD. As did the play, it takes a poetic, philosophical look to the historic riots that shook Los Angeles in the 1940s. The Voice of Pachuco Consciousness (Olmos) gives a sinister, athletic performance that highlights a rising torrent of unanswered theories about what actually took place. Olmos's role as a Greek Chorus of one haunts and infects his audience's conscience with style, wit, and irony, and made Olmos a star, as the DVD reminds us. But Universal didn't put enough into the DVD. The movie still shines with David Myers's cinematography, but doesn't glow as it did in cinemas. Nuanced lighting and carefully-created shadows bridged the movie and stage productions but are weakened by the hasty video transfer, and the audio should also have been re-mastered. Such shortcuts don't wholly harm the movie, but they don't help a worthy film find all the new admirers it rightly deserves.
Luis Valdez (from his play, Zoot Suit)
Edward James Olmos, Tyne Daly, Greg Muskewitz, John Anderson, Charles Adiman, Daniel Valde
Pachuco, zoot suits, Chicano murders, 1942, Olmos, revolving
English with some Spanish Reviewer's Name:
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