Cinema art jumps off the silver screen&
From Mexico's golden age
by Susie Queue
Singing charros and voluptuous senoritas are among the glamorous images found on some of Mexico's classic cinema posters from the film industry's "golden age". From 1936 through 1956 Mexico produced some three million movie posters and lobby cards to advertise the 1,552 motion pictures that were created by the business during its heyday. These masterpieces of publicity are gaining distinction among critics and collectors as works of art in their own right. One of the largest private collections in the world, held by Rogelio Agrasánchez, Jr., boosts in excess of twelve thousand Mexican cinema lobby cards in addition to numerous films, still photos, full-size posters and other paper movie-related memorabilia.
Considered as commercial art by many artists of that epoch, most posters were left unsigned. Several well known painters in Mexico were creating lobby cards during this classic period in film-making, including Jose Guadalupe Posada and Jose G. Cruz. More often than not however, it is difficult to determine the actual designer. Artists were frequently commissioned by the film producer or an advertising agency to come up with the poster's motif. It was not unusual for the artist to visit the studio set to pick up ideas and inspiration. From the initial sketches to the finished work, the average artist took about a week to develop a lobby card that was eligible for the film producer's approval. Pre-1940's posters were often stone lithography printed, but later ones were normally produced on off-set presses.
Mexico's boom in motion picture production was heightened during World War II in large part by U.S. influences. As a valued anti-Axis ally, the United States wanted Mexico to remain the most influential nation in Latin America-- as opposed to Argentina, who was neutral to the war efforts. The United States restricted raw film exports to Argentina, while offering Mexico an unlimited supply. Annual motion picture production dropped in Argentina from forty-seven films produced in 1941 to only twenty-three in 1945 while in Mexico production jumped from thirty-seven to eighty-two during the same period. Likewise, the newly created government office of The Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs sent not only money for film productions and equipment maintenance, but also advisors from Hollywood to Mexican studios. Mexico soon became the largest producer of motion pictures in Latin America, with films being viewed by all of the countries in this region. After the war ended, the United States dropped the supply of raw film to Mexico to about a third of what was being shipped during the war years and Hollywood soon regained its place of dominance in the Mexican, and Latin American, film market.
Naturally, with more films being produced during this period there was also an increased number of lobby cards being commissioned and some of the best works of art can be found from that time-span.
Pristine lobby cards are a difficult find for collectors, just by their very nature. These pieces of advertising art, which are slightly smaller than their U.S. counterparts, were normally pinned or taped in movie theater lobby display boxes to entice viewers. Most were torn down and tossed away once the film left the theater. Among some of the most popular themes for fans of Mexican lobby cards include images of pistol touting cowboys and sexy senoritas. Cantinflas, Tin-Tan, El Santo and La Momia Azteca are also prized additions of poster art to any collection.
Note: Recommended reading for lovers of Mexican movie memorabilia is the 1997 bilingual book, Carteles de la Época de Oro del Cine Mexicano, Poster Art from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, by Rogelio Agrasánchez.