Friday, April 6, 2012

The First Mexican SciFi Movie

Science fiction in film is one of the most beloved cinema genres. Its fans are loyal and legion. So it comes as no surprise that the unique Mexican film industry had it's own early take on this fabulous and inventive film fiction. The first Mexican SciFi movie is agreed to be "The Modern Bluebeard" (El moderno Barba Azul, 1946), also known as "Boom in The Moon," directed by Jaime Salvador, and featuring the popular American film star Buster Keaton (we said it was surprising).

Keaton, never an actor with many lines, got through the production by speaking broken Spanish while reprising his amazing Vaudeville-inspired physical comedy schtick for the delight of Mexican audiences. The madcap plot involves Keaton as a WWII sailor, who thinking he is in Japan, unwittingly surrenders to the Mexican police. Due to be hanged as a spy, Keaton agrees to be sent up in an experimental rocket aimed at the moon in exchange for clemency. He lands not far from the original launch site, and cinematic hilarity ensues as Keaton attempts to communicate with what he thinks are inhabitants of the moon.

The popular director, Jaime Salvador, was known for his low budget "Ranchera" (mariachi musical genre) and comedy films in the golden age of Mexican film (Epoca de oro del cine mexicano), which explains this comedic venture into science fiction with Keaton in "Boom on the Moon." Salvador had a very long directing and screenwriting career from the post-WWII era to the early 1970s. Salvador's last production was released in 1971 - "The Professor" with Mexican film legendary star Cantiflas - five years before Salvador's death.

Thanks to wiki and Mexican film scholar Jose Luis Ramirez

Friday, January 6, 2012

Printing Processes for Poster Art

Movie Fan Collectibles fell in love with the unique, quirky, and very affordable forms of Mexican and Spanish movie poster art. So much so that we wanted to write about it as we explored the history of the art form and its wonderful artists. We have a nice variety of mini movie posters and lobby cards, with more available to you as soon as we scan and list them.

Besides the graphics of the film promotion materials these represent, and the stylish humor and campiness of the artists who make them, these are also original and delicate objects. The printing process used in reproducing the posters and lobby cards have bearing on its value. At a later date we will talk about the history of the different printing processes used in Mexico and Spain, where most of these were produced. For now, we'll briefly discuss what types of printing may have been used and how to identify it.

Magnified off-set dots

Mechanical off-set printing is the most common process and the most contemporary. Some are of the opinion that it is also the least valuable process because the prints do not hold their colors well. It's good to have a loupe or magnifying glass to examine the detail. Under magnification, off-set printing will have very regularly spaced or mechanically spaced looking color dots. Be sure to examine the entire print, because this characteristic off-set ink dot pattern may be visible in one area more so than another. Off-set came into wide usage in the 1930s. Although it is possible that Mexico may have not had off-set printing in general use until sometime after that, the presence of off-set dots may help you roughly date your poster or lobby card. Websites about movies are very complete, so you may be able to date the poster or card by looking online. However, it is always possible that you could find the rare or obscure movie promotional material that will not be easily identified, thus knowing the printing process used may help date it.

Gravure, enlarged from card at left
Prior to the use of off-set printing, lobby cards and other small promotional graphics may have been produced with rotogravure. Rotogravure is an intaglio printing process where the image is etched into the printing plate, and the scored channels hold the ink. The "roto" part of the name has to do with the scored plate, which is flexible, being attached to a drum. Paper is then run between two sets of drums, one with the engraved and inked plate, and one which is an "impression" drum. On close examination, the print grain of gravures have a soft but regular cell-like or screen pattern to them (like a window bug screen in your house), different from off-set printing surfaces, which have that mechanically spaced dot-matrix look to them.

The oldest movie posters were done with stone lithography. There was a point when studios may have used lithography for some of their posters and off-set for others. However, if you identify a poster as a lithograph, it is possible that it could be one produced prior to the 1930s, and be quite old. Stone lithography came into use in the 1880s, with later color posters needing a different stone for each tint. Often an early black and white litho would have had color added by hand after printing. In this case, with a loupe or the naked eye, it would be possible to see brush strokes. Litho is a complicated process in which the artist uses a number of tools, materials, and chemicals to etch their design directly onto a limestone, which becomes the printing plate that gets inked, and the paper pressed onto it to create the image. Limestone plates can be resurfaced and re-used. The artist can surface the plate to have a fine or rough grain. This grain is an important identifier of a litho. With close examination, a lithograph will have an irregular and very organic-looking print grain. Just what you would expect to see in a poster printed on a natural stone surface.

Lithography process video:

Thanks to Wiki, the great website "Printing for Dummies," and the excellent book How to Identify Prints: A Complete Guide to Manual and Mechanical Processes from Woodcut to Ink Jet by Bamber Gascoigne

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Mexican Movie Poster History: Where Do Movie Posters Come From?

Movie posters produced for Mexican and Spanish language groups are unique for their subject matter, composition, and artistic styles.  They are also under appreciated and less heavily collected than their American and English language counterparts.  It is thus a perfect moment for serious movie memorabilia collectors to consider posters from El Cine De Oro, the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.

If you find yourself becoming enamored with these beautiful and still affordable art objects, it is natural to wonder about their production techniques and origin.  MovieFanCollectibles will continue to blog about what we know as we discover the answers.  So far, however, the answers to these questions are not easy to come by.

The dearth of information about the origin and production of "Golden Age" Mexican movie posters has much to do with them being an ephemeral product of a young south of the border advertising industry.  The Mexican ad men and women of the early 20th Century, according to its more recent practitioners like Rosa Maria Olabuenaga, moved fast without looking back and never felt the need to document the players and products for future generations to contemplate or study (IM).

As with the films they advertise, the origin of Mexican posters can be understood by looking at Hollywood posters.  Posters as the pre-electronic age movie advertising medium of choice were derived from their show business predecessor, the circus poster (FH).  The earliest graphic movie posters were as colorful, inventive, and sensational as the circus posters.  Often the poster had very little correspondence to the actual content of the film it touted (FH).

Earliest production of US and Mexican posters run parallel in that they were produced by independent artists with commissions from a single movie's production company.  Similarities in film poster making north and south of the border ends after that.  American film exhibitors (theater owners) were able to buy mass-produced posters - most were text only - produced on spec independently of the film company by large printing firms (FH).  Some were even available in the Sears mail-order catalog.  As the rapidly growing US film industry coalesced into a studio system, many American movie companies decided to have poster production happen "in house" as part of their private publicity and marketing departments.

The Mexican film industry came into its own a little later than in the US.  Production companies making a film continued to contract with individuals, which is how popular cartoon-style artist Ernesto Garcia Cabral did a lot of his work.  Mexican studios also farmed out poster production to advertising firms. Juan Antonio Vargas Ocampo and his son, also a talented poster artist Juan Antonio Vargas, started the famous Vargas Advertising Firm which handled a lot of this movie poster work for Mexican studios.

(IM) Hechos y Dichos, Indicious Magazin-e, 6-18-2008.
(FH) The Origin and Development of the American Moving Picture Poster, Gary D. Rhodes, Film History. V19N3, 2007.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ernesto Garcia Cabral El Chango (The Monkey): Trickster of Golden Age Mexican Cinema Poster Artists

Ernesto García Cabral was born on December 18, 1890 in Huatusco, Veracruz,  the son of Vincent and Aurelia García Cabral, a working class family.  His artistic ability was already evident in elementary school as he sketched landscapes, faces, figures of people, animals and plants in his notebook.  His abilities were well developed and he was given the task of teaching drawing to other students by age 12.  He applied to his state's governor's office for a scholarship in 1906, and was accepted to study in Mexico City at the Academy of Painting and Sculpture in San Carlos.  Cabral studied for two years at the famous school where he received instruction from artists Gedovius Germain, Daniel del Valle, Carlos Lazo, Servin and Roberto Montenegro.

His charactaristicly exaggerated style for which he is now so well-known was developing in his academic work.  It was during this time that Cabral's caricatures in political cartoons got him in some trouble for satirizing Mexican president Frandisco Madero.  It is believed to be the reason why he left Mexico for Paris after 1912 on a scholarship to study art on the continent.

Cabral stayed in Paris and worked through the end of his stipend, continuing in reduced if not starving circumstances.  But the opportunity was formative because he mingled with important artists such as Diego Rivera, Roberto Montenegro, Angel Zarraga and Fidas Flizondo.  In 1914, at the beginning of the First World War, Cabral moved to Madrid, where he received another stipend from the Mexican Government to work in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 1915 to 1918.  In Argentina, Cabral's newspaper and magazine illustrations started to resemble the style for which he is recognized.

Back in Mexico City by 1919, Cabral worked through the 1920s and 30s as a famed caricaturist and cartoonist illustrating the covers of major magazines and drawing satirical cartoons in the Excelsior newspaper.  He was known to his friends in this period as El Chango (the monkey), because of his looks and his alleged tree-climbing abilities.  Cabral had also become president of the National Union of Cartoonists, and painted for the Museum of Tourism in Toluca, Mexico, a mural titled Spiritual History of the Valley of Mexico in 1943.  Cabral was friends with notable contemporary artists, journalists, intellectuals and important personalities such as Agustin Lara, Maria Felix, Cantinflas, Pedro Vargas, Alfonso Reyes, Salvador Novo, Juan José Arreola, José Juan Tablada, Carlos Arruza, and Walt Disney.

Connoisseurs and graphic art specialists believe that the art of Cabral is important as a model for a new generation of cartoonists.  His influences were the works of Arias Bernal, Paolo Garretto, and Norman Rockwell.  He is best remembered to collectors as the artist who made the most memorable cartoon-style genre film posters of the Mexican Golden Age of Cinema featuring his caricatures of comedy great Cantiflas or Tin Tan.  Cabral died in Mexico City in August 1968 at age seventy-seven.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fathers and Sons: The Vargas Mexican Movie Poster Dynasty

The production of fine movie posters during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema was for some a family business. Noted early Mexican movie poster artist and entrepreneur Juan Antonio Vargas Ocampo (1890-1955), was also the father of the talented poster artist Juan Antonio Vargas Briones (1919-1970).

In the earliest stages of the Mexican film industry, film makers contracted with independent artists to make promotional posters, newspaper ads and billboards.  Ocampo became an industry innovator in the 1930s by setting up an advertising firm focused on cinema promotion.  Talkies were an important driver in the expansion of the Mexican film business, and Ocampo has the distinction of having done the art for the first sound movie (Santa 1931).

Ocampo's firm, Vargas Advertising, retained a number of prominent poster artists, including Joseph and Leopoldo Mendoza, Heriberto Andrade, Roberto Ruiz, Eduardo Urzaiz, and Ocampo's son Juan Antonio Vargas Armando Briones.  This group of artists at Vargas Advertising, together with members of the business community, founded the movie adversing guild or union, Section 46 of the STIC (Cinema Industry Union).  Section 46 encompassed all the journalists covering cinema (critics and writers),  and artists, copy writers and photographers who created movie advertising campaigns.

Juan Antonio Vargas Briones followed in his father's footsteps and became a fine poster artist in his own right. After honing his skills at the Academia de San Carlos --the most prestigious art school in Mexico, Briones quickly became successful, and his posters were among the most beautiful in the business. Briones is known for illustrating dramas, but he produced comedy posters as well (such as for Mi Mujer no es Mia).

In appraising or collecting Vargas movie posters and cinema promotional materials, it is important to note that many produced by Ocampos' ad agency had no signatures.  There is also confusion about work produced by Vargas junior and senior from the mexican film industry, and Peruvian Alberto Vargas, the WW2 era cheesecake pin-up artist.

Acknowledgements to Carles Ramirez Berg, Santo Street Newsletter, Raul Miranda Lopez, Mauricio Pena, and Rogelio Argasanchez Jr.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Josep Renau Berenguer: A Giant Among Mexican Movie Poster Artists

A good starting point for understanding the beauty of Spanish and Mexican Movie posters would be with the art of Josep Renau Berenguer.  Many agree that Berenguer is one of the finest and most well-known poster artists of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.

The artist's father was a professor of drawing in Valencia, Spain, which suggests that art was already in Berenguer's blood.  His brother Juanino also became a movie poster artist, so it was like the family business.

Giant, huge, or larger-than-life are all appropriate descriptors for Berenguer, who had some big ideas.  During his career in Spain, Berenguer was a member of the Communist Party before the Spanish civil war, was the publisher of an arts journal, founder of the Union of Writers and Artists, a professor at the same university as his father, and the arts Director General who hired Picasso to paint the master work Guernica.

Trained as an artist, lithographer, and photographer, Berenguer first gained widespread recognition with series of Art Deco watercolors shown at a Madrid exhibition in 1928.  He was not concerned about working commercially in order to fund his political and other artistic passions, and thus produced many commissions for advertising and posters for Spanish Cinema.  Much of his work was also on a literally large scale, with agit-prop posters Berenguer drew meant for a wide audience, and huge murals he made in both Germany and Mexico covering buildings several stories high.

Interned in France after leaving Spain, the artist, along with many other refugees from the fascist Franco regime, went to Mexico to carry on his life and work.  During this period, Berenguer produced many wonderful and collectible posters for Mexican cinema until he left for Berlin in 1958.  Berenguer remained in the GDR for the rest of his life, with occasional visits to Spain after the end of Franco's regime.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

El Cine de Oro: The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema

Many believe the heyday of Mexican cinema was between 1935 and 1959.  Posters and other movie promotional art from this "Golden Age" are considered very valuable.  Little noticed and not widely collected, the movie art from this time is so desirable because it is truly rare, and because it packs a powerful nostalgic wallop.

Early Mexican movie posters, lobby cards, hand bills, and the like are primarily scarce because they were produced in very limited runs.  The Argasanchez film archive estimates the Mexican film industry may have had as little as one percent of the poster production of its early Hollywood counterparts circulating to advertise coming attractions.  Besides starting out with fewer of them, Mexican movie posters and other promotional graphics were also printed on flimsy paper stock that was not meant to last.  Finally, with regard to the posters, a devastating fire at the Argasanchez archive in 1982 limited access to these art forms even more.

The love that Mexican and Spanish language film-goers had for Cine de Oro's genres and stars further enhance the coveted nature of the posters and lobby cards.  Early audiences in Central America, South America, and Spain could not get enough of rural genre films (like the classic Allá en el rancho grande "Out on the Big Ranch" directed by Fernando de Fuentes), or musicals (such as Fuentes' Jalisco canta en Sevilla "Jalisco Sings in Seville" starring ranchera singer Jorge Negrete and co-produced with a Spansh film company). Urban comedies with stars like Cantinflas and Tin Tan were also audience favorites.

Golden Age Mexican films are not all the pedestrian fare that recent viewers might imagine.  Cutting edge film auteur Luis Bunuel was influenced by the realism of the urban mexican film genre, and did many films in Mexico later in his career.  Early Mexican film also had collaborations with famous writers. La Perla (The Pearl), for example, was the work of Pulitzer prize-winning author John Steinbeck, and was produced by Mexico's own flamboyant D.W. Griffith character, Emilio Fernández, known as "El Indio."

Labor disputes and the eventual concetration of film production into a few hands changed the nature of the early Mexican cinema industry that was once supported by plentiful state subsidies.  Many say that el Cine de Oro ended when another beloved ranchera singer and leading man, Pedro Infante (known as El Ídolo del Pueblo or The Idol of the People), died in a private plane crash in April 1957.

Info from Argasanchez Archive and Wiki 
Pedro Infante, likely the most famous actor and singer of the Golden Age of Mexican Movies, shows his stuff: