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  • Adela Pineda Franco's Steinbeck and Mexico: A Cinematographic Gaze in the Era of United States Hegemony by Adela Pineda Franco
  • Lynn Loewen (bio)
Adela Pineda Franco's Steinbeck and Mexico: A Cinematographic Gaze in the Era of United States Hegemony by Adela Pineda Franco
Bonilla Artigas Editores, 2018. 220 pp. $190 (hardcopy)

Adela Pineda Franco's book focuses on John Steinbeck's "cinematographic incursions" into Mexico rather than on his literary output to argue that Steinbeck's cultural, political, and socioeconomic concerns were intricately linked to Mexico. Franco deftly interweaves research from a multitude of primary and secondary sources and relevant theories from literary and historical criticism, cinematography, and philosophy. The introduction promises "a broad panorama of the transnational contexts" that circumscribe selected works of Steinbeck; three of the principle themes of this study are film as a "tool of social development," the intersection of "Mexican nationalism and the cultural industry," and "the political use of the image of the Mexican Revolution" (33–34). Pineda delivers much more.

The first chapter, "Steinbeck in the Era of Roosevelt and Cárdenas," describes the development in the 1930s of a romanticized concept of what constituted Mexico as a cultural and political entity ("lo mexicano"). Pineda carefully articulates analyses of Mexican nationalism, the Great Depression and New Deal in the United States, the distinct politics of state-centered governments in each country, the exchange of diverse aesthetic and political theories of U.S., European, and Mexican intellectuals, as well as relevant background on the Mexican Revolution (1910) and its consequences. According to the author, a confluence of mitigating factors resulted in a contradictory vision (fantasy) during that era—Mexicans were perceived as post-revolutionary nationalists demanding economic and social change as well as passive indigenous communities desiring an agrarian existence and a return to pre-industrial cultural traditions. Pineda considers various manifestations of this contradiction an important aspect in Steinbeck's work.

Chapter 2, "Biopolitics and Community: The Forgotten Village in Times of War," deals with Steinbeck's incursion into documentary film during World War II and discusses the advent of cinema as a technological force in biopolitics. The Sea of Cortez. A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941), co-authored with Edward F. Ricketts, is perceived by Pineda as a chronicle of a [End Page 107] biological expedition, a censure of capitalist exploitation of natural resources, and a politicized critique of approaching wartime violence. Two years later, after Pearl Harbor, she indicates how Steinbeck contradicted these views with his photo-illustrated, nonfiction, pro-war, pro-technology text, Bombs Away. The Story of a Bomber Team. In both books, Pineda identifies Steinbeck's use of the cinematic gaze in narrative and photos; by showcasing the grand spectacle of war machines in action, the audience is distanced from the horrific destruction they cause.

Having laid the groundwork, the author unpacks the complex process of creating and co-producing (U.S. and Mexico) The Forgotten Village (1941), written by Steinbeck. The plot of the didactic documentary fiction deals with the introduction of advances in public health to an indigenous atavistic agrarian community. Pineda elucidates how the wartime social political contexts in both countries nurtured cooperation against fascism while laying the groundwork for the hegemonic presence of the United States in Mexico. She observes that selected cinematic techniques (e.g., off-camera narration, all Mexican cast, un-staged sequences) underscored the contradiction referred to previously. Western thought, caught in the crux of war and rampant technology, sought to promote modernization and at the same time preserve the mirage of the "forgotten village," a metaphor for the natural state of an indigenous community untouched by technology (100).

The third chapter, "The Sublime Object of Ideology: The Pearl by Steinbeck," examines the language of the novel and cinematic devices of the U.S. and Mexican co-production (1947). Pineda begins with a review of Steinbeck's pro-democracy, antifascist wartime work, showing how he embraces film as a means to social awareness. Begun in the previous chapter, she continues documenting the collaboration between both film industries as a means for the United States to gain allies and concurrently extend its authority. She demonstrates how...


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