Screen

A SHOUT GLUED TO A WALL

Cantinflas_80.jpgAt one point in the essay that introduces ¡Mas! Cine Mexicano, Sensational Mexican Movie Posters 1957-1990, author Rogelio Agrasánchez, Jr. quotes philosopher and art critic Eugenio d’Ors, who called movie posters “a shout glued to a wall.”

As someone who works in advertising, it’s an appealing metaphor. As a film fan, even more so. And after reading ¡Mas! Cine Mexicano, a handsome new coffee table book released here in Canada by Raincoast Books, I’m convinced it’s also pretty accurate – at least when it comes to Mexican cinema.

Now, I watch a lot of movies. The last year I kept track, I
clocked 207. But I’ve only been watching for thirty-odd years, and filmmakers
have been doing their thing for 113 years and counting, all over the world.

Which is why I gravitate toward books like ¡Mas! Cine Mexicano. They remind me how many movies I
haven’t seen, and how much I still have to learn. And they give me a phrasebook
– a Berlitz crash course – I can use when exploring these new frontiers of
cinema.

The book’s opening essay, presented in a bilingual
Spanish/English format, moves swiftly through over three decades of production
and promotion in the Mexican film industry. And author Agrasánchez knows
whereof he speaks. He lets drop, casually, the fact that “[i]n 1970, my father
acquired a film production company that had gone bankrupt, and almost
immediately he started churning out adventure movies. The masked wrestlers
Santo, Blue Demon and Mil Máscaras were brought to my backyard to battle
mummies, rat people and the occasional mad scientist.”

Unknown-4.jpeg

Okay, wow. That’s a childhood.

The wrestling-horror genre is the Mexican cinema with which
I’m most familiar, but despite evident fondness for the heroes of the lucha
libre
, Agrasánchez doesn’t spend much time
on it; the wrestling-horror film posters take up less than eight pages in the
book. (But even within those eight pages there are surprises: I knew about
Santo and the Blue Demon, but I’d never even heard of
Neutron, El
Enmascarado Negro
(Neutron, The
Man in the Black Mask
)).

With Neutron
introduced, Agrasánchez plunges into a description of his family’s pioneering
of the
mojado (“wetback”) genre.
Dealing with “issues typical of the border region – undocumented immigrants,
minor mafias, crime” and “[d]enouncing the mistreatment of illegal aliens and
delving into their personal sorrows, the stories [of the
mojado genre] had wide appeal for spectators.”

Starting with Mojados
(
Wetbacks), the genre went on to
spawn such films as
Las Braceras
(
Wetback Women), Gringo
Mojado
(Wetback Gringo) and Maura el Mojado (Mauro the Wetback), which promises “¡Hazañas de violencia sin limites, de un ilegal indomable!” (“Feats of unlimited violence by an indomitable
illegal!”). To be clear, I haven’t seen any of these films. But after drinking
in Agrasánchez’s careful selection of garish, gorgeous, painted posters, I want
to see them all.

And ¡Mas! Cine Mexicano
is full of discoveries like that. Agrasánchez takes us on a tour of Mexican
crime films such as El Caín del Bajío (Cain of the Lowlands)
and .
357 Magnum (no translation necessary); juvenile delinquent movies like Juventud sin Ley (Lawless Youth), and Ratas del Asfalto
(
Asphalt Rats); and cine
de cabaretas
, or “nightclub girl” pictures,
which include such titles as
Zona Rosa (Red Zone) and the blunt
Han Violado a una Mujer (A
Woman was Raped)
.

More surprises lie in store in the section devoted to Mexican
comedies. I knew about Mario “Cantinflas” Moreno (Passepartout
in Around
the World in Eighty Days
(1956)), but personalities like the comedy
duo of Viruta and Capulina? La India Maria? Chespirito? All news to me. So I’m
especially grateful that Agrasánchez devotes considerable attention to the
comedy genre and the contributions of the moneros, or “monkey makers”, caricaturists who specialized in “transforming
the familiar faces of actors and actresses into expressive cartoons”. Artists
such as Juan Manuel Guillén, who designed all the posers for Cantinflas’
films, were world-class cartoonists who would have been right at home in the
pages of vintage
Mad Magazine.
(According to Agrasánchez,
Mad
was in fact an influence on this group, in particular Héctor Valdés, whose
poster for
Las Cenizas Del Diputado
(
The Congressman’s Ashes) looks
like it could have been drawn by Jack Davis.)

¡Mas! Cine Mexicano is an incredibly refreshing read in this era of “big face” posters, when even films as complex as There Will Be Blood or as hyped as Michael Clayton are sold with nothing more than a big picture of the star’s face. Granted, given the subject matter of either of those films, the approach might be defensible, but it’s still not very interesting to look at. When I walk through my local cineplex, these posters come at me sotto voce.

Give me a shout glued to a wall any day.

Command+s.

Ian Driscoll de vuelto con sudor, dolor, amor y coñazos
galore.

3 replies »

  1. i’d kill to see any of the mojado pictures you mention.
    (and not to focus too much on lucha libre, but george eastman house just had a lucha libre exhibition. there’s an associated podcast. while the exhibition director’s trending towards dickish, the pictures are neat).

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  2. There’s obviously a lot I don’t know about Mexican movies, but I actually keep pondering the revelation that there’s a genre of mexican movies called “mojado” and the english translation of that term.
    I’m trying to think of an equivalent genre – maybe blaxploitation? But it doesn’t quite seem parallel. I think part of the strangeness for me is that they have taken an offensive english term and, in reclaiming it, have also translated it into spanish. Maybe it’s like if people in Quebec made a genre of movie called “grenouille” (frog)?

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  3. Hi Ian,
    Thanks so much. Your review makes this book sound like a lot of fun (though I’m sad about the exclusion of Mummies, etc).
    Thinking about the mojado films, what strikes me is not so much that they are about immigrant communities at the margins of US law – I mean, we’ve got whole mafia and drug-dealer genres and, yeah, as you mention Mr. Dave, soul cinema – but that they are based in the emigrant country. It’s like if Italy made a bunch of Brooklyn mobster movies. Having said that, though, I’m sure Ian will now respond with a whole list of them 🙂

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