I can’t say much about Evita
by Alan Parker, based on the stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice,
because I just don’t like the music
very much. I admit that Mr Lloyd Webber has written some swell tunes in
Cats and Phantom of the Opera, but most of his music seems to me
vapid and uninteresting. Pastiche Latin from the era of the samba and the rhumba
and the like in this case, but tidied up and unconvincing. And the showpiece
cry for me, Argentina,” has always
seemed to me to particularly silly, probably because of its words more than its

But there is one interesting thing about Evita from the
critic’s point of view. That is that
it is what we might call a postmodern opera. In traditional grand opera, there
is some central act of heroism or sacrifice which is so exaggerated and
theatrical that, unless the music is first rate, it will look fake. If you acted
an opera as a play, without the music, it would look absurdly fake. That is what
we call melodrama. But Evita is an opera which glories in the fake. It is
about a fake, Eva Peron (Madonna), who is married to a fake, Juan Peron
(Jonathan Pryce), who has based his political career on the fakery of Peronism
and who manages to make his wife a kind of symbol of all this fakery which the
people of Argentina are supposed to love. Likewise, it is the fakery of the
movie, more or less frankly acknowledged, which we are supposed to love about

And, just as the Argentines appear to have loved Evita, so audiences appear
to have loved the pop opera based on her life (though my guess is that the movie
will bomb). But so caught up are we in the story of her
“touch of star
quality” as the song puts it, that we
might not notice that the grand sacrifice itself, the essential bit of grand
opera, has been left out. True, Evita contracts cancer and dies, but, sad as it
no doubt is, this is not a voluntary act, nor can it be considered a sacrifice
or an act of heroism. But what we do get is all the spectacle of the opera
without any of the substance, and this makes it a perfect means for the
representation of South American politics of the period, which were also heavy
on the gestural and light on any meaningful content. Here, the scenes of riot
and revolution have exactly the right sort of aimlessness about them. We know
that there are workers who feel oppressed from time to time, but in practice
they only seem to want to fight with cops and soldiers or else have their
beloved Evita throw banknotes to them in one of her many attempts to elevate
gestural politics in the direction of grand opera. Any real grievances or
solutions are irrelevant in such a context.

This is not accidental. The movie seems remarkably open-eyed about what it is
doing. When Peron is elected president and Evita and he appear to wave to the
adoring crowds, and she to sing for the first time
Cry for Me, Argentina,” an
upper-class, establishment type remarks sardonically that,
“Statesmanship is more than
entertaining peasants.”

Whereupon some one from Eva’s
peasant entourage (is it her mother?) remarks tartly,
“We shall see, little

And she’s right! So far as this
film is concerned, at least, entertaining the peasants is all that it is about.
Only we’re the peasants too.This is
part of a general celebration of mere celebrity which frankly recognizes itself
as such. Her response to the initial outpouring of enthusiasm from the peasantry
is to go shopping, and she shops heroically.
“They adore me/So Christian Dior
me,” she sings. Later, when she is
dying, Peron himself says to her: “You
are losing strength, not style. That goes on flourishing
forever.” Likewise, the epitaph
pronounced on her by the Everyman figure, Che (Antonio Banderas)—who is
supposed to be, I think, the voice of reality breaking in on the continual
circus from time to time, but who in fact becomes part of it—is that she
was “the best show in

At her death, the heroic gesture is particularly ridiculous. She sings of her
content to die: “What use would 50,
60, 70 [more years] be?/ I saw the lights and I was on my
way.” In other words, on my way to
being a star. Almost as big a star, in fact, as Madonna herself, which no doubt
accounts for the feeling with which this rather limited actress imbues the part.
But though it is clear-sighted enough in other ways, the film never seems to
recognize anything of the ironic or humorous potential in its regarding becoming
a star as a heroic achievement, worthy of operatic treatment.

The subtextual discursus on class strikes me as being much more English than
Argentine. “Screw the middle
classes,” sings Evita in one of her
most ridiculous lines. “I will never
accept them.” But why?
father’s family was middle
class,” she explains, recalling an
event that we have already been shown in flashback,
“and they shut me out of his
funeral.” This was because she was one
of his bastard children. Later she is instrumental in the dispossession of the
British owners of much of Argentinian industry and even the upper class
Argentinians who spurn her come across with upper class British accents. Their
portrayal is reminiscent of “The Ascot
Gavotte” in My Fair Lady, only
without the ironic humor. “The actress
hasn’t learned the lines you would
like to hear” she sings of
herself—but she has learned others. But then Che steps in to tell her that
“fine as those sentiments sound/Little
has changed for the peasants on the ground.

Another favorite bad line is “In
June of ‘43 there was a military
coup/Behind it was a group called the

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