The introduction of sound and the ensuing development of well-equipped film production studios in the 1930s (bankrolled by private investment, government loans, and US money) fostered the Golden Age of the Mexican film industry. In 1929 and 1930, a total of approximately ten feature films along with numerous shorts and newsreels accompanied by some form of synchronized sound were released. The ultimate success of the industry was made possible with the support of President Lázaro Cárdenas (served 1934–1940). Cárdenas established a protectionist policy that included tax exemptions for domestic film production, and his administration created the Financiadora de Películas, a state institution charged with finding private financing. He also instituted a system of loans for the establishment of modern film studios.
Two major types of films emerged during this period: first, a state-supported cinema that promoted the ambitions of Cárdenas and projected a nationalistic aesthetic and ideology exemplified by films such as Redes ( The Waves , 1936) and Vamanos con Pancho Villa! ( Let's Go with Pancho Villa , 1936), and second, films produced primarily for commercial reasons that resembled Hollywood films in terms of narrative strategies, cinematic aesthetics, and modes of production but drew on Mexican literature, theatrical traditions, and contemporary Mexican themes. Measured in terms of box-office receipts, it was the commercial cinema that proved to be the most popular among Mexican audiences in the 1930s. In 1936 the wildly successful film by Fernando de Fuentes (1894–1958), Allá en el Rancho Grande ( Out on the Big Ranch ), was filmed in Mexico City. Allá en el Rancho Grande introduced one of the most popular genres in Mexican film history, the comedia ranchera , a Mexican version of a cowboy musical that incorporated elements of comedy, tragedy, popular music, and folkloric or nationalistic themes. While the comedia ranchera became the most popular genre (in 1937 over half of the thirty-eight films released were modeled on de Fuentes's film), other Mexican genres also enjoyed relative success, including the historical epic, the family melodrama, the urban melodrama, and the comedies of Tin Tan (1915–1973) and Cantinflas (1911–1993).
Despite foreign control of exhibition, domestic film production managed to increase from forty-one films in 1941 to seventy films in 1943. What is more important, Mexico's share of its own domestic market grew from 6.2 percent in 1941 to 18.4 percent in 1945. This period was marked by the emergence of an auteurist cinema practice represented by directors such as Emilio Fernández (1903–1986), whose films included Flor silvestre ( Wild Flower , 1943), a revolutionary melodrama, and Salón México ( The Mexican Ballroom , 1949), an example of the cabaretera or dancehall film set in the poor urban barrios (neighborhoods) of Mexico City. Another auteur was Luis Bun Cãuel (1900–1983), who made over twenty films in Mexico between 1939 and 1960, including Los Olvidados ( The Young and the Damned , 1950), Abismos de passion ( Wuthering Heights , 1954), and Susana ( The Devil and the Flesh , 1951).
In 1948 the most popular Mexican film of the Golden Age was released. Nosotros los pobres ( We the Poor ), directed by Ismael Rodríguez (1917–2004), starred Pedro Infante (1917–1957) as Pepe el Toro, a widowed carpenter raising his sister's daughter, Chachita, as his own, and caring for his invalid mother in the poor, sprawling neighborhoods of Mexico City. Incorporating elements of comedy and tragedy as well as popular music, Rodriguez's film romanticizes the position of the urban underclass at the same time that it reveals many of the adverse conditions they encounter on a daily basis: prostitution, alcoholism and drug addiction, violence, and disease.
Under Miguel Alemán (1946–1952), Mexico estab́dito Cinematográfica Mexicano (CCM), whose purpose was to help finance the nation's largest film producers. The CCM quickly moved into production and distribution, buying up studios and movie theaters, challenging the exhibition monopoly held by the American financier William O. Jenkins (1878–1963). The government also instituted a number of protectionist measures that nationalized the Banco Cinematográfico and the CCM and exempted the industry from paying state taxes. In addition, it supported the establishment of state distribution with the institutionalization of Películas Nacionales, S.A., in 1947.
These actions were not enough, however, to prevent the subsequent decline of Mexican cinema in the early 1950s, both in terms of quality and quantity. It became very difficult after World War II for small countries like Mexico to enforce import quotas on foreign films. Hollywood's European markets reopened and the United States withdrew its wartime support of the Mexican film industry. Because all sectors of the industry were either owned or capitalized by foreign investors, this removal of support had an immediate, although temporary, effect on Mexican cinema. Film production dropped from seventy-two films in 1946 to fifty-seven in 1947 while, at the same time, producers turned to tried-and-true formula pictures to draw audiences and ensure profits.
The Banco Cinematográfico became fully nationalized by the 1960s and was responsible for generating most of the financing for feature film production in Mexico. Financing was restricted to those producers who could turn the highest profits, and thus low-budget "quickies" became the films of choice in the industry. Producers who were businessmen rather than filmmakers restricted their product to genres such as soft porn, rancheros , and the masked wrestler films that appealed to a largely urban, lower-class audience. In the end, the government's measures did nothing to further the lished the Cre development of Mexican cinema. Jenkins's monopoly ultimately bought out new distributors and the import quotas were never carried out. Out of 4,346 films screened in Mexico between 1950 and 1959, over half were North American and only 894 were Mexican. This situation continued through the 1960s.
Arturo Ripstein, the son of film producer Alfredo Ripstein Jr., studied filmmaking at Mexico's first film school, the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinematográficos (CUEC), which opened in 1963 at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City (UNAM). A new generation of filmmakers, including Ripstein, was influenced by Grupo Nuevo Cine, a group of young Mexican film critics who published a journal by the same name in the 1960s, and the films of the French New Wave. According to Ripstein, he decided to be a film director after seeing Luis Buñuel's Nazarín ( Nazarin , 1959). In 1962 Ripstein worked as an assistant to Buñuel on El Ángel exterminador ( The Exterminating Angel ), and fours years later he directed his first film, Tiempo de morir ( Time to Die , 1966). One of the most prolific and influential directors of the 1970s and 1980s, Ripstein has directed over twenty-five feature films as well as documentaries and shorts. His films have been screened at many international film festivals, including Cannes, and five of them have been awarded "Best Film" at Mexico's version of the Oscars ® .
Ripstein's early films, such as El Castillo de la pureza ( Castle of Purity , 1973), El Lugar sin límites ( The Place without Limits , 1978), and Cadena perpetua (In for Life, 1979), introduced two themes that would dominate his films over the next twenty years: the repressive nature of the nuclear family and the destructive nature of Mexican codes of masculinity. His films explore central social and cultural topics such as state and familial authoritarianism and homophobia and feature characters doomed by jealousy, guilt, and a nihilistic worldview.
In 1985, with El Imperio de la fortuna ( The Realm of Fortune ), Ripstein began a fruitful collaboration with the on El A screenwriter Paz Alicia Garciadiego. One of their most successful collaborations, Profundo carmesí ( Deep Crimson , 1996), which narrates the love story of an aging gigolo and a homely nurse who embark on a killing spree, is based upon a well-known series of murders that took place in the United States during the late 1940s. Principio y fin ( The Beginning and the End , 1993), also written by Garciadiego, and adapted from the novel by the Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, returns to Ripstein's earlier themes as it traces the disintegration of a family following the death of the father. His most recent films include El Evangelio de las maravillas ( Divine , 1998), a Buñuelian-influenced work, and an adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez's novella, El Coronel no tiene quien le escriba ( No One Writes to the Colonel , 1999).
El Castillo de la pureza ( Castle of Purity , 1973), El Lugar sin limites ( Place Without Limits , 1978), Cadena perpetua (In for Life, 1979), Profundo carmesí ( Deep Crimson , 1996)
Mora, Sergio de la. "A Career in Perspective: An Interview with Arturo Ripstein." Film Quarterly 52, no. 4. (1999): 2–11.
Reyes Nevares, Beatriz. The Mexican Cinema: Interviews with Thirteen Directors . Translated by Elizabeth Gard and Carl J. Mora. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976.
Tsao, Leonardo García. "One Generation—Four Filmmakers: Cazals, Hermosillo, Leduc, and Ripstein." In Mexican Cinema , edited by Paulo Antonio Paranagua translated by Ana López, 209–223. London: British Film Institute, 1995.
President Luís Echeverría Alvarez (served 1970–1976), who campaigned on a platform of populism and reform, superficially promoted the development of a strong film industry devoted to "national cinema." He supported younger filmmakers who had been left out of the equation during the previous decade and advocated an opening up of Mexican cinema to new ideas. Echeverría oversaw the creation of a national film archive, the Cineteca Nacionál, and the establishment of three state-supported production companies,
CONACINE, CONACITE I, and CONACITE II. He encouraged co-productions among these studios, private investors, film workers, and foreign companies. Between 1971 and 1976 the number of state-funded feature films increased from five to thirty-five, while privately funded films dropped from seventy-seven to fifteen as private investors refused to invest their money in "socially conscious films" that had little box-office attraction. In 1974 Echeverría oversaw the establishment of the first national film production school, the Centro de Capacitacio Cinematográńfica, which facilitated the emergence of a new generation of film directors.
However, the next president, José López Portillo (served 1976–1982), reactivated a policy of privatization, thus reversing Echeverría's successes. The Banco Cinematográfica was formally dissolved, and its functions were transferred to a new state agency. López Portillo appointed his sister, Margarita López Portillo, to head the agency. She immediately reduced state financing of films and closed down CONACITE I and II. Again, the Mexican film industry was dominated by low-budget and lucrative comedies, soft porn, and narcotráfico (drug traffic) films.
Miguel de la Madrid assumed the presidency in 1982. The creation in 1983 of the Instituto Mexicano de la Cinematografía (IMCINE), whose role it was to manage Mexico's film policy, was hailed as a significant breakthrough for Mexican cinema. However, while IMCINE helped to finance and promote a few independent films, it had a very small budget and could only support one or two films per year. The Institute's first director, filmmaker Alberto Isaac, reorganized the state-run production and distribution companies and the state film school but proved to be a poor manager, and the tenure of his successor, Enrique Soto Izquierdo, was riddled with corruption. Soto Izquierdo failed to implement a workable state film policy and, as a result, most of the films that saw any kind of fiscal success were low-budget "quickies" funded by private investors.
The election in 1988 of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, a Harvard-educated economist, signaled a profound change in the direction of the Mexican economy. Salinas was committed to a free-market ideology, and in 1990 he began negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States. Ignacio Durán Loera, the new director of IMCINE, attempted to increase state financing of production through the creation of the Fondo para el Fomento de la Calidad Cinematográfica (Fund for the Promotion of Quality Film Production). While Durán was able to solicit co-production financing from Spain and other foreign investors, it was not enough to keep the industry afloat as state-owned studios and movie houses shut down at the same time that private investors withdrew from the industry. Film production dropped from one hundred films in 1989 to thirty-four in 1991.
However, the international success of IMCINE-financed films such as Como agua para chocolate ( Like Water for Chocolate , 1992), Amores perros ( Love's a Bitch , 2000), and Y tu mamá también ( And Your Mother, Too , 2001) gave Mexican filmmakers recognition and thus access to international financing. ( Amores perros won numerous awards and grossed $10.2 million in Mexico and $4.7 million in the United States alone.) Perhaps in response to these successes, the Mexican government in 2003 set up a permanent fund with a preliminary budget of $7 million that aims to attract co-production money to support film production. However, today, most of the films and videos in Mexico are still imported from Hollywood. In addition, the Mexican film industry is not just competing with American films or French films, but with multinational co-productions that can generate products with a guaranteed international appeal. It seems that the future of a viable Mexican film industry is dependent on its ability to produce films that appeal to a global audience.
Hershfield, Joanne. "Mexico." In The International Movie Industry , edited by Gorham Kindem, 273–291. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.
Hershfield, Joanne, and David R. Maciel, eds. Mexico's Cinema: A Century of Film and Filmmakers . Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Books, 1999.
Mora, Carl J. Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society, 1896–1988 . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
Parangú, Paulo Antonio. Mexican Cinema . Translated by Ana Paranaguápez. London: British Film Institute, 1995.
Ramirez Berg, Charles. Cinema of Solitude: A Critical Study of Mexican Film, 1967–1983 . Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.