Hal Mohr visita México en 1931

Hal Mohr fue uno de los fotógrafos pioneros de la cinematografía en Hollywood donde comenzó en 1915 a la edad de 21 años. Tres veces fue presidente de la American Society of Cinematographers (1930-1931, 1963-1965 y 1969-1970). Fue ganador de dos premios Oscar por mejor fotografía. La primera vez en 1935 por Sueño de una noche de verano dirigida por William Dieterle y Max Reinhardt y la segunda en 1943 por el Fantasma de la Ópera, ésta dirigida por Arthur Lubin y fotografiada en mancuerna con W. Howard Greene. Fue también el responsable de la fotografía de El cantante de Jazz (1927), primera película parlante que se filmó. Ha sido el único ganador de un Oscar (1935) que no fue nominado sino que lo obtuvo mediante votos enviados por correo.

Hal Mohr en 1940

Siendo presidente de la American Society of Cinematographers (A.S.C.) durante su primer periodo como tal, realizó junto con su segunda esposa un viaje de seis semanas a México, periplo que detalló en un artículo publicado en la revista que patrocina la A.S.C., American Cinematographer. Aparte de las fotografías donde captó aspectos del México de la época, resulta extremadamente interesante su relato por todos los personajes que menciona y con los cuales se codeó, iniciando con el Presidente Pascual Ortiz Rubio a quien llama Presidente Rubio, jefes de la policía y altos funcionarios federales y del estado de México, al grado de incluir una fotografía del Coronel Casimiro Talamantes, jefe de investigaciones de la policía capitalina. Recibió un verdadero trato de visitante distinguido por todas las atenciones. Sus observaciones, donde compara a México con Estados Unidos, dejan algo mal parado a su país en comparación con las costumbres mexicanas. Le resulta extraña la honradez de los mexicanos y la casi nula criminalidad que existe en el país. Admira la hospitalidad del mexicano y nos relata sus visitas a la ciudad de México, Xochimilco, Acolman, Cholula, Puebla y Toluca. Plasma el gusto del público mexicano por Laurel y Hardy, el Gordo y el Flaco, y entiende que a los mexicanos no les gusten las películas habladas en inglés, pues si en Estados Unidos, razona, se proyectaran filmes hablados en español duda mucho que tuviesen espectadores.

Reproduzco el artículo y las fotografías donde plasmó la rústica belleza de México. Recordemos que Hal Mohr fue un destacado fotógrafo; así los demuestran las imágenes que acompañan el texto. Ambas, fotos y texto, las tomo del número correspondiente a febrero de 1931 de la revista American Cinematographer, órgano oficial de la A.S.C.

Mexico…the Wonderland

by Hal Mohr, President, the American Society of Cinematographers

To the ordinary United States citizen the name Mexico brings visions of revolutions in which the rattle of gunfire and the buzzing of bullets makes life a thing of more than passing excitement; of bold, bad bandits waiting behind trees to seize important looking foreigners for ransom purposes; of blood-thirsty individuals waiting to blow up railroad trains while the passengers sleep.

My job is not that of being a publicity man for Mexico, but after spending six glorious weeks in that marvelous country, I cannot keep quiet. I must shout that the world is wrong; that instead of being all the things so many people imagine, it is one of the loveliest spots that I have ever had the privilege to visit. And, as for bandits and all that rot —well, here is something to ponder over.

Fotografías tomadas por Hal Mohr durante su viaje a México. American Cinematographer, febrero, 1931

Mrs. Mohr and I were on our way to the station in Los Angeles at the start of our trip. As we passed a certain Los Angeles bank we noticed a big, armored truck in front of it. The truck bristled with guns. Three men, armed with wicked looking pistols stood guard on the sidewalk while several other guards carried bags of money into the bank. A crowd had gathered to watch it. The reason was because of the many bank holdups in our own peaceful community.

Now, the day we arrived in Mexico City this is what we saw: Walking down the street we noticed an old-fashioned, horse-drawn wagon stop in front of a bank. There were two men on the wagon. They both climbed down off the seat and started throwing bags onto the sidewalk. The bags were filled with money. When the load was on the sidewalk the two men each picked up a bag and walked into the bank, leaving the remainder of the money unguarded on the street. We watched this strange happening for some time. No one even stopped to look at the money bags. There were no armed guards. The money apparently was as safe as though the bags were filled with potatoes.

That is Mexico today. Quite a contrast to Chicago, say, or any of our large cities. The gunmen are an unknown quantity. Mexico today is a country of progress. Rarely will you find a nation in which so much effort is being concentrated for the advancement of the people. And as for brigandage and revolutions; those are things of the past, and if the present administration has anything to do with it, will never be again. Every official of the country from genial and progressive President Ortiz Rubio on down is bubbling over with enthusiasm for the new order of things and a greater and more progressive Mexico.

Speaking of President Rubio brings me to one point that is an outstanding feature among the men responsible for the conduct of Mexican affairs. That feature is the hospitality and unusual friendliness shown the foreign visitor who is in Mexico either for real, honest business reasons, or for a friendly visit. None of these leaders hide behind a stone wall of undersecretaries, but, rather, they are much more easy of access than many petty officials of city or county organizations in our own country. As long as they know that you are not in Mexico for the purpose of “putting something over on them,” that you are honest and decent, the hospitality of the nation is yours.

Contrary to the cries of certain individuals who continually try to stir up bitter feeling between Mexicans and citizens of our own country, there is no feeling against us. Instead, it seemed to me from my contact with Mexican officials, that the United States is the model which Mexico is following in its progressive development along educational and industrial lines. And great strides are being made in the matter of education. Schools and colleges are being provided, and compulsory education is doing much to raise the general standard among the lower classes. Hygiene is being given particular attention, and the results are rapidly resulting in advancement.

American Cinematographer, febrero, 1931

Speaking of hospitality, I must say something about the officials who for six weeks did everything in their power to make the stay of myself and Mrs. Mohr a visit which we shall ever remember with much delight. What we would have done without the hospitable guidance of Colonel Casimiro Talamantes, Chief of the Department of Investigation at Mexico City, I do not know. It seemed as though this magnificent host did nothing but try to make our stay a pleasant one. He guided us to delightful spots that we would probably never have thought of. He accompanied us on tours that will long remain stamped indelibly on our memories. In short, he was a magnificent gentleman.

Then, there was Benjamín A. Martínez, Chief of Identification and his excellent secretary, T. A. Gonzáles, who took us on a tour of the police stations of Mexico City one night that was a revelation to me. And, that tour brought to light a condition that should be interesting to us of the crime wave belt. Not a murder, not a holdup was revealed in a period of twenty-four hours in that great city of hot-blooded Latins. Rather a fine condition of affairs. No wonder Señor Martínez and Señor Gonzáles are proud of their country.

José García Payán, Director de la Biblioteca y Museo del Estado, was another who played no small part in showing us old Mexico. And Roberto García, Oficial Mayor de la Sria. Particular del Gobernador del Edo. de México. The two accompanied us on some of the most marvelous trips of our entire visit. They took us on an auto trip up the highest automobile road in the world. That was in Toluca where a volcanic mountain rears its magnificent head 18,000 feet into the air. The auto road goes up 16,000 feet. What a trip that was. What scenic beauty! What photographic possibilities were revealed on every side! Indescribable!

Last, but not least, there were President Rubio and his capable Secretary, Colonel José Martínez. A charming man is Señor Martínez; and after meeting us, he reported to the President that we were in the city. Immediately President Rubio sent word that he would like to meet us. Imagine, a President so Democratic! And we found him an unusually alert, keen, kindly, progressive human being; a man who does not let the fact that he is President of a great country cause him to forget that he is after all a man. For an hour he discussed motion pictures with us. Wanted to know all the latest developments from every angle; showed a real insight into the business.

President Rubio is interested in the motion picture from not only the entertainment point of view, but from the educational angle. And he declared that any reputable person who was really respectable and honest, would find the greatest support in any effort he might make along motion picture lines in Mexico. They have practically nothing in the way of producing lines down there, but hope to see that develop in the future.

From my own feeble observations and my conversations with Mexican officials I would say that Mexico offers untold possibilities to those interested in production —provided they are honest and do not go down there with the idea of bunking the country by floating promotional schemes that will not hold water. The country is motion picture mad. Every picture house is crowded. Even the Indians in the back countries flock to the picture houses.

Sound has been installed in most of the theatres, and the general public has taken to sound in a thorough fashion. But they like Spanish versions. There is considerable objection to pictures in which every character speaks nothing but English. They cannot be blamed for that, for I am sure that pictures with characters speaking Spanish would not attract many of us to the theatres here.

Laurel and Hardy are the great picture favorites of Mexico, with Ken Maynard running a close second. The sign of Laurel and Hardy will pack any house in Mexico. In the silent days they liked them, but now that this comedy pair are speaking Spanish in the pictures that go to Mexico, they are doubly adored. The Mexicans howl with delight at this pair. They adore Ken Maynard, too. In fact, many with whom I came in contact, asked if it would not be possible to have him come down there and appear with his horse some Sunday in the great Bull Ring of Mexico City. I know that more than 40,000 people —the capacity of the Arena— would pack that place to cheer him. And probably as many more would jam the streets leading to the arena.

From a scenic and photographic viewpoint, Mexico is a veritable Heaven of delight. No matter where you turn you see subjects that make you want to set up a camera and just photograph endlessly. Magnificent old Aztec ruins that have come down through the centuries; cathedrals that are beyond the power of verbal description as to their gorgeous beauty; the famous floating gardens of Xochomilco (sic); towering volcanic mountains, silent now, but ever carrying that threat of some day bursting forth with a shower of molten lava; the Thieves’ Market; the ruins of the great convent at Acolman; Chocula (sic), the town of 1000 inhabitants, but which boasts of 365 churches —one for every day of the year; Cuenevaca (sic) and Puebla, towns of exquisite charm and photographic beauty. One could go on indefinitely.

Otra serie de fotografías tomadas por Hal Mohr. American Cinematographer, febrero, 1931

One of the real garden spots of Mexico is at Xochomilco (sic). This suburb of Mexico City originally was built on marshes and swamp. It was a Mexican Venice, with waterways as streets. And then, they constructed rafts and upon them placed dirt taken from the beds of the waterways. On these were planted gardens. As time passed these rafts became covered more deeply with dirt; trees were set out and their roots extended down through the water and became imbedded in the earth beneath, anchoring the rafts. This process went on until now, as you can see from accompanying photographs, this has become one of the wonders of the world. Truly magnificent is it all. As twilight falls and you are floating along in one of the little boats you suddenly hear the soft tinkle of a guitar. Then the sound of a melodious voice floating through the evening air, and around a bend you see a little restaurant boat approaching. The boat pulls up alongside you and you may dine and wine to your heart’s content while the entertainers softly sing and play the Spanish airs that are so delightfully appropriate in that spot. Romance is in the very air.

Step for a moment into the ruins of the convent at Acolman. From the outside, apparently just ruins. You walk with a feeling of reverence to the interior and suddenly you find yourself in a chapel that for sheer, exquisite beauty takes your breath away. Paintings that were done by masters, ages past and which still retain the magnificent colorings of the day they were done. An altar covered with solid gold a quarter of an inch thick, beaten there by artists of a kind and skill unknown today. Crucifixes made of solid gold. And overall an atmosphere that makes one realize that there is such a thing as religion, such a thing as a Cod. Through the ages these priceless treasures have been there, unmolested by marauders, no matter what government was in control. A testimony to the greatest element in life: religion.

As we arrived in Mexico the great annual pilgrimage to Shrine of Guadalupe was in progress. As we drove along the country roads we saw thousands upon thousands of worshipers trudging along on foot. Some of them had walked hundreds of miles. Some were crippled, were dragging paralyzed legs behind them as they slowly and painfully made their way to the greatest of all Shrines. There was a certain something about this implicit faith that stirred you within, that made you wonder why so many people scoff at religion. And on December twelfth when the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims climbed the hill to the foot of the Shrine—well, to say it was inspiring is putting it very mildly. That is Mexico, however. Deeply religious.

Some of the customs are unusual. Take, for example, at the town of Puebla on a Sunday afternoon. The military band took station in the bandstand in the main plaza of the town. Dreamy, Latin music mixed with stirring military marches and blood-quickening Spanish dance numbers. Everybody in the town, dressed in his or her Sunday best, was out for the afternoon entertainment. Beautiful, dark-eyed Señoritas, with the ever-present Duenna (sic), strolled slowly up one side of the plaza. Gay and dashing young Dons strolled down the other side of the plaza. Always the girls and the boys apart. Here and there a guarded smile from a Senorita as she noticed a young man who struck her fancy, just a smile, however, of the guarded sort. No flirtation such as we know it. Perhaps, only a suggestion of a glance, which would start the heart to beat faster in some young Mexican. Charm, romance, sweetness; you find them all in this marvelous country called Mexico.

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