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Pancho Villa

February 14th, 2012 · No Comments

Lauren Bowie, Sam Foster, Becca Sear, Nick Farr
And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (2003)
15 February 2012
Director Bruce Bereford

Analyzing “And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself”

Collision of Media, Power and Greed

An extremely important television movie, And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, gives us insight into the collaboration of the American media corporation. The film follows the life of Mexican bandit and revolutionary general José Doroteo Arango Arámbula, better known as Francisco Pancho Villa.

The movie is set in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution. Pancho Villa found himself in an unlikely situation.  Without the adequate funds needed in his war against the dictatorial president Victoriano Huerta, he could not continue financing his army. Villa, desperate for funding, reaches out to American movie producers in an attempt to sell the film rights of the war. American film-makers Harry Aiken and D.W. Griffith approach Villa, requesting to purchase the film rights to his revolution. Frank Thayer, a representative for Griffith and Aiken, is sent to tag along with Villa while he “directs” the film. A film much like a documentary is produced, where the viewers would be up-close and personal with the actual battles taking place in Mexico.

“And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself” was not a completely accurate portrayal of the actual history of the real Pancho Villa.  For instance, in the film, Juan Bruce-Novoa notes that the terms of Pancho Villa’s contract indicated that he would “carry out his attacks in the best light or angle for the cameras” in exchange for good pay (Bruce-Novoa).  In reality, the contract didn’t contain rules noting that Villa had to perform in battles in good lighting (Bruce-Novoa).

There is a connection between William Randolph Hearst and Pancho Villa.  Hearst was an enemy of Villa, and as such, he portrayed Villa negatively in his newspapers and films.  Hearst’s father, US Senator George Hearst, had originally acquired land in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. He was friendly with the Mexican dictator of the time, which made the boundary settlements more profitable for Hearst.  After his death, William Randpolph Hearst and his mother were given the land, which now reached over 1,000,000 acres.  During the Mexican Revolution, however, Hearst’s ranch was invaded and looted by men under the command of Pancho Villa.  Because of this, Hearst sided with the Mexican government in their attempts to outlaw Villa (Killian).  Further, Hearst produced a film about Pancho Villa casting a “midget” to play the part of Villa (Kilian).  Hearst complained that Villa stole his cattle and was a socialist (Kilian). As he was such a powerful man, it is clear Hearst had an extremely tight hold on the future and portrayal of Villa. It is clear that even today, Hearst is having an influence on our lives, as there was a movie created about Villa and the interaction they had during the Mexican Revolution.  He has created an image for us, which shapes our personal opinion of Villa and the political times of which the film was set. We base our knowledge of the historical events of Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution on films such as the one created by Hollywood, which reinforces the concept that film, and media in general, are what constitute and shape our current realities.

At first, newspapers portrayed Villa in a positive light.  But, this image was marred over time.  Nancy Brandt notes, “American newspapers increased the legend.  He was vain enough to enjoy the attention they gave him and modern enough to realize the value of a good public image” (149).  Eventually, the New York Times portrayed Villa as a savage, “The Times felt confirmed in its belief that Villa had reverted to savagery when Columbus, New Mexico, was attacked by bandits” (Brandt 152).  The following day, the New York Times printed a headline that noted that Americans would go after Villa, “Funston to Lead 5000 Men to Mexico with Order to Capture Villa Band” (Brandt 152).  When Pancho Villa was assassinated, the New York Times called him a “ruthless bandit” with “a record of violence that made him dangerous” (Brandt 149).  The Times article didn’t mention that they once portrayed Villa as a legend (Brandt 149).

It is extremely interesting to examine and analyze the history and film of both Citizen Kane and And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself. Having not researched both backgrounds, the average viewer would have rendered both of these films as separate entities.  We continue to perpetuate these ideas, stereotypes, and images that are presented to us by the media.  However, with our media literacy and our capability to look past the present images that Hollywood and Washington set in front of us, we are able to deconstruct these discourses and values that are being pressed upon us.  Media literacy has given us the ability and consciousness to realize that our lives have been constructed by an alternate, mass communication reality.  With Hearst and Villa together, these two films are a perfect example of how media and history collide, whether distorted or fact, and are disseminated through our culture.


Discussion Questions:

  1. After watching both Citizen Kane and And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, how can we draw parallels between both movies with respect to agenda setting and propaganda? How did Hearst take advantage of Pancho Villa’s situation and the Mexican Revolution?
  2. How did the portrayal of Pancho Villa in newspapers change overtime? Initially, he was shown positive light.  Why did the newspapers decide to suddenly exploit him negatively?
  3. How did the negative press impact Villa personally? How did this shape our perception of Villa?
  4. This movie shows how the political and social times were a large impact on the filming of the Mexican Revolution and of Pancho Villa’s life.  How can we relate this film, then, to that of Reel Bad Arabs and the idea that Washington and Hollywood are intertwined?
  5. How does And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself demonstrate or reinforce the concepts studied in The Truman Show with emphasis on the social construction of reality?

Important Quotes:

  1. “Money is what is important here.  The more you make, the better.”- man to Thayer
  2. Thayer: “This is he battle of Otinaja” Pancho Villa: “This is the battle So many deaths in two little packets”
  3. Thayer: “You should write a book.”  Pancho Villa: “First I should read a few”
  4. “Could you possibly change your attacks so that you fire from the West instead of the East?   That would give us so much better of a picture.” –Director Frank Thayer
  5. “Jack Reed said that we made it so that Washington abandoned the idea to invade Mexico.”- Thayer

Works Cited

Brandt, Nancy.  “Pancho Villa: The Making of a Modern Legend.”The Americas 21.2 (1964): 146-162.

Bruce-Novoa, Juan. “Pancho Villa: Post-Colonial Colonialism, or the Return of the Americano.”

Kritikos:  An International and Interdisciplinary Journal of Postmodern Cultural Sound, 2 (2005):

Erickson, Hal. “And Starring Poncho Villa as Himself: Movie Info.” (2003):
Kilian, Michael.  “Pancho Villa Starred in Own War.” Chicago Tribune Online 4 September

2003.< villa-movie-camera-porfirio-diaz>.


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