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Carlos Monsiváis, 85 years after his birth

Rafael Aviña

Translator, Andrea Cabrera

“Infante is, since the forties, the popular Mexican archetype. He is the only one capable of portraying the melodramatic and funny way of the poor. He's the only one who can hold out the close ups of loss and desolation. He's the only one able to embody the good mood during devastations."
Monsiváis, C. (2006). Vino todo el pueblo y no cupo en la pantalla. La tradición y el público de cine en México. UNAM.


This May 4th, Carlos Monsiváis (1938-2010) would've celebrated his 85th birthday. He is one of the most atypical and charismatic artists in literature, cinema and popular culture. Monsiváis was, at the same time, the nostalgic spectator and the sharp cinephile of the old and the new millennium. Alongside his hobbies, such as his obsessive collecting (shown in Museo del Estanquillo, a temple of popular culture) and his daily work that encompassed literature, politics, culture and society, cinema occupied a leading place in his artwork and in his way of seeing the world.

Monsiváis is responsible to a great extent for the rescue of Mexican cinema of the Golden Age, and of mythical characters such as El Santo “El enmascarado de plata”, Mario Moreno “Cantinflas”, Germán Valdés “Tin Tan”, Pedro Infante or María Félix. Not to mention his support for the Mexican crime cinema, the film noir, and the vindication of wrestler's films, the Mexican Serie B and the unquestionable importance of the supporting actors of our cinema (“los característicos”, as he called them).

Some of los característicos were Conchita and María Gentil Arcos, the murdered usurer and the mother of Pepe El Toro in Nosotros los pobres; Emma Roldán, the Death in El ahijado de la muerte, and the mute maid in El compadre Mendoza; Hernán El Panzón Vera, the usual bartender with a beret and a cigar; Arturo Soto Rangel, an old doctor, a priest or a father; Leonor Gómez, a permanent extra of Mexican cinema recognizable as the woman who lost the little pig in El revoltoso with Tin Tan, or for her role as the maid in Los Fernández de Peralvillo; and Fernando Soto Mantequilla, to whom Monsiváis dedicated a heartfelt chronicle when he died in 1980.

Carlos Monsiváis
Carlos Monsiváis

Monsiváis was an actor and screenwriter besides being the author of several books and film articles such as El Crimen en el cine (1977), in which he talks about Hollywood film noir thrillers; Rostros del cine mexicano (1993); A través del espejo: el cine mexicano y su público (1994), which he wrote with Carlos Bonfil; Recetario del cine mexicano (1996); Diez segundos del cine nacional (1996), in which he chose ten classic scenes of an art he called “memory of the species”. He was a TV host on series about cinema. He directed for more than ten years the program El cine y la crítica aired on Radio UNAM. He was specialized in real crime and murder due to his fascination and knowledge of yellow journalism and crime tabloids.

During the First Experimental Film Competition of 1964, the young essayist and writer, Carlos Monsiváis, dedicated to that film counterculture of independent cinema, made his debut in Tajimara, a remarkable debut film by Juan José Gurrola based on a story by Juan García Ponce. In the party scene at the Tajimara mansion, Monsiváis and Tamara Garina can be seen enjoying the musical number of Pixie Hopkins and Beatriz Sheridan. He also plays a bit part in Un alma pura, directed by Juan Ibáñez. In the movie of Alberto Isaac, En este pueblo no hay ladrones, he plays a dominoes player alongside other characters of the national culture: Abel Quezada and Juan Rulfo.

Another of his way more interesting appearances take place in Los caifanes (1967) by Juan Ibáñez, where he plays a streetwise and alcoholic Santa Claus whose wig is burned; in Las visitaciones del diablo (1967) by Alberto Isaac, with an incidental performance; and in the documentary México de mis amores (1976) by Nancy Cárdenas, where his texts about his critical and nostalgic analysis of the Golden Years of national cinema play a role.

Finally, and as a private joke, Monsiváis agreed to make brief appearances in the following: Emiliano Zapata (Felipe Cazals, 1970); Ciudad de ciegos (Alberto Cortés, 1990); La guerrera vengadora 2 (Raúl Fernández Jr., 1991); Fonqui (1984), a short documentary by Juan Guerrero from Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica (CCC), in which he participated as a scriptwriter; La media vuelta videoclip of Luis Miguel (Pedro Torres, 1994); Un mundo raro (Armando Casas, 2000), where he plays himself; Nocturno amor que te vas (1986); Golpe de suerte (1991); Acosada (2000) by Marcela Fernández Violante; El día perfecto (Bernardo Loyola, 2004); in the documentaries Un retrato de Diego (Diego López and Gabriel Figueroa Flores, 2007) and Ni muy, muy... ni tan... tan, simplemente Tin Tan (Manuel Márquez, 2005), where he makes overwhelming comments; and more...