05 · 24 · 21

The Pulsating City, The New Urban, Alemanist Cinema

By: Rafael Aviña

The Mexican film industry prospered thanks, in large part, to the Second World War, which brought about a certain lethargy in the US industry. Mexico took advantage of this to make a leap into film production, even garnering significant international awards. In the second half of the 1940s with the arrival of a new President Miguel Alemán Valdés (1946-1952) – a man dedicated to education, rather than the Generals of the past – the national industry began to make family dramas and films about urbanization, the development of suburbs, cabarets and criminal intrigues, among other themes.

The period produced stories of enormous cultural and social richness like Campeón sin corona (1945), Esquina bajan!, Hay lugar para … dos and Una familia de tantas (all three from 1945, all three protagonized by David Silva), directed by Alejandro Galindo who would become known for this kind of urban cinema. Not to mention the great Germán Valdéz (better known as Tin Tan) who rose to fame alongside the director Gilberto Martínez Solares in films like El rey del barrio, El revoltoso or El Ceniciento. There were also the erotic rumbera films starring Ninón Sevilla, María Antonieta Pons, Rosa Carmina, Amalia Aguilar or Meche Barba. The violent, pulsating slum portraits, protagonized by the indisputable new national idol Pedro Infante, like the trilogy about Pepe el Toro, directed with a firm hand and unusual popular taste by Ismael Rodríguez. Rodríguez also explored of the cult of the “macho” in a film called A.T.M/A toda máquina and its sequel. The period also saw a series of shady urban noir dramas made by Juan Bustillo Oro, including: Casa de vecindad; El hombre sin rostro and La huella de unos labios. Then there were the mundane police/cabaret films made by Roberto Gavaldón or Alberto Gout, or the stark, realist gaze and oneiric-surrealist stories of Luis Buñuel in films like Los olvidados, Él, La ilusión viaja en tranvía or Ensayo de un crimen.

El rey del barrio (1950, dir. Gilberto Martínez Solares)

El rey del barrio (1950, dir. Gilberto Martínez Solares)

All of these unbeatable films came from an enormous cinematographic impetus that, somewhat paradoxically, didn’t emerge from the modernity engendered by a new government, but rather from its entrails: that is to say that from darkness and social marginaliization came a need to unblock drains and make films in popular genres that were so despised by popular culture.

Alemanism (as the period of government of President Aleman is known) was one of the greatest moments in the transition of public life in Mexico. Never before had so many social welfare works been inaugurated: new avenues, bridges, hospitals and housing, even a new University Campus and the transformation of the port of Acapulco. Even cinema saw a boom period during Aleman’s six-year term. However, the political period that paved the way for the rise of a new, urban nightlife (with all the risks and adventures that this implied) also supported the entry of foreign capital, the development of industry, the looting of natural resources, as well as strengthening corruption and, naturally, crime, delinquency and migration. Curiously, the best of Mexican cinema from this period doesn’t simply follow the ideas laid out by the Government, rather it is focused on the streets and slums of the great city, the anonymous mass, the invisible, every-day people who inhabit the spirited urban cinema of the new national industry.

Los olvidados (1950, dir. Luis Buñuel)

Los olvidados (1950, dir. Luis Buñuel)

Films feature: indigenous people who migrate from the countryside to the city (Los olvidados, El Ceniciento); taxi or bus drivers (Esquina bajan!, Hay lugar para…dos, Confidencias de un ruletero); casual sales-people (Nosotors los pobres, El billetero, El papelerito, Víctimas del pecado); homeless young people with no future (Ladronzuela, Los olvidados, Los hijos de la calle); domestic employees (Calabacitas tiernas, Nosotras las sirvientas, Maldita Ciudad); waiters and other casual workers (Dicen que soy comunista, El pecado de Laura, Café de chinos, En la palma de tu mano); office workers and secretaries (Mis secretarias privadas, Nosotras las taquígrafas); bank employees, mechanics and shop-workers (El revoltoso, El vizconde de Montecristo, Ay amor como me has puesto, Escuela de rateros, Necesito dinero, El inocente, La tienda de la esquina), policemen (Radio Patrulla, Cuatro contra el mundo, Salón México, El desalmado); neighbourhood residends (El rey del barrio, Barrio bajo, Baile mi rey, Ciudad perdida) and, of course, the waves of caberet-dwellers, prostitutes, thugs and criminals from emerging film noir, police cinema and cabaret.

Plots that fed the escapist fantasies and illusions of the thousands of spectators for whom Alamanist modernity would never be a reality. Stories that lifted spectators up and out of the gloom of the enormous cinemas of the time, hiding dreams and mysteries behind their heavy curtains and among their wide hallways, marble floors and ostentatious stairways. Brightly-lit canopies that attracted public from all around in cinmeas like the Alameda, the Olimpia, the Orfeón, the Monumental and, above all, the Goya, the Victoria, the Maximo, the Alarcón or the Bahía.