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"Real war and no make-believe" : the spectacle of the Mexican Revolution on screen Clark, Joseph E. J.

Abstract

In 1914, the Mutual Film Company signed a contract with the Mexican General Pancho Villa for the exclusive rights to his war. Under the agreement Villa was given $25,000 and a percentage of the profits in exchange for allowing Mutual cameramen to follow his southern advance on the federal forces of Victoriano Huerta. In addition to using the Mexican footage as part of their Mutual Weekly newsreel series, the film company released a feature film telling the life story of Villa himself. In all of these films, Mutual combined so-called authentic documentary footage with dramatic reenactments and even entirely fictional elements. Despite this deliberate construction of the Mexican Revolution on screen, the film's realism was its selling point. Mutual used its contract with Villa and a host of other public relations strategies to convince audiences that its films were absolutely authentic. But while reality was the pitch it was never more than a means to an end. Realism was a crucial part of Mutual's attempts to transform the Mexican Revolution into a cinematic spectacle they could sell to US audiences. By looking at these films through the intertextual web of advertisements, news reports and even fictional representations we will see how Mutual, helped by Villa himself, attempted to use stereotypes of Mexico and Mexican-ness to create the reality effect. Moreover, informed by the ideas of Guy Debord and others, we will see how reality itself was commodified and used to create the spectacle of the Mexican Revolution.

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