“Piñero”

“Piñero” is non-linear telling of the chaotic true life story of a Latino icon, the late poet-playwright-actor Miguel Piñero, whose urban poetry is recognized as a pre-cursor to rap and hip-hop. After doing time in hard-core Sing-Sing for petty thefts and drug dealing, Piñero’s prison experiences developed into the 1974 Tony-nominated play Short Eyes. The resulting notoriety and fame was too much for the Latino bad-boy genius who retreated to the darker corners of New York City and died a premature death in 1988 at the age of 41. The biopic chronicles his rise from prison to the renowned New York Public Theater – founded by his friend Joseph Papp – and then, to the height of Broadway with his work; his turbulent love life; the founding of the acclaimed Nuyorican Poets Cafe on the Lower East Side; his work as a writer and actor in movies such as “Fort Apache: The Bronx”, as well as hit TV series such as “Miami Vice”, “Kojak”, and “Baretta”.

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I think Pinero (the film) is a credit to the filmmaker and a testament to Pinero himself. I did not know of him before I saw the film but was quickly drawn in to the world of a man suffering from the collective guilt of humanity. He is depicted as being every kind of being one could be, most importantly a truthful one. From this I believe he died. Not from drug use but by using himself as an example, with the results being painful enough for him to go to drugs in the first place. He had extreme vision and let people see it through sincere eyes, the trademark of a great artist.

The film may seem to go off in all directions without covering the heart of who Miguel Piñero was. The visual style is jagged and hyper and the effect on the viewer is you either pay attention or get lost,  but it fits the subject matter aptly. The film leaves a lot to the imagination while covering his vast personality (an excellent technique to keep the audience thinking). A mix between who he was, and what he wanted. This is clearly not a film that’s interested in creating a cardboard hero. The disjointed chronology, the flashbacks, the constant juxtaposition of black and white and color film make this film really bring out the essence of the Piñero’s life. Perfect for someone to be introduced to for the first time.

The film was biographical and concentrated on Piñero’s talent, its development and his genius, as well as his lifestyle and problems. It is simply impossible to say why so many people become junkies, why they behave antisocially and not live like the “normal citizen”. I don’t think it is the point of this film, why was Miguel Piñero like he was, but the importance of this film is in the fact that talents come from different backgrounds and it is what you do with your talent, rather than why not become a “respectable member of the society”. Piñero was brilliantly acted and filmed with it’s flashbacks that showed bits and pieces of Miguel Piñero’s childhood and background.

I think every character in this film was convincing and well presented and the life of Miguel Piñero was extraordinary, very touching and his talent, his poetry presented with great respect an authenticity.  It also shows that there are numbers of subcultures out there (the filmmakers are keen on showing Puerto Rican influence on NY culture), that we don’t know of, people who are self-destructive and suffer in their lifetime can leave a mark also, can start something new and fresh.

The film Piñero is poetry in itself. The film’s music – the songs, the beat of the tunes, the score – is very much an integral character in the telling of the life and times of Miguel Piñero. It is really energetic in spite of the grim aspects of Piñero’s life. Writer-director Leon Ichaso put together a structured montage of Piñero’s biographic snapshots with his works: plays, TV dramas, poetry readings, intermingled with signs of the times of 60s, 70s news clips.

A brief lifetime of 41 years (Piñero was born in December 1946 and died  in June 1988) delivered in a most artistic, poetic, and musical way with the right mix and pacing – almost too fast as Piñero himself disappeared as life ends. Yet it was probably a full life in spite of it all: had a tenacious nurturing single mother, streetwise boyhood with abuse experiences, drug addictions, a heavy smoker, a thief in and out of prison life, and a poet, playwright, actor, co-founder of the Nuyorican Poet’s Café with dear friend Miguel Algarín. The film goes back and forwards between life on the streets, scenes in a prison, scenes on a stage, and poetry exchange on rooftops, to Piñero alone and with strangers (what would happen if he did get a kidney transplant?) To him, life is a stage, a play, a poem and very much vice versa.

Bravo to writer-director Leon Ichaso! Film editor David Tedeschi is to be thanked for the exquisite seamless Black and White scenes immediately followed by color scenes and continuously in and out of color and B/W. Along with the selection of lively Latin songs and the film score by Kip Hanrahan, Claudio Chea’s cinematography, no doubt, adds to this ensemble piece of work. The talented group of actors (with Giancarlo Esposito as Miguel Algarin, Talisa Soto as Sugar, Rita Moreno as Miguel’s mother, Mandy Patinkin as Joe Papp) complement Benjamin Bratt’s brilliant portrayal of Miguel Piñero – heart-warming in spite of the dark shades of Piñero’s life.

It’s great to be able to see Benjamin Bratt in a role that he can truly stretch and show his soulful acting. His intense dramatic performance in this film showcased his truly great talent. His acting was a tribute to Miguel Piñero’s life. His credibility in this role has surpassed anything else that he has done, I felt like he really was Miguel Piñero. The movie was not about his looks. You had to focus on the message.

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