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.