February 07, 2011

Le président en promenade (1896)

In 1895, the debut of the Lumières' Cinématographe truly marked the beginning of a new era of entertainment, and the birth of a new art form. Edison's Kinetoscope was already well known, so the idea of motion pictures wasn't really new; however, the major difference between the Kinetoscope and the the Cinématographe was that the former was an individual experience and the latter a collective one. Their first movies consisted mainly of images from everyday life in movies named "actuality films", which depicted life as it is and technically were the precursors of modern documentaries. Soon the demand for more movies for the Cinématographe grew, and the brothers began to train camera operators to send all over the world, in order to produce more actuality films with scenes from across the globe (and of course, to take their invention to other markets). Mexico, under the rule of president Porfirio Díaz, was one of the first countries to welcome the Lumières' new creation, and cinematographer Gabriel Antoine Veyre was the man in charge of taking cinema to the Mexican lands in 1896.

"Le président en promenade" (better known by its Spanish title "El presidente de la republica paseando a caballo en el bosque de Chapultepec" or "The president riding his horse in Chapultepec forest") was one of the first amongst Veyre's shorts made specifically about president Díaz. It showcases the president riding his horse through Chapultepec (a still popular walk in Meixco's capital) and arriving to a place where he meets a soldier. They exchange words and then the president seems to wait something. Later, Díaz returns from where he came followed by the group that was apparently waiting for him. Several other citizens are seen walking through Chapultepec forest in an otherwise normal day in the city. Díaz seems to really understand the impact that cinema could have in the audiences so, aware that this film was to be seen across the globe, Díaz rides his horse in front of the camera, in an imposing and knightly stance with the dignity of a great ruler. Like most of the Lumières'actuality films, Veyre's had this done in one single take without moving the camera.

President Porfirio Díaz had been ruling Mexico since 1876, in what effectively was a dictatorship, nowadays known as the Porfiriato. Those were years of a totalitarian control of power, suppression of opposing media, and several other injustices; however, those were also years of great progress and economic development for the country. This progress was a direct result of Díaz' desire of bringing modernity to Mexico and his openness to industrial and technological inventions. Naturally, cinema attracted him so, his government welcomed Gabriel Veyre and the Cinématographe with open arms. During his visit, Veyre captured many scenes of Mexican life, staged what could probably the first Mexican fiction movie ("Un duelo a pistola en el bosque de Chapultepec", or "A duel with pistols at Chapultepec forest") and followed president Díaz in his everyday life. Díaz seems to have enjoyed this films so much, clearly understanding the value of cinema in public relations, so there are many scenes of Díaz walking, riding, working, essentially making the president the very first star of Mexican cinema.

Like many other countries, Mexico fell under the spell of the Cinématographe, and Veyre's visit captured the imagination of many businessmen and artists in the country. Cinema, like many other inventions, was welcomed and supported by the government and soon, the public's demand was greater than the offer. This resulted in the birth of Mexican cinema, with the distributors being forced to make their own material when the French one proved to not be enough. Mexican Reolution of 1910 put an end to Díaz' government and borough greater changes to the country. Certainly, Díaz' regime had many problems and shortcomings; however, while the dictator and his regime may not had been the best for most Mexicans, credit goes to Díaz for having helped in the birth of Mexican cinema, and for being Mexico's first movie star.


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