It is here. It is upon us. Its shadow has closed off the sun. Immediate destruction is shortly to follow.
I exaggerate, but only a bit. Madonna's "Evita," after all, is only a movie, not an invasion from outer space, although it sometimes seems that way. It will not be blowing up the White House, though I bet someone there would at least like a date with her.
It is a big, fat movie. It is a huge movie. It is a movie movie. In fact, I am surprised to read in a number of colleagues' pieces that it is little more than the stage play re-created on film. It is exactly the opposite of the stage play re-created on film.
The majesty of the stage play -- which I saw from the 116th balcony of a theater in Washington, though I cannot remember whether it was performed by red or black ants -- was the way in which it conjured the mass movements of history. Dazzling theatercraft and $2 melodies as insistent as Chinese torture suggested the presence of mythology, religion and mystery.
In the movie, by absolute contrast, not a thing is suggestion. Alan Parker directs as if the word "suggestion" has been exiled from the English language. His film shows everything; it is as literal as a dictator's imagination. Parades, battles, strikes, speeches, dances, songs, all deployed in breathtaking obviousness, involving millions of Argentines in period outfits weeping or leaping in complete unison, as if they've been in training for years. The credits should read: "The part of the Chorus was played by the country of Argentina."
The plot: Girl meets country, girl loses country, girl gets country. Then she dies and it's a great career move.
The real Eva Duarte Peron (1919-1952) was an illegitimate country girl from Argentina's equivalent of Oklahoma. She traveled to the big city -- Buenos Aires was a combination of New York and Hollywood, helpfully unseparated by an actual country in between them -- and there, by dint of will, beauty, intelligence, ruthlessness but mostly will, she hopscotched careers (modeling and acting) and lovers (mostly military boys) until she landed the biggest fish of all, a handsome colonel known for his swordsmanship and marksmanship who was on his way up: dictator-in-training, Juan Peron, whom she married in 1945.
The film covers this ascent in the approximate detail I just have, but with loud music and a dancing country in the background. Then it follows her reign as Mrs. Dictator, supported by the women, labor and the poor, opposed by the Army. And it follows her decline and death at 33 from ovarian cancer.
It has a narrator, of sorts. This is the one twist from the show's book. On stage, the fellow who haunted the action and sing-songed the context for us boobs who know only that South America is somewhere to the south, was Che Guevera, Commie specter of revolution who spent his life deconstructing right-wing regimes so as to install left-wing ones until he caught a bullet in the head from a Bolivian major as a reward.
The device was ironic: An avatar of all that Juan and Eva despised and who in turn despised them commented archly on their rise, while at the same time serving as a phantom lover to Evita, obsessed with her beauty and charisma. (The conceit was magnificently assisted by Mandy Patinkin's own charisma in the role.) It was also a stretch, since the real Che was but an Argentine medical student of 24 tender years and undeveloped Marxist orthodoxy when Evita died. He wouldn't don the black beret of revolution, and the fatigues and grow that scraggly beard for another four years; he wouldn't become a worldwide icon of revolution for another 15, when he was -- another good career move -- killed.
In this version, Che has been depoliticized: Rather than sporting the beret, the beard and a burp gun, he's a more amorphous figure, a dandy in ascot, who slides through the events on those same spectral zephyrs, but blunts the bitter ironic edge to it. Improvement or disappointment? My feeling is it helps, but I am limited by the literalness of my own imagination. I could never get beyond the stretch in the original contrivance.
Besides, Antonio Banderas registers persuasively in this role. He leaps out at you, all hot Latin charm and professional knife-fighter's glee. He imprints himself much better than, say, the surprisingly wan Juan who is embodied by Jonathan Pryce. Of course, Juan has little to do except look heroic on Evita's arm as they stand before her adoring masses on the balustrade and since Madonna is busy blasting radiation from the screen like a white nova, it's sometimes hard to notice him.