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5   cinematic images frontiers, nationalism, and the mexican question The changing state of relations between Anglos and Mexicans in 1915 required the formation of new strategies to support the emerging racial culture of the Texas Modern. The story of the Alamo, stripped of the tensions and historical ambiguities of 1836,playedastrategicroleinthisprocess.Betweendime-store novels, early tourist and trade books about San Antonio and Texas, and oral legendry, the Alamo now occupied a foundational place in the production of frontier mythology. While the weight of these efforts led to the dissemination of the Alamo story beyond the confines of Texas, it is the emergence of motion pictures, with their visual texture and iconic density, that best exemplifies the linkages between the Alamo as historical event and its emerging cultural memory made real through the project of modernity. Not only is the Alamo story retold throughcinema—whatLeoCharneyandVanessaR.Schwartz (1995:1) consider the “fullest expression” of modernity—but more critically, it provides a cognitive and visual projection of the displacing practices characteristic of the Texas Modern. My discussion here is not intended to be a survey or exegesis of all cinematic representations of the Battle of the Alamo. Not only have others already provided this invaluable work, but such an effort fails to serve the central thesis of this project .1 I am principally concerned with two Alamo films: Martyrs of the Alamo, or the Birth of Texas, released in 1915, and John Wayne’s 1960 rendition, The Alamo. These films represent the earliest and latest “modern” cinematic productions of 95 05-T2008 2/25/02 11:44 AM Page 95 the 1836 battle. They are two very distinct films, and their differences are informative for understanding the shifting image of Mexican Americans in American society in the forty-five years between them. Although a series of films after 1960 are important for rethinking the Alamo through historical correction and parody, Viva Max (1969) being perhaps the most well known, these films emerge from a different, postmodern if you want, era and are produced through a different sociohistorical lens. Between 1911 and 1915 four films depicting the 1836 battle were made, of which only the latest has survived. Of the three lost films, it is The Immortal Alamo (1911) about which any substantive information is available. Virtually nothing is known about the other two, The Siege and Fall of the Alamo (1914) and The Fall of the Alamo (1914). The oldest extant film is the 1915 production, Martyrs of the Alamo, or the Birth of Texas, which I will shortly address. The production of four films in four years erases any uncertainty about when the Alamo emerges as a national reference point. Only the period between 1955 and 1960, the years of Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett and John Wayne’s The Alamo, are comparable. The Immortal Alamo is the work of Gaston Méliès, brother of early cinema ’s influential practitioner, Georges Méliès. In January 1910 Gaston moved his film production and distribution unit, Star Film Company, to San Antonio from New York and immediately made plans to produce what he promised would be a historically “correct” representation of the 1836 battle. Méliès released his brief production on May 25, 1911. Directed by William Haddock, it starred Francis Ford (brother of John Ford), William Carrol, Méliès himself, and cadets from the local Peacock Military Academy. Col. Wesley Peacock, who was fourteen at the time of the shooting and son of the commander of the school, recalls Méliès using “real Mexicans,” more than likely Mexican Americans, with uniforms from the Peacock cadets meant to “represent those of the era.”2 Despite its claim to historical accuracy and its supposed footage of the actual structure of the Alamo (although without copies of the film, this cannot be verified), the movie’s plot reproduces the already formulaic narrative of a “pretty girl, a shy hero, and a villain.” Specifically, the film’s story revolves around the characters of Señor Navarre, a supposed “Mexican spy,” Lucy Dickenson , and her husband, Lieutenant Dickenson (Thompson 1996). The real plot of the film begins when, in the midst of the siege, Lieutenant Dickenson answers Travis’s call for a volunteer to carry a message to Sam Houston. Soon after his departure, Señor Navarre makes a play for Lucy, who refuses his sexual advances and is rescued by Colonel Travis. Expelled from the Alamo...


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