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Cinema of Mexico

The history of Mexican cinema goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, when several enthusiasts of the new medium documented historical events – most particularly the Mexican Revolution – and produced some movies that have only recently been rediscovered.

Silent films (1896-1929)

The silent film was in Mexico produced several movies; however, many of the films up to the 1920s have been lost and were not well-documented. The first "moving picture," according to sources by film historian Jim Mora, was viewed in 1895 using Thomas Edison's kinetoscope. A year later, the cinematographe projector was introduced by Auguste Lumière. Mexico's first queues appeared in cinemas in the capital to see international one-minute films such as The Card Players, Arrival of a Train, and The Magic Hat.

The origins of early filmmaking is generally associated with Salvador Toscano Barragán. Toscano compiled the country's first fictional film, titled Don Juan Tenorio. During the Mexican Revolution, Toscano recorded several clips of the battles, which would become a full-length documentary in 1950, assembled by his daughter. Other short films were either created or influenced from French film-makers.

By 1906, 16 movie salons opened their doors to accommodate the popularity of cinema in Mexico City. Carpas, or tent shows, were popular beginning in 1911 where lower-class citizens would perform picaresque humor and theatrical plays, a place for training for aspiring actors. Politically affiliated films appearing in 1908, often deemed propagandistic by today's terms. Significant battles were filmed and broadcast during the Revolution which fueled Mexicans' excitement in cinema.

The popularity that cinema had experienced in the early 1900s continued to grow and by 1911 fourteen movie houses were erected from the year prior. It was during this period that the documentary techniques were mastered as is evident in the Alva brother’s production entitled Revolución orozquista (1912). The film was shot in the camps of the rebel and federal forces during the battle between General Huerta and the leader Pascual Orozco.

However, despite the relative advancement of cinema during this period, the moralistic and paternalist ideology of Madero led to his campaign to save the lower classes from immorality through censorship. Hence, in late September and early October 1911, city council members appointed additional movie house inspectors, whose wages would be paid by the exhibitioners. Furthermore, the head of the Entertainment Commission, proposed the implementation of censorship; however, Victoriano Huerta’s coup d’état in February 1913, prevented the move to legislate censorship.

Although Huerta’s reign was brief, the cinema experienced significant changes within this period such as the further establishment of censorship and a shift away from documentary films to entertainment films. The Alva brothers’ production of Aniversario del fallecimineto de la suegra de Enhart is indicative of the change in the aim of Mexican cinematographers.

In regards to censorship, the Huerta government imposed a moral and political decree of censorship in approximately June 1913. This decree was imposed a few days after convencionista soldiers shot at the screen during a viewing of El aguila y la serpiente. The decree stated that films that showed the following were prohibited: “views representing crimes, if they do not include punishment of the guilty parties, views which directly or indirectly insult an authority or person, morality or good manners, provoke a crime or offence, or in any way disturb the public order (Mora 70).” As a result of the limitations placed on film content as well as the radicalization of the parties involved in the armed conflicts, cameramen and producers began to display their opinion through the films they produced. For instance, favoritism towards the Zapatistas was illustrated in the film Sangre Hermana (Sister Blood, 1914). Due to the sensational content of this film, it is evident that the producers had no interest in displaying the events in such a way that the audience could come to their own conclusions.

The cinematic productions of this period were reflective of the Italians style film d’art, which were fiction-based melodramas. The film La Luz (The Light, Ezequiel Carrasco, 1917) was the first film that attempted to adopt this style, even though it was viewed as a plagiarism of Piero Fosco’s Il Fuoco. Paranaguá attributes the influence that the Italian had on the Mexican cinema with the similarities between the situations of both countries. Both countries were in a state of chaos and disorder- there was a war in Italy and a revolution in Mexico (Paranaguá 70). Once again censorship was re-established on October 1st 1919. Films, which illustrated acts of immortality or induced sympathy for the criminal, were prohibited.

Government budget had to be trimmed as a result of the rebellion and cinematographic departments of the Ministry of Education and Agriculture were cut. By 1924, narrative films were at an all time low since 1917.

During the 1920s very few movies were produced, given the political climate that was still very unsettled and the resurgence of the American film industry.

The "Golden Age"

In the 1930s, once peace and a degree of political stability were achieved, cinematography took off in Mexico and several movies still experimenting with the nascent medium were done. Hollywood's attempt at creating Spanish language films for Latin America failed mainly due to the combination of Hispanic actors from different ethnicities exhibiting various accents unfamiliar to the Mexican people. It is important to notice how early Mexican cinematographers were influenced and encouraged by Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein's visit to the country in 1930.

During the 1940s the full potential of the industry developed. Actors, actresses, and directors became popular icons and even figures with political influence on diverse spheres of Mexican life. The industry received a boost as a consequence of Hollywood redirecting its efforts towards propagandistic films and European countries focusing on the war, which left an open field for other industries. Mexico dominated the film market in Latin America for most of the 1940s without competition from the United States film industry.

The Golden Age of Mexican cinema took place during the 1940s and beyond. The most prominent during this period was Mario Moreno, better known as Cantinflas. The film Ahí está el detalle (There is the Detail) in 1940 made Cantinflas a household name and became known as the "Mexican Charlie Chaplin" to Americans. His films were ubiquitous in Spain and Latin America and influenced many contemporary actors. Only until the appearance of "Tin-Tan" in the late 1940s did his popularity wane. Mexican actresses also were a focus in Mexican cinema. Sara García was the "grandmother of Mexico". Her career began with silent films in 1910, moved to theatre, and ultimately the film that made her famous, No basta ser madre (It's Not Enough to be a Mother) in 1937. Dolores del Río, another dramatic actress, became well-known for her roles in a couple films directed by Emilio Fernández.

In 1943, the Mexican industry produced seventy films, the most for a Spanish speaking country. Two notable films released in 1943 by director Emilio Fernández were Flor silvestre (1942 Film) and Maria Candelaria, both films starring Dolores del Río. The movies were triumphs for the director and for internationally acclaimed cinematographer, Gabriel Figueroa especially with María Candeleria winning the top prize at the Cannes Festival.

In 1948 there was another "first" for Mexican cinema: The trilogy of Nosotros los pobres, Ustedes los ricos and Pepe el Toro, starring mexican icons Pedro Infante and Evita Muñoz "Chachita" and directed by Ismael Rodríguez.

The only other comedian with the same level of popularity as Cantinflas was German Valdez "Tin-Tan". Tin-Tan played a pachuco character appearing with a zoot suit in his films. Unlike Cantinflas, Tin-Tan never played as a pelado, but as a Mexican-American. He employed pachuco slang in many of his movies and made famous spanglish, a dialect that many Mexican residents disdained.

Other relevant films during these years include Espaldas mojadas (Wetbacks) by Alejandro Galindo, Aventura (Adventure) a melodrama, and Los olvidados (The Young and the Damned) (1950), a story about impoverished children in Mexico City. The themes during those years, although mostly conventional comedies or dramas, touched all aspects of Mexican society, from the 19th century dictator Porfirio Díaz and his court, to love stories always tainted by drama.

1960s through 1980s

During the 1960s and 1970s many cult horror and action movies were produced with professional wrestler El Santo and Hugo Stiglitz being the biggest stars. In the 1970s a large group of films that were called “Sexicomedias” were produced; Sasha Montenegro would become the queen of these types of films. The most important of these films were Bellas de Noche 1 and 2 from 1975 and 1977 as well as Muñecas de medianoche from 1979, while in the 1980s these films were also made, and they included the films of La pulqueria and Entre las ficheras anda el Diablo.

Nuevo Cine Mexicano

The period spanning the 1990s to the present has been considered as the Era of the Nuevo Cine Mexicano (New Mexican Cinema). It first took place with high quality films by Arturo Ripstein, Alfonso Arau, Alfonso Cuarón and María Novaro. The most famous films produced at this time were Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) (1992), Pelo Suelto by Gloria Trevi, Cronos (1993), Sexo, pudor y lágrimas (Sex, Shame, and Tears) (1999) and Santitos ("Little Saints") (1999). The latest are Amores perros by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Y tu mamá también by Alfonso Cuarón El Ultimo Rey 2007 a Movie Miracle made only with the Donnatives of Chihuahua Community by Eduardo Barraza Tijuana Makes Me Happy by Dylan Verrechiaand El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) (2006).

Notable Mexicans in the American film industry

Gael García Bernal

Most recently, several Mexican movies starring Gael García Bernal have enjoyed great popularity, including Amores perros (2000), Y tu mamá también (2001), the polemical El crimen del Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro) (2002), and the Latin American film, The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). He has worked more in Europe than he has in Hollywood. He has starred in La Mala Educación (Bad Education) (2004), directed by Pedro Almodóvar, The King (2005), The Science of Sleep (2006) and Babel (2006). He is post-producing his first feature as a director, Déficit.

Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek started her career in Mexican telenovelas. Her first film, El callejón de los milagros (Miracle Alley, 1994) put her on the spotlight and, next year she was starring in Desperado along Antonio Banderas. She has worked several times with Robert Rodriguez, including From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003). She has worked in more than 30 films, including 54 (1998), El Coronel No Tiene Quien le Escriba (No One Writes to the Colonel, 1999), Wild Wild West (1999), Traffic (2000), Frida (2002), for which she earned an Academy Award nomination, Ask the Dust (2006) and Bandidas (2006). In 2003 she directed The Maldonado Miracle, a Showtime movie.

Alfonso Cuarón

Film director Alfonso Cuarón has been noted for both his Mexican and American films. His works include the Mexican films Sólo con tu pareja (1991), his feature debut, and the critically-acclaimed, Academy Award-nominated film Y tu mamá también, as well as A little princess (1995), the Charles Dickens contemporary adaptation Great expectations (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and, most recently, highly acclaimed dystopian thriller Children of Men (2006).

Alejandro González Iñárritu

Film director Alejandro González Iñárritu was first recognized for his debut in Amores perros, written by his former colleague Guillermo Arriaga; the three intersecting stories presented in the film depicted the life in Mexico City. Following the same hyperlink cinema attributes and along Guillermo Arriaga again, he directed 21 Grams (2003), starring Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro. His last project, Babel, also interweaved stories, but at an international scale now, setting the four stories in Japan, Morocco, Mexico and the United States. It starred Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael García Bernal; this film had seven nomination to the 79th Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Guillermo del Toro

Film director Guillermo del Toro directed his film debut Cronos in 1993, a fantastic story where his talent with imaginary, dark atmospheres was first shown. He has directed Mimic (1997), El espinazo del Diablo (The Devil's Backbone) (2001), Blade II (2002) and Hellboy (2004), all within the same fantastic/horror treatment. His latest film, El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) (2006) was critically acclaimed and was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Rodrigo Prieto

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto started his career with small Mexican short and feature length films. His big break came with his work in Amores Perros, in which he captures the dramatic urbanity of Mexico City. This work impressed Curtis Hanson, who asked him to shoot 8 Mile. He has worked with very renowned directors like Spike Lee (25th Hour), Oliver Stone (the documentaries Comandante about Fidel Castro, and Persona Non Grata, about Yassir Arafat, and Alexander starring Colin Farrell) and Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, one of his most recognized works, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, and Lust, Caution). He also shot Frida in Mexico. He continued to work with Alejandro González Iñarritu in 21 Grams and, most recently, Babel.

Eduardo Barraza

Writer. Director,Producer, Actor Eduardo Barraza started his career in Monterrey Mexico working in Mexican cinema A Deluge, These film was made only with 4000dlls and won 70000 dlls award. (La Sombra del Sahuaro) The First Mexican Digital Effects Feature Film and El Ultimo Rey Film made with the donatives of the Chihuahua Community . ARCANGEL his new project received a critical praise at the Beverly Hills Film Festival 2008, including the Mexican Writers Society Screenplay Contest 2006 for Best Script. A new way of writer promoting the Faith, Hope and Charity.

Henner Hofmann

Cinematographer Henner Hofmann started his career in Mexico City working in Mexican cinema La Leyenda de una Mascara, Ave Maria, Nocturno a Rosario directed by Matilde Landeta and international productions filmed in Mexico. He has work in American films with directors like Tony Scott Joe Jonston Stephen Gyllenhaal The Warden of the Red Rock staring James Caan, Brian Dennehy and David Carradine. The Time of Her Time a Norman Mailer story directed by Francis Delia and GallowWalker, Andrew Goth director with Wesley Snipes, alsoJohn Carpenter Vampires Los Muertos.

Emmanuel Lubezki

Three-times Academy Award nominated Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki started his career along Alfonso Cuarón with Sólo con tu pareja, A little princess and Great expectations. These films caught the eye of many Hollywood directors such as Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow), Michael Mann (Ali) and Terrence Malick (The New World). He has also shot Meet Joe Black (1998), The Cat in the Hat (2003) and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004). He has continued to work with Cuarón in Y tu mamá también and, most recently, Children of men, for which he has received critical praise and various awards, including the 63rd Venice International Film Festival for Best Technical Contribution.

Mexican cinema personalities




See also



  • Mora, Carl J. Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society, 1896-2004, Berkeley: University of California Press, 3rd edition 2005. ISBN 0786420839
  • Maciel, David R. Mexico's Cinema: A Century of Film and Filmmakers, Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 1999. ISBN 0-8420-2682-7
  • Noble, Andrea, Mexican National Cinema, Taylor & Francis, 2005, ISBN 0415230101

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