From 1943 until 1950, Emilio Fernández was regarded as one of the foremost purveyors of 'Mexicanness,' as one of the most important filmmakers of the Mexican film industry. This chapter highlights some of the key concepts presented in the subsequent chapters of the book. The book explores the contradictions of post-Revolutionary representation as manifested in Fernández' canonical 1940s films: María Candelaria, Víctimas del pecado, Las abandonadas, La perla, Enamorada, Río Escondido, Maclovia and Salón Mexico. It examines transnational influences that shaped Fernández' work. The book acknowledges how the events of the Mexican revolution impacted on the country's film industry and the ideological development of nationalism. It takes note of current tendencies in film studies and postcolonial theory to look for the excesses, instabilities and incoherencies in texts, which challenge such totalizing projects of hegemony or cultural reification as 'cultural nationalism' or ' mexicanidad.'
The history of classical Mexican cinema and its scholarship
This chapter looks at how classical Mexican cinema has been studied. It begins with a history of cinema in Mexico up to and including the 1940s, including the advent of sound cinema. The chapter examines the state's relationship to popular culture (and particularly cinema) in Mexico in the 1940s in terms of a consolidation of the post-Revolutionary nationalist project. It challenges the film scholarship, local nontextual perspectives, which characterize Mexican cinema as 'underdeveloped' and suggests a means of reading against an approach that continually reasserts subalternity in the face of the colonizing culture (Hollywood). After a survey of US studies of classical Mexican cinema which diverge from Mexican analyses by making space for the 'other' through genre and textual analyses, it concludes by outlining how a textual approach might provide an account of Emilio Fernández' oeuvre as contradictory, non homogeneous and evident of a fissured cultural nationalism.
This chapter, through Emilio Fernández' Río Escondido, questions a key element within the post-Revolution redefinition of Mexico: necessary consonance of Fernández' films with conservative, Government ideology. Specifically, it explores the tensions between Government discourses of progress and modernity and Río Escondido's representation of Mexico. At the same time, the chapter takes issue with the idea that this film (along with all Fernández's films) represents an 'antimodernist utopia' antithetical to progress and modernity, and suggests instead that it is firmly rooted in the contemporary moment (and problems) of its production. Although, Río Escondido seemingly furthers the State's claim to be Revolutionary by figuring a revolutionary struggle and victory, the chapter finds that the very revolutionary actions the film celebrates are simultaneously disavowed as part of Mexico's contemporary reality.
This chapter examines some of the recent transformations of the documentary
genre and explores the ways in which documentary has responded to these
various challenges. These transformations have resulted in a range of new
representational strategies that have consciously opened up spaces between
the entities of 'fact' and 'fiction'. Big-budget
feature-length documentary has shown that it can draw large audiences to
cinemas - one only has to look at the success of Hoop Dreams (1994),
When We Were Kings (1996), and Crumb (1994) for evidence of
the cinematic form's popularity. Documentary, like science, has sought
to maintain a claim to be able to access and reveal the truth about the
social world. One of the consequences of the critique of 'truth'
and 'reality' has been the blurring of traditional boundaries
between documentary and drama, and between fact and fiction.
This chapter suggests possible 'precursors' of the mock-documentary
form. It outlines a number of the significant strands within cinematic and
television media, in the United States and Britain in particular, which have
fostered the creation and continued growth of the mock-documentary form.
Dr Strangelove might appear to be an obscure choice to include within
this list of genealogical precursors for mock-documentary, but we include it
here because it features elements of style and rhetoric which reappear
within the mock-documentary form. Orson Welles appears within the list of
genealogical precursors not only for his 1938 radio broadcast of War of
the Worlds but for this film, which does not sit easily in the
categories of either documentary or fiction film. Steven Spielberg has
offered significant additions to the development of the cinematic
From the early 1970s, the Kipper Kids (Harry Kipper and Harry Kipper, aka Brian Routh and Martin von Haselberg) became notorious for the danger, excess, strangeness and baffled hilarity of their frequently drunken ‘ceremonies’. This chapter accounts for the former notoriety of the Kipper Kids to ask further questions about the performance of extremity as an aesthetic category in the 1970s. The theme of sabotage – or self-sabotage – emerges as a crucial element in the performance art of the Kipper Kids, in terms of their devising and presentation of specific ceremonies and works, and in their pursuit of careers as artists committed to art’s anti-aesthetic sensibility.
The conclusion brings together underlying themes of the preceding chapters, under the conceptual problems posed by recklessness and impossibility as cultural logics. The reckless and the impossible are framed by a final case study, namely the work of Stephen Cripps, whose dangerous and risk-prone pyrotechnic performances and interactive sculptures can be understood as significant to the development of performance art – and the incipient cultural logic of the performance of extremity – in the 1970s. The conclusion offers final thoughts on the performance of extremity, and on art’s optimistic promise to manifest or achieve the reckless, the impossible, the incorrigible or the unlimited.
In 1976, Ulay undertook an exemplary performance of extremity by stealing ‘Germany’s favourite painting’, namely Carl Spitzweg’s The Poor Poet (1839). This chapter discusses the action at length in the context of Ulay’s earlier works as well as examples of performance art that seek to make interventions into institutional spaces of art as a means of aesthetic and political critique, highlighting the way such actions shed light on the border between art/life and art/crime. The chapter argues that in Ulay’s theft, the transgressing of the perceived limits of art was not simply art crime or vandalism, but part of a sustained project of questioning and deconditioning his own gendered and national identity, here, specifically, by taking aim at his own German-ness in the post-war period.
Genesis P-Orridge has been a controversial figure in British art since the late 1960s. This chapter explores the national scandal of the Mail Action (1976), a performance at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court that consisted of P-Orridge’s indecency trial, after the artist was charged for sending pornographic mail art through the Royal Mail. P-Orridge’s performances with and as COUM Transmissions suggest the vital intersections between performance art, pornography, counterculture and crime in London in the 1970s. The Mail Action is placed in dialogue with P-Orridge’s subsequent exhibition (with COUM Transmissions) at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in October 1976 to document the threats posed by explorations of sex, crime, controversy and esoteric ritual, in the context of the performance of extremity.
Since the late 1960s, Anne Bean’s performances, public interventions, drawings, videos and writings have been actively pursued as a ‘continuum’, and she strives to diminish the distinctiveness or iconicity of each in favour of a democracy of forms and effects. Bean’s pursuit of a continuum is discussed as a performance of extremity with regard to specific works of performance, as well as her broader assault on critical and theoretical understandings of performance and art, in terms of the potential of performance art to blur the boundaries between art and life. The argument is channelled through the theosophy of G. I. Gurdjieff – a touchstone for Bean in the 1970s – and the dubious critical methods of magic and the occult, ending up at the persistence of her refusal to be fixed or found by history.