As fans of Baldwin's Tribulation 99 know, this San Francisco based filmmaker habitually conceptualizes history as a tacky exploitation flick, and, at a machine-gun-paced 40 minutes, Coronado still manages an epic sweep…
The first two minutes of Coronado offer more historical perspective than both Columbus epics combined…Coronado, one of the least successful conquistadors, is perfectly suited to Baldwin's purposes in part because his motivation is so blatantly delusional. Arriving in Mexico in 1538, he set out on a fruitless quest to find the imaginary Seven Cities of Cibola. Crossing the desert and the Rio Grande, Coronado explored what is now Arizona and New Mexico, stumbling across the Grand Canyon and engaging in numerous needless fights wit the Indians. The non-existent cities of gold led his expedition as far afield as present-day Kansas, before returning to Mexico City in sodden disarray
Baldwin illustrates this empty quest with a melange of images culled from swashbucklers and westerns, classroom movies and museum paintings. Christian cartoons and industrial documentaries. He uses whatever comes to hand. This pragmatism produces a richness of metaphor. A clip from an old Vincent Price film stands in for the Inquisition. Coronado is occasionally visualized as Gulliver; when his Indian guide leads hism astray, he's the Lone Ranger, accompanied by Tonto (and, quite poetically, a few passages from Ravel's Bolero. When necessary, the narrative is goosed along with a few costume dramatizations. (Coronado is played by a goofy-looking actor in a Spanish helmet). Everything is tied together with generic sci-fi music, strategic sound effects, and two narrators (one specializing in boastful rants), Baldwin is more honest (than regular historical documentaries) in representing the present, interviewing not scholars but tourists and locals: "Coronado: isn't that a shopping mall around here?" If you want to schlockument the box populi, this is how.
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