This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career.
It’s a sad day for Robert Rodriguez. His latest movie, Machete Kills, is a dud at the box office with his lowest wide-release opening of all time. Yes, even lower than Shorts. But if the Machete sequel is neither good nor popular, that doesn’t mean we can’t spend this weekend enjoying Rodriguez’s other work. Specifically, let’s go back to the beginning and check out his first film. No, not El Mariachi. Before even that landmark low-budget breakout, he made an 8-minute short while a student at the University of Texas called Bedhead.
Made in 1990 with an $800 budget and employing his siblings as the cast and other relatives as the crew, Rodriguez co-wrote the script with brother David (also the title character) and friend Bryant Delafosse. He was his own DP, shooting on 16mm with a wind-up camera (and no synch sound), and his own editor, cutting on video, maybe even using the double-VCR system he’d been working with as a kid. He also animated the opening credits sequence.
While El Mariachi is better known for being his Hollywood calling card, Rodriguez actually sent around both that and Bedhead, which had the esteem of winning awards at a number of film festivals (Carolina Film Festival, Third Coast Film Festival, Marin County Film and Video Festival and The University of Missouri Fine Arts Competition). And the combo makes sense to how the filmmaker’s career would turn out. While El Mariachi signals the grindhouse-type stuff we’d see in subsequent action movies, including Machete, Bedhead was a precursor to his work with and for kids, like the Spy Kids franchise and, even more so, Shorts.
There is also a tiny touch of the Latino pride element in Bedhead that Rodriguez has since been associated with and which peaked with the themes in Machete (less so in the less-political sequel). The film’s lead (Rebecca Rodriguez — now an editor on Machete Kills) falls on her head during a fight with her brother (David) and develops super powers. One of the things she says she could do with them is become the first Mexican-American female president of the United States.
Bedhead was supposed to be remade or spun-off into a feature-length version. This was actually a part of Rodriguez’s initial deal with Miramax, through which he had to make The Faculty and then Spy Kids, some sci-fi movie idea he had and something else. Presumably, the success of that first Spy Kids made its franchise goals more important to the studio than anything else he had in mind.
Although his last few kids’ movies (Shorts, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl and a semi-rebooted Spy Kids sequel) haven’t been hits, if there’s still interest in Rodriguez doing more family films, I think he should revisit the Bedhead feature idea, kind of like how Tim Burton eventually returned to his roots with Frankenweenie. The only problem is finding kids as perfect as Rebecca and David are here.
Even less known than Bedhead is the film that followed. No, still not El Mariachi. Another student short film, Pretty Good Man was made in 1991 in color on 16mm with sync sound and a color animated sequence. 15-minutes long, it’s about Superman’s younger brother who is only “pretty good” rather than “super.” It’s said to have been well received at school but nothing else ever seems to have come of it. I’m surprised it hasn’t turned up somewhere. I would love to see it
You can find better quality versions of the Bedhead short on discs of El Mariachi, but to get a glimpse at this great short start, watch the whole movie below.