Borderland Films: American Cinema, Mexico, and Canada during the Progressive Era

Borderland Films: American Cinema, Mexico, and Canada during the Progressive Era

Borderland Films: American Cinema, Mexico, and Canada during the Progressive Era

Borderland Films: American Cinema, Mexico, and Canada during the Progressive Era

Synopsis

The concept of North American borderlands in the cultural imagination fluctuated greatly during the Progressive Era as it was affected by similarly changing concepts of identity and geopolitical issues influenced by the Mexican Revolution and the First World War. Such shifts became especially evident in films set along the Mexican and Canadian borders as filmmakers explored how these changes simultaneously represented and influenced views of society at large.

Borderland Films examines the intersection of North American borderlands and culture as portrayed through early twentieth-century cinema. Drawing on hundreds of films, Dominique Bregent-Heald investigates the significance of national borders; the ever-changing concepts of race, gender, and enforced boundaries; the racialized ideas of criminality that painted the borderlands as unsafe and in need of control; and the wars that showed how international conflict significantly influenced the United States' relations with its immediate neighbors. Borderland Films provides a fresh perspective on American cinematic, cultural, and political history and on how cinema contributed to the establishment of societal narratives in the early twentieth century.

Excerpt

In 1909 the Selig Polyscope Company released On the Border, a “wild and woolly” tale of love and revenge featuring cowboys, gambling houses, and plenty of gunplay. Six years later Selig produced another film also titled On the Border (1915), a love story set against a cross-border smuggling ring, which similarly depicted a “phase of western life.” Although not a remake, the later film contained parallel characters and interrelated themes, such as criminality and violence, as well as adventure and romance. Yet while the 1909 film transpires in the U.S.-Mexico border region, the 1915 production portrays life in the borderlands of the United States and Canadian West. Despite their southwestern and northwestern settings, what really matters is that both films take place “on the border,” in territories where neighboring nations, communities, and cultures intersect.

This comparison provides a starting point to examine the emergence of a category of narrative motion pictures that I term borderland films. I estimate that during the 1910s the U.S. film industry manufactured and exported approximately five hundred fictional motion pictures set on or about the physical edges of the United States. Although mostly filmed in New York, New Jersey, and, after 1910, southern California and south Texas, these borderland films take place in diverse geographic regions. A

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