Robert Rodriguez Reminisces About His Early Film ‘Roadracers’

Robert Rodriguez loves “Roadracers,” a film he made on a sliver of a budget in between his indie hit “El Mariachi” and his breakout “Desperado.”

He told me that much almost as soon as he got on the phone. “I love ’Roadracers,’ ” he said. “It is one of my favorite movies.” You could hear the excitement in his voice.

And he has a reason to be excited. After years of attempting to get “Roadracers” out on DVD and then eventually Blu-ray, Rodriguez finally succeeded with the April 17 release in high definition. Part of the reason it had taken so long to hit video was because of the film’s origins.

“It was a movie made for cable, so it never had any real presence. It was always ’We’ll put it out when we put out “Sin City.” ’ Then that would come and go,” Rodriguez said. “It was one of those things where the rights kept changing hands until nobody knew where it even was. Then we waited for Blu-ray to come around to do a nice, definitive version.”

“Roadracers” was originally made to be part of a series of films made for Showtime in the early 90s called “Rebel Highway.” Directors like John Milius, William Friedkin and Ralph Bakshi made movies for the series, which were meant to be tributes to tough guy movies from the 50s. Wes Craven had originally signed on to make a film, but when a new “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie got an unexpected greenlight, the producers needed someone to make an episode on the cheap.

And Rodriguez knew a few things about making movies on a tight budget. He had just come off the success of his $7,000 debut “El Mariachi,” when he was asked to fill the gap in the series. “It was a very fast movie. I wrote it in a couple of weeks, shot it in 13 days, which was one day less than I even had on ’El Mariachi.’ How did I end up with a $700,000 budget and a day less?”

Rodriguez originally saw “Roadracers” as an opportunity to work on a larger film before running off to make his sequel to “El Mariachi,” “Desperado” with Antonio Banderas. “I got to shoot something before I did ’Desperado,’ so it wasn’t that leap right into ’Desperado’ not knowing what a crew was,” Rodriguez said. “It gave me a chance to show what Salma Hayek could do in English to get her cast in ’Desperado.’ ”

What resulted was a crazy ode to 50s hotrod movies starring David Arquette, Hayek and a young John Hawkes. Rodriguez looks back fondly on his experience shooting the film because of how free he felt to push the boundaries of creativity.

“You look back and you go, ’I don’t even direct or shoot or edit like that anymore.’ You wish you could get back to that. There was really something about it that was fresh and go-for-broke,” he said. “You didn’t know what you were doing. There’s something really exciting about that. I can’t think for the life of me how we even pulled it off.”

“Roadracers” is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.

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