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Celluloid Nationalism and Other Melodramas

From Post-Revolutionary Mexico to fin de siglo Mexamerica

Susan Dever

Publication Year: 2003

Celluloid Nationalism and Other Melodramas looks at representation and rebellion in times of national uncertainty. Moving from mid-century Mexican cinema to recent films staged in Los Angeles and Mexico City, Susan Dever analyzes melodrama’s double function as a genre and as a sensibility, revealing coincidences between movie morals and political pieties in the civic-minded films of Emilio Fernández, Matilde Landeta, Allison Anders, and Marcela Fernández Violante. These filmmakers’ rationally and emotionally engaged cinema—offering representations of indigenous peoples and poor urban women who alternately endorsed “civilizing” projects and voiced resistance to such totalization—both interrupts and sustains fictions of national coherence in an increasingly transnational world.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Feminist Criticism and Theory


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii


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pp. xiii-xv

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pp. 1-4

Emblazoned on the wall of a three-story subsidized retirement complex in North East Los Angeles, an indigenous Mesoamerican seems to gaze at me as I snap his picture from a dozen different angles (Fig. p.1). His head tilts back into an enormous halo of a hat and he regards the barrio through half-closed eyes. Arms outstretched in emphatic gesture, he embraces...

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INTRODUCTION: Of Melodrama and Other Inspirations

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pp. 5-44

This book is about citizenship and enfranchisement in an increasingly transnational world. It examines the strategies and effects of cinematic and political representation by analyzing melodramas as manifestations of a genre or a sensibility. It is about camera-wielding artists and their subjects in Mexico and in what I consider one of its principal satellite cities...

PART I: Post-Revolutionary Mexico

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1. Re-Birth of a Nation: On Mexican Movies, Museums, and Mar

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pp. 47-70

Nation-building rhetoric of post-revolutionary Mexico is a symphony of patriotism, “our” indigenous heritage, and the sanctity of Mexican womanhood. Representations of the emergent state inform both elite and popular culture, from the novel to the ballad, but nationalism’s voice resonates most powerfully in the vernacular of mass culture. Nation, race, and gender do not simply lie...

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2. Las de abajo: Matilde Landeta’s Mexican Revolution

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pp. 71-94

On the threshold of mid-century industrialization, post-revolutionary Mexico produced discursive melodramas in which the characterization of the nation and the enfranchisement of its citizenry were at stake. From political platitudes to cinematic commonplaces Mestizo Mexico reigned supreme. The “civilization” of the Spaniard and the “fortitude” of the Indian would meld to wrench new triumphs...

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3. Pimps, Prostitutes, and Politicos: Matilde Landeta’s Trotacalles and the Regime of Miguel Alemán

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pp. 95-122

When Luis Spota, aspiring young journalist and pulp fiction novelist, approached filmmaker Matilde Landeta with an idea for a money-maker that would capitalize on the “fallen woman” film that was becoming the rage in Golden Age cinema, he encountered a stalwart woman experienced in reworking male-authored texts. By 1949 the thirty-nine-year-old director had already adapted two of Francisco Rojas González’s national...

PART II: Fin de Siglo Mexam

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4. Neomelodrama as Participatory Ethnography: Allison Anders’s Mi vida loca

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pp. 125-166

The Free Trade, anti-immigrant, welfare reform years have brought suffering— and its expressive apparatus, neomelodrama—into full public view. The Mexican-U.S. border zone, where high drama is the stuff of daily existence, has provided the setting for a recent spate of family romances that intricately “confuse life and melodrama.” Allison Anders’s Gas Food Lodging (1991)...

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5. The Last Judgment: Marcela Fernández Violante’s Requiem (for) Melodrama

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pp. 167-194

Melodrama endures. Following the close of a very secular century our yearning for meaning seems as acute as our suspicion that postmodern contingency is all there is. While the aesthetics of minimalism are again in vogue—recent independent films stage particular moments of transcendent quiescence1—the excesses of global melodrama still hold power for spectators...

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EPILOGUE: Deeds that Inspire Confidence

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pp. 195-196

The Mexican elections are over. On the night of July 2, 2000, an effigy of the ruling political party was laid to rest in a gaily decorated (tricolor) casket held aloft by the jubilant hands of the conquering heroes. Outside the circles of the PRI and the third-party PRD a festive wake issued in a new national order. Born under the monument to Mexico City’s “Angel of Independence”...


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pp. 197-232


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pp. 233-250


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pp. 251-257

E-ISBN-13: 9780791486658
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791457634
Print-ISBN-10: 079145763X

Page Count: 273
Illustrations: 50 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: SUNY series in Feminist Criticism and Theory
Series Editor Byline: Michelle A. Massé See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 56722480
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Celluloid Nationalism and Other Melodramas

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Motion pictures -- Mexico -- History
  • Melodrama in motion pictures.
  • Mexican Americans in motion pictures.
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