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Film / And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself

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A 2003 HBO original movie written by Larry Gelbart and directed by Bruce Beresford.

Running short of money for The Mexican Revolution, General Pancho Villa (Antonio Banderas) approaches Hollywood filmmaker D. W. Griffith (Colm Feore) to make a movie about his life. Griffith sends the young Frank Thayer (Eion Bailey) to strike a deal in which the needs of war and truth must give way to the rules of entertainment.


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This film contains the following tropes:

  • Action Girlfriend: Villa has one as his mistress.
  • Artistic License – History: In-Universe; Pancho Villa isn’t happy about the changes made to his Back Story.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Drebin loses an arm.
  • Autobiographical Role: Pancho Villa does a cameo As Himself at the end of The Life Of General Villa, as an elderly ruler in Mexico City after the Revolution has been won, pondering Was It Really Worth It?. The answer is yes, of course, to save his beloved Mexico from tyranny!
  • Badass Bandolier: Of course, it’s Pancho Villa!
  • Bathtub Bonding: Villa and Thayer in a rock pool.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Frank Thayer decides it’s not a bad thing to be a “footnote to a legend”.
  • Big Damn Heroes: In The Life of General Villa, the title character charges in to save his family from rape by the evil Federals. The real Villa implies he wasn't so lucky.
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  • Book-Ends: Thayer and his cameraman miss the opportunity to film Villa acting Just Like Robin Hood. So they set up the camera when it looks like the same thing will happen again, only to witness Villa Boom, Headshot! a grieving widow after she spits on him.
  • Broken Pedestal: Thayer regards Villa as a heroic revolutionary, but seeing him coldly execute a grieving widow changes his mind.
  • Child Soldier: Villa conscripts children into his army. Which doesn’t stop the moviemakers from lambasting the Federals for shooting them.
  • Death Glare: A journalist tells Thayer that Villa will kill a man just for looking at him. When Thayer is sent to negotiate with Villa, he keeps avoiding his gaze until Villa complains that he can’t trust a man who won’t look him in the eye.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: This film came out at a time when the media coverage of the First Gulf War was being criticised for having more entertainment value than accurate reporting.
  • Don't Tell Mama: Drebin tells Thayer not to let his mother know what business he’s in.
  • Double Entendre: When Drebin recruits the prostitutes as extras he quips, “Ladies, this work you do standing up.”
  • Double Standard: The Life Of General Villa emphasises that Federal troops have killed women and children – never mind those same women and children were armed rebels attacking them at the time.
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal: After Thayer sees Villa execute the widow, he tears off the medal Villa gave him and throws it at Villa’s feet.
  • Dyeing for Your Art (In-Universe): Villa muses that the woman sent to play his mother is blonde. She’s a brunette for the movie, of course.
  • Firing Squad: Villa throws a scare into the actors and producers with a fake execution.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Villa's image is changed by the filmmakers for Rule of Drama and to make him more acceptable to American audiences. He’s portrayed as a landowner to alleviate concerns that he’s a socialist revolutionary, and the scene where he murders a grieving woman is not included in the movie.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Literally! Villa originally intends to attack Torreon with the sun behind his troops, so the Federal defenders will be Blinded by the Light. But that means the cameras can’t film the attack. So his troops charge towards the sun and get massacred by the Federals who can see them clearly. Villa then attacks at night, promising to recreate the battle for the cameras the next day.
  • Horseback Heroism:
    • Villa is skeptical about Raoul Walsh, the American actor sent to portray him, and so the two men compete in showing off their horseriding and shooting skills. Fortunately Walsh is good enough to satisfy Villa.
    • During the train ambush, Thayer sets up his cameras under fire, points them back at the train and shouts "ACTION!" Cue Villa and his cavalry riding out of the rail cars straight into battle.
  • Improvised Armour: Wheat bags are used to protect the bulky hand-cranked cameras and their exposed operators.
  • Ironic Echo: Thayer says “Onward and upward” on seeing his love interest Teddy Sampson gracing the arm of someone higher up the Horrible Hollywood hierarchy.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The idea of a movie lasting more than an hour.
  • Large Ham: Any of the actors in The Life of General Villa, which was a necessity in a Silent Movie.
  • Private Military Contractors: Sam Drebin
  • Reality Is Unrealistic:
    • The initial footage of Villa’s ragtag army is treated with derision by potential investors. So the moviemakers provide uniforms, hire an actor to play Pancho Villa, and start inventing scenes for Rule of Drama.
    • A scene is filmed of the gallant rebels returning home to the enthusiastic greeting of their womenfolk. Only the women are shy and awkward on camera, so prostitutes are used instead.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized
    "You know what it is to say to a whole country: 'Let me make everything that's wrong, right for you. Let me carry you all on my shoulders.'? Eventually you begin to resent the weight."
  • Retraux: As there are only a few clips and publicity shots left from The Life Of General Villa (which was lost forever in a studio fire) scenes were recreated for the movie.
  • Shoot the Television: Villa is shown a newsreel of President Diaz giving a Balcony Speech, promising the crowd he'll destroy Villa, who draws his pistol and puts a bullet through the screen, right over Diaz's head.
  • Show Within a Show: The Silent Movie The Life of General Villa.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Thanks to The Life Of General Villa, Pancho Villa continues to serve as an inspiration for the Mexican people after his assassination.
  • Spiteful Spit = Boom, Headshot!
  • Tempting Fate: The rebels are issued with surplus Confederate uniforms from the American Civil War, which the Americans hope isn't a bad omen, given that they lost.
  • War for Fun and Profit: Villa is able to finance his revolution, and gets favorable publicity to counter the press campaign being run against him by the Hearst media empire. In turn D. W. Griffith gets the first feature-length movie.
  • William Telling: During his stunt-riding contest with Raoul Walsh, Villa swings under his horse's neck and fires a bullet through the tip of a cigar held in someone's mouth. Then he does it a second time.
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