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The Legend Continues

Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the most recent chapter in the legend of ‘El Mariachi.' Modestly budgeted, shot in Mexico in high-definition video over an attenuated seven-week schedule, it was another opportunity for the talent in front of and behind the camera to work with the talented multi-hyphenate filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who wrote, directed and produced the film as well as performing the functions of director of photography, production design, editing and music composition.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a tribute to the kinds of movies that inspired Rodriguez to become a filmmaker like Sergio Leone's classic "spaghetti" westerns (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars) and George Miller's classic post-apocalyptic adventure The Road Warrior.

The ‘El Mariachi' legend has had an interesting and unique history and no one is more surprised at its evolution than Rodriguez himself. The first film, El Mariachi, has an unlikely muse in the ‘Mad Max' action film The Road Warrior. "Like Road Warrior, I wanted to come up with an idea that was a little off-kilter and kind of fun," he says. "So I thought of making the hero (El Mariachi) a guitar player with a guitar case full of guns. It was very off the cuff."

Rodriguez's notable film debut was shot for a mere $7,000 ("or the coffee budget on most movies," he laughs) and catapulted the young filmmaker to prominence, earning him the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival.

The second film, Desperado, actually began as a bigger-budget remake of the first movie, but grew into a sequel of sorts, incorporating more elaborate action sequences than Rodriguez had been able to execute in El Mariachi, and making international stars of its two leads Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.

Even as he was shooting Desperado, friends began telling him he needed to make a third film in the series. "The true story is that Quentin Tarantino showed up on the set of Desperado one day and said ‘This is your ‘Dollars' trilogy.' And I said, ‘What are you talking about?'" The cinephile Tarantino was referring to the Italian director Sergio Leone's trio of westerns – A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and The Ugly, also known as the ‘Man With No Name' trilogy, since the hero in all three films, played by Clint Eastwood, is never identified by name. "'Mariachi is your Fistful of Dollars, Tarantino said, and Desperado will be your For a Few Dollars More. But then you'll have to make the epic. And you'll have to call it Once Upon a Time in Mexico.'"

"And I said to Quentin, let's just finish this movie and I'll think about it," Rodriguez recalls. "Years later Amy Pascal from Columbia Pictures called saying that Desperado had gained cult status among action fans, and that a sequel was in order. I remembered what Quentin had said, and told her, "Okay, I'll do one but it can't just be Desperado 2, it would have to be more epic and be called Once Upon a Time in Mexico.' She agreed, and off we went."

Rodriguez began accumulating various ideas, the first of which was the charac

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