Netflix special All About Gila is a unique tribute to a Spanish comedy legend. Miguel Gila was a film and television staple in Spain and Latin America from the 1950s until his death in 2001; his brand of humor came from an extraordinary life as a soldier who fought on the losing side of the Spanish Civil War, somehow survived execution by firing squad (!), spent time in prison and forced military service under Franco, and eventually moved to Buenos Aires to escape the dictatorial regime. His more famous bits found him standing on stage delivering monologues into a rotary telephone, a symbolic staple of All About Gila, which assembles an array of Spanish comedians to deliver some of their hero’s greatest material.
The Gist: A lengthy intro sequence briefly acquaints us with the parade of comics who’ll be performing Gila’s material. Then, live on stage, the show opens with David Broncano delivering a smattering of Gila bits, which range from a surreal story about his birth to puns and old-school one-liners. Ernesto Sevilla performs one of Gila’s most famous bits, a phone call to “the enemy” during wartime, asking them to maybe wait until after the soccer game is over to attack, things like that. Next is Juan Carlos Ortega, who ingeniously recorded the other side of that conversation, which is synced up with a vintage clip of Gila’s original performance.
It continues like this for an hour or so. In between, we get bits in which Carolina Iglesias and Victoria Martin sit in a balcony and provide some Statler and Waldorf-like commentary, or clips from a 1976 TV interview in which Gila very seriously talks about his work, and how he devised his comedy to be satirical, socio-political criticism. Some comics put their own twist on Gila’s material, integrating modern contextual cues; comedians Pantomima reinterpret one of his bits for a duo. Regardless, the heart of Gila’s work – whether it addressed grim topics like war and death, was insensitive by today’s social standards, or was just ridiculous for ridiculousness’ sake – shines through. It’s still funny, even many decades later.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Similar tributes have been made for the likes of Bob Hope, Richard Pryor and Andy Kaufman (sometimes while they’re still alive!), but Gila is distinct in its presentation of the subject’s famous material. A Betty White tribute aired in January, and an appreciation of Bob Saget, shot at the Comedy Store club, will debut on Netflix in June.
Performance Worth Watching: Ignatius Farray gamely tackles an old, sexist Gila telephone bit by stiffly reading the lines off a teleprompter as if he’d never heard the material before – he likely didn’t rehearse it at all – frequently breaking character. “This is where we separate the art from the artist,” he quips at one point. Frankly, Farray’s approach is an ingenious way to address the P.C. elephant in the room.
Memorable Dialogue: Farray sums up the event earnestly and succinctly at the conclusion of his set: “Thank you Gila for teaching us, for helping us realize that we each have to do it our own way.”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: As a stoopide Americaine who’s not well-versed in international comedy legends – hey guys guess what people who don’t speak English can be funny too1!!!1!!1!!!! – All About Gila functions as an entertaining intro to a man who influenced and is revered by countless Spanish-speaking comedians (many of whom seem to be male, as Iglesias and Martin cheekily point out). The special doesn’t do much to contextualize Gila’s work and seems crafted for an audience familiar with his material. But learning that the guy survived seriously heavy travails pre-fame is what Google is for, right? (Sure!)
Comedian Jose Miguel Contreras – co-directing with Arturo Gonzalez-Campos – simply lets Gila’s material speak for itself through the comics’ interpretations of it, an approach that’s far more compelling than a typical documentary. The special not only shows (likely proper) reverence for Gila, it illustrates some components of stand-up comedy’s evolution from the ’50s to today, when so many proponents and fans of the art wrestle with ideas of what constitutes funny and/or offensive material. That’s the subtext of this piece. But it also shows how smartly layered Gila’s work could be. Case in point: Dani Rovira performs an extended bit in which Rovira-as-Gila-as-a-seemingly-omniscient-character walks through all the many different times he’s died. Even after Gila’s death, a bit about death is deathless. That’s genius comedy.
Our Call: STREAM IT. All About Gila will please Gila’s fans, and open the eyes of the ignorant to an influential comic.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
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