“Chicano” is a term for a Mexican American (US born with Mexican ancestry).
El Chicano was and is a band that started in the late 60s as club players called The V.I.Ps (playing after hours at a Japanese restaurant in East Los Angeles) who became popular because of their jazzy approach to Latin rock. This musical approach was really defined by this band, as well as by Santana who started about the same time, and their songs became the anthems for the “Chicano Movement” around the late sixties and early seventies.
This documentary is neatly assembled into three parallel stories, edited so that one follows the other without ever breaking the pattern. The first is that of the band El Chicano’s biographical history as a music group and their involvement with the “Chicano” movement as told by the band members themselves. The second is of the movement itself, told through black and white news footage of the riots, feuds, and events, both political and on the streets. Mexican Americans were fighting for equality and against the injustices they received in society with some focus drawn to some tragic deaths caused by police officers. The parallels made between the movement and the band fit largely because their time-lines are almost identical, with the bands prime years ending at the same time as the movement’s. As well, El Chicano became the musical representatives of said movement so it is only natural that they are tied together so. The band did not act politically, as they are quoted many times as saying that they simply wanted to play music but, as Chicanos themselves, still believe in and where proud to be a part of what was going on around them. It was not uncommon for their crowds to chant Chicano and Mexican pride slogans at their shows.
Speaking of shows, the third story is not really a story at all but is clips of the reunion concert that was assembled for the sake of the documentary, featuring all but two original members (including those that joined partway into the bands career). These clips are viewable in their entirety of the bonus disc.
The interviews are fine but it is made clear right away that El Chicano was not as radical as the documentary may have wanted them to be. The news footage is daunting and paints a harsh portrait, while on the flip-side, the boys are affable and charismatic when reflecting and focusing mainly on the good times they had as musicians (the film spends most of its time on the glory years of their first three albums).
The music is the true highlight of the film. Their stage presence has aged but their music’s energy can still be felt as they play. The solos are exciting and the rhythms infectious. The documentary runs at a very long length, clocking in at 159 minutes total, due to these songs not being cut down by very much, but it feels like it is worth it. Since the documentary is the main attraction, I will speak more fully about the concert, “Live at the Avalon,” in the features section.
The aspect ratio is a respectable 16:9.
A film quality is touch grainy since it was most likely filmed with a digital camera. The interviews can be either a bit bleached by the California sun, and the blacks can have a noticeable coat of digital film over them. This cheaper looking footage actually kind of works for the concert parts. The harsh reds and oranges formed by the lights, as they reflect off of the camera’s lens, makes it look like an actual video from a 70s nightclub. A fitting, albeit accidental, visual tone to set for their reunion.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, which is the choice way to hear the magnificent rhythms of the song portions and concert bonus disc. Also available is a decent Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track for those watching on a regular television setup.
The stereo option still sounds decent but some mixing issues with the guitar become a touch more obvious when the bass and drums cannot hide them as well as they would live or on Surround. This is most likely from the concert’s floor mix and not the DVD.
You can always hear the room, whether it is the crowd or the reverberation of the music, which is not very clean but helps place the viewers into the show. In any case the concert sound is not as slick as it could have been, since the film was very obviously not made on a major budget, but the songs are far more distracting and/or entrancing than any shortcomings the sound may have.
There are no subtitles available.
The bonus material on this disc is lumped all into one single feature option entitled “bonus” that plays through extended parts of the interviews with the four key members of the band then concludes with footage of their rehearsals before the reunion concert. It might have made more sense to separate these or else the rehearsals might be lost to those who might not be interested in the interviews and skip past the “bonus” option altogether. Either way, it is still a joy to listen to these likable gentlemen speak and play.
This is an assembly of choice songs from their reunion concert. It is not the whole show but most of it, so you are still getting a lot for your buck. This is a club not arena show so their is not as much boom to the rhythm section as most concert DVDs, but then again this is also not the main event (although in my eyes it should be). It is the best experience the DVD has to offer.
The maker of this film is clearly a fan, and so the film naturally feels like a fan-film. The assembly is striated with no surprises in store for the audience. The story is simple, but the great music saves it from being boring. It is a long but cozy journey through a respectable band’s humble past, with no leanings of the usual sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll that creates the conflict in the average music documentary. What it all really boils down to is, this DVD is worthwhile if you dig this sort of music (or are curious) as you get a nice best-of taste of a very talented band.