The Story of Chavela Vargas Hits the Big Screen!

Do you know who Chavela Vargas is? If yes, continue to the next paragraph, if no watch this video before you keep reading.

In my mind, I imagine Chavela is one of the founders of the Bad Bitches Club. Este viejón, who was born in Costa Rica in 1919 and ran away to Mexico when she was 15, is undoubtedly one of Latin America’s most iconic singers and sexual pioneers. While the female singers of the time wore traditional Mexican dresses and rebozos, Chavela proudly and unapologetically wore pants to perform.

In a time when it was unsafe to be gay in Mexico, Chavela sang love songs written for male voices to the women she liked. Some say she had every woman she wanted, including wives of high profile elected officials. One of her romances was with artist Frida Kahlo…uh hello!

Chavela Vargas © Ysunza/Courtesy of Music Box Films.

Chavela’s raw, raspy and gut-wrenching rancheras have accompanied the heart-break sorrows of multiple generations. Que te vaya bonito, Ella and Llorona have gone hand in hand with a bottle of tequila for many of us.

Unfortunately, a bottle of tequila accompanied her for too long and she was ravished by alcoholism. That caused her to disappear from the limelight for years, which lead most people to believe she was dead.

When she returned to the public eye in 1991, she became a muse to Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and sold out performances in stages like New York’s Carnegie Hall, Paris’ L’Olympia Theatre and Madrid’s Plaza de España.

Chavela Vargas © Maj Lindström/Courtesy of Music Box Films.

It was also in 1991 that filmmaker Catherine Gund interviewed Chavela Vargas for mere pleasure; the singer was 72. Gund was living in Mexico at the time and became a fan of the singer when her friends introduced her to Chavela’s music.

That interview was put away for more than 20 years and now it’s the basis of Gund’s documentary Chavela, which will be released in La Phoenikera…well, actually Glendale, this Friday, November 10 and will run for one week. Maybe, just maybe if enough people go see it, it’ll play for longer…come on peeps!

“Last spring, I decided to unearth my archival footage to see what I had captured all those years ago and there in her full glory was Chavela – relaxed, confident, and poetic in her raw honesty. It was a veritable gold mine of footage,” says Gund in a press statement.

Through the 1991 interview with Chavela, conversations with people who knew and worked with her as well as live performances, the film gives us a glimpse of the singer’s career, her struggle with alcoholism and her life as a queer woman in 1950s Mexico.

Film Details

Chavela was produced and directed by Catherine Gund & Daresha Kyi.

The film is in Spanish with English subtitles.

It will play at AMC Westgate (9400 W Hanna Ln, Glendale) starting Friday, November 10 and will run for one week.