Through a Mexican Lens
by Steve Seid
Aug 30, 2013 | 5294 views | 0 0 comments | 474 474 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gabriel Figueroa was more than a cinematographer. A consummate artist, he captured a sense of Mexican grandeur that would, as the poet Carlos Fuentes affectionately observed, bring us to “see Figueroa’s Mexico and not the one that really existed.” Beginning in the Golden Age of Mexican cinema of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Figueroa’s rich chiaroscuro embodied Mexico’s entrenched contrasts—the monumental faces weathered like the arid land, the expressively lit cathedrals dark against turbulent skies, the timeless agave, stark and prickly.

The painters Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco were Figueroa’s intimates, and their influence can be detected in what Siqueiros called “murals that travel.” Figueroa was the man who made manifest Luis Buñuel’s sardonic surrealism by underscoring mundane but unexpected details.

And he will forever be associated with director (and former Telluride Film Festival tributee) Emilio “El Indio” Fernández, who said with remarkable swagger, “There only exists one Mexico: the one I invented”—but it was Figueroa’s highly dramatic feel for the land that engendered this invention. In the mid-30s, Figueroa apprenticed to Hollywood cinematographer Gregg Toland and was much admired by American directors such as John Ford and John Huston, who used his signature style to great effect. He cut a dashing figure across the film industry, but his social conscience always preceded him: Gabriel Figueroa’s aim was to give back to Mexican culture a dignified image of itself, and this he did, a lo grande.

Steve Seid is the video curator at the Pacific Film Archive (PFA) at the Berkeley Art Museum in Berkeley, California and the co-editor of Radical Light.

MULTIPLE VISIONS, THE CRAZY MACHINE | Mexico, 2012, 96m | Director: Emilio Maille



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