El negocio cinematográfico en la ciudad de México (1908)

The Moving Picture World publicó un par de artículos sobre la cinematografía en México. El primero es un reporte del consul general sobre las probabilidades empresariales del negocio para norteamericanos y concluye que no es viable para sus coterráneos el negocio en México. El segundo, bastante extenso, describe cómo el público capitalino aprecia el cinematógrafo y menciona a los empresarios del Salón Rojo.

El primer artículo es el reporte del consul de Estados Unidos Gottschalk, quien emite su opinión sobre el negocio del cine en México. Sin mencionar la marca, habla de El Buen Tono, compañía de cigarros muy en boga en esa época, la cual promueve el cinematógrafo mediante cupones que vienen en sus diversas marcas de cigarrillos. También menciona que existen tres o cuatro cines donde asiste lo mejor de la sociedad, pero existen muchos más en diversos puntos de la ciudad, así como dos cinematógrafos callejeros para fines publicitarios. El precio promedio es de 25 centavos. Recalca que el público mexicano preferie las películas francesas y el cine norteamericano no es del agrado del público mexicano. El reporte consular en The Moving Picture World de febrero 22 de 1908 (Vol. II, No. 8, p. 141):

Cinematographs in Mexico

Consul-General A. L. M. Gottschalk reports that he has frequently been addressed for information concerning cinematograph, shows in Mexico City, and the prospects open to Americans in that line, which leads him to write:

“The invariable answer is that Mexico City is no exception to the general favor which such exhibitions enjoy in Spanish-American capitals. There are three or four well-known shows of this kind which are patronized by the best of Mexican society. The charge is 25 centavos (approximately 12% cents) for admittance, including a seat without distinction of location. Some few private families on such occasions as birthdays and other family celebrations, will hire the cinematograph and have it brought to their homes for an afternoon or evening performance.

“Apart from the well-patronized establishments described there are innumerable smaller ones dotting the city. One or two cinematographs are maintained for advertising purposes upon the public streets; and they alternate interesting views with paid advertisements: One large cigarette-making establishment in this city has a well-conducted cinematograph theater, to which admission is obtained only by the presentation of a given number of the coupons which accompany their cigarettes. All these cinematographs are of foreign make. The views used are almost exclusively of French make. They often depict scenes in continental European life, which are apparently the only kind which appeal to the public. I do not think there is any field for an American cinematograph establishment in this city; nor would our American views touch a responsive chord in the average Mexico City audience.”

Av. Juárez a la altura de el Palacio de Bellas Artes (circa 1910)
Av. Juárez a la altura del Palacio de Bellas Artes durante su construcción. (circa 1910)

El segundo artículo, de una extensión no común para noticias mexicanas, se concentra en cómo el público mexicano ha aceptado el cine como el entretenimiento más popular y esgrime las razones para ello. Las cintas que más gustan son de magia, cómicas y de crímenes; aquellas que representan la vida cotidiana no son muy del afecto de las audiencias, a diferencia del público norteamericano que sí las aprecia. Recalca el artículo que el 60% del público que asiste al cine está compuesto por mujeres y niños y resulta el negocio de entretenimiento más rentable. Como ejemplo menciona que el Salón Rojo fácilmente tiene una ganancia de $35,000 dólares anuales. Existen cerca de veinte cines y un par de ellos al aire libre junto a La Alameda con una asistencia de cerca de 5,000 personas. La zarzuela ha sido desplazada por el cinematógrafo y los moralistas que atacaban el “género chico” pensaron que nunca desaparecería.

Asalto y robo de un tren de 1903 (The Great Train Robbery), cinta de Edwin S. Porter fue vista por casi todo mundo y se convirtió en la punta de lanza para el despegue del cine en México. Comenta que Salvador Rueda inició sus exhibiciones en el Circo Orrin, luego el Teatro Arbeu, para finalmente, junto con su socio Quintana, inaugurar el Salón Rojo donde ha tenido un tremendo éxito. La extensa crónica sobre el despunte del cinematógrafo se publicó en The Moving Picture World de abril 11 de 1908 (Vol. II, No. 15, p. 321):

Moving Pictures Popular With People of Mexico

The exhibition of moving pictures has become the most popular amusement in Mexico.

The real cause of this preference is not easy to ascertain. While Mexican people are so fond of this exhibition as to give liberal support to more than twenty saloons all over the city; is it because people love life, represented in a simple and realistic manner; to see things as they really are? But the cinematograph, just as it is seen in the States, is very far from being a real representation of life. The most popular pictures are rather imaginative; the transformation of a woman into a butterfly; the magician who performs wonders, using very rough tricks; the comic scenes in which things are always arranged in the most conventional way; awful crimes, assaults, murder, and robbery, in which the public can watch the most minute details —all this is very far from being real normal life.

Pictures of real life meet with a great success only when they represent scenes from exotic life; when people and buildings and everything are represented in a different way. Scenes of any picturesque town of the Far East, the passing of a fleet through the Suez channel, the review of the troops of India, are always watched with great interest, while the public scarcely pays any attention to pictures representing its own daily life.

The cinematograph gives the appearance of reality to purely imaginative things, and probably in this paradoxical quality is the secret of its great success. This quality makes it, undoubtedly, very popular among children and women. More than 60 per cent, of the total audience is made up of women and children, though men, who are only “big children,” as it is said like also to see imaginative scenes covered by a real appearance.

The cinematograph is, anyway, the most popular—and the most profitable—amusement in Mexico. More than twenty shows are run in the city, besides two machines established around the Alameda, in the open air, and watched every evening by more than five thousand people who come from the most distant suburbs of the city.

In less than five years the cinematograph has become the king of amusements, and it has defeated even the most powerful adversaries, notably the zarzuela. Five years ago the zarzuela was thought to be the only amusement widely acceptable in Mexico. Nearly ten theaters were successfully run every evening.

Moralists were alarmed at the growing of the so-called “género chico,” which is considered as the lower style of theatrical work, and at the inferiority shown by the most successful of these small zarzuelas. The “género chico” bore the scepter of amusements, arid no one expected that it could be displaced by any other attraction.

Four years ago the cinematograph appeared. The first exhibitions were made in a timid way, between the acts at the Orrin’s circus. They were not very successful at the beginning.

Sometime later, however, a very interesting picture was exhibited, representing the robbery of a train, made at some place in California by a band of desperadoes. The picture was very fine and very exciting. Everyone in Mexico saw it, and from then the success of the cinematographer has been assured, by the same set of pictures that swept the United States and Europe with its popularity—the California train robbery scene.

Meanwhile the moving pictures had been exhibited at some places in the republic, where they became favorite, even before they were shown and popular here. At Puebla, Veracruz, Torreon, the amusement was well attended and the business was profitable. It was a curious thing that the pictures were first known at some smaller places, and were brought from there to the city by interested empresarios.

El salón Rojo. Foto: Fundación Tosacano
El salón Rojo. Foto: Fundación Toscano

One of those empresarios, Salvador Rueda, the proprietor of the Salón Rojo, realized that the enterprise should be even more profitable in the city, and about two years ago presented the first exhibitions, as an independent performance at Orrin’s circus. Previously the exhibition had been made only as a part, not the most important, of a vaudeville program. Mr. Rueda introduced it as the principal part of the program, and in a few weeks he made considerable profit, as Orrin’s circus is the place of largest capacity in the city, and was filled to the roof nightly. The season given there by Mr. Rueda did not last more than a few weeks, but in that time he had come to realize that the business could be handled on a big scale. He rented the Arbeu theater for a few days, and met with equal success.

At that time he was able to secure a long lease on the place where the Salón Rojo is now located and established there the first salon in the city, which for its splendid location has been for more than a year one of the most profitable.

It is difficult to ascertain how much Mr. Rueda and his partner, Mr. Quintana, have cleared at the Salón Rojo; but an estimate of about $35,000 a year is not considered exaggerated.

After Mr. Rueda, many people invested in the same business, and the future for the cinematograph reached its climax about eight months ago, when more than ten of the salons were run in a section covering not more than ten blocks of the central part of the city.

Many of them were closed, but they did not disappear. They only moved to the suburbs, where they continue to be the most popular amusement.

The cinematograph became a real “peril” for the theatrical companies, and even that of the Principal was compelled to adopt it between the acts, and even to retire entirely for some weeks, until the company was duly reinforced, and its bid for popularity opened in a new and indeed more expensive way.

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