"Pinero" directed by Leon Ichaso
A film review by Robert Waddell
The film "Pinero," directed by Leon Ichaso and starring Benjamin Bratt, flicks back and forth through time using black and white and color shots. The editing and direction are seamless, while the audience gets the clear yet disoriented view of a genius and a junkie.
The film opens with Pinero, author of the play "Short Eyes," copping some junk. It moves from his days in prison, rise as a successful playwright, conflicts within his family and his eventual fall from grace.
"Pinero" has some of the best poetry readings ever caught on film. And Bratt inhabits his character completely. This Bratt is not the pretty-boy from "Law and Order" but a mature actor giving a grown-up performance.
However, with most Hollywood film biographies, it's not what was added but what was left out that gives audiences incomplete pictures of famous people's lives. For example, audiences are given the impression that Pinero, Miguel Algarin, played by Giancarlo Esposito, and Tito Goya were the only original Nuyorican poets.
There's no mention of poets like Pedro Pietri, Jesus Papoleto Melendez, Sandra Maria Esteves or Bimbo Rivas to name a few. At the end of the film, Pietri, Amiri Baraka and the real Algarin appear reading poetry but they are out of context since they were not introduced before in the body of the film.
In fact, Esposito's Algarin looked more like an insurance salesman than a poet. Gone are Algarin's flamboyant mannerisms and vocal gyrations. Esposito looked as if he was calling in his performance from a Delancy street phone booth.
Pinero's bisexuality is hinted at. And vanquished was any notion of pedophilia. In the film, Pinero's love affair with a junkie prostitute looks more Calvin Klein underwear ad than Lower East Side grit. Just another sign that the filmmakers were going more for sanitized style than reality.
The problem with "Pinero," "Ali," and John Nash revived in "A Beautiful Mind," comes when real lives, lives still fresh in many minds become sanitized and Hollywoodized. A filmmaker could have shown all of the negative with all of the positive sides to Pinero's life and still come up with a complete story.
To be sure, Pinero was no Mother Theresa or a complete saint of the streets but by eliminating vital facts gives viewers an incomplete picture. By leaving out vital details, an incomplete picture of the playwright is drawn.
Also, strange that Hollywood depicts a Latino hero as a junkie. Yes, Pinero was a junkie but the stereotypes of how debase Latinos can be must even get tired to Hollywood producers. And again, as in Clint Eastwood's "Bird," here's the poor, creative, person-of-color artist stuck in the dark hole of his demons helping him create and self-destruct both at the same time. Please.
In a time when reality has become the potent and necessary ingredient in television and film, the gatekeepers should have been less protective and more open with the whole truth.