Martyrs of the Alamo or “The Birth of Texas” (1915)

La siguiente información es del Tomo 1 de México visto por el cine extranjero de Emilio García Riera publicado por Ediciones Era y la Universidad de Guadalajara, pp. 101.

Además, dos películas ambiciosas se refirieron a la pérdida de Texas por México: Martyrs of the Alamo (1915) y The Conqueror (1917). Variety (29 de octubre de 1915) vio “una narración histórica sobre la revolución mexicana [sic] de 1836, cuando Texas obtuvo su libertad” en Martyrs of the Alamo, primer largomatraje sobre el tema aludido por su título. La cinta fue producida por la Triangle, supervisada por David W. Griffith, dirigida por Christy Cabanne, el mismo de Life of Villa, y según Louis Reeves Harrison en The Moving Picture World (6 de noviembre de 1915), procuró la fidelidad “en el vestuario y en las estratagemas bélicas” de unos héroes admirados por su “notable combinación de astucia, aplomo (self-control) y valentía obstinada”. También a Variety le gustó la película:

Hay emoción de comienzo a fin. El ejército mexicano y sus manejos, las escenas en la estacada, los rangers, la guerra, todo […] parece fidedigno, incluyendo la muerte de Bowie por consumición y su último acto de matar a un mexicano con el cuchillo de su invento.

[Sam] de Grasse es Silent Smith y logra provocar muchas veces la hilaridad, en plena carnicería, con su manifiesto desprecio por los mexicanos.

Ese desprecio era expresado por toda la película. Quienes han visto alguna de las copias que aún de ella quedan, me dicen que Santa Anna y sus hombres son descritos como una inmunda partida de lascivos y mariguanos. En cambio, el vestuario blanco de los héroes “anglos” — Crockett, Travis, Bowie, etcétera — subraya su nobleza.

García Riera en la misma obra (pág. 80) cita a Linda Williams con su texto “Type and Estereotype: Chicano Images in Film “, parte del libro Chicano Cinema:

En ambos casos, el estereotipo del villano mexicano actúa par justificar lo que de otro modo podría verse como un despojo norteamericano del suelo mexicano. En Let Katy Do It, los “buenos” norteamericanos están explotando minas mexicanas y extrayendo oro para enviarlo a los Estados Unidos. El ataque de los “malos” mexicanos a la mina es pues territorialmente justificado, como el ataque al Álamo de Santa Anna en Martyrs of the Alamo. Peor son en ambos casos los mexicanos tan feos y rapaces, y son los norteamericanos de tal manera la personificación de los valores burgueses de la familia y la propiedad en su país, que los conflictos territoriales históricamente determinados se desplazan al ámbito de una moral simple: la lucha por el territorio se convierte en la defensa de la familia contra la perversa lujuria de los mexicanos.

La siguiente ficha filmográfica esta tomada del Tomo 2 de la misma obra de Emilio García Riera, página 48:

1500/4. Martyrs of the Alamo/ Producción: EU (Triangle) 1915. Dirección y Argumento: William Christy Cabanne sobre la novela de Theodosia Harris. Intérpretes: Sam de Grasse (Silent Smith), Walter Long (Santa Anna), Tom Wilson (Samuel Houston), Alfred Paget (Jim Bowie), A.D. Sears (Davy Crockett), John Dillon (William Travis), Ora Carew (Mrs. Dickinson), Juanita Hansen (hija de viejo soldado), Fred Burns (Dickinson). 5 rollos. Cinta histórica supervisada por David W. Griffith sobre el asedio del Álamo, en Texas (1836), por las tropas mexicanas de Santa Anna. Incluye también escenas de la batalla de San Jacinto. Santa Anna y los demás mexicanos son presentados como drogadictos y lujuriosos. [También aparece un joven Douglas Fairbanks en el papel de Joe/Soldado texano]

A continuación la reseña que IMDb publica. La escribe Cineanalyst y está basada en la versión del DVD:

‘The Birth of a Nation’ was the most influential film in this medium’s history, and its impact on subsequent pictures can be seen in those released shortly thereafter to those made many years later, but few other films so markedly demonstrate that influence than this one, ‘Martyrs of the Alamo’. This is seen from the opening subtitle, ‘The Birth of Texas’, as well as in its structure, filming and editing of battle scenes, its racist depiction of Mexicans, and its glorification of white Americans and white women’s virtue. Like the director of ‘Martyrs of the Alamo’, Christy Cabanne, most of the film’s actors were Griffith veterans, too. Fred Burns, Sam De Grasse, Allan Sears, Tom Wilson, and Walter Long all worked on ‘The Birth of a Nation’, and Alfred Paget had also been a Griffith regular. Griffith himself probably didn’t directly have much to do with this one, concentrating mostly on his own films, but it was one of the many Triangle pictures that he oversaw in a supervising capacity.
Like ‘The Birth of a Nation’, ‘Martyrs of the Alamo’ is also historically inaccurate. Many of the inaccuracies seem to be made to imitate Griffith’s narrative. Others, such as the odd-looking Alamo and frequency of coonskin caps are less accounted for. One of the main impetuses for the Texas Revolution is ludicrously proposed to have been to protect the virtue of the female settlers from America. One title cards reads: “Under the dictator’s rule the honor and life of American womanhood was held in contempt.” This is augmented by scenes of loafing Mexican militiamen harassing female American settles and disrespecting the men–mostly by not moving out of their way when they’re passing by. Likewise, in ‘The Birth of a Nation’, when blacks took control, they legislated interracial marriage, which was a euphemism for black men raping white women, with the KKK then depicted as the saviours of the white woman’s virtue. On the issue of race, there are also a few characters in blackface, but they’re mostly in the background of ‘Martyrs of the Alamo’; not surprisingly, the film makes no mention of Mexico’s prohibition of slavery and the opposition to that by American immigrants to Texas.
This film is also highly derivative of ‘The Birth of a Nation’ and other Griffith films in its adoption and imitation of his grammar and technique for filming battle scenes. It’s that the imitation isn’t bad that makes this picture entertaining. The editing is nicely fast paced, although occasionally choppy. There’s extensive focus on individual skirmishes and crosscutting between those scenes. Varied camera positions are employed, including iris long shots. These sequences aren’t nearly as good as those in Griffith’s mature work (which were aided by cinematographer G.W. Bitzer and editors James and Rose Smith), but they’re better than some other later derivative battle scenes, in addition to pre-Griffith filmed battle scenes. Nevertheless, Cabanne and his crew really don’t do anything innovative; it’s copied from Griffith and his coworkers. One slight exception in differing style might be the extensive use of fades in ‘Martyrs of the Alamo’, but they’re uneven in length and purpose and often contribute to the sense of choppy editing.
Some of the acting and characters in this film are rather amusing for 1915. James Bowie and Davy Crockett are played like a buddy duo from their introduction, and Paget (he also played Prince Belshazzar in ‘Intolerance’) and Sears (also good in ‘Sold for Marriage’), as two of the better character actors of their day, never over-dramatized their parts. Long, however, hammed his part the most, which I think helps to deflect some of the inaccuracies and bigotry of the film. In addition to having played the Mexican leader Santa Anna here, Long played Gus in ‘The Birth of a Nation’, the black villain who tried to rape Mae Marsh’s childlike character. As Santa Anna, Long seems to have relished using broad gestures and grimacing his face. The title cards even make his character more over-the-top, especially one that describes him thusly, “An inveterate drug fiend, the Dictator of Mexico also famous for his shameful orgies.” Also, Douglas Fairbanks supposedly had a bit part somewhere, this being before he became a star, but I didn’t catch it. Overall, this is an entertaining imitation.

Resulta interesante que la visión americana respecto a la película coincida con la mexicana. Tanto García Riera como Cineanalyst deploran el estereotipo del mexicano, sin embargo el primero le da un cariz racista y el segundo cuestiona su validez histórica.

Puedes ver The Martyrs of the Alamo (1915), cuya copia ha sido conservada por Internet Archive.

A review by Cat Lady:

A historic film and a painful treat for Fairbanks fans. It’s a painful treat because Doug is in blackface here, as well as in a small and uncredited role. He spends most of his brief screen time crouched on the floor behind various objects to hide his physique and athletic movements. Sigh.
This is one of the film’s several weaknesses (apparently Douglas Fairbanks was under contractual obligation with Griffith, who was unsure what to do with the expensive star at this point), but it is most definitely a historic film, as it is the earliest surviving film and perhaps the first feature film ever made about the Alamo (an earlier film had been made four years earlier, but that only exists today as a series of stills in postcard form, and I’m also not sure if it was a feature).
Most importantly, though, it was released less than 80 years after the actual event, and only 17 years after the end of the Spanish-American War; and so it was made for audiences with a much different view of things. That viewpoint probably has something to do with the extremely negative stereotyping of Mexicans in the film and false propaganda (for example, Santa Ana did allow the women and children to leave the Alamo).
Those are a couple of several major weaknesses of “Martyrs”: however, there is a terrific benefit to the movie’s relative proximity in time to its subject. Audiences had a better recollection of the actual events and the persons involved.
In this movie, Bowie, Travis, and Crockett are there, of course, but the central character is Deaf Smith (called “Silent” Smith in the movie for some reason), who I had never heard of before in spite of his great importance then (his nickname was “The Texas Spy”). There is a little extra fillip for Fairbanks fans in this, too: Smith is played by none other than Sam De Grasse, a/k/a Prince John in Fairbanks’ “Robin Hood.”
De Grasse may have gotten the Smith role because of his obvious facial resemblance to Deaf Smith. He plays the role with a rather bear-like and hunched-over set of physical movements and postures, totally unlike Prince John’s slim, graceful menace, which may show that he and Griffith also knew that audiences would be familiar with how the real Smith had moved.
De Grasse still shows that same ability to convey motion in stillness and feeling in a look, most notably perhaps when he carefully and slowly reads the poster Santa Ana has ordered put up in San Antonio, and then shows his contempt by spitting on it. He has all the dramatic gestures required of a silent film star down, but Sam De Grasse was one of the few actors back then (Buster Keaton was another) who was also eloquent in restraint and facial expression. What a talented actor he was!
I didn’t want to write a book here and so will cut it short. In addition to what’s mentioned above, the film’s strengths include excellent camera work, given the limitations of the day, and realistic battle scenes overall. The weaknesses also include there being too few actors available to convey the overwhelming numerical superiority of Santa Ana’s forces; many misrepresentations of the actual facts as well as the physical appearance of the Alamo (notably, in Smith’s total lack of social contact with the Latino circles of those days, which was what made him such a good spy; he was in fact married to a Latina, though in this movie he’s dating a blonde Angla. Also, there was no secret passage in the Alamo). And there are limitations based on filming equipment, which is probably why Griffith framed the wide shots of troops attacking the Alamo with a wide border.
There’s one problem in particular with this print, and that’s the soundtrack. Somebody did a wonderful job with that, and it highlights the movie’s occasional epic movements. Unfortunately, it hits the epic note early and stays with it, not reflecting anything else that’s happening on the screen. I enjoyed the movie more after turning off the speakers.  It’s such good music, I’m sorry to say that, but since the movie has its weaknesses, the overall experience would probably be better with a soundtrack that carried us along into the film more.
One more thing and I’ll stop: Douglas Fairbanks may have gotten a little of his own back, nine years later, in “The Thief of Bagdad.” Remember the scene in that movie where the suitors are setting off to find treasure, and the Mongol Prince tells his flunky to remain behind and build an army within Bagdad’s walls? Remember how the flunky is standing behind the Prince at that point, and he bows or something and leaves the Prince’s carriage to go back into the city. Well, before he goes out, he puts something on his head, presumably as a disguise.

Finally a review in french by Tepepa:

The Martyrs of the Alamo, est vieux, très vieux, il date de 1915. Il est beaucoup plus proche de la date réelle des évènements d’Alamo que nous le sommes. Pas tant que ça néanmoins. 1915, c’est 79 ans après la bataille, donc il ne restait plus de vétérans de cette guerre texano-mexicaine dont la fameuse bataille d’Alamo est l’épisode le plus marquant. Mais quand même ! J’ai vu un jour un vieux petit film d’actualité qui montrait des vétérans de la guerre de sécession en train de défiler, ça m’a touché ce témoignage cinématographique direct d’une guerre qui pourtant, n’a jamais été filmée. The Martyrs of the Alamo m’a ému également : voir cette tragédie jouée par des gens nés dans le même siècle que les vrais Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie et William Travis, cela rajoute, non pas une touche de véracité, mais comme un chaleureux hommage d’une équipe à la génération de leurs grands parents.

De toute manière, si l’on en croit The Martyrs Of Alamo, des vétérans Texans  d’Alamo, justement, il n’y en a pas eu, et même encore moins que chez John Wayne. Le Santa Anna de 1915 ne fait pas dans la dentelle et massacre hommes, femmes et enfants sans distinctions, à deux ou trois exceptions près. Tous les points d’orgue du film du Duke sont là : les premières réussites quand il s’agit de refouler les assauts des mexicains, la rivalité Bowie/Travis, la fameuse ligne pour départager ceux qui veulent mourir libres et ceux qui veulent vivre lâches, l’espoir dans les renforts, et la résistance jusqu’à la mort. On a même Bowie qui n’oublie pas de poignarder un dernier soldat avant de mourir, un de moins, c’est toujours un de moins.

Mais là où le film de John Wayne se perd un peu en papotage pompeux avec les dames sous un chêne centenaire, le film de Cabanne préfère montrer ce qui s’est passé avant Alamo, et après. Avant : les humiliations mexicaines, les armes cachées, la prise d’Alamo par les texans. Après : la revanche Texane de Sam Houston à San Jacinto, avec un épisode curieux ou Silent Smith se fait passer pour un sourd muet. Silent Smith, absent du film de Wayne, me semble-t-il, est un des personnages principaux de cette épopée. Son surnom dans la vraie vie historique est en fait Deaf Smith, et wikipédia n’explique pas si le coup de se faire passer pour un sourd muet est véridique ou pas.

Bref, en 72 minutes, le film muet de 1915 en montre plus que les trois heures du film de Wayne. Vous vous dites du coup : «ouais mais alors niveau action ça doit être la dèche!» Et bien non, pas du tout. S’il est évident que le film de Wayne est plus grandiose, plus meurtrier, plus flamboyant, la bataille dans The Martyrs of The Alamo ne manque pas de tension et de coups d’éclats : le début est passionnant, bien que répétitif: les Mex se font tirer comme à la foire et Crockett vise si bien qu’il les empêche de mettre en place leurs canons. Crockett se marre sans arrêt, comme un condamné pris de folie. La curée finale est magnifique, toute en mouvement frénétique, le fort grouille soudain de mexicains, et la résistance héroïque des Texans est exacerbée. La mort des héros est fidèle à la légende: Crockett disparaît purement et simplement sous un nuage de mexicains, Bowie se bat jusqu’au bout, aidé par tous les blessés qui meurent mais ne se rendent pas. Il finit embroché. En un mot, c’est violent, et c’est beau.

Alors bien sûr il y a des trucs à la con : les mexicains sont tous abrutis, méchants et torves. Les américains sont tous valeureux et nobles ! Le fort Alamo se voit doté d’un passage secret des plus ridicule, et quand un canon est tiré, on voit jamais le résultat du tir. The Martyrs of the Alamo – dont le titre alternatif est Birth of Texas a été produit par le grand D.W.Griffith, ça n’en fait pas un chef-d’œuvre, mais une curiosité tout à fait remarquable. Le jeu des acteurs, tout en regards appuyés, haineux et déterminés, colle à l’ambiance «résistance acharnée» du film comme un russe à Stalingrad. La prise initiale d’Alamo par les Ricains – «the storming of the Alamo» – a un petit air de «Storming of the Bastille» libérateur. Bref du cinéma héroïque qui tord les boyaux, pas un grand film, mais un bon petit coup de gnole quand même…

Un pensamiento en “Martyrs of the Alamo or “The Birth of Texas” (1915)”

Responder

Introduce tus datos o haz clic en un icono para iniciar sesión:

Logo de WordPress.com

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de WordPress.com. Cerrar sesión / Cambiar )

Imagen de Twitter

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Twitter. Cerrar sesión / Cambiar )

Foto de Facebook

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Facebook. Cerrar sesión / Cambiar )

Google+ photo

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Google+. Cerrar sesión / Cambiar )

Conectando a %s