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Pepe Arciga

July 25, 2007 |  8:23 pm

1957_arcigaJuly 25, 1957

Superlatives, to be frank, don't come easy to anyone about to comment on the true merits of most bullfight filming efforts.

In months past, Hollywood movie makers have pulled pretty hefty boo-boos when confronted with the challenge of putting on film the essence of bullfighting. Their attempts, however worthy, have always fallen short because of one inescapable fact:

Bullfighting is tragedy, it is art, it is brutality, it is savagery, it is a rite of sublime expressions all rolled into a neat little package of splendor. This, so it seems, Hollywood cannot capture, at least commercially.

Last Friday, at the Vagabond Theater, Columbia Pictures released a documentary-biography based on the life of Luis Procuna called "Torero." All done in black and white.

Most of it was shot in Mexico by an international crew of more than half a dozen photographers of various nationalities.

Produced by the Barbachano organization and directed by Carlos Velo, we have in our hands, beyond possible doubt, the most powerful attempt yet made to put on celluloid the shockingly conflicting things about bullfighting.

In a roundabout way, it also is the the most clear-cut filmed version on what is, really, the Mexican "school" of tauromachy.

Luis Procuna and Silverio Perez are, or rather have been, the best two exponents of such a school, such techniques.

1957_0725_torero In "Torero," you see why topflight Mexican matadors--in this case Procuna--always either were capable of sending crowds into pitches of ecstasy or putting the look of lynchers in their eyes.

You are to see, as well, the unrehearsed scene of a matador's face twisted by an incredible panic which tells him that it is madness to try to make another pass.

Veteran of at least three feature-length Mexican movies, Luis Procuna, as photogenic as they come and possessor of the friendliest grin in bullfighting, gives an effortless performance as various cameras catch him in the role of playful father, devoted husband, maniacally inspired bullfighter, brazenly cowardly, idol, etc.

You will see, for brief seconds, the faces of people who make and kill toreros.

You will see, as well, the basic differences which characterize Mexican and Spanish bullfighting--the Mexicans being suicidal, gay, supremely dramatic; the Spaniards masterful, mechanical and sophisticated even when bouncing, like balls, over the bull's horns.

There are many memorable scenes which will be hard to forget. Particularly one of the very last sequences in which Luis Procuna, with his admirable muleta, drives 60,000 hoarse-throated yelling fans into complete submission.

When shirt-sleeved fans pour into the circle of sand to carry off the triumphant Procuna on top of their shoulders, they don't stop to look at the bull. In the beast's hump is the sword embedded to the hilt.

As Procuna is carried off bodily, suddenly, at the bottom of the screen, you see the bull stagger to his feet momentarily and then, plump, the beautiful animal falls dead with legs kicking.

This scene is revealing because it proves, once and for all, that true aficionados are more concerned with artistry of the cape, the banderillas and the muleta than having a torero execute the perfect kill.

And don't be surprised if momentarily you get carried away and shout, from left field, all kinds of bravos. I did. To be frank, I wasn't a bit embarrassed by it at all when the lights were turned on.

And when the lights were turned on, what was it that I saw? That the greater number of patrons were men and women in their early 20s. Significant. Very significant.

Carlos Vera Cañitas, Félix Guzmán and Luis Procuna, 1941