Monday, June 29, 2015

An Introduction to Mexican Cinema

I'm currently working on a zine for an upcoming exhibit this Friday at Hibbleton Gallery, which is a retrospective of the films we've explored at our weekly film series.  This zine is called "An Introduction to Mexican Cinema."  Here's the introduction I wrote to the zine, in which I discuss the challenges (and rewards) of finding classic Mexican films.  The research that went into this zine also forms the basis for our upcoming Mexican Cinema series at Hibbleton...

With the exception of a handful of films that have become international hits, the cinema of Mexico is not well-known by many Americans.  Indeed, before doing research for this zine (and an upcoming film series at Hibbleton Gallery), Mexican cinema was not well-known to me.  This is a strange state of affairs, considering Mexico is our neighbor.  While reading Carl J. Mora’s Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society (a standard text on the topic), I began compiling a list of films to check out.  By the time I finished the book, my list included over 100 films!

The next step was to find these films and begin watching them.  This proved to be a difficult, laborious (and expensive!) task.  I scoured Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon for these films, and mostly came up empty-handed.  Classic Mexican cinema is hugely under-represented on these online viewing platforms.  To give just one example, Maria Caldelaria, considered by some to be the greatest Mexican film ever made, winner of the Grand Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival, is not available to watch online with English subtitles. 

Frustrated but not defeated, I began to take a different approach.  Having exhausted the “instant watch” game, I began ordering actual DVDs online.  I got Maria Candelaria, several Cantinflas movies (sort of the Mexican Charlie Chaplin), lots of great stuff.  However, when the first batch arrived in the mail, most did not have English subtitles!  This was going to be harder than I thought.

Not one to give up easily, especially when I become obsessed with something I think is important, I continued searching, finding a handful of DVDs online, some used.  Each time I found and watched a classic Mexican film, I felt privy to some secret knowledge.  The difficulty of the task made small victories more rewarding.  It was like mining for gold.

I enlisted the help of a tech-savvy friend to scour the interwebs for torrents and downloads of films that were simply unavailable anywhere else (which is the case for much Mexican cinema).  Slowly, very slowly, I began to amass a small collection of films, and began watching them.  There are still huge gaps in what I was able to find.  (I challenge you to find a copy of Felipe Cazals’ Canoa!)

I’m not sure why classic Mexican cinema is so hard to find in the U.S.  My hope is that companies like The Criterion Collection will release more of these films.  Until that day, American movie buffs are being seriously culturally impoverished.  Watching Mexican cinema has opened windows of insight into our neighbor to the south—its culture, politics, music, and our entwined histories.  The goal of this zine (and each zine in our growing World Cinema Zine Library) is to shine a light onto the deep well that is Mexican cinema.  Seek out these films, savor them, and be enlightened, mis amigos!

Still frame from Maria Candelaria.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Jesse - I have a question about "Maria Candelaria." I'm hoping to screen the film as part of a Mexican film series I'm putting together at the museum where I work. I am having a very difficult time finding a DVD or BluRay copy of the film with English subtitles, however. I came across your blog in my online search, and saw you mentioned English subtitles in the copy you viewed! Do you happen to have any info about where I could find a copy of the DVD (or an online source) with English subtitles? Thank you in advance for your help!

    Callan Steinmann
    Associate Curator of Education
    Georgia Museum of Art
    callan@uga.edu
    706.542.8863

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