Magical Reels Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1544 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature - Latin-American

Magical Reels

King, John. Magical Reels: A History of Cinema in Latin America. Critical Studies in Latin American and Iberian Cultures. London: Verso, 2000.

Increasingly, scholars are focused on analyzing art, including cinematic art, not in the abstract, but as a cultural product or artifact. However, in doing so, an interesting question is raised: is the culture of a society to be studied as merely a 'national' product, when that construct itself is somewhat problematic, given the difficulty of determining national borders in a postcolonial world, where the former European imperial powers drew the border lines of those nations? Or is it too subsuming of local differences to speak of, for example, a 'Latin American' identity? As its title indicates, Magical Reels: A History of Cinema in Latin America by the cultural historian John King offers the thesis that studying Latin America as a cultural project is valuable, because it highlights some of the unexplored and under-examined aspects of Latin American cinematic culture and the films produced in once-overlooked nations of the region. However, because of the limitations of available documentary evidence, King is to a degree forced to repeat the mistakes of previous studies of this region, namely to focus only on countries with political controversies of interest to the West, or upon films that drew international acclaim and attention.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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The first edition of Magical Reels: A History of Cinema in Latin America was released in 1990, just when cultural studies were beginning to become an accepted, rather than a contentious part of American academic film studies. The book takes its title from one of the most famous genres of Latin American fiction, the genre of the magical realism most famously embodied in the writings of Jorge Louis Borges and Isabelle Allende. King also draws liberally from authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes who were fascinated with the cinema in his analysis of the language of Latin American film. Film and literature are fused in King's analysis, and by implication to some degree in the language of Latin American cinema, a prospect he teases out from time to time, but does not fully address in every chapter of his book, despite the title.

King's stated purpose is to explore how nationalism and the regional identity of Latin America have evolved along with the growth of cinema. He says he embarks upon this project with at least the intention of avoiding a singular focus on one nation or one director's output, and is striving to provide balance by conducting a nation-by-nation survey of Latin American filmmaking as much as possible. Despite this stated premise, he tends, perhaps inevitably, to focus on films that were successful outside of their home country and drew attention and controversy internationally. Also, his use of the case study format highlights nations that have been of political interest in the West for self-interested reasons, like Cuba, simply because there is more theoretical material upon these films in print.

In his introduction, King says he is trying to provide balance by not merely studying the cinema of Latin America as a political construct of interest to the West, but as a political and cultural system in and of its own right, but because his central thesis is that artistic culture, particularly a participatory, performance-based culture like film is a product of history and political life, politics tends to taint most of his artistic analysis, often with an American slant. Because America has impinged upon Latin America so much with its imperialistic cultural and political projects, Latin American artists have been forced to deal with its influence, whether they like it or not.

The first, briefest section of the book deals with the early silent era, which is unfortunately short, King writes, given that political turmoil affected the ability of many nations to keep archives of this period of history, in contrast to the West. One of the senses that we may have that Latin American cinema 'lacks' a history may come from the fact that so much of its history has been lost to time and disintegration in the wake of political turmoil. King then proceeds to nations and time periods where there is more evidence regarding the films of the era, to country case studies, for the most part chronologically sequenced spanning Argentina, Brazil and Mexico in the 1950s and 1960s.

Not simply in the United States, but across the region, the Cuban Revolution spawned a new flourishing of interest in the political importance of cinema view on the world. Leftism began to flourish, and there was a new belief in the possibility of change, to resistance to the dominant, homogenizing North American ideal of culture, and a belief in artistic freedom. However, the right-wing backlash in Chile, followed by other nations in the 1960s and 1970s, severely hampered the creative output of Latin American filmmakers. Propaganda rather than art became the watchword of the day, as these governments were profoundly mistrustful of all creative, uncontrolled output.

Radical cinema stories were limited, although some continued to exist, in truncated form, in Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela and Columbia. One of the strengths of the book is discussing, however briefly, some of these largely unheralded national outputs, although King largely 'reads' them in the larger arch of the narrative of Latin American cinema he is attempting to construct over the course of his work. While King strives to suggest that Latin American cinema is not merely a political product, that its artists have a personal artistic integrity in their own right, his wide-sweeping cultural focus perhaps inevitably suggests that politics and cinema are fused at least some of, some of the time. The book portrays the best aspects of Latin American cinema in leftist nations as fundamentally opposed to American imperialism and commercialism. Latin America strove to be a Third Cinema of political articulation, in contrast to North American corporate cinema and also to intensely personal, elitist European avant-garde auteur cinema. This theory of a 'third' cinema or reading of Latin American films is perhaps the work's greatest strength. King persuasively articulates that the radical project and alternative point-of-view of so many Latin American filmmakers is one reason that it is so important to bring their works to the forefront in a holistic cultural context. This is why, he argues, Latin American cinema has its own, unique language as distinct from American commercial cinema and European cinema. This is also why he treats the region holistically in his book rather than focuses on one nation.

King also includes some discussion of portrayals of Latin America and Latin Americans in North American film. In Hollywood films, Latin Americans were portrayed as the 'other,' as alien to the dominant culture, and frequently with highly negative and essentially stereotypes. North American films depicted Latin Americans in formulaic roles, like that of the Latin lover lazy Mexican often did not even cast real Latin American actors in those roles -- or conversely, if actors of Latin American origin did play positive roles, it was because they could 'pass' as Caucasian.

Worse yet, there was pressure upon almost all Latin American governments to accept these American cultural artifacts into their cinemas. The material and economic pressures to do so created an artistic culture that did not reflect the Latin American reality, suggests King, noting how political, economic, and cultural exporting and importing are all interlinked -- interlinked, in this case, in an imperialistic project. King parallels the attempts of American filmmaking industry to encroach into Latin American cinemas and drive the work of native filmmakers from the theaters as parallel to the political exploitation of Latin America itself as well.

In his updated introduction, King makes it clear that it is difficult to resist the economic and political power of Hollywood today.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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