The Cuban film posters produced by the Institute of Cinematic Art and Industry from 1964 to 1974 were the synthesis of an exploratory process that defined new subject matter established by the Revolution. This process created a canon that achieved its own visual language and was supported by specialized critics, followed a formal style, and adopted a variety of composition structures. Elements of that canon can be traced back from contemporary Cuban posters.
Elissa Rashkin and Isabel Arredondo
The 1932 film Flame of Mexico (released in Mexico as Alma mexicana), written and produced by the US feminist activist Juliet Barrett Rublee (b. 1875–d. 1966), provides a window on to political and cultural aspects of US-Mexican relations during the 1920s. A melodrama whose themes include land, education, oil, and the Mexican Revolution, Flame of Mexico takes an activist stance toward international politics, critiques economic exploitation, and argues for US support of Mexican sovereignty in a time of conflict. Addressed to diplomatic circles and mass audiences alike, the message is rendered subtler by its central romantic love story and numerous action sequences drawn from the nascent Hollywood industry, as well as its finely filmed picturesque scenery and its tapestry of regional Mexican music, woven into an appealing soundtrack by leading composers and musicians of the era. Long overlooked by film historians, Flame of Mexico is a unique artifact in film history: made in the first years of sound cinema, the film contains both intertitles and a synchronized musical score and is a transnational project. Latin American musicians living or working in Los Angeles recorded the score, while a Hollywood crew shot the film in Mexico. The film is credited with being the first feature film about Mexico shot on location in that country, and it preceded Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished Mexico project, a version of which was released in the United States almost simultaneously with Flame as Thunder over Mexico (1933). Also unique is Flame’s mix of melodrama and travelogue genres; it features a cast of Mexican actors, some of whom would go on to enjoy stable binational acting careers, with US actors playing the gringo villains as well as numerous non-actors playing themselves in ethnographic scenes designed to show, in the words of its producer, “the real Mexico.” Although masked in the film’s publicity and press reviews, Rublee’s personal, multifaceted history as an activist is key to understanding her film as an important political and cultural undertaking, rather than the extravagant failure that some critics have portrayed, often relying on secondhand opinions without having had access to the film itself. In spite of its limited distribution and meager box-office returns—in the midst of an economic depression—the film is an act of political intervention whose colorful and romantic love story is deployed in the service of a message of peace and transnational cooperation.
Ana Laura de la Torre
The Autonomous Department of Press and Publicity (DAPP) created by Lazaro Cardenas’s administration responded to the need for a fixed ideological framework that would allow for the construction of a modern, prosperous, and politically unified nation based on the Six-Year Plan. The materials produced by the DAPP designated collective identities; defined relations between the government and its enemies, rivals and allies; preserved and molded past memories, and sought to project fears and hopes into the future. The department used a variety of mass media technology to produce messages with the aim of controlling criticism of the regime, shaping public attitudes, generating a collective “us,” and effecting change in the thoughts and actions of the public. The continuous use of the media was a response of the Cardenista administration to the constant rejection that its public policies generated, either because they affected particular economic interests or because they were considered as an affront to the way of thinking of various social sectors, particularly those identified with Catholicism. President Cárdenas and his associates perceived that they were a besieged and criticized administration, both inside and outside the country. Hence, they deemed it essential to start up a strong propaganda apparatus in order to reverse the opposition and generate supporters. Its creation is framed by the efforts taken by various governments during the 1930s that viewed propaganda as an effective tool for producing political consensus, generating feelings of national unity, and changing public habits.
María Rosa Gudiño Cejudo
In August 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, concerned with Nazi infiltration in the Americas and continental defense, created the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) and appointed Nelson Rockefeller coordinator. To strengthen ties between the United States and Latin America, including Mexico, Rockefeller implemented cultural programs that included Health for the Americas and Literacy for the Americas to teach illiterate rural inhabitants to read and write in Spanish, and to inform them about health, prevention, and hygiene. Both programs used educational cinema as their main teaching tool, and the OIAA hired filmmaker Walt Disney to produce the films. The health series included thirteen animated cartoons with an average duration of ten minutes, dubbed in Spanish and Portuguese. The themes were drawn in part from the guidelines set out at the XI Conferencia Sanitaria Panamericana (Eleventh Pan-American Health Organization Conference; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1942) to address health care and sanitation. A group of psychologists, cartoonists, health authorities, teachers, and OIAA representatives carried out surveys and field work in various countries before production and test screening began. In this process, Mexico differed from the other countries involved because of Walt Disney’s connections with Mexican schools. Eulalia Guzmán, representative of the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Secretary of Public Education), led in reviewing the educational films, and Disney attended classes with local teachers to discuss the use of film as a teaching tool. In 1943, through the Programa Cooperativo de Salubridad y Saneamiento (Health and Sanitation Cooperative Program) of the Secretaría de Salubridad y Asistencia (Ministry of Health and Assistance, the films were shown in health campaigns throughout Mexico.
As the world’s fifth most populous nation and by far the largest Portuguese-speaking country, Brazil possesses a massive media market. Despite factors boosting demand for homegrown audiovisual content, the fortunes of the country’s film industry—prized as a means of expressing national identity and as a testament to technological modernity—have fluctuated over time. Historically, the sector has struggled in the face of competition from imported cinema, especially Hollywood product, which has dominated Brazilian screens since the mid-1910s. Nevertheless, Brazilian cinema has attracted mass audiences at home and won critical acclaim abroad, though not always with the same films. The humorous chanchadas (musical comedies) that characterized the industry from the 1930s through the 1950s were tailor-made for domestic audiences, but gained little traction internationally. By contrast, the politically charged and stylistically inventive films of the Cinema Novo movement attracted the attention of European and US critics, but held limited appeal for most Brazilian spectators. After Cinema Novo, few works of Brazilian cinema circulated in international markets until a series of gritty crime-themed films like City of God (2002) and Elite Squad (2007) reached global screens at the turn of the 21st century, bolstered by state incentives for private investment in film production. While this fare was also popular domestically, present-day Brazilian audiences often prefer romantic comedies, biopics, and religiously-themed films. These trends in Brazilian cinema have responded dynamically to the tastes and expectations of both national and international audiences. Onscreen representations create enduring images of the nation that circulate at home and abroad, while everyday practices of moviegoing forge an evolving realm of shared experience.
Daniel Alex Richter
Cinema began in Uruguay with the exhibition of foreign films by visiting representatives of the Lumière brothers in 1896 before the first Uruguayan film was produced and shown in 1898. From the early period of Uruguayan cinema to the end of the 20th century, Uruguayan national cinema struggled to exist in the estimation of critical observers. Considering these periods of growth and stagnation, this history of Uruguayan cinema seeks to shed light on the industry’s evolution by focusing on exhibition, production, and spectatorship. This essay explores Uruguay’s national film productions, transnational businesses in shaping local film exhibition, the growth of mass publics and critical spectatorship, and the significance of political filmmaking in understanding the evolution of Latin American cinema during the 1960s. The history of Uruguayan cinema during the 20th century also provides a lens for understanding the political, social, and cultural histories of a country that has struggled to live up to its reputation as South America’s “most democratic” nation.
David M. K. Sheinin
During the Cold War, there were thousands of Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) sightings in Argentina (in Spanish, Objeto volador no identificado or OVNI). The mainstream media reported on many of them. In a field termed ufología, some events were explained scientifically or somewhat scientifically; most were not. These sightings and their stories lived on in a culture of thousands of OVNI aficionados and their literatures, frequently spilling into larger popular cultures. OVNI culture disrupts chronologies. It offers a picture of Cold War Argentina that breaks with longstanding popular and academic chronologies that stress a dictatorship-versus-democracy binary. That binary is real. However, OVNI culture superimposes an often-neglected Cold War chronology on the mid- to late 20th century. OVNI stories and their cultural consumption evolve and vary not with reference to violent Argentine political and historical change, but in the context of a larger transnational Cold War culture in an Argentine context. Hallmarks of OVNI culture in Argentina include the enormous influence of U.S. popular culture, as well as references to apocalyptic nuclear weapons, and unscientific notions of psychoses in explaining late-night sightings of spacecraft and extraterrestrials.
Carmen Miranda (b. 1909–d. 1955) was a Brazilian singer and actress who made her debut on the radio in the late 1920s and soon became one of the most popular voices in Brazil. She recorded close to 250 singles, many of which were major hits, starred in five films (four with the Cinédia studio and one with Sonofilms), and gave innumerous performances on the most elite stages of Rio de Janeiro, such as the Urca and Copacabana casinos. Her signature look was a stylized version of the typical Bahian woman’s outfit, known as the baiana, complete with an abundance of bracelets and necklaces, platform shoes, and a whimsical turban that served as a base for all kinds of adornments. In 1939, she was invited by the Broadway impresario Lee Shubert to perform in his musical review The Streets of Paris and moved to New York with her band Bando da Lua to bring authentic Brazilian music to North America. A success overnight, Miranda would then be invited to star in her first US film, Down Argentine Way (1940), with 20th Century Fox, and would be cast in thirteen subsequent films. Carmen Miranda’s iconic look was immediately recognizable and became prime material for imitations by both male and female impersonators in theater, film, and cartoon media. Her excessive femininity, imbued with style, exaggeration, and playful deception, and her inclusion in musicals governed by theatricality and artifice, made her a productive site for camp interpretations that have remained in vogue to this day.