Welcome to the IMPACT series where I dissect notable and iconic sequences from games and movies, and how they broadened my mind and left a lasting impression on me, years to come.
Do you know how to use that thing?
Yes! The pointy end goes into the other man ….
As a younger man, I was fortunate enough to be blessed with parents that had good taste in cinema. From my introduction to Star Wars by my mother no less, to the Life of Brian by my English comedy fanatic father, I think my love for film only grew more and more as I got older, until I finally became a full blown pretentious film critic upon viewing my first French drama called Three Worlds at the Melbourne French Film Festival.
The Mask of Zorro is one of my all-time favourite films, introduced to me by my mother, who seemed to switch interest in leading men, depending on what she heard from her artistic sisters. One day it might be an interest in Antonio Banderas, the other week there was an unrequited love for George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven.
Regardless, The Mask of Zorro hit me at roughly the same age as the Alejandro Murietta, the titular lead of the film, when he saved Zorro’s life in the introductory scene. I felt the same amount of excitement and wonder and romance as Alejandro did, when watching Zorro fight off “hundreds” of Don Diego de la Vega’s soldiers.
Fast forward a few years and dramatic events later, the older Alejandro, portrayed by an incredibly charismatic and rougish Antonio Banderas, whose mannerisms I immediately began to mimic, then runs into the retired and original Zorro, played by the ever excellent Anthony Hopkins.
Thus the shenanigans begins …
First, I would like to address the type of film this is.
This is an old-school blockbuster film. In much of the same vein as The Mummy (1999) which actually came out a year later than Zorro, this is an adventure movie, with romance, revenge and realised characters. This is a film that almost solely gets by, on the chemistry of the leads and the strength of the story between the characters. The plot is fun, dramatic and really in service to allow how each character plays against one another.
It is a delicate balancing act, but Martin Campbell deftly weaves a lovely narrative and interplay between the antagonists and the protagonists. You see how both generations affect each other, the young dealing with the sins of the old, and how new life can be found amongst one another.
This old-school film is exactly what I adore, as a child and as an adult. It is everything I ask for in a film, with moments of incredible darkness (the scene between Captain Love and Alejandro was one of the most tense moments I’ve ever felt as a child, and ending the scene with that sip from the jar horrified me), the incredible romantic chemistry between Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas and the elder wisdom from Hopkins … there is everything to enjoy in this film and just have a fun ride.
The second impact that this film placed on me, was the romance. As a rather devoted heterosexual and admirer of women, I do understand that getting a Welsh actress to portray someone of Latin origin is problematic, but as a young man, I didn’t care and will freely admit that the character of Elena got me intrigued in Latina women (Yes, I am also aware of Hopkins casting as well). But it was the famous tango scene between the two of them that made me desire to have a dancing partner.
I think I’ve lost count the amount of times, I pretended to waltz, step and tango across the room with an invisible woman to the music of Spanish Tango by James Horner, but it has stuck with me very much in the same way Pulp Fiction’s Twist Contest dance did. However with all that extra energy, vigour and insane sensuality that Latin America is known for.
Need I mention the second dance that the two characters do with swords later? I think that scene speaks for itself and I will freely admit that in my university fencing days, I longed to disrobe a woman with the same precise swordplay Zorro performed.
The third impact was the music by the late James Horner. Whilst most audiences first experience with Horner’s musical mastery was the amazing Titanic, my first ever was Zorro and let me tell you, that alongside Jerry Goldsmith’s work in The Mummy, these were scores that were etched forever in my mind.
Nothing quite captures the spirit of adventure, romance, fun and derring-do like the drums, guitars and horns of Zorro’s score. Just go ahead and listen to The Plaza of Execution and tell me, you can’t imagine Zorro fighting a hundred men in his cape, mask and hat, alongside his trusty steed Tornado.
And that is just the first song … my all time favourite and one that I used to fence to, was Stealing the Map. It perfectly armed me mentally for my fencing bouts and I felt invincible when flailing my foil around.
I miss Horner’s work immensely. He just had that uncanny ability to mix adventure and romance in his melodies and I am forever grateful for his work, especially in The Rocketeer (1991).
The final element that influenced me greatly, alongside Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is something I’ve already hinted at … fencing.
Having done 3 years of Olympic style fencing, I can rightfully say that swordsmanship has changed much over the years since Zorro was on-screen, but the spirit of having fun while wielding deadly sharp blades remain true to this day. Swords, unlike guns, have a fascinating elegance and beauty to them. They are an extension of you and serve as a strange way of communicating with your opponent. The way how blades clash and dance around you, is a wholly unique experience and I am forever grateful that I grew up watching films with amazing sword choreography.
But it was this film that really showed me how swords were supposed to be wielded. You don’t swing wildly and yel intimidatingly. Instead you lower yourself into an en garde position, and with minimalist movements defend yourself and wound your opponent.
As a child, I loved the training montage, but as an adult fencer, I appreciate it ever more now, for its flashy but functional depiction in how swordsmanship is actually meant to be. The swordplay in this film, compared to others, really showcase how fencing is all about expression as it is an incredibly elegant way to kill.
Beyond developing my obsession with fencing, The Mask of Zorro opened my interests to American history, both North and South. Previously only interested in Egyptian, I had my eyes opened to other types of pyramids other than Giza. I grew fascinated with Incan, Mayan and Aztecs and their bloody rituals and am still horrified by the Spanish treatment of these civilisations.
Zorro also taught me the value of folklore and how this type of hero was common across the world, but especially in areas that were often downtrodden and destitute. After all, it was these type of heroes that gave people hope and a voice, a champion that fought for them and represented a dream that they could be greater. I idolised Zorro as much as the people of California did in the film. Symbology … a powerful force to be reckoned with; I still see the Z as Zorro’s icon.
My taste in music also expanded dramatically, with a keen interest in Latin American music. From tango music, to enjoying the guitar work of Rodrigo Y Gabriela, there isn’t much I don’t enjoy musically from South America. Their infectious rhythms, beat and ability to tap into the subconscious desire to let loose, is always a delight to indulge in. There is such a strong passion and zeal for life in their music, and I think it’s impossible to deny their impact on my own life, in getting up and moving around. Every time I play a song from Latin America with furious guitar work, my feet move of their own accord.
My desire to dance only increased tenfold after watching the film, and I wanted to be as light on my feet as possible. Beyond my lascivious desire to dance with beautiful women, which has not abated since my teenager years, I have actually genuinely considered taking dancing classes and enjoy the act of dancing a lot.
Which to the amusement of my retail co-workers translate a lot into my movements at work, with my endless pirouettes around corners, backwards walking, and needless energetic movements.
But how else are you meant to move around tight spaces with fun and speed?
The Mask of Zorro can be attributed to a whole lot of things. As a film, I love the adventure, the romance and the score immensely. It is the type of film that can be rewatched as a whole, not certain scenes because of the strength of the package being presented. There is not a dull moment in the film and I often find myself rewatching it as least once a year.
The film taught me a great deal, and instilled in me a passion for dancing, swordsmanship and Latina music. I often wondered where I would be without these films to generate such strong interests, but I am grateful they helped shaped me into the man I am today.
I’ve yet to book dancing classes though.
That is still on my to-do list, to master at least a dance. Preferably tango.