Of all the great national, popular cinemas that prospered in the 20th century, the one that remains least well known to American audiences is, paradoxically, the one that originated closest to Hollywood. The Mexican cinema’s época de oro extended from the mid-1930s to the early 1960s, when Mexican films dominated Latin America and made significant inroads into Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S.
At its height, in the decade during and following World War II, Mexican popular filmmaking achieved a level of quality fully comparable to Hollywood, with a robust star system (with such magnetic performers as Dolores de Rio, Pedro Armendáriz, Maria Felix, and Arturo de Cordova), world-class directors like Roberto Gavaldón, Julio Bracho, and Emilio Fernandez, cinematographers such as Gabriel Figueroa and Alex Phillips, and the superb technical facilities of the Churubusco Studios.
With the support of Fundación Televisa, MoMA presents a sampling of one of Mexico’s richest genres, the ciné negro or film noir. As the critic Rafael Aviña has written, these films present the culture of the Miguel Alemán administration (1946–52), a time when Mexico was trying to trace a path to modernity by “favoring foreign investment, industrial development and the exploitation of natural resources, which led to a certain sense of civil disorder and an explosion of the senses.” Even seasoned noir fans will be startled and thrilled by these selections, which treat sexual passion and murderous jealousy with a vigor unimaginable in contemporary Hollywood productions.
Organized by Dave Kehr, Adjunct Curator, with Clay Farland, Department Assistant, Department of Film.
Special thanks to Mauricio Maillé, Fundación Televisa; Daniela Michel, Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia; Guadalupe Ferrer and José Manuel García, Filmoteca UNAM.