Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Great Mexican Filmmakers

I'm currently working on a zine entitled "An Introduction to Mexican Cinema" for an upcoming art exhibit at Hibbleton Gallery.  In one of the chapters of the zine, I focus on 15 great Mexican directors of the past century.  Here they are, with brief bios...

1.) Salvador Toscano Barragon (1872 – 1947) was Mexico's first filmmaker, who also opened his country’s first public movie theatre in 1897.   He was mainly a documentary filmmaker whose chief subject was the Mexican Revolution.  In 1950, his daughter Carmen took many scenes of his Mexican revolutionary documentary films and released it under the title Memorias de un Mexicano (Memoirs of a Mexican).

Salvador Toscano Barragon

2.) Sergei Eisenstein (1898 – 1948) was actually a Soviet Russian director known mostly for his silent films Strike (1925) and Battleship Potemkin (1925) who traveled to Mexico in 1931 and made ¡Que viva México!, one of the great masterpieces of world cinema, in which nearly every shot is a revelation in the possibilities of photography. Made at the height of the European avant-garde’s fascination with Mexico (Surrealism’s founder André Breton considered Mexico the incarnation of Surrealism, for example), ¡Que viva México! is a wildly creative documentary-fantasy about Mexican culture and politics (from pre-Conquest civilization to the Mexican revolution) inspired by Diego Rivera’s meeting of Sergei Eisenstein, whose avant-garde cinema he compared to his own work as a painter in the service of the Mexican revolution.

Sergei Eisenstein

3.) Fernando de Fuentes (1894-1958) has been called the John Ford of Mexican cinema. He is most known for his Revolution Trilogy, a masterpiece of early sound film which examined the turbulent Mexican Revolution (a conflict not well-understood by many Americans) from different perspectives: from rich landowners to Zapatistas to federal troops to those who rode with revolutionary Pancho Villa. Aside from their technical innovations, what makes these films significant is their attempt to de-mythologize the Revolution, to show its complexity and tragedy. The three films of the Revolution Trilogy are (in order): Prisionero Trece (Prisoner 13), El Compadre Mendoza, and Vamonos Con Pancho Villa! (Let’s Go With Pancho Villa!), made between 1933-1936.

Fernando de Fuentes

4.) Emilio Fernandez (1904-1986) was the preeminent director of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema (in the 1940s and 1950s).  Perhaps his greatest film was Maria Candelaria, a work of stunning lyrical beauty about an indigenous woman in Xochimilco.  It became the first Mexican film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix (now known as the Palme d’Or), the first Latin American film to do so. Inspired to create a uniquely Mexican cinema after seeing Eisenstein’s ¡Que viva México! (1931), Fernández’s work with the great cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa (who went on to work with Luis Bunuel) captured the graceful beauty of Mexico’s landscapes and indigenous people like no one had before.  Other notable films by Fernandez include Flor Silvestre (1943), Rio Escondido (1947), and Enamorada (1947).

Emilio Fernandez

5.) Miguel M. Delgado is best known as the favorite director of Golden Age Mexican movie star Cantinflas, a comedian who has been compared to Charlie Chaplin.  Notable Cantinflas films directed by Delgado include The Unknown Policeman (1941) and The Three Musketeers (1942), which was entered into the 1946 Cannes International Film Festival.  Throughout his long and prolific career, Delgado directed 139 films, 33 of which starred Cantinflas.

Miguel M. Delgado

6.) Luis Bunuel was a Spanish filmmaker who first made a name for himself with the surrealist masterpiece Un Chien Andalou (1929), a collaboration with Salvador Dalí that changed cinema forever (and inspired the Pixies song “Debaser”).  Bunuel spent over 20 years making films in Mexico, including Los Olvidados (1950), about slum children in Mexico City, Simon Of The Desert (1965), about the common early Christian practice of living in solitude on the top of giant pillars, Nazarín (1959), which likewise investigates what it means to be truly alone with God; and whether living like Christ is in fact the highest manifestation of surrealism, The Exterminating Angel (1962), about a dinner party where guests discover it is impossible to leave the room even though nothing is stopping them, and Viridiana (1961) which re-imagines the Last Supper as a gathering of drunk beggars.

Portrait of Luis Bunuel by Salvador Dali

7.) Alejandro Jodorowsky (born 1929) is actually Chilean, but he has made significant contributions to Mexican cinema.  His work is filled with violently surreal images and a hybrid blend of mysticism and religious provocation. In 1967 he directed his first feature film, the surrealist Fando y Lis, which caused a huge scandal in Mexico, eventually being banned.  His next film, the “acid western” El Topo (1970), became a hit on the midnight movie circuit in the United States, considered as the first-ever midnight cult film, garnering high praise from John Lennon, which led to Jodorowsky being provided with $1 million to finance his next film. The result was The Holy Mountain (1973), a surrealist exploration of western esoterism.  Disagreements with the film's distributor led to both The Holy Mountain and El Topo failing to gain widespread distribution, although both have since become classics on the underground film circuit.

Alejandro Jodorowsky

8.) Felipe Cazals (born 1937) is considered one of the most representative film directors of his generation. His masterworks Las Inocentes (1986), Las Poquianchis (1976), El Apando (1976) and Canoa (1976), make him one of the most creative and socially conscious filmmakers in the history of Latin-American movies. Canoa was entered into the Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear Prize. His 1973 film Aquellos Anos was entered into the Moscow International Film Festival where it won a Special Prize.

Felipe Cazals

9.) Jaime Humberto Hermosillo (born 1942)  One of the few openly gay Mexican directors, Hermosillo creates films which explore the complexities of middle-class Mexican values and sexual diversity.  He found great success with Doña Herlinda y Su Hijo (1985), a comedy about a mother of a gay doctor who manipulates her son, his male lover and his fiancée to fulfill her desire of becoming a grandmother. Homosexual themes in Hermosillo's films can be found in Matinee, El Cumpleaños del Perro, and Las apariencias engañan (1978). Hermosillo has also been an explorer of film language.  La Tarea is one of the most complex exercises in film style in recent years (the film consists of one long shot, from the POV of a camcorder).  He worked with author Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Mary My Dearest in 1979 and The Summer of Miss Forbes in 1988.  Hermosillo currently teaches film-making at the University of Guadalajara and has recently collaborated with his students on various projects.

Jaime Humberto Hermosillo

10) Alfonso Arau (born 1932) is probably best known for his 1992 film Like Water for Chocolate (adapted from the novel written by Laura Esquivel), which employs Latin American magical realism to tell a story about a family, and the changes wrought by the Mexican Revolution.   In 1973, Arau acted in and directed Calzonzin Inspector,  a humorous political critique, aimed squarely at the then ruling political party (the PRI), at a time when freedom of speech in politics was highly restricted.    Arau acted in other notable films like El rincón de las vírgenes ("The Virgins' Corner"), and Tivoli.   He has also acted in some Hollywood films like The Wild Bunch, The Three Amigos, and Romancing the Stone.

Alfonso Arau

11.) Alfonso Cuaron (born 1961) is the first Mexican director to win an Academy Award for Best Directing.  His first successful film was Solo Con Tu Pareja (1991), a sex comedy about “yuppies” and AIDS.  His 2001 film Y Tu Mama Tambien was a provocative and controversial road comedy about two sexually obsessed teenagers who take an extended road trip with an attractive married woman in her late twenties. The film's open portrayal of sexuality and frank humor, as well as the politically and socially relevant asides, made the film an international hit and a major success with critics.  He has also directed English-language Hollywood films like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Gravity.

Alfonso Cuaron

12.) Maria Novaro (born 1951) was amongst the first generation of female filmmakers to graduate from film school in Mexico.  Her films often feature women embarking on journeys of self-discovery, exploring themes of motherhood, female friendship and absent males, with protagonists turning to fellow women for help and guidance.  Her first feature film Lola (1989) tells the story of a woman  abandoned by her daughters father who is confronted with isolation and hopelessness in the vastness of Mexico City.  Her second feature, Danzon (1991), won her international acclaim, as she portrayed the  strict gender codes and procedures of traditional Mexican dance hall culture.   Her films El Jardin del Eden (1994) and Sin Dejar Huella (2000) mix ideas of borderlands, intertwined lives, and the quest for identity.  Novaro has said that the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Ingmar Bergman inspired her narrative style, particularly the way she sees her films as poetry and not dramaturgy.

Maria Novaro

13.) Guillermo del Toro (born 1964).   Del Toro's work is characterised by a strong connection to fairy tales and horror, infused with visual or poetic beauty.  He is known for his use of insectile and religious imagery, the themes of Catholicism and celebrating imperfection, underworld and clockwork motifs, and practical special effects.  His first feature film was Cronos (1993), a modern vampire story set in Mexico City.  Two of his most critically acclaimed films are set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, under the authoritarian rule of Francisco Franco: The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth.  Del Toro views the horror genre as inherently political, explaining, "Much like fairy tales, there are two facets of horror. One is pro-institution, which is the most reprehensible type of fairy tale: Don't wander into the woods, and always obey your parents. The other type of fairy tale is completely anarchic and antiestablishment."  These days, Del Toro is a director of major Hollywood blockbusters like Hellboy and Pacific Rim.

Guillermo Del Toro

14.) Luis Estrada (born 1962) is known for his stinging satire of contemporary Mexican politics and society.  His first feature, Herod’s Law (1999), a satire of political corruption in Mexico and the long-ruling PRI Party, was notably the first Mexican film to criticize PRI explicitly by name.  It won the Ariel Award for Best Picture from the Mexican Academy of Film. His second film, A Wonderful World continued the theme of satire of then-president Vicente Fox and his neo-liberal economic policies.  This was followed by El Infierno (2010), a satire about the Mexican Drug War.  His most recent film, The Perfect Dictatorship (2014) is a comedy about the corrupt marriage of corporate media and political power.  Luis Estrada has been called “the conscience of contemporary Mexico.”

Luis Estrada

15.) Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (born 1963) is the first Mexican-born director to have won the the best director award at the Cannes International Film Festival.  His first feature film Amores Perros (1999), which explored society in Mexico City via three intertwining stories, won the Critics Award at Cannes. His third film Babel (2005) was set in four countries across three continents, and in 4 different languages. For this film, González Iñárritu received the Best Director Award at Cannes.  In 2007, González Iñárritu became the first Mexican director to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director.   His first three films (Amores perros, 21 Grams and Babel) have been called his "Death Trilogy."  His most recent film, Birdman, won the Academy Award for best picture this year.

Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu

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