Films that restaged public spectacles of real- life vio lence became the
first popu lar successes of both Mexican and Brazilian cinema. In
1908, Os estranguladores (The Stranglers), a filmed reenactment of a
robbery and murder in Rio de Janeiro’s Italian immigrant commu-
nity that is considered Brazil’s first feature, was advertised as screening
more than 830 times over three months.1 Produced by the exhibitor
and cameraman Antônio Leal to capitalize on sensational news-
paper coverage and theatrical productions based on the case, Os es-
tranguladores triggered a local craze for screen adaptations of real- life
crimes. These early experiments with narrative films based on topical
events exemplified the significant if short- lived success of local film
production in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo between 1908 and 1911.
Through the teens and twenties, sensational subjects ranging from
infamous criminal cases to railway accidents figured prominently in
efforts to establish film production in Brazil’s fastest- growing cities,
as well as in regional capitals and even small towns, where the effects
of modernization were slow to materialize.
More than a de cade after the premiere of Os estranguladores, vet-
eran Mexican cameraman Enrique Rosas produced El automóvil gris
(The Grey Automobile, 1919), a multi- episode serial film that became
one of Mexican cinema’s earliest box- office hits. El automóvil gris,
like Os estranguladores, was an early experiment with narrative film
in its country of production, as Mexican cinema was dominated by
nonfiction films that documented the events of the Revolution be-
tween 1910 and 1917. Building on investigative newspaper reports,
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