1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE (1992)

Comparison Films

Cabeza de Vaca  (1991)

A Mexican film directed and written by Nicolas Echevarria.  Cabeza de Vaca is a Spanish explorer stranded in the New World.  He is subsequently enslaved and befriended by various Native American tribes.  Throughout his eight-year encounter in the New World Cabeza de Vaca assimilates to the natives' culture and is eventually regarded by various tribes as a shaman.  The film emphasizes the heterogeneity between Native American tribes and allows the viewer to understand their perspective of the Spanish conquest.  It also blurs the line between conquistador and conquered, since when Cabeza de Vaca eventually is "rescued" by a group of Spaniards it is unclear if he will ever be able to assimilate back into the Spanish culture that has destroyed so many natives' lives and cultures that Cabeza de Vaca now considers part of his own.

Christopher Columbus  (1949)

The movie emphasizes Columbus's struggle with the nobility of Spain to receive funding for his first voyage and how he eventually was sent back to Spain in chains after his third journey.  The differences between this film and 1492: Conquest of Paradise are significant: Columbus's legitimate son, Diego, is the only one mentioned; Beatriz is portrayed as royalty and is used by Bobadilla to draw Columbus into a marriage that would prevent him from sailing to the New World; the crew rebels many  times on the first voyage.  Many of the famous myths of Columbus are present in the film: the queen wanting to sell her jewels for Columbus's voyage; Columbus's promise to the people mutinying on his ship that he would have his head removed if land wasn't spotted in three days; Columbus standing an egg straight up on the table to prove his ingenuity.  But, surprisingly, the film also admits some of Columbus's history that questions his heroic mythology: the Santa Maria crashes on some rocks while he is asleep, and the Queen rejects Columbus's support of slavery.  The natives in the film are nothing other than props.  In a scene where Columbus brings exotic birds and natives before the king's and queen's court, a bird is allowed to state, "Long live the king and queen," while the natives stand mute.  Since the movie relies on many stereotypes, it is surprising to find that some of its scenes reveal any historical evidence that questions Columbus's Christ-like role.

Christopher Columbus: The Discovery  (1992)

This movie is horrible, but it makes one realize how much better Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise is than one might have first thought upon initially viewing Scott's film.  Director John Glenn of Christopher Columbus: The Discovery claims that he made "a picture for the public, for children.  Everything up, up at the end.  No politics.  Nothing heavy"  (Le Beau, American Studies  152).  As a result, the film contains nothing but bad casting, acting, writing, and directing.  The natives, once again, are used as props.  There is much female nudity of the natives for no other purpose than to reveal breasts.  Columbus is portrayed as a 15th century Zorro who woos the women, maintains order with his crew, and is a good Catholic who allows a Jewish boy on board his ship to continue practicing his faith despite Spain's exiling of the Jews.  It is striking that Glenn's movie is equally as atavistic in its portrayal of the New World's "discovery" as the 1949 Columbus movie previously mentioned.  There are moments when Columbus's character is questioned-- his enslavement of six slaves to take back to Spain-- but they are so seldom and brief that they seem more like temporary aberrations than lasting moments that might lead the audience to doubt Columbus's intentions.  Many famous Columbus myths are present in the film, too: the standing egg; cutting his head off after three days; a (Portuguese) conspiracy to keep him from reaching the New World.  Beatriz is a portrayed as servant girl in the film and is pregnant with Columbus's second son as he leaves on his first voyage.  The Spanish Inquisition's protest against Columbus is also more emphasized than any of the other films mentioned.  With all this said and done, the film might be appropriate for the entire family to watch, but its banner of "pure entertainment" cloaks its conservative vision of Columbus as a hero and the natives as a people who are happy to be colonized.

I, the Worst of All  (1990)

An Argentian film based on Octavio Paz's text The Pitfalls of Faith.  The movie is relevant in that it chronicles the conquest of the female body and mind that occurred (in Mexico while foreign lands and people were also victims of Spain's other conquests).  The Spanish woman is an often ignored subject in Spain's colonization of Others.  I, the Worst of All serves as a good reminder of how people in Spain itself were conquered by the prevailing ideology of the times.The film chronicles a brilliant nun's  (Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz) struggle to engage in academics during a time when the Spanish Inquisition largely believed that women should remain passive worshipers of the faith.  Sor Juana writes poetry, drama, philosophy, and letters.  She has remained free of the Inquisition's condemnation because of her aristocratic support and popularity both within and without the convent.  But when her support leaves her and she has a letter published (that she never wanted published) that attacks the theologian who represents the king and queen of Spain,  the Inquisition clamps down on her and eventually causes her to give up her studies.

Other films:

Alien (1979),  The Holy Office [El Santo Oficio] (1977),  Jerico (1990),  Orinoko: Nuevo Mundo  [New World] (1984)
 
 

Copyright (c) 2000 by Christopher Robe’, Graduate Student at Lehigh University.

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