Since its origins, at the beginning of the 20th century, Mexican cinema has followed an evolution similar to that of the country, offering an example of perfect correlation between the political situation, social achievements and cultural research.
The pre-industrial phase
According to listofusnewspapers, the period of silent cinema coincided with the last years of the dictatorship of P. Díaz (1876-1911) and with those of the outbreak and consolidation of the Revolution (1910-1930). In 1895 an Edison Kinetoscope was presented in Mexico City and the following year Díaz attended the first Lumière projection. One of the pioneers of Mexican cinema was Salvador Toscano Barragán who made mostly documentaries, which would be re-edited by his daughter Carmen Toscano in the interesting Memorias de un mexicano (1950). In 1907 he left a mark El grito de Dolores by Felipe de Jesús Haro on the beginning of the nineteenth-century war of liberation (1810) which led to Mexican independence from Spain (1821). The Revolution broke out in 1910, but its political, social and economic consequences were felt until 1930,
Operators from various countries – including John Reed – followed the movements of E. Zapata, P. Villa and the great revolutionary generals, filming their lives and battles. In fact, during the first years of the Revolution, cinema proved to be an important political weapon: in a country where 80% of the population was illiterate, images became the main propaganda tool. As far as fiction is concerned, the influence of European cinema was felt on the nascent star system, in which Mimí Derba, interpreter, producer and perhaps also director of La tigresa (1917), a great Italian-style melodrama, stood out; however, the most important work of those years, El automóvil gris (1919) by Enrique Rosas, Joaquín Coss and Juan Canals de Homs, is already clearly Hollywood-style. In a short time, in fact, American films would have invaded the market, despite the controversy aroused by the caricatural and negative image of Mexicans represented in them.Technical difficulties, increased production costs and lack of valid actors made the early years of sound cinema quite disappointing, with a the only exception: Santa (1932) by Antonio Moreno, with Lupita Tovar as the protagonist and the music of Augustín Lara. But as early as 1934 a renaissance of Mexican cinema was taking shape, which went hand in hand with the emergence of a nationalist sentiment encouraged by President L. Cárdenas (1934-1940), who nationalized oil and welcomed the wave of refugees returning from the Spanish Civil War in 1939. These circumstances also helped to awaken the interest of foreign filmmakers: in 1930-31 Sergej Mexico Ejzenštejn traveled around the country shooting materials from a film that was later left unfinished, ¡Qué viva México !; However, his work had the dual effect of arousing curiosity and respect for the new medium of intellectuals and of giving impetus to a current of indigenous cinema, also promoted through state subsidies, the highest example of which is Redes (1935; Redes – The rebels of Alvarado) by Fred Zinnemann, Emilio Gómez Muriel and Paul Strand. It was still a pre-industrial and artisanal phase, animated by directors such as Arcady Boytler Rososky, Juan Bustillo Oros and above all Fernando de Fuentes (author of the first major international success of Mexican cinema and of the first ranchera comedy, Allá en el Rancho Grande, 1936), which laid the foundations for the future national cinematography.
The golden age of Mexican cinema
The impetus given by Cárdenas to militant nationalism, the crisis of cinema in a Spain engaged in civil war and the failure of the Hispanic versions of Hollywood blockbusters reinforced an industry that, between 1939 and 1950, would live its period. of heyday, known as the ‘golden age’ of Mexican cinema. In 1939 the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria Cinematográfica de la República Mexicana (STIC) was founded, to which the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Producción Cinematográfica (STPC) would be added in 1945, and in 1942 a credit institution, the Banco Cinematográfico, to support the development of cinema. The favorable situation was also strengthened by the outbreak of the Second World War because Mexico was the the only Spanish-speaking country openly siding with the Allies, thus consolidating relations with the United States and favoring the revival of the economy in all sectors, including the cinema sector. In 1938 57 films were made, in 1945 82; in this period more than 70 directors made their debut and the only true Latin American star system was created. The most popular genres were ranchera comedy, urban melodrama, nostalgic reenactment of the revolution and comedies based on popular humor. Influenced by Ejzenštejn, the only true Latin American star system. The most popular genres were ranchera comedy, urban melodrama, nostalgic reenactment of the revolution and comedies based on popular humor. Influenced by Ejzenštejn, the only true Latin American star system. The most popular genres were ranchera comedy, urban melodrama, nostalgic reenactment of the revolution and comedies based on popular humor. Influenced by Ejzenštejn, Emilio Fernández known as ‘El indio’, was the author of original works of indigenous inspiration, with the collaboration of director of photography Gabriel Figueroa and actors Dolores del Río, María Félix, Pedro Armendáriz and Columba Domínguez. Great success also had Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante, heroes of the ranchera song; Cantinflas (stage name of Mario Moreno) and Tin Tan (stage name of Germán Valdés), street comedians; Arturo de Córdoba and the three brothers Fernando, Andrés and Domingo Soler, acclaimed interpreters of urban melodrama; Ninón Sevilla and Libertad Lamarque, well-known faces of the rumbero genre in which the ‘bad guys’ par excellence were Carlos López Moctezuma or Ignacio López Tarso. Among the directors, the veterans Fuentes (Doña Bárbara, 1943), Bustillo Oro (Canaima, 1945) and Miguel Contreras Torres (La vida inútil de Pito Pérez, 1943), can be added, in addition to Fernández, known above all for Flor silvestre (Mexico bloody) and María Candelaria (The Indian virgin), both from 1943, the names of Julio Bracho (Distinto amanecer, 1943), Roberto Gavaldón (La barraca, 1944), Ismael Rodríguez (Cuando lloran los valientes, 1945), Alejandro Galindo (Campeón sin corona, 1945) and Miguel Zacarías (El peñón de las Animas, 1942). importance would become evident only later: arrived in Mexico, where he died in 1983, Luis Buñuel, who made his first Mexican film, Gran Casino and profoundly influenced that cinematography. The end of the war marked the beginning of a slow decline in Mexican cinema, which however, from an industrial point of view, had its best moment in 1950, the year in which 125 films were made. The already consecrated authors continued their careers with important films: La perla (1945), Enamorada (1946) and Pueblerina (1948; Forgotten by God) by Fernández; ¡Esquina… bajan! and Una familia de tantas (1948) by Galindo; Nosotros los pobres (1947) and Ustedes los ricos (1948) by Rodríguez. The great hits of the genres rumbero (Aventurera, 1949, and Sensualidad, 1950, by Alberto Gout) and comic (Calabacitas tiernas, 1948, and El rey del barrio, 1949, by Gilberto Martínez Solares) were still produced. Mexican cinema established itself as the best in Latin America, winning prizes in all the most important festivals. However, it was above all to the national market – the most flourishing – that the production efforts were dedicated. 1950 was also the year of Buñuel’s Los olvidados (The Children of Violence), considered “the first film of genius produced for national cinema” (García Riera 1992, 5th vol., P. 85); during the 1950s, the director made some of his best films:
Signs of crisis
Buñuel’s work was an exception in a cinematography that was beginning to show serious signs of crisis: between 1952 and 1960 there was in fact a stagnation of the film industry and a cultural setback. Among the causes, also the cultural policy pursued by the monopoly directed by the American William Jenkins together with the Mexicans Manuel Espinosa Iglesias, Manuel Alarcón and Maximino Avila Camaho, who in 1949 controlled 80% of the programming, despite the Ley de la Industria Cinematográfica promulgated precisely in that year he banned monopolies. The arrival to power of President A. Ruíz Cortinez (1952-1958) coincided with the end of the so-called cabaretero genre (stories of women who, in different cases of destiny, become cabaret singers), thwarted by a rigid social morality and the success of the horror genre and violent films (especially in the 1960s). The structural crisis of the film industry was exacerbated by rigid ideological control, which in turn provoked some attempts at socially oriented films – such as Galindo’s Espaldas mojadas (1953) or Bracho’s La sombra del caudillo (1960) – and produced as secondary effect is the birth of a programmatically artistic cinema, far from reality, well represented by Benito Alazraki’s Raíces (1953; Raices), Rodríguez’s Tizoc (1956) or Gavaldón’s Macario (1959; Death on holiday).
The end of the presidency of A. López Mateos (1958-1964) coincided with the first timid uprisings of social protest which culminated in the student riots of October 1968, severely repressed. Parallel to these political demands, an independent cinema began to develop, looking for ways other than those of the now worn popular genres. While Buñuel was shooting the latest Mexican films, El ángel exterminador (1962; The exterminating angel) and Simón del desierto (1965; Simon del Desierto), both with Silvia Pinal, also the protagonist of Viridiana (1961), his assistant director and friend Luis Alcoriza he made his directorial debut with Los jóvenes (1960), and soon after he shot the interesting trilogy Tlayucan (1961), Tiburoneros (1962) and Tarahumara (1964; Tarahumara, the lost virgin), reaffirming the importance of indigenous cultures traditionally despised by the cinema national. In the early 1960s an independent producer, Manuel Barbachano Ponce, together with other filmmakers, gave birth to an ideological revolt that affected various sectors. Magazines were born around him and Buñuel, specialized criticism was consolidated and a generation matured which, in the following two decades, would change the setting of Mexican cinema. In the same period, the first university film school was founded, the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos (CUEC). L’ traditional film industry had collapsed at the end of López Mateos’ presidency; the STPC workers themselves were aware of the gravity of the situation and were the main promoters of the I Concurso de Cine Experimental de Largometrajes, banned in 1965 with the aim of offering young filmmakers the opportunity to emerge. From this competition 18 films were released which introduced 12 new directors. Having achieved this first objective, an attempt was made to recapture the urban middle class, which had by now turned its back on national cinema, turning to prestigious intellectuals such as Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes or Gabriel García Márquez, the latter linked to the origins of one of the most dazzling, enduring and brilliant careers of Mexican cinema, that of Arturo Ripstein who had made his debut in 1965 with Tiempo de morir and whose filmography continued to develop in search of ever new cinematographic languages.