A director without borders
Thursday, January 18, 2007View full version
On May 1, Alejandro González Iñárritu skipped out on the final mix of his film "Babel" to take his family to the immigration rallies in downtown Los Angeles. While his absence might have given heartburn to the production staff hurtling to get the Brad Pitt-Cate Blanchett film ready for the Cannes Film Festival, to González Iñárritu, it was worth it.
"It was like Simon Bolivar's dream -- people from all over Latin America," says the 42-year-old Mexican director. "I didn't feel any rage or any anger. It just felt like 'Hey, you depend on us. We depend on you. We have to work together.' "
Talent is the one universal passport, and Hollywood has always had a place for immigrants -- from German maestro Fritz Lang, who headed west when Hitler's minister of propaganda pressured him to take over Germany's top studio, to Polish Roman Polanski, who directed Los Angeles' definitive film noir, "Chinatown," and Taiwan-born Ang Lee, who became the first nonwhite to win an Academy Award for directing "Brokeback Mountain."
González Iñárritu, whose riveting first film, "Amores Perros" (2000), was nominated for a foreign language Oscar, moved here five years ago as he began working on "21 Grams." He thinks in Spanish and writes with his longtime collaborator, Guillermo Arriaga, in Spanish, which is then translated into English.
From its genesis, Hollywood has thrived on creative outsiders. Almost all the studios were founded by immigrants, from the Russian Louis B. Mayer to the Hungarians William Fox and Adolph Zukor. In the '20s, their nascent businesses lured F.W. Murnau and Ernst Lubitsch, already stars of the European cinema. In the '30s came many Jews fleeing Hitler.
With the affectionate but detached perspective of the newly arrived, the immigrants famously reimagined America, from Otto Preminger's definitive courtroom drama "Anatomy of a Murder" to Fred Zinnemann's paeans to Americana, "High Noon" and "Oklahoma!," to Billy Wilder's witty deconstructions of Hollywood ("Sunset Boulevard") and the media ("Ace in the Hole").
González Iñárritu says his latest film was influenced by his own experience of being "a Third World citizen living in a First World country."