PRÓLOGO (PROLOGUE)
In the (very) short story “Frente a la pantalla” (Before the screen), published
in the Mexico City weekly El Universal Gráfico in 1926, María—a common
name for women in Mexico and thus perhaps an everywoman—goes to the
movie theater alone to enjoy a “cinedrama” announced as “the cinematic
super production.”1 Surrounded by couples and “carloads of entire families,”
she waits with her fellow spectators for the evening’s program to begin. The
cinema’s jazz band attempts to smooth over the projectionist’s delay, while
various advertisements projected on the screen urge the public to patronize
a provider of unadulterated milk, a restaurant, “Los Antojitos Michoaca-
nas,” and other local establishments.
Finally, the show begins. Tonight’s feature is the last installment of a serial,
Abnegation, whose plot concerns the frustrated romance of a heroine, “alone,
weak, and unprotected,” and her “completely noble” hero. During the course
of the emotional final reel in which the pair are finally reunited, María’s
neighbor slides first a foot, then both hands, and ultimately both feet and
both hands over María’s exposed calves. Realizing that these attentions were
not “part of the program,” María slaps her molester, who is subsequently
escorted out of the theater by the police, accompanied by the shouts of the
audience—who “having seen the nobility of a celluloid man became indig-
nant in the face of such a rogue.”2
This short sketch of moviegoing in urban Mexico in the mid- 1920s
presents a constellation of characteristics that defined Mexican film cul-
ture from the end of the revolution to the mid- 1930s. It features a foreign
film, advertised in the hyperbolic register common to studio marketing de-
partments, that offers a perhaps unrealizable vision of romantic love as the
source of all suffering and all happiness. The film’s presentation involves
popular American music and advertisements, which encourage the public to
participate in local manifestations of the consumer culture that was spread-
ing across the globe. Inside the cinema the anonymity of new public amuse-
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