Monday, October 07, 2013

Mexico: Records of Revolution I (2013 Pordenone retrospective curated by Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas)

Carlos, Eduardo and Guillermo Alva, cameramen of the Revolution - photo: Filmoteca de la UNAM

Messico: la rivoluzione filmata / Mexico: Records of Revolution, Prog. 1. Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone), with e-titles in English and Italian, grand piano: José María Serralde Ruíz, 7 Oct 2013

Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas: Sources of early Mexican films

"Most of the films in this year’s programme come from three collections now preserved by the Filmoteca de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)."

"The largest is the Fondo Toscano (Toscano Collection), covering the period 1898 to 1938 and formed by the pioneer fim-maker Salvador Toscano. As well as his own productions, Toscano diligently acquired the films of his contemporaries. From his holdings, he compiled a succession of documentary histories of the Revolution – in 1912 (already more than one hour), 1915, 1916, 1920, and 1927, in 35 reels. The culmination was his 1934 compilation, running 6 hours and shown over three days. In the process Toscano extensively re-edited the films, and added his own intertitles, to reflect his changing personal view of the Revolution. The collection was further complicated when his daughter Carmen edited a sonorized, 90-minute adaptation of the 1934 film, now titled Memorias de un mexicano, in 1950. Inevitably throughout this long process the original films were disarticulated, fragmented, and disordered, as well as suffering loss from ordinary deterioration."

"Edmundo Gabilondo began his collection (Fondo Gabilondo) in 1907, with the early films of the Hermanos Alva (Alva Brothers), and continued to collect actuality films until 1942. His ambition was to make his own response to Memorias de un mexicano, but he was restricted by his primitive technical resources. Responsibly, he did not cut the original negatives, but worked with the inferior prints he was able to make from the negatives. When satisfied with his cut, he made a dupe negative from which he printed his third-generation final version. He carefully left the original negatives untouched, and these passed with the rest of the collection to the Filmoteca of UNAM at his death. Unfortunately the negatives were destroyed in a fire, and only Gabilondo’s dupes and a few fragments of original films survived. The Fondo Revolución (Revolution Collection) has been built up by purchase and gift, and includes films, sometimes of considerable length, of significant moments in the Revolution story as well as the series of films shot by Gabriel Veyre for the Lumière Brothers in 1896. The Cineteca Nacional’s collection was seriously depleted by the fire of 1982: it now includes film of the burial of José de Léon Toral, the assassin, in 1928, of President Obregón, fragments of the archive of Obregón’s favoured cameraman Jesús Hermenegildo Abitia, and 15 reels of films of the Revolution donated to the American Film Institute and passed in equal parts to the Cineteca Nacional and the Filmoteca of UNAM."
– Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas

Programme Compilations
Photochemical film restorations supervised by Francisco Gaytán Fernández, Filmoteca de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (henceforth abbreviated to UNAM). Research and editorial reconstruction by the historian Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas, with the coordination of UNAM cataloguer Ángel Martínez.

Film Titles
"In the long course of being re-edited into the various compilations by Toscano and Gabilondo, most of the films seen in these programmes have lost both their original titles and intertitles. Hence the majority of the more than 600 titles in the new compilations screened by the Giornate were created in 2013. Though some of these new titles have been graphically designed to appear like original title cards by Toscano or the Alva Brothers, they should not be confused with the few remaining authentic period titles, which can readily be distinguished by their style and print quality."

"In listing the films in this catalogue, newly assigned main titles are indicated in square brackets. The titles not so designated are in a few rare cases derived from the original prints, or more often have been deduced from original documents of the period in archives, libraries, and other collections in Mexico City, such as handbills and programmes, as well as references in newspapers of the time, which are also the source of numerous quotations in the newly-created intertitles."

Musical Accompaniment
The three Mexican programmes are accompanied by José María Serralde Ruiz. A multidisciplinary artist and pianist, Señor Serralde Ruiz graduated from the Escuela Nacional de Música UNAM. His graduate thesis was on silent film music in Mexico between 1910 and 1917 – the period covered by these programmes of films of the Revolution. Since 1998, as founder of the Ensamble Cine Mudo (EnCiM), he has specialized in accompanying silent films, with a particular concern for period authenticity.

Il Messico nel 1900 / Mexico in the Early 1900s

La trasformazione di una nazione / Transformation of a Nation

 “… no more books; in its dark urn the phonograph will keep the old silenced voices; the cinematograph will reproduce the lives of the great … Our grandchildren will see our generals, … the intellectuals … our martyrs …” – Amado Nervo, Mexican poet and diplomat, 1898

Last Years of the Porfiriato – The Cinema Discovers Mexico, Mexico Discovers the Cinema
"The first programme offers a portrait of Mexico at the end of the “Porfiriato”, the 35-year regime of President Porfirio Díaz. Díaz (1830-1915) became a national hero as a young general at the 3rd Battle of Puebla (1867), a significant set-back for the French imperialists and an inspiration to Mexico, where the First Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862 (Cinco de Mayo) is still commemorated annually. From this time onwards he systematically combined his military and political ambitions, and in 1877 was able to appoint himself President. A politician of skill and ruthlessness, he was to fulfil the office for most of the next 35 years, side-stepping the official prohibition of re-election and surrounding himself with a privileged power-group, “los Cientificos”. Soon he had created a virtual dictatorship by his ingenious strategies of apparently embracing his opponents on the principle that “a dog with a bone neither barks nor bites”. Thanks to an energetic policy of modernization and encouraging foreign investment, he consolidated the Mexican economy and raised the country’s international prestige. But national prosperity came at the expense of human rights for much of the native population and working class, and the dispossession of vast numbers of peasants, with consequent rural impoverishment."

"The earliest films of Mexico were made by the Lumière agents Gabriel Veyre and Claude Fernand Bon Bernard, who soon after their arrival on 24 July 1896 persuaded the President himself to be filmed, in his residence and on horseback in the grounds of the castle of Chapultepec. Filming in Mexico and Guadalajara, their “vues” of landscapes, Indian and Mexican types, dances and rural life chimed with the nationalistic feeling increasingly expressed in the two previous decades, in photography, painting, and lithography. The example of the Lumière shows and the availability for purchase of the Cinématographe and raw film can be seen as the start of cinematography in Mexico."

"The Edison company had neglected to film in Mexico for the Kinetoscope, and only followed the Lumière representatives there at the end of 1897: “James White and Frederick Blechynden followed the rails south and into Mexico, where two of that nation’s largest railroad companies, like their American counterparts, were eager to encourage – and subsidize – North Americans who wished to take motion pictures that might bolster tourism,” writes Charles Musser (Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900: An Annotated Filmography, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 1997).

"Mexico’s first native film-maker can be reckoned as Salvador Toscano Barragán (1872-1947). Inspired by articles in the French science magazine La Nature, he acquired a Cinématographe and around 1898 made his first short films, including the earliest view of Mexico’s City’s main square, the Plaza de la Constitución (popularly known as El Zócalo). Soon he was a dynamic showman, touring the cities of North-central Mexico by train. A positivist by training, he most of all cherished the “truth” of the cinema in its space-time recording, exemplified by the Lumière “vues” shot by Veyre. By 1906 we find him assembling multi-shot films, like the 12 scenes which trace the route of the journey of Porfirio Díaz to Yucatán. The following year came his still more ambitious compilation, Inauguración del tráfico internacional por el istmo de Tehuantepec, combining 21 views illustrating the settings of Díaz’s journey to open the Tehuantepec Trans-Isthmus railway."

"The second important Mexican film pioneers, the Alva Brothers (Hermanos Alva) of Morelia, in the state of Michoacán, turned from the manufacture of bicycles to cinema in 1905, though their earliest surviving films only date from 1907. From 1909, along with P. Aveline and A. Delalande, the Alva Brothers were contracted to supply items for the French Pathé-Journal. By the end of the Díaz regime and the outbreak of the Revolution they were producing some of the most mature and ambitious films of reportage, Entrevista Díaz-Taft (about the historic meeting of Presidents Díaz and Taft in October 1909) and Revolución orozquista (1912). As early as 1907 we find the Alva Brothers touching on national events, with Desfile militar por la glorieta del bosque de San Pedro and 2 de abril en Morelia. Formación en Villalongín y bosque de San Pedro, two films recording the local celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Díaz’s triumph at the 3rd Battle of Puebla."

"Paseo en tranvía por la calle de Brasil, documenting a tram ride in the working-class Peralvillo neighbourhood of Mexico City, released in February 1920, is one of the few remaining films by the Elhers sisters, Dolores (1903-1983) and Adriana (?-1972). Although their work is chronologically outside the period covered by this programme, the Hermanas Elhers (Elhers Sisters) are interesting as the only Mexican women directors of the silent period who specialized in actuality films. They were discovered very young, working in a photographic shop in their native Veracruz, by President Carranza, who sent them to study in North America. By 1920 they had turned to film- making, often with government commissions, and from 1922 to 1929 (or 1931) produced a weekly newsreel, Revista Elhers. In 1929 they moved to Guadalajara to distribute the films of the Nicholas Power Company, as Casa Elhers. Adriana was for a while head of the official film censorship department. Other Mexican women directors in the silent era were Mimí Derba and Cándida Beltrán Rendón."

"The cinematographers of the Revolution recorded history as it happened before their eyes and the eyes of their camera, pragmatically, without theory or technical elaboration. Sometimes their films recorded planned and publicized events (the journeys of Madero, the entry of an army), sometimes they improvised, capturing unforeseen events – the earthquake which preceded Madero’s arrival in Mexico City; the Decena Trágica (“Ten Tragic Days”) of February 1913. There is not a plan as in many films of the First World War, commissioned or commanded by the government in power, to declare the situation of the respective armies on the battle fronts or to convince the audience that a war is being won even though it is being lost. The films of the Revolution lack this rhetoric of persuasion because they are “unofficial” not “official” propaganda. The film-makers do not want to conflict with the government on account of the cinema’s characteristics of being a big spectacle."

"How do we define this cinema? Not “news”; not “reportage”. Their makers called the films “views of actuality”, a term now fallen into disuse. Of the three concepts – news, reportage, and documentary – perhaps “documentary” would be the closest, given the universal acceptance of the term, though not the significance Grierson gave to the word."

"For good or bad, early Mexican cinema established film as a means of information, discovered its expression, found its way, and documented exceptional aspects of the life and history of the country." Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas

Film sources
All films in this programme are from the Filmoteca de la UNAM, Fondo Gabilondo and/or Fondo Toscano, except for the Lumière and Edison films, which are from UNAM’ s Fondo CNC and the Library of Congress respectively. All are DCPs except the Lumière and Edison films, which are 35 mm prints, and all have Spanish intertitles unless otherwise indicated.

Lumière films shot by Gabriel Veyre in Mexico (1896). Each film: P: Ferdinand Bon Bernard, Gabriel Veyre; DP: Gabriel Veyre; 35 mm, 14.5m., 50" (16 fps); print source: UNAM (Fondo CNC). No intertitles.

COMBAT DE COQS (Pelea de gallos), film Lumière n°26.
DUEL AU PISTOLET (Duelo a pistola en el bosque de Chapultepec), film Lumière n°35.
DÉFILÉ DE JEUNES FILLES AU LYCÉE (Clase de gimnasia en el colegio de La Paz, antiguas Vizcaínas), film Lumière n°36.
LE PRÉSIDENT PRENANT CONGÉ DE SES MINISTRES (El presidente de la República despidiéndose de sus ministros para tomar un carruaje), film Lumière n°345.
TRANSPORT DE LA CLOCHE DE L’INDÉPENDANCE (Llegada de la campana histórica el 16 de septiembre), film Lumière n°346.
RURAUX AU GALOP (Rurales al galope), film Lumière n°347.
LE PRÉSIDENT EN PROMENADE (El presidente de la República paseando a caballo en el bosque de Chapultepec), film Lumière n°348.
EXERCICE À LA BAÏONETTE (Alumnos de Chapultepec con la esgrima del fusil), film Lumière n°349.
LASSAGE D’UN CHEVAL SAUVAGE (Lazamiento de un caballo salvaje), film Lumière n°350; girato nella tenuta di Atequiza / filmed at hacienda de Atequiza.
REPAS D’INDIENS (Desayuno de indios), film Lumière n°351.
LASSAGE D’UN BŒUF SAUVAGE (Lazamiento de un buey salvaje), film Lumière n°352; girato nella tenuta di Atequiza / filmed at hacienda de Atequiza.
DANSE MÉXICAINE (Jarabe tapatío), film Lumière n°353; girato a Guadalajara / filmed at Guadalajara.
LASSAGE DES BŒUFS POUR LE LABOUR (Elección de yuntas en una bueyada), film Lumière n°354; girato nella tenuta di Atequiza / filmed at hacienda de Atequiza.
MARCHÉ INDIEN SUR LE CANAL DE LA VIGA (El canal de la Viga), film Lumière n°355.
CAVALIER SUR UN CHEVAL RÉTIF (Un amansador), film Lumière n°356; girato nella tenuta di Atequiza / filmed at hacienda de Atequiza.
BAIGNADE DE CHEVAUX (Baño de caballos), film Lumière n°357; girato nella tenuta di Atequiza / filmed at hacienda de Atequiza.
BAL ESPAGNOL DANS LA RUE (Baile de la romería española en el Tívoli del Eliseo), film Lumière n°358.

AA: A delightful opening to the Mexican series: Lumière films from 1896 shot in Mexico, full of life, a celebration of the life force. These copies tended to have a high contrast. My favourite: Lassage d'un cheval sauvage. Printed apparently at the AFF in 1995.

Edison Films (1897). P: James White; DP: Frederick Blechynden; 35 mm, 50 ft, 50" (16 fps); print source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA. No intertitles. NB: Bullfight, nos. 1-3: 3 films, with a total length of 150 ft, running time 2'30".

BULL FIGHT, nos. 1-3 (FLA 4391-4393). Filmed: 11-12.1897, Durango.
LAS VIGAS CANAL (FLA 4444). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F. MARKET SCENE, CITY OF MÉXICO (FLA 3233). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F.
MEXICAN FISHING SCENE (FLA 1300). Filmed: 12.1897, Canal de La Viga, México, D.F.
MEXICAN RURALES CHARGE (FLA 3986). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F.
MEXICO STREET SCENE (FLA 4316). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F.
[not shown: REPAIRING STREETS IN MEXICO (FLA 4093). Filmed: 11-12.1897, Durango.]
SUNDAY MORNING IN MEXICO (FLA 3515). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F.
SURFACE TRANSIT, MEXICO (FLA 3824). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F.
TRAIN HOUR IN DURANGO, MEXICO (FLA 3871). Filmed: 11-12.1897, Durango.
[not shown: WASH DAY IN MEXICO (FLA 4172). Filmed: 11-12.1897, Durango.]

AA: Another precious contribution to the Mexican story: Edison films from 1897, filmed in 1953-1955 from the paper print collection of the Library of Congress. Teeming crowds, moving vehicles. Many of the films were screened at a too slow a speed; as we know, the Edison speed at the time was 30 fps or even much faster.

The Earliest Films of Salvador Toscano (c.1898 -1905) 

EL ZÓCALO [Plaza de la Constitución] (c.1898) 53"
EL ZÓCALO [Plaza de la Constitución] (c.1900) 39"
EL ZÓCALO [Plaza de la Constitución] (c.1905) 18" P: Salvador Toscano; DP: Salvador Toscano; Fondo Toscano. No intertitles.

INAUGURACIÓN DEL TRÁFICO INTERNACIONAL POR EL ISTMO DE TEHUANTEPEC [Inaugurazione del traffico internazionale nell’istmo di Tehuantepec / Inauguration of international traffic across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec] (1907) P: Salvador Toscano; DP: Salvador Toscano?, Antonio Ocañas?; 14'30"; source: UNAM (Donation from Imperial War Museum, London; deposited by the heirs of Lord Cowdray).

AA: A great treasure: some of the earliest Mexican films produced by the Mexicans themselves: city views.

The First Films of the Hermanos Alva (Alva Brothers). P+DP: Hermanos Alva; location: Morelia; Fondo Gabilondo.

GRUPO DE NIÑOS EN EL BOSQUE DE SAN PEDRO [Gruppo di bambini nel bosco San Pedro / Group of Children playing in the Bosque de San Pedro] (1907) 1'20”. No intertitles.

[CATEDRAL DE MORELIA] [La cattedrale di Morelia / The Cathedral of Morelia] (1907) 13”. No intertitles.

PASEO FAMILIAR POR EL BOSQUE DE SAN PEDRO [Passeggiata familiare nel bosco San Pedro / Families strolling in the Bosque de San Pedro] (1907) 55”. No intertitles.

[FIESTAS DEL 2 DE ABRIL 1907 EN MORELIA] [Celebrazioni di 2 aprile 1907 a Morelia / Holiday Celebrations of 2 April 1907 in Morelia] 4'20”.
Main events depicted:
Desfile militar por la Glorieta del Bosque de San Pedro [Military Parade through the Bosque de San Pedro]
Desfile de calesas y autos. Acqueducto de Morelia [Procession of carriages and automobiles. Morelia Acqueduct]
Parada militar [Military parade]
Glorieta Central del Bosque de San Pedro [Traffic around the central plaza of the Bosque de San Pedro]

2 DE ABRIL EN MORELIA. FORMACIÓN EN VILLALONGÍN Y BOSQUE DE SAN PEDRO. 1907 [Il 2 aprile a Morelia. Formazione a Villalongín e nel bosco San Pedro / 2 April in Morelia. Military processions in Villalongín and the Bosque de San Pedro] (1907) 1'40”. No intertitles.

TEATRO SALÓN MORELOS EN SU TERCER ANIVERSARIO [Teatro Salone Morelos nel suo terzo anniversario / Teatro Salon Morelos on its Third Anniversary] (1911) P, DP: Hermanos Alva; location: Morelia; 45"; Fondo Gabilondo. No intertitles.

PASEO EN COCHE POR LA AVENIDA SAN FRANCISCO [Giro lungo Avenida San Francisco, Città di Messico / Ride along the Avenida San Francisco, Mexico City] (1908) P, DP: Hermanos Alva; 2'35"; Fondo Gabilondo. No intertitles.

PASEO EN TRANVÍA POR LA CALLE DE BRASIL EN LA CIUDAD DE MÉXICO [Giro in tram lungo Calle de Brasil, Città di Messico / Tram ride along the Calle de Brasil, Mexico City] (1920) P, DP: Hermanas Elhers; 2'07"; Fondo Gabilondo. No intertitles.

AA: Further Mexican discoveries: early films by the Alva brothers: children's plays, monuments, festivities, military parades, city views, phantom rides. The most memorable detail is about the incorrigible poseurs insisting in being visible in the shot, although they keep being vigorously chased away.

The Mirror of History
"From 1910, the seismic events of national history transformed the function of Mexican film-makers. No longer could they be satisfied with “vues/vistas” in the Lumière manner. History was facing them. The first big subject which challenged them was the national celebrations of the centenary of the 1810 uprising led by the priest Miguel Hidalgo, which was eventually to lead to Mexico’s independence from Spain. The celebrations continued from 1 to 30 September 1910 – the midpoint, 15 September, the day before the exact centenary, coincided with Díaz’s 80th birthday – but had been in preparation for a decade. New buildings and monuments were erected; and sympathetic foreign representatives were invited, to admire the “progress” of the 34 years of Díaz’s power. The celebrations were recorded by the Alva Brothers, by Toscano and Ocañas, and by Guillermo Becerril Jr. The Toscano-Ocañas version was the most complete and ambitious, a 5-reel, 30-episode “diary” of the September events."

"What remains of these records is fragmentary, and is arranged for this programme chronologically. Desfile de carros alegóricos is shown in part in its original form and in part in a later, “livelier” cut."

"The Centenary celebrations were the swan-song of the Díaz regime. From this point events moved swiftly: on 10 May 1911 revolutionaries took over the town of Juárez. On 15 May Porfirio Díaz finally gave up power, and was succeeded by Francisco Léon de la Barra, who served as Interim President until 6 November 1911." Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas

FIESTAS PATRIAS DEL CENTENARIO DE LA INDEPENDENCIA DE 1910 [Festeggiamenti nazionali per il centenario dell’Indipendenza nel 1910 / National Celebrations of the Centenary of Mexican Independence, 1910] P: Hermanos Alva, Salvador Toscano; DP: Hermanos Alva; 44'; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano.

Main events depicted:
Inauguración del manicomio de La Castañeda. Septiembre 1º [Opening of La Castañeda Mental Hospital. 1 September] (1'40")
Llegada de la Pila Bautismal de Hidalgo. Septiembre 2 [Arrival of the baptismal font of Hidalgo. 2 September] (1'40")
Desfile de carros alegóricos. Septiembre 4 [Parade of allegorical floats. 4 September] (11'34")
Gran desfile Histórico Nacional. Septiembre 15 [Great Parade of National History. 15 September] (4'42") Desfile militar. Septiembre 16 [Military Parade. 16 September] (16'02")
Junta Patriótica de festejos de la Ciudad de México [Mexico City Patriotic Committee] (1'06")
etc. - there was some 25 minutes more, but I was late for lunch already.

AA: Parade films are usually the most boring, but the most impressive film of the entire show (of what I got to see) was Desfile de carros alegóricos. Septiembre 4 with a haunting vision of Mexican history and its ancient past. I liked the Mexican touch of the live piano music by José María Serralde Ruíz.

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