Mexican National Cinema and Beyond

By Pitman, Thea | Framework, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Mexican National Cinema and Beyond


Pitman, Thea, Framework


Mexican National Cinema and Beyond Mexico's cinema: a century of film and filmmakers. Edited by Joanne Hershfield and David R. Maciel. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources Books. 1999.

With its inclusion of the work of an unusually wide range of scholars, both Mexican and North American, and articles that range from commissioned contributions to new translations of classic texts by such famous names as Carlos Monsiváis, Hershfield and Maciel's volume becomes the second major anthology to be published in English on the subject of Mexican cinema. Like its predecessor, Paulo Antonio Paranaguá's Mexican Cinema, Hershfield and Maciel's anthology aims to cover the subject both in breadth and depth.

In terms of breadth, twelve articles are divided into three main sections covering 'The Silent Era,' 'The Golden Age' and 'The Contemporary Era.' Two articles on the silent era briefly sketch out the emergence of the Mexican film industry in the first years of the twentieth century and its response to the technical innovations of the 'talkies' in the 1930s. In the section on 'The Golden Age,' six articles approach the period of the 1940s and 1950s from as many different perspectives, culminating with an article on the demise of the Golden Age in the 1960s. Finally, the section on 'The Contemporary Era' contains four articles that articulate some of the main trends and debates in Mexican cinema since the 1970s. The anthology thus spans a period of just over one hundred years, and clearly aims to provide the reader with a sense of historical continuity.

In terms of depth, the approach is interdisciplinary and includes detailed readings of specific films from aesthetic, thematic and/or sociopolitical points of view, along with broader characterisations of genres, directors, actors, and chronicles of specific epochs. It also offers a detailed analysis of the industry's relationship with the Mexican state and with Hollywood. The overarching theme that unites all the articles is of a national order: the anthology centers on the national characteristics of Mexican cinema, the industry and the art form, and on the role of cinema as a vehicle for the creation of narratives of Mexican national identityboth the monolithic mestizo state version, and the more subtle hybrid versions created by individual filmmakers. A number of articles are worthy of special mention in this context. Maciel's fascinating investigation into the Mexican state's role in contemporary film production sheds new light on the question of state censorship of cinema and its attempts to manipulate the construction of national identity through cinema. Hershfield's study of race and ethnicity in Golden Age cinema, and Maciel and Hershfield's account of female directors' representation of women in contemporary films, provide convincing arguments for the pivotal role of race and gender in the cinematic construction of alternative Mexican national identities.

A number of important essays deal with the involvement of the United States, and of Hollywood in particular, in the development of Mexican cinema, both in terms of the politics and economics of the industry, and in terms of the creation of versions of Mexican national identity. …

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