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"Piñero" tells the story of the explosive life of a Latino icon, the poet-playwright-actor Miguel Piñero, whose urban poetry is recognized as a pre-cursor to rap and hip-hop. After doing time in hard-core Sing-Sing for petty thefts and drug dealing, Piñero's prison experiences developed into the 1974 Tony-nominated play Short Eyes. The resulting notoriety and fame was too much for the Latino bad-boy genius who retreated to the darker corners of New York City. Written by
The music is very much a character in filmmaker Leon Ichaso's "Piñero"
The film Piñero is poetry in itself. The film's music - the songs, the beat of the tunes, the score - is very much an integral character in the telling of the life and times of Miguel Piñero. It is really energetic in spite of the grim aspects of Piñero's life. Writer-director Leon Ichaso put together a structured montage of Piñero's biographic snapshots with his works: plays, TV dramas, poetry readings, intermingled with signs of the times of 60s, 70s news clips: Nixon stepping out of Air Force One, Reagan dodging his assassination attempt on his life, image of Ayatollah and political crowds.
A brief lifetime of 41 years (Piñero was born December 1946, died June 1988) delivered in a most artistic, poetic, and musical way with the right mix and pacing - almost too fast as Piñero himself disappeared as life ends. Yet it was probably a full life in spite of it all: had a tenacious nurturing single mother, streetwise boyhood with abuse experiences, drug addictions, a heavy smoker, a thief in and out of prison life, and a poet, playwright, actor, co-founder of the Nuyorican Poet's Café with dear friend Miguel Algarín. The film goes back and forwards between life on the streets, scenes in a prison, scenes on a stage, and poetry exchange on rooftops, to Piñero alone and with strangers (what would happen if he did get a kidney transplant?) To him, life is a stage, a play, a poem and very much vice versa.
Bravo to writer-director Leon Ichaso! Technically behind the scenes: film editor David Tedeschi - the exquisite seamless Black and White scenes immediately followed by color scenes and continuously in and out of color and B/W - it's amazing! Along with the selection of lively Latin songs and the film score by Kip Hanrahan, Claudio Chea's cinematography, no doubt, adds to this ensemble piece of work. The talented group of actors (with Giancarlo Esposito as Miguel Algarin, Talisa Soto as Sugar, Rita Moreno as Miguel's mother, Mandy Patinkin as Joe Papp) complement Benjamin Bratt's brilliant portrayal of Miguel Piñero - heart-warming in spite of the dark shades of Piñero's life. It's great to be able to see Bratt in a role that he can truly stretch and show his soulful acting.
I thoroughly appreciate the film in all its fullness - wholeness. Somehow reminds me of Clint Eastwood's "Bird" 1988 (also a brilliant portrayal by Forest Whitaker as Charlie Parker, with a memorable heart-wrenching performance from Diane Venora as Chan, Parker's wife), a hard medicine (not easy to swallow) film of a Jazz genius, also short-lived (born 1920, died 1955); 160 mins. long but worth seeing.
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