Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Remembering Cocaine Cowboys

I saw Cocaine Cowboys about a year ago on The Documentary Channel, and it made quite an impression on me, and recently I had another chance to see it, and I thought it was worth discussing.

The documentary, directed by Billy Corben, discusses the Cocaine trade in Miami in the late 1970's and first half of the 1980's through a series of interviews, focusing primarily on the exploits of Jon Roberts, a former Mafia associate and Mickey Munday, a drug smuggler/pilot, who together trafficked and wholesaled billions of dollars worth of Columbian cocaine into South Florida. Soon, new players are introduced, like Rivi Ayala, a former Chicago car thief who became a hitman for one of the most powerful people in the Medellin cartel's American operations, Griselda Blanco, who was known as the Godmother, a woman who escalated the level of violence of the drug trade in South Florida and started a war on the streets of Miami. Ultimately, it was level of violence which ultimately led to a massive crackdown on the drug trade in the region.

The strange thing for me is after watching this documentary, Scarface or Grand Theft Auto: Vice City doesn't seem as outlandish or extravagant compared with the reality of how violent the drug trade was in those days, or how profligate the spending of its kingpins were. I am sort of surprised that an enterprising DVD wholesaler hasn't put the two movies together in one package truth be told.

But one of the fascinating aspects that was revealed throughout the documentary was the fact that there was so much drug money floating around the city (in the billions) it became instrumental in helping develop the formerly sleepy resort community into a thriving modern metropolis, as all the money that trickled down into the economy from the purchase of luxury items and cars and the billions of dollars socked away in the areas banks, as well as the development of property as a laundering technique all had their effect on building the infrastructure of the city and helping the region become a center of trade and industry beyond the drug and tourist trade.

Now the narrative is the reason to watch this documentary to be sure, but the presentation is excellent as well. It is tightly edited, and features a score by Jan Hammer of Miami Vice fame. It is documentary of both style and substance.

I learned recently that at the end of this month, Corben is releasing a sequel to Cocaine Cowboys entitled Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin' with the Godmother, which deals with the crack cocaine business in Oakland in the early 1990's, and since there are elements which are related to the first movie, I am very interested in seeing it as well.


Megan said...

This actually sounds quite interesting. I especially like the bit about it fueling the economy! Ah, Florida.

I'll have to check it out!

AG said...

Ooh, that *does* sound good. Though I don't know if I need another Scarface packaging; perhaps Blow? I know it's not nearly as iconic, but George Jung still walks among us, and I would *love* to hear his commentary. (Yes, I know what Ebert said about the suitability of making G. Jung iconic, but dammit, if Henry Hill can have his own theme restaurant...)

Arjan said...

I also saw it about a year ago. Great docu. Looking forward to the 'sequel'.

MC said...

Megan: Oh, truly Miami is the town that blow built in the most literal of senses.

AG: The Only reason I suggest Scarface is because of the Miami/Mariel Boatlift connection. And Jon Roberts walks among us too... and will soon have a biopic starring Mark Wahlberg. I think Jung got off better in the casting.

Arjan: Well, it certainly means more stories from Rivi.

Micgar said...

Sounds like something I should check out! Interesting!

MC said...

I think you'd like it.