"Gimme the Power": Molotov as a Mexican Phenomenon

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It’s hard to say that Gimme the Power comes as advertised. The film’s synopsis is straightforward: a documentary about Mexican rock band Molotov. It was an easy sell, at least for me; like many other Mexicans of my generation, Molotov came up as I was discovering new music and becoming politically aware. Their records have stayed in my collection ever since.

The Uruguayan author Eduardo Galleano once described Mexican 80’s soccer star Hugo Sanchez’s influence abroad as a reference point for Mexico. Wherever you went, Hugo would serve as a cultural bridge that could break the ice of any conversation. This is the role that Molotov has played for my generation in terms of music. It is therefore striking that the best attribute of Olallo Rubio’s documentary is how the band itself turns out to be the film’s least interesting aspect.

“Mexican cinema is virgin territory,” explained director Olallo Rubio in a Q & A following the New York premiere for Gimme the Power at UnionDocs, co-presented by Cinema Tropocal as part of the Northside Film Festival. “There really hasn’t been any documentary made about the history of rock and roll in the country. That story hadn’t been told.”

That is precisely what Rubio, a former radio station DJ turned independent filmmaker, accomplishes with his new film. Molotov doesn’t get mentioned, let alone make an appearance, until about a half-hour into Gimme the Power. By the time they do appear, the interview with the band and the concert footage blends into the background. Ironically, Rubio has made a documentary about a band where the band itself is overshadowed by the sheer scope of the production. Gimme the Power doesn’t want to tell Molotov’s story as much as it aims for contextualizing the band’s role in Mexico’s turbulent history with rock music. The film succeeds at punching above its weight; few would have complained with a VH1 Velveeta-style rock-doc that showcased the band and its songs. Rubio’s film shows ambition where none is required, making Gimme the Power a lot like Molotov’s music: politically engaged without having to take itself too seriously.

Rubio’s documentary reaches deeper than the surface level shock and awe of the band’s antics by devoting the film’s first half-hour to a pop-historical overview of rock music’s role in Mexico’s social protests across the latter half of the 20 historical exposition a much welcome steady pace. The voice-over inflects the film with Mexicans’ trademark cynicism over its politicians. Watching it reminded me of just how far this open disappointment in the country’s political situation has spread over the years. In today’s Mexico, headlines are heralding the peoples’ embrace of a house cat named Morris running in a local election. A donkey named Chon and a group of party clowns are finding public support in other districts. The greatest strength of Rubio’s documentary is situating Molotov within a satirical context that is distinctly Mexican. Gimme the Power avoids the tired cliché of Latin American exoticism found in store-brand power-to-the-people ideologies or over-the-counter social revolution messages.

The band members are never portrayed as heroes of the people. “They live in a permanent contradiction,” Rubio says about Molotov. “They’re into drinking beer and watching soccer, but the songs they write have an important message. It’s not that they’re anti-corporate; they’re not like a Rage Against the Machine. They once made a Pepsi commercial.”

Gimme the Power succeeds in suggesting that Molotov has endured thanks to this popular accessibility. Without directly aligning itself to a cause, Molotov shares the sort of political and media watchdog status in Mexico that Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” has in the United States. The film also benefits from great interview subjects. The band members are interviewed throughout the film but are nowhere near as interesting or entertaining as other subjects, ranging from aging rockers to leading intellectuals.

Gimme the Power was released theatrically in Mexico last June, in the run up to the country’s Presidential elections. If the film explores Molotov’s trailblazing attitude in Mexico, the film’s subjects are quick to point out that the country’s problems can’t be solved or mollified by anyone playing a guitar. Rubio focuses on Molotov’s status as the enfant terribles of Mexican media, touching upon some of the band’s more problematic questions in dealing with what some have considered homophobic and misogynist lyrics. The director claims that the band’s input in the film is minimal, and has no qualms in exploring many of the legitimate criticisms that have been directed at the band.

“[Molotov] is very much a Mexican phenomenon of their time,” explains the film’s director. Gimme the Power is not a documentary about Molotov, the band. Gimme the Power is a documentary about the time that led to Molotov, the Mexican phenomenon.