Hybrid Sources

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By 2017-04-02

By Indeewara Thilakarathne

Continuing our series on the evolution of Latin American cinema, we explore the diverse sources that have been effectively employed to reaffirm the cultural specifics of the Spanish language tradition.

In his academic article titled "Aural Identity, Genealogies of Sound Technologies, and Hispanic Trans nationality on Screen", Marvin D'lugo observes this aspect as, " Fitting with its conservative ideological message is the film's abundance of clichéd cultural customs and local flavor that were so sorely lacking in the Gardel films. Cockfights, mariachi singers, folklore dances, and a series of sub-plots built around picturesque characters, such as comic sidekicks and uppity maids, add a distinct humorous dimension to the film. Eduardo de la Vega Alfaro notes the theatrical origins of the film in the "Teatro de Revista", musical reviews of the 1920s.

The dialogue of secondary characters is marked by a highly stylized Mexican Spanish that is both stagey and humorous. This hybrid of textual sources served to reinforce the cultural specifics of a Spanish-language tradition, even as it appeared to imitate the singing-cowboy genre epitomized by Hollywood. De la Vega Alfaro sees some of the importance of the film's innovative use of Mexican folklore and popular music: 'de Fuentes's film presented the Mexican national identity in a positive light, whilst also reflecting positively on all of Latin America which, of course, resembled Mexico in social composition and culture." Ana López similarly notes that paradox wherein the cultural specificity of this film and other Mexican films should have limited the trans national circulation of Mexican cinema, yet actually contributed to that trans national Hispanic appeal: 'The Mexican cinema's obsessive reworking of national characteristics was profoundly appealing to other nations that were perhaps less archetypically defined, less powerful and/or less visible.'

The attractiveness of Rancho Grande's national and folklore elements was also aided by the development of radio in Mexico, especially Emilio Azcárraga's radio XEW in Mexico City, which reinforced many of the ideological and cultural patterns that helped circulate the identifiable musical sounds of Mexican Cinema. A series of laws promulgated between

1932 and 1936 required that at least 25 percent of the music played on Mexican radio stations consist of 'typically Mexican' songs.

Azcárraga's 200 kilowatt XEW, the most powerful radio signal in Latin America at the time, which could be received as far away as Havana, was partially owned by RCA. "Ranchera music, though frequently sad, was set in the warmth, sunlight, and comfort of northern Mexico in some impossibly prosperous past". The musical tradition that comes into play through de Fuentes's film, like the Gardel phenomenon that preceded it, is one built upon the refiguring of an already-established cultural stereotype that emphasizes a nostalgic experience. Identified with the charisma of its singers and rooted in a seemingly personal nostalgic theme—amorous love and love of the land—its status as a movie discourse is reinforced by the echo of its circulation through the mass-media technology of radio."

What is interesting is the innovative way in which existing music tradition was used to reinforce Spanish cultural specifics and circulated through music on Mexican radio.

Marvin D'lugo observes this development as " Rancho Grande was initially more popular internationally than in Mexico, first for Spanish-speaking audiences living in the United States and then for Mexican and Latin American audiences. The reaction in Spain, though years after the film had become a hit in Latin America and won Mexico its first international film awards at the Venice Film Festival, proved equally enticing. Marina Díaz López observes that the extra textual combination of a recollection of a simple past at a time of contemporary strife, with a heavy textual emphasis on the well-established music tradition that had been reinforced through other sound media, stabilized and universalized the genre within the Spanish-speaking world. Thanks to the extraordinary success of Rancho Grande and its imitators— nearly twenty within the first two years of the film's release by the decade's end, Mexican cinema became the principal Hispanic export film industry, creating a dynamic of cultural exchange with Spanish America without precedent."

What re-enforced and re-established this, is the heavy emphasis on a well-established musical tradition through sound media and thereby popularizing the genre within the Spanish speaking world. Another important development is the effective use of extra-textual combination of a recollection of a simple past time. It seems that the past has not merely used to authenticate recollections but also to give credence to the present unfolding scene.

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