Media Type: Film
Who wrote / made it : Julio Bracho
Plot summary: Set in 1912 during the brief presidency of Francisco I Madero (1911-1913), the Revolution does not feature in the plot. However, it casts a shadow as it is centred around military men. María Félix gets first billing as María alongside Armando Calvo as Jorge. The story is a love triangle between María (‘la mujer más bella de Europa’), Jorge, and Juan Antonio (Alberto Galán), his older half-brother. María and Juan Antonio meet in Spain. It is implied that she is a courtesan and we are shown that she has a cruel sense of humour. A tragic suicide impels her to leave and go with Juan Antonio to Mexico as his lover. On arrival, she meets Jorge by chance whilst on her way to the house Juan Antonio has set up for her. After some flirtation and chance encounters, Jorge and María fall in love. Both Juan Antonio and Jorge’s fiancée, Angélica (Patricia Morán), find out and are heartbroken. At first, Jorge nobly leaves Mexico City for Veracruz unhappy, but unwilling to interpose between María and Juan Antonio. María travels to Jorge and declares her love for him and they become a couple. Shortly after his return to Mexico City, Juan Antonio challenges Jorge to a duel. María tries various ruses to avoid either being killed. She fails, loses the love of both men and leaves Mexico.
Various modes of transport feature in this film: boat, rail, and carriage. The railway is of particular significance to the Revolution and has been written about largely in relation to literature of the Revolution. Unlike the usual film of the Revolution, the train is a convenient and high-class mode of transport in this film.
As this is set in a period during which there was relative peace much could be made of the high society and wealth of the characters. Perhaps with reference to the source text and to underline how the characters belong to a historic past, the costume has more in common with late-Nineteenth Century Mexico than the 1910s. The film is adapted from a play by Alexandre Dumas fils. The script was written by Robert Thoeren (it’s absent from this list: http://www.bfi.org.uk/films-tv-people/4ce2ba9ef1523) with dialogue by the Mexican poet, Xavier Villarutia. It is a neglected text and is of interest to me as a film starring Félix, but could also serve as a good example of the transnational flows in narrative and source texts as well as an alternative representation of the bellicose period of the Revolution.
I have just finished writing a chapter on streaming Latin American film in Ireland and the UK. This has involved reading right up to the last minute on how data and algorithms are used to determine what is shown and trying to keep up with controversies, such as the one that blew up in January about the possibility that Netflix will pursue subscribers who use unblockers or proxies. I kept my search to the bigger providers in the market: Netflix, that has considerable cross-market appeal, and MUBI and Curzon Home Cinema, because they appeal to the art house viewer, which is the usual means of distribution for non-Hollywood cinema. I focused my attention on Mexico, a country with a long and highly productive output, and Cuba, which has a more variably output and hasn’t had the same access to international film markets.
I originally looked at MUBI in 2012 and compared their offering to early 2016. The other two were not established as streaming services in 2012, so I only looked at their 2016 offering. The more in-depth discussion happens in the chapter, but what I want to share, here, are the screen shots for 2012 and 2016 for those of you who want a quick insight into the patterns and trends, and who may like it to supplement the chapter when it is published.
In 2012, MUBI followed a pay-per-view model. According to the founder, Efe Çakarel he set up the service when on a visit to Japan he wanted to watch In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000). Finding it unavailable he realised there was a market gap for curated arthouse cinema. Here was how it looked in March/April 2012.
As you can see, there is a variety of films that can be viewed instantly and indefinitely. I highlight the film, Revolución, because it was released on MUBI in an unusual streaming first release.
MUBI has subsequently changed its streaming model and now only releases 30 films a day as a carefully curated cinema club. This loses the unlimited on demand access to films. It is possible to see what has been shown previously according to country searches and through film lists curated by subscribers. This is what it looks like in 2016:
By lists Cuba
By lists Mexico
Interestingly, if you search for ‘Mexico’ or ‘Cuba’, these mostly show films with these country names in the title,
Curzon Home Cinema is attached to the Curzon Cinemas and is an extension of the cinema chain’s offerings to online audiences. It shows recent releases and some older films on demand. The Latin American film offering is dependant on high demand films for which Curzon and its affiliate Artificial Eye has distribution rights in the UK and Ireland. Look for Cuba and there is a thumbnail with an image of Buena Vista Social Club (1999) by the German filmmaker Wim Wenders, but no films are available to view when you click on the image.
The Mexico offering is wider, but nothing near the 100+ films made in 2015 alone.
As you can see some of these are made by Mexicans, are about Mexico or, have a Mexican focus. Therefore, they do propose a challenge to what we understand to mean Mexican or ‘Mexican’ cinema. Elsewhere, Rob Stone (2015, 424) has written about the need to put inverted commas around ‘Spanish’ cinema to complicate how the national category is to be understood. The above examples suggest that a similar strategy should be used for ‘Cuban’ and ‘Mexican’ films. This is central to the discussion in my chapter.
Netflix does not purport to offer arthouse cinema in the way that it is understood by Curzon or MUBI. It has a wide offering – to the extent that it has been accused of being bloated.
On my computer – some TV apps have a different interface – I looked for Mexican and Cuban films by going to the ‘International Movies’ in the ‘Browse’ area, then to the ‘Latin American Films’ under ‘Sub-genres’. The shift between movies and films is interesting so too is the erroneous labelling of films of any region as a sub-genre.
In the Irish and UK site there are only 18 ‘Latin American films’, of which only 4 are Mexican and none are Cuban. The 4 Mexican films are: Days of Grace (Everardo Valerio Grout, 2011), a fiction film about three violent kidnappings during pivotal football World Cup games; a story of a beauty pageant winner caught up in drug violence, Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo, 2011); a horror, Here Comes the Devil (Adrián García Bogliano, 2012); and Instructions Not Included (Eugenio Derbez, 2013), a comedy that had the biggest box office earnings in Mexico to date and is currently the highest grossing foreign language film in the US (Cervantes 2016). Miss Bala is the only one of these that got festival and art house distribution, and has received academic attention. The others have gotten little distribution or academic attention, as with many genre films from Mexico. This has much to do with the hierarchical nature of knowledge consumption and the tendency by academics to write about films that appear on curricula, few of which are conventional nor high grossing genre films.
Search for ‘Mexico’ in the search field and this is what appears:
Only Instructions Not Included overlaps with the previous category. Search for ‘Cuba’ and this curious selection turns up:
Some are Cuba Gooding Jr films and the others have tenuous links to Cuba. A change to the dates of my research is the addition of Whatever Happened, Miss Simone? that typifies the transience of research online and the ways content can change within hours or days.
There are two broad conclusions from this search and review: firstly, researchers cannot rely on these streaming services to provide on-demand material, and, secondly, the categorisation and curation can provide an opportunity to re-think how us scholars label Latin American and, more specifically, Cuban and Mexican (or ‘Cuban’ and ‘Mexican’) film. What these streaming services provide could be a new way into thinking about national and transnational film.
Stone, Rob (2015) “The Disintegration of Spanish Cinema”, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 92:3, pp423-438.
Follow the hyperlinks for online references.
I am writing a chapter on women in world cinema taking Mexico as a case study. No doubt, I will write more on this anon. Here, I want to post a short reflection on a brief segueway in my research.
In the chapter I am planning on including an analysis of the actor Diana Bracho and her performative style (this may change in the edit). While quickly scanning her imdb page to check the English title of a film, I spotted an entry that says she plays María Félix in a short called “María Bonita” that purportedly was released in 2015. As I have carried out considerable work on Félix, I was intrigued. I set about trying to see if I could source it. According to reports online the film is about an episode in the director, Amanda de la Rosa Frisccione’s life, when Félix stayed in her parent’s house in Veracruz in the 1990s. At the time, the former was in her mid-teens and the latter in her 80s. Unlike what the imdb page says, in the reports the 20 minute short is called “Belleza eterna” [Eternal Beauty]. I tried to find the film online and came across an interesting interview with Bracho who discusses taking on the role of Félix and bringing to it her own recollections of who Félix was. I also came across two short videos made of the shoot, that are both under 30 seconds. Their brevity reveal little about the film and could be counted both as teasers, because of the brief glimpses of Bracho as Félix in the recognisable wardrobe of late-period Félix, and as paratextual ephemera typical of YouTube.
In part, I am writing this as a way of logging a short deviation from a project I am working on and my delight in how apparently disparate routes can take me somewhere new with ongoing long-term projects. It is also a way of briefly describing how the Internet is a productive, if flawed, research tool, and can lead me towards work that exists but I cannot access. Knowing what is out there is great, not being able to watch it is a constant frustration. This is not a full stop. I will pursue this and see what can be uncovered by other means. If I’m successful I will update my discoveries here. In the meantime, I must get back to the chapter at hand.
I have recently completed editing on a chapter entitled, “Re-Framing Mexican Women’s Filmmaking: the case of Marcela Fernández Violante” that will come out in 2016 in Debbie Martin and Deborah Shaw edited collection of essays, Latin American Filmmakers: Production, Politics, Poetics (I.B. Tauris).
Whilst researching for a monograph (2013) on political violence in Mexican cinema I encountered an anomaly in the critical assessment of 1970s history: Marcela Fernández Violante (1941-). For that project I was interested in what is called the independent period of filmmaking, and why, in the aftermath of the 1968 student protests, filmmakers chose to make films about the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920). Films like Reed, México insurgente (Paul Leduc, 1972) garner considerable critical attention, yet I was the first to write about Fernández Violante’s Cananea (1976). This is despite Fernández Violante’s film being technically skillful, reflecting political concerns, and returning to an originary story of the Revolution related to a key historical figure, like that of Leduc. Unable to find much about her in histories of the 1970s, I searched for analyses of her work in the histories of women filmmakers in Mexico and she is mentioned, but with little attention to her work. This is despite the fact that she is a formidable and noteworthy presence in Mexican cinema and a woman of many firsts. In 1969, she was one of the first graduates from the film school, the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográfico (CUEC). In 1977, she was the first woman admitted into the film director’s union, and was the director of the CUEC from 1984-8. She had a notable start to her career, her first film, Azul (1967), a short about Frida Kahlo, won her an Ariel –a Mexican industry award- while still at film school. She has subsequently made 8 features up to her 2002 film, Acosada: De piel de víbora [Accosted: snakeskin], as well as a 30 minute episode on one of the pioneering Mexican female directors, Matilde Landeta (1910-1999), as part of the television documentary series, Los nuestros [Our Own] (1987). Despite this body of work and her influential position in central roles, I could not help wonder why there is so little critical analysis. Then, I read the interviews. There are a number of them and they are forthright assertions of her career goals, where she feels she belongs, and who and what came between her and greater success. This is not the usual diplomatic language of someone in filmmaking, a field that relies on goodwill, teamwork, and where it is rare to get a full account of what went wrong in a project.
Her direct, sometimes spikey, approach in interviews makes her voice a fascinating source for Mexican film history, and as a woman she is perforce a marginal figure, which makes it an act of recovery in alternative history telling and a challenge to conventional narratives. Therefore, I make extensive reference to what she has to say. My chapter is about recovering the untold by looking at two of her feature films, De todos modos Juan te llamas [General’s Daughter/Whatever You Do It’s No Good] (1975) and Misterio (1980). The first is a personal project that was supported by the university and she was a hired director for the latter. Both of the films analysed here are individually significant because they mark different modes of filmmaking and exemplify the developments both in her career and in the Mexican film industry. My chapter is also about asserting the need to reconsider how Mexican film history is told. Inserting Fernández Violante into the history of Mexican cinema shows that the current models merit revision.
I read two pieces today that resonated with each other. Firstly, this article from The Atlantic, “The Key Things Missing from Narcos” by Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez in which, amongst other issues, he challenges the use of the word ‘Magical Realism’ to describe the Colombia of Pablo Escobar. I agree with his assessment. The second is a chapter by B. Ruby Rich, “An/Other View of New Latin American Cinema”, which I am re-reading. Originally published in 1995, by her own assessment she is carrying out a revisionist history of New Latin American Cinema, which lasted from the 1960s to the late 1990s. It is a largely optimistic survey of a range of films from the popular to the experimental that ends on a pessimistic note on the “less salutary effects of a certain kind of individualism at the level of auteur” (1995, 188). The example she gives of the auteur is Gabriel García Márquez, whose project Amores difíciles (1987) was a Spanish and Latin American co-produced TV series that she treats with a negative foreboding,
“The threat of such packaging [of the series as originating from García Márquez] under the sign of a single personality is that, should its success and the concomitant lack of financial alternatives lead to a proliferation, the New Latin American Cinema could enter a baroque phase: historical subjects would no longer be chosen for their particular ideological implications for a particular country at this juncture, contemporary fictional themes would no longer arise out of the specificity of an identifiable set of national circumstances, documentary would be decisively marginalized and no longer inhabit any place at all, and the very real heterogeneity that has always made ‘Latin America’ itself such a near-fictional construct would vanish under the homogeneity of brand-name magic realism flying a multinational banner” (1995, 189).
To describe it as Baroque is hardly accidental when referencing Magical Realism. The Cuban writer and ethnomusicologist, Alejo Carpentier made links between the European Baroque and what he called ‘lo real maravilloso’ [the marvellous real] – his label for Magical Realism. Maybe the full force of the baroque phase that Rich predicts has not come to pass, but the brand elision with magic realism was realised in Narcos and rendered a signifier emptied of meaning except as an exoticising label of otherness.
Rich, B. Ruby (1995) “An/Other View of New Latin American Cinema” in Laura Pietropaolo and Ada Testaferri, eds., Feminisms in the Cinema, Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana U.P.
I recently published an article in The Conversation on the Netflix series, Narcos (José Padilha, 2015-) and the documentary film, Cartel Land (Mathew Heineman, 2015). You can read it by following this link.
If you want to carry out online research on films of the Mexican Revolution there are a small number of resources to guide you. I thought I’d curate a sample that includes a range from the introductory to the applied. All of these are in Spanish.
Very short reads (and some viewing)
Coinciding with the 2010 centenary commemorating the start of the Revolution, there have been several short summaries and overviews. Here are a sampling. This one from a tourist site focuses on key historical figures and another site aimed at women readers has short descriptions accompanied by clips. Many of these short articles mention some of the usual categories: early documentary, Golden Age/Studio system era films, controversial canned films and some recent releases. This listicle of the top ten unmissable [imperdible] films starts, unusually, with Sergei Eisenstein’s ¡Que viva México! (1932), and, even more unusually, includes six films made after 2000. These all serve as good starting points for those looking to get a brief glimpse into the range of films made.
Slightly longer read
This article goes beyond the scope of the expected and expands horizons considerably by mentioning both well-known and lesser-known titles. It also includes the news (in 2009) that Johnny Depp (as Pancho Villa) and Salma Hayek (as the woman, presumably) was due to appear in a film by Emir Kusturica called Seven Friends of Pancho Villa and the Woman with Six Fingers. In 2011, Depp was reported to have dropped out due to scheduling conflicts and this project no longer appears to be going ahead. I had not come across this before and now feel intrigued by the news. The author, Óscar Díaz Rodríguez, also includes some figures obtained from the UNAM’s film archive, “Se consignan 619 títulos sobre la Revolución Mexicana desde el inicio del cine hasta nuestros días, de los cuales 134 son documentales nacionales y 186 extranjeros; así que 156 filmes son de ficción y 143 son extranjeros”. That’s 619 films about the Mexican Revolution (up to 2009), 134 Mexican documentaries, 186 foreign made, 156 Mexican fiction films and 143 foreign made fiction films, which gives a sense of the significance and scale of production.
For longer reads and research (and brief viewing)
A more in-depth site was created by researchers from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). It has a good overview, a detailed bibliography, posters, and film clips from a range of periods and styles of fiction and non-fiction films. There is also a searchable database of films. It’s not exhaustive, but it is very impressive. It is also not clear whether further work has been carried out since 2009 as this is the only date on the site and it does not include many of the recent books that came out since 2010.
As someone who goes online periodically to see what is new and whether there are expanded resources out there, I want to capture what I come across as a form of archiving what I see and also to trace changes in what I find. It has grown a little since I began my own project, but has still considerable capacity for further growth (619+ films!). I would love to hear from anyone who is working on projects that I have not yet seen or who would like to discuss the possibility of contributing to the database that I am gradually expanding or, indeed, who would like to work with me to explore the many un(der)researched films of the Revolution.
Since his death on the 3rd of December 2014, the novelist, dramatist, journalist, and scriptwriter, Vicente Leñero, has received considerable attention including this reflection by the novelist Ana García Bergua and this other homage from his daughter, Estela Leñero Franco. Recently, when writing two separate chapters, one about literary adaptation in Mexico and another about the Mexican director Marcela Fernández Violante, I have been carrying out research on Leñero as a scriptwriter.
His case is an interesting one and tells us much about the strong involvement by novelists in writing for the screen in Mexico. Leñero wrote 31 scripts for film and television. These are varied in quality and in his precise role. His first script was for the first horror television series, Momias de Guanajuato (1962), on which he worked alongside other renowned authors including Inés Arredondo. In addition, to such hired jobs, he also wrote a variety of original screenplays, and adapted canonical and prestigious novels by others, including Los de abajo (Servando González, 1976), Cadena perpetua (Arturo Ripstein, 1970), El callejón de los milagros (Jorge Fons, 1995), and El crimen de padre Amaro (Carlos Carrera, 2002), respectively, from novels by Mariano Azuela, Luis Spota, Naguib Mahfouz, and Eça de Queirós. He is not alone in writing, adapting and consulting for television and film amongst his contemporaries (for example, Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes wrote screenplays in Mexico), but, alongside Emilio Carballido, he is one of the most prolific and consistent over the course of his whole career. For me, his adaptation of his experimental novel, Estudio Q (1965) into an experimental yet accessible film, Misterio (1980), functions as insider commentaries by Fernández Violante as director and Leñero as writer, both of whom have considerable knowledge of form, function, and of the frustrations of television and film in Mexico in the mid-1960s and early 1980s.
I am doing the final edits of a chapter, “YouTube as Archive: Fans, Gender and Mexican Film Stars Online” for a book entitled Revising Star Studies edited by Guy Austin and Sabrina Yu. In the chapter I’m exploring what it means to access YouTube in order to carry out star fan studies and to gain an understanding of the the star text. Previously, I published on the Mexican film stars, María Félix and Dolores del Rio. This time I’m considering three of their male contemporaries, Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete and Emilio Fernández. My decision to do this was in response to the call for papers for the conference Guy and Sabrina organised in the University of Newcastle, because I have spent some time trying to work through the differences and this was the perfect opportunity to do this and build on my earlier work. I was curious to see whether there were points of comparisons between Félix and del Rio and Infante, Negrete and Fernández. What I found can be read in the chapter after it is published. But, here I wanted to share some of the vids I looked and why they are worth reflecting on in an academic context.
Whilst with Félix and del Rio, the fans altered original content and thereby created original vids that resulted in fascinating readings of the star text. Click on their names for two examples that I discussed in the earlier article, and then follow the links that will inevitably come up when you do that. In contrast, the fans of the male stars were more interested in the following types of vids:
Infante and Negrete both released multiple records as well as appearing in many musicals, therefore a large number privilege music over visual mash-ups. These two which blend songs accompanied by simple slideshow style images by El Yeusy “Pedro Infante y Jorge Negrete_Coplas_Couplets” and Juan Pablo Rosas García “pedro infante y jorge negrete super mix”, and this extract from a comedia ranchera, Nain DeLaCruz “Pedro Infante & Jorge Negrete – Dos tipos de cuidado” are common examples.
Creative aestheticised pieces are rare, but here is a good example by the experimental filmmaker, Gérard Courant, “Emilio Fernandez by Gérard Courant – Cinématon #187”. Here is an amateur version by MoviePosterMM “Emilio Fernández”, which is a compilation of all of available posters from films starring Fernández accompanied by music from The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969).
Star deaths and funerals
Here’s one of Pedro Infante’s death, omrobleto 1 “Muerte de Pedro Infante”. Pedro Infante: Pedro Infante (2009) “Pedro Infante”. Although, some Infante fans claim that he did not die in the 1950s, but lived on and provide video ‘proof’, Cuco Leyva Channel has a whole channel dedicated to this.
There are a number of visits to houses where the stars have lived. These are either official tours or amateur tourist home movies. For examples of amateur films: Akshairg (2007) “casa de Pedro Infante”, EstacionesMusicales (2011) “GUANAJUATO PLACA Y CASA DE JORGE NEGRETE 26 NOVIEMBRE”, and professional films, IMCINE n.d. “Casa Fortaleza de Emilio “El Indio” Fernández”.
Interviews are popular. These can be from footage drawn from television, documentaries or radio. Sometimes they are slightly altered with musical accompaniments, but rarely are the visuals changed. Examples include, edward fuente (2014) “EMILIO ‘INDIO’ FERNANDEZ entrevistado por Joaquín Soler Serrano 2 de 2” and another of Fernández when he was in jail for murder, Perez Verduzco, Guillermo “ENTREVISTA AL INDIO FERNANDEZ EN LA CARCEL POR GUILLERMO PEREZ VERDUZCO”, with his daughter, Adela, Canal de laverdadentiemporeal “ENTREVISTA A ADELA FERNÁNDEZ, HIJA DE EMILIO ‘EL INDIO’ FERNÁNDEZ. Parte II”, and a television interview with Pedro Infante, Pedro Infante (2009) “Pedro Infante”.
For me, this has great potential has an emerging area of study that has potential for fascinating inter-disciplinary and transnational discussions.