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THE BIG MIX : Video : So Many Video Stores, So Many Languages. . . : 'Super' Videos With a Definite Spanish Flavor

The articles on these pages, plus those to follow in daily Calendar, explore the multicultural spheres of Homeland Video.

February 05, 1989|GREGG BARRIOS

Located in Hollywood, Super Video is representative of the many mom-and-pop Latino video stores in Greater Los Angeles.

With a "Peliculas en Espanol" sign outside its storefront, there's no mistaking Super Video's specialty--further reinforced by a potpourri of Mexican movie posters on its windows and a "free membership" notice in English. Inside, more wall posters tower above the shelves. The center of the store has metal racks filled with videos, creating a maze of crowded aisles. About 80% of the colorful, often tawdry video boxes displayed are for Spanish-language films, but recent American films are also available.

On a busy Sunday afternoon, children were playing four arcade-size video machines near the entrance. Asked about the lure of the machines in lieu of the rental videos, one youth said, "Most of us who live around here enjoy American movies like 'Colors' and 'La Bamba.' We don't come here to rent movies. My parents come here to get Spanish movies. I like the ones by Valentin Trujillo. His movies have a lot of action."

A middle-aged man beckoned one boy from the machine to have him read the title on a cassette for him. "Is it a good one?" he asked, turning to his 14-year-old son. The youngster said it was fine, then handed him a Spanish-dubbed "Dirty Harry" film: "This is good too."

When the father was asked if he would allow his son to watch the R-rated film, he nodded. "It's better that he stay at home to watch a movie of a cop getting rid of criminals than letting him go out where gangs can force him to do wrong. He'll respect the law that way," he said.

At the checkout counter at the rear of the store, bilingual clerks efficiently pull rental tapes from clear plastic boxes. Like a daily menu, a blackboard above the register lists the latest and forthcoming releases. Mexican comic La India Maria is popular with Super Video's customers. So are action films with Valentin Trujillo, Eduardo Yanez, the Almada Brothers, etc. Some American films such as "El Norte" and "Latino" are also popular with customers.

One corner is sectioned off for X-rated films. Although a few feature Latinos in stellar parts, most are American hard-core movies dubbed in Spanish. "The dialogue of the X-rated films dubbed in Spanish is so stupid," a young Latino man said, "we turn down the volume and make our own comments about the action."

One thing unusual about Super Video is a free photo ID membership card, which allows customers without driver's licenses and credit cards to rent tapes. The store requires a family member to verify job and address information and telephone number.

Said proprietor Ronald Macayo: "Most of our customers don't have credit or credit cards. They are recent arrivals to this country. Yet, they want to see these movies since they don't understand English. We use the photo ID to make sure the person to whom we're renting the tapes is the same as the applicant on file. It helps if the tapes are lost or not returned."

He pointed to a bookcase filled with more than 100 empty videotape boxes of all types and ratings. "This is the result of what happened before we started our ID policy," Macayo said. "At $50 a tape, you can imagine how much we can lose over a short period of time."

Despite Macayo's errant-tape problem, recent marketing studies illustrate why Latino tape rentals will continue at a brisk pace.

A Telemundo product study, for example, reports that 62% of Latino households nationwide own at least one VCR. A recent Strategy Research Corp. survey reports that 64% of Latinos in the Los Angeles area own one VCR, compared with 56% for non-Latinos. And 86% of Latino VCR owners, the Telemundo survey claims, rent their tapes, a rate that is nearly twice that for non-Latinos.

Having a 24-hour self-service laundry on one side and a multipurpose Mexican bakery/tortilla factory/restaurant on the other explains the steady stream of customers in the block-long shopping mall where Super Video is located. Tapes rented from the store proved of varying quality.

Emilio Fernandez's classic film "Enamorada" had English subtitles, but was made from a spliced, jumpy print. Another video, "Delincuente" with Pedrito Fernandez, recorded on inexpensive tape, left buildup on the VCR heads requiring a tape cleaner.

Eduardo Yanez in "Narco Terror," still showing in a few downtown Spanish-language theaters, had a murky picture and static-filled audio. It appeared to be a third-generation copy. (A copy provided by the film's licensed distributor exhibited none of the rented copy's defects.)

"Caro Quintero for President," a satire on the recent Mexican elections, and "Fraude en Mexico" (Fraud in Mexico), a documentary on the same topic, are original made-for-home video releases. These two titles had good picture quality and crisp stereo hi-fi sound, but their politically specialized content replete with obscure references and in-jokes made them less interesting and entertaining than other films rented.

The new year has also brought the release of several classic comedies by Mexico's Cantinflas (once called "the world's funniest man" by Charlie Chaplin and known to U. S. audiences for "Around the World in 80 Days").

Columbia Pictures owns the rights to most Cantinflas titles, but has allowed his older gems to lapse into public domain. Titles such as "El Gendarme Desconocido" (The Undercover Cop) and "Los Tres Mosqueteros" (The Three Musketeers) are now available on home video from numerous distributors, hence rental copies of these black-and-white videos were of varying quality.

For more adventuresome viewers, Mexico's lesser known comic Tin-Tan (whom Chicanos find even funnier than and not as dated as Cantinflas) is a real find, especially "El Rey del Barrio" (King of the Neighborhood), which is Latino humor at its best.

Super Video, 5810 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 465-0927.

This special issue was edited by David Fox, Sunday Calendar assistant editor.

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