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.