Wednesday, May 29, 2002
T E L E V I S I O N R
E V I E W
A Tale of Two Cities Offers
A briskly paced documentary comparing San Diego and
Tijuana does a number on conventional wisdom.
By PATRICK J. MCDONNELL, Times
Honey, let's sell the house, let's chuck this sterile,
soulless, gated-community life of ours, let's leave
the metaphysical angst and the manicured lawns behind
and move to Tijuana.
Yeah, TJ, metropolis of striped donkeys and perpetual
dust, of drunken sailors and feral spring-breakers,
of coyotes and narcos and maquiladoras.
Forgive the frivolity.
But L.A. filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez's
half-hour documentary about two neighboring cities--San
Diego and Tijuana--is a lot of transnational fun, with
a point. It airs at 8:30 p.m. tonight on KCET.
The film, "Mixed Feelings:
San Diego/Tijuana," does a number on conventional
wisdom, i.e., the notion that San Diego, with its broad
swaths of green, its white-sand beaches and its ever-swelling
columns of tile-roofed expanses, is somehow a superior
place to live than its southern doppelganger. ("America's
Finest City," they used to boast, prompting a rejoinder:
"America's Smuggest City.")
Let's be frank: The film traffics in an ingrained gringo-bashing
ethic, a politically correct preference for chaos over
order, for the spontaneous over the master-planned.
Our principal interlocutors are a couple of terzo mondo-loving
architects who can't seem to forgive themselves for
actually living in San Diego.
No matter. Alan Rosenblum argues that San Diego has
become a kind of artificial "Truman Show,"
with shopping its most exalted rite. Sound familiar?
Yes, we're firmly in the realm of the stereotype, even
condescension. San Diego has its barrios, and Tijuana
its upscale reaches. Most anyone living in a landslide-threatened
hillside colonia without running water or a proper loo
would gladly take the San Diego condo and the pool,
never mind the sterility, thank you.
But, if you can read alienation, even desperation, into
those ever-multiplying suburban boxes, you might also
see relief in the embrace of messy urban-ness--even
beyond the borderlands. Tijuana, like Los Angeles, is
largely an agglomeration of struggling migrants, whose
efforts at improving their lot radiate a certain nobility,
however cluttered their physical and emotional surroundings.
Thankfully, ambiguity creeps in. Toward the end, we
see a planned community, San Diego-style--except it's
going up in Tijuana. An aghast tercer mundista expert
likens it to a mausoleum, but then asks: Can he blame
folks for wanting the comfort of the sort he enjoys
on the affluent side of the jagged fence?
The film features lots of talking heads, but it never
drags one down in the torturous manner, say, of those
lugubrious docs from the brothers Burns. The quick cutting,
unconventional camera angles, hip nortec score and aerial
shots impart an MTV edge that can be distracting, but
it all keeps the pace brisk.
Check it out. You may not want to pick up stakes for
the nearest colonia or favela, but you might re-think
facile assumptions about life in differing environments.
The human condition, alas, is fraught with a certain
inherent disarray, despite our efforts to impose order.