Hoping to increase the visibility and awareness of classic Latin American film, a group of Los Angeles-based cinephiles has launched a nonprofit organization to screen Spanish-language movies.
On Wednesday, the Latin-American Cinemateca of Los Angeles will present its inaugural screening, Luis Bunuel's 1952 film "El," a brilliant look at a man's psychotic jealousy, based on the novel by Spanish author Mercedes Pinto.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 20, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 59 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Cinemateca founder--Michael Diaz is the founder of the Latin American Cinemateca of Los Angeles. He was misidentified in a story in Tuesday's Calendar.
The movie, shown with subtitles, will be featured as part of the Los Angeles Conservancy's "Last Remaining Seats" series and will play at the historic Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles.
Founded this year, the Cinemateca is a nonprofit agency run by volunteers. Within the next three years, it hopes to organize up to six screenings annually, as well as host seminars and sponsor scholarships for youngsters interested in studying film. It is now in discussions with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to host a program featuring the music of Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas while screening the silent film "Redes."
Michael Garcia, founder of the Cinemateca, said he wanted to show Los Angeles residents the richness of Latin American film.
"The idea of starting Cinemateca was sparked by many of us who think Hollywood and the L.A. area have never given any attention to films from Latin America," said the L.A. native. "[Latin American film] has always been an appendage to film series. We will be showing not only the classics, but contemporary films made in Latin America and in the U.S."
Garcia has nurtured a relationship with Mexico's film institute, IMCINE, which is home to many of the country's classic films. He and his cadre of volunteers follow leads around the world to locate the owners of films. "El" was lent to the Cinemateca by a Canadian film collector.
Diaz said they wanted to inaugurate the series with a Bunuel classic, because this year is the 100th anniversary of the Spanish director's birth. Bunuel is considered by most film historians and critics to be the most accomplished Ibero-American director. His 1950 film "Los Olvidados" (The Forgotten Ones) is "surely considered the first film of genius in the Spanish language," said film historian and critic Emilio Garcia Riera.
But Los Angeles has been slow to pay tribute to the legendary surrealist director, said the Cinemateca's Garcia.
"Every major European city and some in the United States are celebrating the centennial anniversary of his birth and L.A. is not," said Garcia. "It's incredible that the city at the center of the film industry did not organize an event. We chose 'El' because it's one of the films of his that is rarely screened."
A Film With a Touch of Autobiography
"El," starring Arturo de Cordoba and photographed by Gabriel Figueroa, was one of the first films Bunuel made in Mexico, where he was exiled from Spain until his death in 1983. Set in Mexico City and the colonial city of Guanajuato, "El" tells the story of a recently married man who is driven mad by his uncontrollable jealousy. His nearly psychotic envy turns his life and his young wife's into a paranoid nightmare.
It was, according to Bunuel in one interview, a semiautobiographical film: "It is perhaps the film where I put the most of myself into the character. There is something of me in the protagonist."
His own wife, Jeanne Rucar de Bunuel, described her husband as "a jealous macho" in her memoirs.
It was also the first of a series of films by the Spanish director that lambasted the hypocritical values of a "patriarchal, bourgeoisie-Christian society," said Spanish cultural historian Victor Fuentes in his book on Bunuel in Mexico.
Always ahead of his time, Bunuel's movie was initially misunderstood by audiences in Mexico. During its premiere the audience laughed at "El," thinking it an out-of-control melodrama, according to Garcia Riera.
"But in reality, it is a very serious study of the central character, a character that is a cross between a madman and a poet," wrote Garcia Riera in his review of the film. "It is also a terrific example of Bunuel's very unique sense of humor."
Bunuel's sometimes cruel sense of humor will be on gruesome display Wednesday night with the film preceding "El." "Un Chien Andalou," the Surrealist 16-minute picture that brought international attention to a young Bunuel in 1928, will be shown as a warmup. The short, a collaboration between Bunuel and his fellow Surrealist painter and friend, Salvador Dali, is considered de rigueur among Surrealists and serious film students.
Bunuel was born in 1900 to a wealthy family from Calanda, Spain. With "Un Chien Andalou," he established himself as a talented young director. However, the social upheavals of his time would get in the way of his career for a while.