Chavela Vargas documentary
Trigger warning: discussing subjects of
warning: Adult content
Project by:
Catherine Gund
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January 8, 2022
Film
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‘Chavela’: A Documentary On Legendary Singer Chavela Vargas

And it is time (again) for our movie recommendations! Today, we are leaning towards the documentary genre, with ‘Chavela’, a biopic on famous Mexican singer Chavela Vargas.

Born in 1919, Isabel Vargas Lizano is a central figure of Mexican music culture. She is principally known for her reinterpretation of Mexican rancheras - a traditional style that has come to be associated with Mariachi bands (have you read our piece on the bisexual Mexican photographer who immortalized queer Mariachi, by the way). But she did it in her own way.

Mostly, she sang it alone with her guitar, while rancheras are traditionally sung from a man’s perspective and accompanied by several instruments. Also, Chavela never did change the pronouns in the songs: she sang about love and women, positioning herself as their lover or admirer.

Because, you see, Chavela was having none of the heteronormativity bullsh**. When she was younger, she dressed as a man, smoked cigars, drank a lot and even carried a gun. Oh, and also, she did make a lesbian coming out in her late autobiography. Another win for the queers!

But Chavela’s life was not always easy. From a difficult childhood to her long struggle with alcoholism, she became all too familiar with violence. These issues prevented her from performing for a while, before her great comeback.

But we will not say anything more, as Catherine Gund’s documentary retraces Chavela’s life, mostly from an undisclosed interview of her. And we do not want to spoil you. Watch the trailer down below and discover the great, touching. sometimes difficult portray of an incredible icon who was never afraid to be herself and exist loudly.

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