Mexico on Main Street

Mexico on Main Street: Transnational Film Culture in Los Angeles before World War II

Colin Gunckel
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14tqcsb
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    Mexico on Main Street
    Book Description:

    In the early decades of the twentieth-century, Main Street was the heart of Los Angeles's Mexican immigrant community. It was also the hub for an extensive, largely forgotten film culture that thrived in L.A. during the early days of Hollywood. Drawing from rare archives, including the city's Spanish-language newspapers, Colin Gunckel vividly demonstrates how this immigrant community pioneered a practice of transnational media convergence, consuming films from Hollywood and Mexico, while also producing fan publications, fiction, criticism, music, and live theatrical events.

    Mexico on Main Streetlocates this film culture at the center of a series of key debates concerning national identity, ethnicity, class, and the role of Mexicans within Hollywood before World War II. As Gunckel shows, the immigrant community's cultural elite tried to rally the working-class population toward the cause of Mexican nationalism, while Hollywood sought to position them as part of a lucrative transnational Latin American market. Yet ironically, both Hollywood studios and Mexican American cultural elites used the media to present negative depictions of working-class Mexicans, portraying their behaviors as a threat to middle-class respectability. Rather than simply depicting working-class immigrants as pawns of these power players, however, Gunckel reveals their active participation in the era's film culture.

    Gunckel's innovative approach combines media studies, urban history, and ethnic studies to reconstruct a distinctive, richly layered immigrant film culture.Mexico on Main Streetdemonstrates how a site-specific study of cultural and ethnic issues challenges our existing conceptions of U.S. film history, Mexican cinema, and the history of Los Angeles.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-7077-8
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-13)

    A Mexican immigrant attending a theater on Los Angeles’s Main Street from the 1910s to the 1930s might have paid admission to see an impressively wide range of entertainment: a second-or third-run Hollywood film, a Mexican or Argentine feature, a dramatic play, a vaudeville performance, or a musical concert. Depending on the year, any or all of these might have shared the same stage for an evening. Even a cursory survey of theater listings during these decades reveals an incredibly diverse and ever-changing array of leisure options and venues along this corridor. This vibrant, transnational Mexican film culture along Main...

  5. CHAPTER 1 CONSTRUCTING MEXICAN LOS ANGELES: COMPETING VISIONS OF AN IMMIGRANT POPULATION
    (pp. 14-50)

    The transformation of downtown Los Angeles in the twenty-first century has been fundamental and remarkably rapid. While it had experienced periodic bouts of revitalization and development throughout the twentieth century (inev­itably fueled by narratives of blighted slums in need of razing), recent develop­ment demonstrates a combined emphasis on work, leisure, and residence.¹ In other words, downtown has suddenly emerged as a desirable neighborhood, particularly for the young and upwardly mobile. South Main Street is now lined with wine bars, bistros, art galleries, dog boutiques, and old hotels converted into lofts. This apparently successful overhaul of Main Street is of no...

  6. CHAPTER 2 SPECTACLES OF HIGH MORALITY AND CULTURE : THEATRICAL CULTURE AND CONSTRUCTIONS OF THE MEXICAN COMMUNITY IN THE 1920S
    (pp. 51-88)

    Combating multiple entities from Hollywood to Euro-American reformers, Mexican press culture in early twentieth-century Los Angeles contributed to a discursive Mexicanization effort that was fought on multiple fronts. By insisting on the moral and cultural respectability of Main Street entertainment, the press worked to reinforce national sentiment while aspiring to elevate the perceived status (racial and otherwise) of Mexicans within the city. As the broader entertainment landscape further transformed in the 1920s, live Spanish-language theater became a key component of the representation and construction of Mexi­canidad on a number of levels: as an alternative or corrective to Hollywood films and...

  7. CHAPTER 3 THE AUDIBLE AND THE INVISIBLE : THE TRANSITION TO SOUND AND THE DE-MEXICANIZATION OF HOLLYWOOD
    (pp. 89-121)

    Through the 1920s the Mexican press in Los Angeles imagined the implications of cinematic representation as multiple yet interrelated effects: the vilification of Mexicans, the ways this influenced the treatment of Mexicans, the relation of these to conceptions of Los Angeles, the creation of a cohesive and elevated national consciousness among Mexican audiences, and the prevention of the de-Mexicanization (or assimilation) of this population. With the addition of dialogue to motion pictures in the late 1920s, the stakes of cinematic representation and Hollywood’s constructions of Mexicanidad were amplified. To be certain, stereotypes did not disappear, nor did the counterrepresentations constructed...

  8. CHAPTER 4 FASHIONABLE CHARROS AND CHINAS POBLANAS: MEXICAN CINEMA AND THE DILEMMA OF THE COMEDIA RANCHERA
    (pp. 122-158)

    The decline of Spanish-language Hollywood coincided with and even contributed to the development of the Mexican film industry. While the late 1920s and early 1930s witnessed only sporadic feature production in Mexico, the nation’s newfound social and political stability soon facilitated more concerted efforts to establish the regular production of films and an industrial infrastructure. As Aurelio de los Reyes argues, “The years 1932 and 1933 were characterized by the return of Mexican actors who had played secondary roles in Holly­wood … by talk of fabulous film projects and the arrival of directors, actors, and technicians from other nations ready...

  9. CHAPTER 5 NOW WE HAVE MEXICAN CINEMA? NAVIGATING TRANSNATIONAL MEXICANIDAD IN A MOMENT OF CRISIS
    (pp. 159-192)

    If in the mid-1930s the comedia ranchera heralded a Mexican movie culture that involved the construction of postrevolutionary Mexicanidad across media, the late 1930s witnessed a significant disruption of this situation on multiple counts. In fact, transformations in multiple spheres would irrevocably alter the shape of Mexican film culture and hence the terms of its relation to conceptions of Mexicanness. Perhaps most notably, a number of the older theaters along Main Street began closing, either as a function of redevelopment construction or as a product of a gradual migration of downtown Mexican entertainment to Broad­way (which would be completed in...

  10. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 193-198)

    In the decades since the dispersal of Main Street as a Mexican entertainment destination, Los Angeles has experienced a range of far-reaching transformations and a spectacular growth. Aside from the aforementioned preservations of Broadway and Olvera Street, the physical landscape of downtown would likely prove unrecognizable to a Mexican immigrant of the 1920s and 1930s. North Main itself has been cut through by the 101 Freeway and occupied by civic construction. Even South Main, which preserved its seedy reputation well into the 1990s, has emerged as one of downtown’s premier corridors of residence and nightlife for a population of young...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 199-222)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 223-234)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 235-254)
  14. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. 255-256)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-258)