Chintz curtains in the abattoir by BERNARD TRAFFORD

A news story earlier this week both surprised me and raised questions in my mind by linking Hollywood with organised crime. It concerned Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Mexican drug baron recently recaptured by Mexican police: he had escaped from jail after his henchmen spent something over $1 million digging a tunnel from the prison showers. It’s the stuff of which movies are made, you might say: well, you might, and that’s the point.
Don’t get confused here. This isn’t a Count of Monte Cristo, Great Escape or Shawshank Redemption. Guzman was no innocent hero, unjustly imprisoned. He was, and remains, a gangster running a massive network of thugs and enforcers, let alone dealers who wreck lives, and presumably waiting to enjoy a fortune stashed away somewhere, all funded by his drugs trade.

Nonetheless, it appears some people, at any rate, feel that his story is indeed the stuff of which movies are made. He was re-arrested last week, so the Sunday Times reported, because police tracked Hollywood actor Sean Penn who conducted a seven-hour interview with him for Rolling Stone magazine while he was in hiding: during the interview Guzman revealed that he was in discussions with producers about making a movie of his life.
It could make a heartrending story. As a boy El Chapo grew up in such poverty that the only way to make a living was through the drugs trade. He’s not a violent man, he says. Indeed, he never employs violence except to defend himself. Moreover, he has a perfect and loving relationship with his mother. That’s all right then. Prepare to weep over the touching rags-to-riches story of a boy born on the wrong side of the tracks who made himself rich: no matter that he murders, extorts and, through the drugs he produces and sells right across the States, destroys lives. Just the stuff for Hollywood, really.
Two questions strike me about this story. First, how did Sean Penn find Guzman when it seems the authorities couldn’t? Penn might describe his interview as justifiable investigative journalism. He claimed in Rolling Stone magazine that Guzman had given him a list of American financial institutions that were laundering his money: but he declined to name them. Does he style himself as some kind of do-gooder (the report called him an activist), and did that legitimise his consorting with a criminal wanted in the USA as well as Mexico? I find that a hard one to swallow, in truth.
Second, how the hell could anyone think it acceptable for Hollywood to make a movie about a convicted drugs lord? I know, I know: plenty of films have been made about famous crimes, even horrific ones. They made a film about the Great Train Robbery, playing down the injury to the train driver who was beaten over the head and never fully recovered. Bonny and Clyde, in its day, was a smash hit, somehow managing to romanticise the two amoral young lovers who embarked on a rampage of robbery and murder.
Hollywood: getting things back to front
It’s all about Hollywood megabucks: the sheer adrenalin of colossally risky investment in search of even greater profits drives movie moguls to seek ever more sensational subject matter. Those who found the whole idea of filming The Great Train Robbery and Bonnie and Clyde distasteful had a point. But at least both films finished with retribution meted out to the wrongdoers: prison for the train robbers; a hail of bullets for the two young killers.
The victims of Guzman’s perfidy either live on in wrecked lives, or their grieving bereaved relatives still weep for them. To make entertainment (for that’s what the movie industry is) out of the tawdry life of a murderer and drug-runner, particularly if it includes his risible attempt at self-justification, is both inappropriate and disgusting.
I cannot resist quoting that long-gone veteran columnist Bernard Levin’s vicious denunciation of Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Evita: he titled it The cracked mirror of our times. To create a show from the life of Eva Peron was, he said, as appropriate as hanging chintz curtains in an abattoir.


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