18 February 2008

Alex Cox on Walker

Richard Nash at Soft Skull saw my mention of Alex Cox's movie Walker and sent on a brief passage from Cox's upcoming book X-Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker, which Soft Skull/Counterpoint will be bringing out in a few months. Thanks to Richard for giving me permission to share this:
Walker is my best, my most expensive, and my least-seen film. It’s the bio-pic of William Walker -- an American mercenary who had himself made president of Nicaragua in the mid-19th century. In the US, Walker was an anti-slavery liberal; in Nicaragua he instituted slavery. He’s almost unknown in the US today, but in the 1850’s Walker was fantastically popular. The newspapers wrote more about him than they did about Presidents Pierce or Buchanan.

All the characters in the film existed, though they aren’t all accurate portraits, and there’s no evidence -- say -- that Walker and his financier, Vanderbilt, ever met. Most of what happens in the film is part of some historical record; but it’s a drama, and the bricks of truth are mortared with fiction.

I first went to Nicaragua in 1984, with Peter McCarthy -- on one of those leftist tours where you meet nuns and trade unionists and representatives of cooperatives. It was the week of the presidential election, which the FSLN -- the Sandinistas -- won. We were impressed by the revolution, by the beauty of the countryside, by the changes and the optimism in the air. In Leon, on election day, two young Sandinistas egged us on to bring a big, Hollywood movie to Nicaragua, which would communicate something about Nicaragua to the Americans, and spend dollars there.

Fair enough. Nicaragua was a poor country, under continuous terrorist attack. The Sandinistas were their elected representatives, who’d led the overthrow of the dictator, Somoza, in 1979. Not that this meant much in Hollywood. To get serious money for a Sandinista feature, it would need an American protagonist. Step forward, William Walker.
For another excerpt, see Richard's own post about acquiring the book.

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