Mexico: Records of Revolution. México en Pordenone

Tomado del Catalogue of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2013, Pordedone, pp. 89-104. Solo se transcribe la versión en inglés del Dr. De los Reyes, quien hace la investigación y reconstrucción editorial del material junto con Ángel Martínez, catalogador de la UNAM.

Pordenone 2013

Mexico: Records of Revolution

Mexico’s film heritage has long been thought virtually lost since tragic archival fires compounded the ordinary depredations of time and decay. Now, however – thanks to the generous support on one hand by the Italian firm Industrie Zoppas and on the other by the Mexican government – a long-term project has been initiated with the aim of tracing and restoring surviving Mexican silent films. A first step has been made with this series of three compilation films which bring to life the dramatic transformation of Mexico between 1896 and the conclusion of the Mexican Revolution. The first programme offers a portrait of Mexico at the end of the 35-year domination or dictatorship of President Porfirio Díaz – a period known as the “Porfiriato”. Programmes 2 and 3 enable us to follow the complex progress of the Revolution, which began in 1911 with the overthrow of Díaz and nominally ended in 1920 with the election of Álvaro Obregón. This was the longest, and the most violent political revolution of the 20th century, and the fi rst to be extensively chronicled on film.

Sources of early Mexican films

Most of the films in this year’s programme come from three collections now preserved by the Filmoteca de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

The largest is the Fondo Toscano (Toscano Collection), covering the period 1898 to 1938 and formed by the pioneer film-maker Salvador Toscano. As well as his own productions, Toscano diligently acquired the films of his contemporaries. From his holdings, he compiled a succession of documentary histories of the Revolution – in 1912 (already more than one hour), 1915, 1916, 1920, and 1927, in 35 reels. The culmination was his 1934 compilation, running 6 hours and shown over three days. In the process Toscano extensively re-edited the films, and added his own intertitles, to reflect his changing personal view of the Revolution. The collection was further complicated when his daughter Carmen edited a sonorized, 90-minute adaptation of the 1934 film, now titled Memorias de un mexicano, in 1950. Inevitably throughout this long process the original films were disarticulated, fragmented, and disordered, as well as suffering loss from ordinary deterioration.

Edmundo Gabilondo began his collection (Fondo Gabilondo) in 1907, with the early films of the Hermanos Alva (Alva Brothers), and continued to collect actuality films until 1942. His ambition was to make his own response to Memorias de un mexicano, but he was restricted by his primitive technical resources. Responsibly, he did not cut the original negatives, but worked with the inferior prints he was able to make from the negatives. When satisfied with his cut, he made a dupe negative from which he printed his third-generation final version. He carefully left the original negatives untouched, and these passed with the rest of the collection to the Filmoteca of UNAM at his death. Unfortunately the negatives were destroyed in a fire, and only Gabilondo’s dupes and a few fragments of original films survived. The Fondo Revolución (Revolution Collection) has been built up by purchase and gift, and includes films, sometimes of considerable length, of significant moments in the Revolution story as well as the series of films shot by Gabriel Veyre for the Lumière Brothers in 1896. The Cineteca Nacional’s collection was seriously depleted by the fire of 1982: it now includes film of the burial of José de Léon Toral, the assassin, in 1928, of President Obregón, fragments of the archive of Obregón’s favoured cameraman Jesús Hermenegildo Abitia, and 15 reels of films of the Revolution donated to the American Film Institute and passed in equal parts to the Cineteca Nacional and the Filmoteca of UNAM.

(Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas)

Programme Compilations

Photochemical film restorations supervised by Francisco Gaytán Fernández, Filmoteca de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (henceforth abbreviated to UNAM). Research and editorial reconstruction by the historian Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas, with the coordination of UNAM cataloguer Ángel Martínez.

Film Titles

In the long course of being re-edited into the various compilations by Toscano and Gabilondo, most of the films seen in these programmes have lost both their original titles and intertitles. Hence the majority of the more than 600 titles in the new compilations screened by the Giornate were created in 2013. Though some of these new titles have been graphically designed to appear like original title cards by Toscano or the Alva Brothers, they should not be confused with the few remaining authentic period titles, which can readily be distinguished by their style and print quality.

In listing the films in this catalogue, newly assigned main titles are indicated in square brackets. The titles not so designated are in a few rare cases derived from the original prints, or more often have been deduced from original documents of the period in archives, libraries, and other collections in Mexico City, such as handbills and programmes, as well as references in newspapers of the time, which are also the source of numerous quotations in the newly-created intertitles.

Musical Accompaniment

The three Mexican programmes will be accompanied by José María Serralde Ruiz. A multidisciplinary artist and pianist, Señor Serralde Ruiz graduated from the Escuela Nacional de Música UNAM. His graduate thesis was on silent film music in Mexico between 1910 and 1917 – the period covered by these programmes of films of the Revolution. Since 1998, as founder of the Ensamble Cine Mudo (EnCiM), he has specialized in accompanying silent films, with a particular concern for period authenticity.

Programme I:

Mexico in the Early 1900s / Transformation of a Nation

“… no more books; in its dark urn the phonograph will keep the old silenced voices; the cinematograph will reproduce the lives of the great … Our grandchildren will see our generals, … the intellectuals … our martyrs …” – Amado Nervo, Mexican poet and diplomat, 1898

Last Years of the Porfiriato – The Cinema Discovers Mexico, Mexico Discovers the Cinema

The first programme offers a portrait of Mexico at the end of the “Porfiriato”, the 35-year regime of President Porfirio Díaz. Díaz (1830-1915) became a national hero as a young general at the 3rd Battle of Puebla (1867), a significant set-back for the French imperialists and an inspiration to Mexico, where the First Battle of Puebla on 5 May 1862 (Cinco de Mayo) is still commemorated annually. From this time onwards he systematically combined his military and political ambitions, and in 1877 was able to appoint himself President. A politician of skill and ruthlessness, he was to fulfil the office for most of the next 35 years, side-stepping the official prohibition of re-election and surrounding himself with a privileged power-group, “los Científicos”. Soon he had created a virtual dictatorship by his ingenious strategies of apparently embracing his opponents on the principle that “a dog with a bone neither barks nor bites”. Thanks to an energetic policy of modernization and encouraging foreign investment, he consolidated the Mexican economy and raised the country’s international prestige.

But national prosperity came at the expense of human rights for much of the native population and working class, and the dispossession of vast numbers of peasants, with consequent rural impoverishment. The earliest films of Mexico were made by the Lumière agents Gabriel Veyre and Claude Fernand Bon Bernard, who soon after their arrival on 24 July 1896 persuaded the President himself to be filmed, in his residence and on horseback in the grounds of the castle of Chapultepec.

Filming in Mexico and Guadalajara, their “vues” of landscapes, Indian and Mexican types, dances and rural life chimed with the nationalistic feeling increasingly expressed in the two previous decades, in photography, painting, and lithography. The example of the Lumière shows and the availability for purchase of the Cinématographe and raw film can be seen as the start of cinematography in Mexico.

The Edison company had neglected to film in Mexico for the Kinetoscope, and only followed the Lumière representatives there at the end of 1897: “James White and Frederick Blechynden followed the rails south and into Mexico, where two of that nation’s largest railroad companies, like their American counterparts, were eager to encourage – and subsidize – North Americans who wished to take motion pictures that might bolster tourism,” writes Charles Musser (Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900: An Annotated Filmography, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 1997).

Mexico’s first native film-maker can be reckoned as Salvador Toscano Barragán (1872-1947). Inspired by articles in the French science magazine La Nature, he acquired a Cinématographe and around 1898 made his first short films, including the earliest view of Mexico’s City’s main square, the Plaza de la Constitución (popularly known as El Zócalo). Soon he was a dynamic showman, touring the cities of North-central Mexico by train. A positivist by training, he most of all cherished the “truth” of the cinema in its space-time recording, exemplified by the Lumière “vues” shot by Veyre. By 1906 we find him assembling multi-shot films, like the 12 scenes which trace the route of the journey of Porfirio Díaz to Yucatán. The following year came his still more ambitious compilation, Inauguración del tráfico internacional por el istmo de Tehuantepec, combining 21 views illustrating the settings of Díaz’s journey to open the Tehuantepec Trans-Isthmus railway.

The second important Mexican film pioneers, the Alva Brothers (Hermanos Alva) of Morelia, in the state of Michoacán, turned from the manufacture of bicycles to cinema in 1905, though their earliest surviving films only date from 1907. From 1909, along with P. Aveline and A. Delalande, the Alva Brothers were contracted to supply items for the French Pathé-Journal. By the end of the Díaz regime and the outbreak of the Revolution they were producing some of the most mature and ambitious films of reportage, Entrevista Díaz-Taft (about the historic meeting of Presidents Díaz and Taft in October 1909) and Revolución orozquista (1912). As early as 1907 we find the Alva Brothers touching on national events, with Desfile militar por la glorieta del bosque de San Pedro and 2 de abril en Morelia. Formación en Villalongín y bosque de San Pedro, two films recording the local celebrations of the 40th anniversary of Díaz’s triumph at the 3rd Battle of Puebla.

Paseo en tranvía por la calle de Brasil, documenting a tram ride in the working-class Peralvillo neighbourhood of Mexico City, released in February 1920, is one of the few remaining films by the Elhers sisters, Dolores (1903-1983) and Adriana (?-1972). Although their work is chronologically outside the period covered by this programme, the Hermanas Elhers (Elhers Sisters) are interesting as the only Mexican women directors of the silent period who specialized in actuality films. They were discovered very young, working in a photographic shop in their native Veracruz, by President Carranza, who sent them to study in North America. By 1920 they had turned to filmmaking, often with government commissions, and from 1922 to 1929 (or 1931) produced a weekly newsreel, Revista Elhers. In 1929 they moved to Guadalajara to distribute the films of the Nicholas Power Company, as Casa Elhers. Adriana was for a while head of the official film censorship department. Other Mexican women directors in the silent era were Mimí Derba and Cándida Beltrán Rendón.

The cinematographers of the Revolution recorded history as it happened before their eyes and the eyes of their camera, pragmatically, without theory or technical elaboration. Sometimes their films recorded planned and publicized events (the journeys of Madero, the entry of an army), sometimes they improvised, capturing unforeseen events – the earthquake which preceded Madero’s arrival in Mexico City; the Decena Trágica (“Ten Tragic Days”) of February 1913.

There is not a plan as in many films of the First World War, commissioned or commanded by the government in power, to declare the situation of the respective armies on the battle fronts or to convince the audience that a war is being won even though it is being lost. The films of the Revolution lack this rhetoric of persuasion because they are “unofficial” not “official” propaganda. The filmmakers do not want to conflict with the government on account of the cinema’s characteristics of being a big spectacle.

How do we define this cinema? Not “news”; not “reportage”. Their makers called the films “views of actuality”, a term now fallen into disuse. Of the three concepts – news, reportage, and documentary – perhaps “documentary” would be the closest, given the universal acceptance of the term, though not the significance Grierson gave to the word.

For good or bad, early Mexican cinema established film as a means of information, discovered its expression, found its way, and documented exceptional aspects of the life and history of the country.

(Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas)

Film sources

All films in this programme are from the Filmoteca de la UNAM, Fondo Gabilondo and/or Fondo Toscano, except for the Lumière and Edison films, which are from UNAM’ s Fondo CNC and the Library of Congress respectively. All are DCPs except the Lumière and Edison films, which are 35mm prints, and all have Spanish intertitles unless otherwise indicated.

Lumière films shot by Gabriel Veyre in Mexico (1896)

Each film:

Prod: Ferdinand Bon Bernard, Gabriel Veyre; ph: Gabriel Veyre; 35mm, 14.5m., 50″ (16 fps); print source: UNAM (Fondo CNC). No intertitles.

  • ·         COMBAT DE COQS (Pelea de gallos), film Lumière n°26.
  • ·         DUEL AU PISTOLET (Duelo a pistola en el bosque de Chapultepec), film Lumière n°35.
  • ·         DÉFILÉ DE JEUNES FILLES AU LYCÉE (Clase de gimnasia en el colegio de La Paz, antiguas Vizcaínas), film Lumière n°36.
  • ·         LE PRÉSIDENT PRENANT CONGÉ DE SES MINISTRES (El presidente de la República despidiéndose de sus ministros para tomar un carruaje), film Lumière n°345.
  • ·         TRANSPORT DE LA CLOCHE DE L’INDÉPENDANCE (Llegada de la campana histórica el 16 de septiembre), film Lumière n°346.
  • ·         RURAUX AU GALOP (Rurales al galope), film Lumière n°347.
  • ·         LE PRÉSIDENT EN PROMENADE (El presidente de la República paseando a caballo en el bosque de Chapultepec), film Lumière n°348.
  • ·         EXERCICE À LA BAÏONETTE (Alumnos de Chapultepec con la esgrima del fusil), film Lumière n°349.
  • ·         LASSAGE D’UN CHEVAL SAUVAGE (Lazamiento de un caballo salvaje), film Lumière n°350; filmed at hacienda de Atequiza.
  • ·         REPAS D’INDIENS (Desayuno de indios), film Lumière n°351.
  • ·         LASSAGE D’UN BOEUF SAUVAGE (Lazamiento de un buey salvaje), film Lumière n°352; filmed at hacienda de Atequiza.
  • ·         DANSE MÉXICAINE (Jarabe tapatío), film Lumière n°353; filmed at Guadalajara.
  • ·         LASSAGE DES BOEUFS POUR LE LABOUR (Elección de yuntas en una bueyada), film Lumière n°354;  filmed at hacienda de Atequiza.
  • ·         MARCHÉ INDIEN SUR LE CANAL DE LA VIGA (El canal de la Viga), film Lumière n°355.
  • ·         CAVALIER SUR UN CHEVAL RÉTIF (Un amansador), film Lumière n°356; filmed at hacienda de Atequiza.
  • ·         BAIGNADE DE CHEVAUX (Baño de caballos), film Lumière n°357; filmed at hacienda de Atequiza.
  • ·         BAL ESPAGNOL DANS LA RUE (Baile de la romería española en el Tívoli del Eliseo), film Lumière n°358.

Edison Films (1897)

Each film:

Prod: James White; ph: Frederick Blechynden; 35mm, 50 ft., 50″ (16 fps); print source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA. No intertitles.

NB: Bullfight, nos. 1-3: 3 films, with a total length of 150 ft., running time 2’30”.

  • ·         BULL FIGHT, nos. 1-3 (FLA 4391-4393). Filmed: 11-12.1897, Durango.
  • ·         LAS VIGAS CANAL (FLA 4444). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F.
  • ·         MARKET SCENE, CITY OF MÉXICO (FLA 3233). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F.
  • ·         MEXICAN FISHING SCENE (FLA 1300). Filmed: 12.1897, Canal de La Viga, México, D.F.
  • ·         MEXICAN RURALES CHARGE (FLA 3986). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F.
  • ·         MEXICO STREET SCENE (FLA 4316). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F.
  • ·         REPAIRING STREETS IN MEXICO (FLA 4093). Filmed: 11-12.1897, Durango.
  • ·         SUNDAY MORNING IN MEXICO (FLA 3515). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F.
  • ·         SURFACE TRANSIT, MEXICO (FLA 3824). Filmed: 12.1897, México, D.F.
  • ·         TRAIN HOUR IN DURANGO, MEXICO (FLA 3871). Filmed: 11-12.1897, Durango.
  • ·         WASH DAY IN MEXICO (FLA 4172). Filmed: 11-12.1897, Durango.

The Earliest Films of Salvador Toscano (c.1898 -1905)

  • ·         EL ZÓCALO [Plaza de la Constitución] (c.1898) 53″
  • ·         EL ZÓCALO [Plaza de la Constitución] (c.1900) 39″
  • ·         EL ZÓCALO [Plaza de la Constitución] (c.1905) 18″

Prod: Salvador Toscano; ph: Salvador Toscano; Fondo Toscano. No intertitles.

  • INAUGURACIÓN DEL TRÁFICO INTERNACIONAL POR EL ISTMO DE TEHUANTEPEC [Inauguration of international traffic across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec] (1907). Prod: Salvador Toscano; ph: Salvador Toscano?, Antonio Ocañas?; 14’30”; source: UNAM (Donation from Imperial War Museum, London; deposited by the heirs of Lord Cowdray).

The First Films of the Hermanos Alva (Alva Brothers)

Each film:

Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; location: Morelia; Fondo Gabilondo.

  • ·         GRUPO DE NIÑOS EN EL BOSQUE DE SAN PEDRO [Group of Children playing in the Bosque de San Pedro] (1907) 1’20”. No intertitles.
  • ·         [CATEDRAL DE MORELIA] [The Cathedral of Morelia] (1907) 13”. No intertitles.
  • ·         PASEO FAMILIAR POR EL BOSQUE DE SAN PEDRO [Families strolling in the Bosque de San Pedro] (1907) 55”. No intertitles.
  • ·         [FIESTAS DEL 2 DE ABRIL 1907 EN MORELIA] [Holiday Celebrations of 2 April 1907 in Morelia] 4’20”. Main events depicted: Desfile militar por la Glorieta del Bosque de San Pedro [Military Parade through the Bosque de San Pedro]; Desfile de calesas y autos. Acueducto de Morelia [Procession of carriages and automobiles. Morelia Acqueduct]; Parada militar [Military parade]; Glorieta Central del Bosque de San Pedro [Traffic around the central plaza of the Bosque de San Pedro].
  • ·         2 DE ABRIL EN MORELIA. FORMACIÓN EN VILLALONGÍN Y  BOSQUE DE SAN PEDRO. 1907 [2 April in Morelia. Military processions in Villalongín and the Bosque de San Pedro] (1907) 1’40”. No intertitles.
  • ·         TEATRO SALÓN MORELOS EN SU TERCER ANIVERSARIO [Teatro Salón Morelos on its Third Anniversary] (1911). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; location: Morelia; 45″; Fondo Gabilondo. No intertitles.
  • ·         PASEO EN COCHE POR LA AVENIDA SAN FRANCISCO [Ride along the Avenida San Francisco, Mexico City] (1908). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 2’35”; Fondo Gabilondo. No intertitles.
  • ·         PASEO EN TRANVÍA POR LA CALLE DE BRASIL EN LA CIUDAD DE MÉXICO [Tram ride along the Calle de Brasil, Mexico City] (1920). Prod., ph: Hermanas Elhers; 2’07”; Fondo Gabilondo. No intertitles.

The Mirror of History

From 1910, the seismic events of national history transformed the function of Mexican film-makers. No longer could they be satisfied with “vues/vistas” in the Lumière manner. History was facing them. The first big subject which challenged them was the national celebrations of the centenary of the 1810 uprising led by the priest Miguel Hidalgo, which was eventually to lead to Mexico’s independence from Spain. The celebrations continued from 1 to 30 September 1910 – the midpoint, 15 September, the day before the exact centenary, coincided with Díaz’s 80th birthday – but had been in preparation for a decade. New buildings and monuments were erected; and sympathetic foreign representatives were invited, to admire the “progress” of the 34 years of Díaz’s power. The celebrations were recorded by the Alva Brothers, by Toscano and Ocañas, and by Guillermo Becerril Jr. The Toscano-Ocañas version was the most complete and ambitious, a 5-reel, 30-episode “diary” of the September events.

What remains of these records is fragmentary, and is arranged for this programme chronologically. Desfile de carros alegóricos is shown in part in its original form and in part in a later, “livelier” cut.

The Centenary celebrations were the swan-song of the Díaz regime. From this point events moved swiftly: on 10 May 1911 revolutionaries took over the town of Juárez. On 15 May Porfirio Díaz finally gave up power, and was succeeded by Francisco Léon de la Barra, who served as Interim President until 6 November 1911.

(Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas)

  • ·         FIESTAS PATRIAS DEL CENTENARIO DE LA INDEPENDENCIA DE 1910 [National Celebrations of the Centenary of Mexican Independence, 1910]. Prod: Hermanos Alva, Salvador Toscano; ph: Hermanos Alva; 44′; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano. Main events depicted: Inauguración del manicomio de La Castañeda. Septiembre 1º [Opening of La Castañeda Mental Hospital. 1 September] (1’40”); Llegada de la Pila Bautismal de Hidalgo. Septiembre 2 [Arrival of the baptismal font of Hidalgo. 2 September] (1’40”); Desfile de carros alegóricos. Septiembre 4 [Parade of allegorical floats. 4 September] (11’34”); Gran desfile Histórico Nacional. Septiembre 15 [Great Parade of National History. 15 September] (4’42”); Desfile militar. Septiembre 16 [Military Parade. 16 September] (16’02”); Junta Patriótica de festejos de la Ciudad de México [Mexico City Patriotic Committee] (1’06”); Inauguración del monumento a Benito Juárez. Septiembre 18 [Official Dedication of the Monument to Benito Juárez. 18 September] (2’25”); Fiesta estudiantil en honor a Benito Juárez. Septiembre 19 [Celebration in Honour of Benito Juárez. 19 September] (1’48”); Ceremonia en la Ciudadela del descubrimiento de la lápidaconmemorativa de la prisión de Morelos [Ceremony at the Ciudadela of the discovery of the commemorative stone of Morelos’ imprisonment] (2’50”)
  • ·         [RENUNCIA A LA PRESIDENCIA DEL GENERAL PORFIRIO DÍAZ] [Porfirio Díaz’s resignation of the Presidency] (1911). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 2’48”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [TOMA DE POSESIÓN DEL PRESIDENTE INTERINO FRANCISCO LEÓN DE LA BARRA] [Interim President Francisco León de la Barra takes office] (1911). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 2’54”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [GIRA A TOLUCA DEL PRESIDENTE INTERINO FRANCISCO LEÓN DE LA BARRA] [Interim President Francisco León de la Barra’s visit to Toluca] (1911). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 1’48”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [INAUGURACIÓN DEL SANATORIO DEL DOCTOR AURELIANO URRUTIA, OCTUBRE DE 1911] [Opening of the Sanatorium of Dr. Aureliano Urrutia, October 1911]. Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 3’38”; Fondo Gabilondo.

Programme II:

The Triumph and Fall of Francisco I. Madero

In the first decade of the 20th century, with economic crisis, discontent with the Díaz regime grew and led to industrial unrest and widespread strikes. In 1906, the massacre of strikers in the Cananea copper mines by forces that included a 275-man America posse led by Arizona Rangers caused widespread outrage against the regime and a favourable atmosphere for revolution.

Francisco I. Madero (Francisco Ignacio Madero González, 1873-1913), one of the youngest elected presidents in Mexican history, was an unlikely revolutionary. The offspring of a rich Northern family, with wide business interests, he was at the same time a philanthropist and campaigner for social justice and democracy, who provided schools, medical assistance, and community kitchens for his own peóns. A passionate believer in spiritualism, regarding himself as a medium, he said that it was under the direction of the spirits of his dead brother Raúl and of Benito Juárez that he wrote his book La sucesión presidencial en 1910, published in 1908. The book, which attacked the repeated and unconstitutional re-elections of Porfirio Díaz, caught the spirit of the moment, and in 1910 Madero’s National Anti-Re-Electionist Party nominated him as candidate in the Presidential elections. Díaz’s Government had him arrested, along with 5,000 of his supporters, but he escaped across the border to San Antonio, Texas, where he called for armed revolution. His own efforts to raise a revolutionary force were ineffective, but his fellow revolutionaries Pascual Orozco and Francisco Villa, ignoring his wish for a ceasefire, captured Ciudad Juárez. The Treaty of Ciudad Juárez of 21 May 1911 brought about the resignation of Porfirio Díaz, making Madero a national idol. Díaz’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Francisco León de la Barra, was appointed Interim President. Díaz fled to France, where he died in 1915.

Madero became President in November 1911, but found himself fatally trapped between conservative Porfirians, who had retained power in the senate, and his fellow revolutionaries, who felt betrayed by his conciliations to the Porfirians and his failure to pursue promised reforms. He was now attacked by the press which he himself had freed from decades of strict censorship. He struggled to effect reforms while facing rebellions by Díaz supporters and his own former ally Pascual Orozco.

Madero’s greatest mistake was to trust the malevolent and unbalanced General Victoriano Huerta – “The Jackal” – to quell the Orozco revolt. Huerta was angered when Madero countermanded his order to kill Francisco Villa, and seized the opportunity of the Decena Trágica (“Ten Tragic Days”) of 9-19 February 1913. A military group headed by General Bernardo Reyes staged a revolt in Mexico City. Madero again entrusted Huerta with suppressing the uprising, but instead Huerta conspired with Reyes, Díaz’s nephew Félix, and the American ambassador Henry Lane Wilson to effect Madero’s overthrow. Madero’s brother Gustavo was kidnapped, tortured, and killed, and on 18 February Madero was forced to resign and was arrested. While being transferred from the National Palace to the city penitentiary on 22 February, Madero and his vice-president José María Pino Suárez were riddled with bullets. Huerta assumed the presidency and began a bloody military dictatorship which was to last until 15 July 1914.

These events were diligently recorded by a limited number of filmmakers: in Puebla, the brothers Carlos, Guillermo and Salvador Alva, and Salvador Toscano with Antonio Ocañas, Jesús Hermenegildo Abitia, Enrique Rosas, Julio Lamadrid, and Guillermo Becerril Jr.; in Guanajuato, Indalencio Noriega. Most had learned by practice: only Abitia had studied photography, with the prestigious Valleto Brothers. Almost all the leaders had their “own” cameramen. The Alva Brothers filmed Porfirio Díaz, Francisco I. Madero, and Emiliano Zapata; Abitia followed Álvaro Obregón and Venustiano Carranza; the Zapatistas were photographed by the Figueroa family of Chilpancingo. Famously, on 5 January 1914 Pancho Villa signed a contract with the Mutual Film Company, granting them exclusive rights to film his troops in battle in exchange for 20% of all revenues the films produced.

These cameramen recorded the Revolution from its beginning in May 1911 and the Battle of Ciudad Juárez, in the extreme north, close to the North American border. What was striking about their film reports was their length:

Ocañas’ Toma de Ciudad Juárez y el viaje del héroe de la revolución don Francisco I. Madero in 5 parts and the Alva Brothers’ Los Últimos disparos sobre Ciudad Juárez both exceeded 2 hours, far more than the average production anywhere else in the world. (The fragment of the latter film included in this compilation is thought to be Francesco Villa’s first appearance on film: he was subsequently to become very conscious of the political value of the screen.)

The films were made up of series of self-contained “scenes”, each with its own space and time, structured purposefully to narrate the Revolution. For the audiences, who readily accepted their length and slow pace, these films became the main attraction of cinema shows: for the first time they could see in movement the heroes of the Revolution of whom they read in the newspapers: Francisco I. Madero, Pascual Orozco, and Francisco Villa. In other ways the films also grew closer to the printed press. These were not the encapsulated miscellanies of ordinary newsreels, but extensive visual reports of events, parallel to daily press reports. This connection of the two media exposed the cinema to state policy towards the press, which under the Díaz regime disallowed criticism and considered the press the propaganda vehicle for the presidential person and policy. The propagandist feeling was to prevail in the films of the Revolution, according to the ideology of the current leader or ruler.

In the form in which they have survived, the films of the first successes of the Revolution, Toma de Ciudad Juárez and Viaje del Señor Madero de Ciudad Juárez a la Ciudad de México, are constructed to climax optimistically. The optimism continued with Madero’s triumphal return to Mexico City on 7 June 1911, where he was met at the railway station by the widow of the politician Aquiles Serdán (1876-1910), the first martyr of the Revolution, killed with some of his family in their Puebla home by the Federal army due to his support of Madero. The celebration was apparently in no way overshadowed by the earthquake which occurred, with considerable loss of life, only a few hours before Madero’s arrival (Temblor del 7 de junio de 1911).

Yet even before Madero was elected President in November 1911 (Toma de posesión de Madero) his troubles were clearly already above the horizon. He made two trips to the South; the films of these two visits (Viaje del señor Madero a los Estados del Sur and Desarme Zapatista) came down to us assembled as a single film in the Fondo Gabilondo, but have now been appropriately separated. On his first visit, on 11 June 1911, Madero was greeted as a conquering hero in Cuernavaca. Two months later, on 17 August, Zapata was already losing faith in Madero, who came to negotiate, at the behest of the Federal army and Interim President Léon de la Barra, for Zapata’s disarmament. The scenes in Cuautla reveal no sign of pleasure or welcome from the Zapatistas, with their guns and cannon. In consequence, no doubt, the film was never publicly screened.

Much worse was to come, when Madero’s major ally in the taking of Ciudad Juárez, Pascual Orozco, took up arms against him in Chihuahua, in order, he said, to save “democracy and national sovereignty”. La Revolución orozquista en Chihuahua represents only fragments of the Alva Brothers’ long documentation of events, while Funerales del General de División Señor Don José González Salas commemorates Madero’s general who, having suffered defeat by the rebels at the 1st Battle of Rellano in March 1912, chose to kill himself in a railway carriage at Corralitos, Chihuahua.

The Alva Brothers were on hand to record Mexico City’s “Ten Tragic Days” (La Decena Trágica), which resulted in the assassination of Madero on 22 February 1913: the fragments which survive come from three different films. Madero’s funeral (Funerales del mártir de la democracia Don Francisco I. Madero) was recorded by five filmmakers – the Alva Brothers, Enrique Echániz Brust, Salvador Toscano, Guillermo Becerril Jr., and Enrique Rosas. None survives complete, and the scenes shown are selected from three films, in the montage assembled by Edmundo Gabilondo.

From this point the films of the Revolution no longer aim for impartiality. In face of growing government censorship of films “against public order”, the film-makers meekly take the side of the government. The Alva Brothers’ Sangre hermana (1913) conforms to official propaganda against the Zapatistas, despite having been filmed in territory dominated by them; Invasión norteamericana (1914) aims to co-opt volunteers to fight the U.S. in Veracruz – but instead of sending them there, the government deployed them to fight the Revolutionaries. From this point Mexican documentary was to be unconditionally propagandist for the government in power. Entrada triunfal a la capital del PrimerJefe del Ejército Constitucionalista (1914) exalts the faction led by Venustiano Carranza. For the momentary triumph of the alliance of Zapata and Villa in the government of the Convention in December 1914, the Alva Brothers convert the anti-Zapatista images of Sangre hermana into the positive ones of Revolución zapatista.

(Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas)

Film sources

All films in this programme are DCPs from the Filmoteca de la UNAM, Fondo Gabilondo and/or Fondo Toscano, and have Spanish intertitles.

  • ·         [TOMA DE CIUDAD JUÁREZ] [Capture of Ciudad Juárez] (1911). Prod: Hermanos Alva, Salvador Toscano; ph: Hermanos Alva; 1’03”; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano.
  • ·         [LOS ÚLTIMOS DISPAROS SOBRE CIUDAD JUÁREZ, CHIHUAHUA, EL 10 DE MAYO DE 1911] [The Last Shots on Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, 10 May 1911]. Prod: Hermanos Alva, Salvador Toscano; ph: Hermanos Alva; 4’40”; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano. Title assigned by Edmundo Gabilondo.
  • ·         SOLEMNE ENTREGA DEL CAÑÓN CAPTURADO POR LAS FUERZAS INSURGENTES [Formal handing over of the cannon captured by the rebel forces] (1911). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 2’43”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         VIAJE DEL SEÑOR MADERO DE CIUDAD JUÁREZ A LA CIUDAD DE MÉXICO. JUNIO DE 1911 [Journey of Madero from Ciudad Juárez to Mexico City, June 1911]. Prod: Hermanos Alva, Salvador Toscano; ph: Hermanos Alva, Antonio Ocañas; 18’46”; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano.
  • ·         [LA VIUDA DE AQUILES SERDÁN, PRIMER MÁRTIR DE LA REVOLUCIÓN, LLEGA A LA CIUDAD DE MÉXICO PARA DAR LA BIENVENIDA A MADERO, JUNIO 5 DE 1911] [Arrival of the Widow of Aquiles Serdán, the First Martyr of the Revolution, in Mexico City to welcome Madero, 5 June 1911]. Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva: 4’30”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [TEMBLOR DEL 7 DE JUNIO DE 1911] [Earthquake of 7 June 1911]. Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 7’21”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [TRIUNFAL ARRIBO DEL JEFE DE LA REVOLUCIÓN FRANCISCO I. MADERO, JUNIO 7 DE 1911] [Triumphal Arrival of the Leader of the Revolution Francisco I. Madero, 7 June 1911]. Prod: Hermanos Alva, Salvador Toscano; ph: Hermanos Alva, Antonio Ocañas; 19’15”; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano.
  • ·         VIAJE DEL SEÑOR MADERO A LOS ESTADOS DEL SUR, JUNIO 11 DE 1911 [Journey of Señor Madero to the Southern States, 11 June 1911]. Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 9’01”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [DESARME ZAPATISTA] [Zapatista disarmament] (1911). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 6’22”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [TOMA DE POSESIÓN DE FRANCISCO I. MADERO] [Francisco I. Madero takes office] (1911). Prod: Salvador Toscano; ph: Hermanos Alva; 12’15”; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano. This constitutes an assemblage of four film fragments, probably shot by different people. The compilation aims to achieve narrative continuity: presentation of José Pino Suárez as vice-presidential candidate; political visit by Madero; Madero’s election and inauguration.
  • ·         LA REVOLUCIÓN OROZQUISTA EN CHIHUAHUA [Revolution in Chihuahua] (1912). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 13’25”; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano.
  • ·         [FUNERALES DEL GENERAL DE DIVISIÓN SEÑOR DON JOSÉ GONZÁLEZ SALAS] [Funeral of General of the Northern Division Señor Don José González Salas] (1912). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 5’48”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [LA DECENA TRÁGICA. CAÍDA DEL PRESIDENTE MADERO] [The “Ten Tragic Days”. The Fall of President Madero] (1913). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 21’59”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [FUNERALES DEL MÁRTIR DE LA DEMOCRACIA DON FRANCISCO I. MADERO] [Funeral of the Martyr of Democracy, Francisco I. Madero] (1913). Prod: Hermanos Alva, Salvador Toscano; ph: Hermanos Alva, Antonio Ocañas?, Salvador Toscano?; 5’28”; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano. Madero’s funeral was filmed by at least five cameramen – the Alva Brothers, Enrique Echániz Brust, Salvador Toscano, Guillermo Becerril Jr., and Enrique Rosas. None of their films has survived complete, and this represents a compilation edited much later by Edmundo Gabilondo, apparently from three of the films, not specifically identified.

Programme III:

Armed Revolution: Victoriano Huerta, Venustiano Carranza, Emiliano Zapata, Francisco Villa

After the assassination of Madero in February 1913, Victoriano Huerta established a military dictatorship. The programme includes sparse records of the Huerta regime. In Militarización de la preparatoria, the General is seen presenting a flag to the director of the school, and exhorting the students to their patriotic duty; while a macabre fragment of film shows the exhumation of Senator Belisario Domínguez, a doctor and politician who was murdered for making a speech critical of Huerta (Exhumación del Senador Chiapaneco Belisario Domínguez. Agosto 13 de 1914).

A month after Madero’s death, Venustiano Carranza, governor of Coahuila, in the north-east of Mexico, called for armed resistance against Huerta, and – in the “Guadalupe Plan” – named himself Primer Jefe (First Leader) of the Constitutional Revolution, with the aim of defending the Constitution of 1857. Three armies marched on Mexico City, in pincer movement: the North-East division from Nogales, Sonora, under Álvaro Obregón; the Northern Division from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, under Francisco Villa; and the Eastern Division from Matamoros, Tamaulipas, under General Pablo González. In the South, Emiliano Zapata maintained his rebellion. The strong different factions exercised a dangerous independence. Carranza, for instance, was unable, as he wished, to prevent Villa attacking Zacatecas – which proved a decisive victory for the revolutionaries. The film of the battle (Toma de Zacatecas, Junio de 1914) includes footage of combat that is rare in these films: after 1915 films past or present showing conflict between Mexicans were officially prohibited.

Villa was now a major force, though neither he nor Zapata had presidential ambitions. Following the assassination of Madero, Villa had rapidly built up an army of 10,000 well-armed and disciplined men. His defeat of the Federal army at Ciudad Juárez added to his charisma, and earned him the title of “The Mexican Napoleon” in the North American press. Elected governor of Chihuahua, he became known in addition as the champion of the deprived, “The Mexican Robin Hood”. He recognized the leadership of Carranza and the Guadalupe Plan. With his army uniting the forces of other leaders, he took Ojinaga – though his contract giving Mutual exclusive rights to film the battle disillusioned many of his admirers. Keenly aware of the value of the cinema, his review of the army prior to the march on Torreón proved a fine photo-opportunity for the film-makers (Revista de tropas villistas, Febrero-Marzo 1914).

The Mexican film-makers were not however alone in recording the Revolution, whose beginnings coincided with the rise of newsreels in North America. Pathé News was launched in America in 1911, followed by The Vitagraph Monthly of Current Events (1911), Gaumont Weekly and Animated Weekly (1912), Mutual Weekly (1913), and Hearst-Selig News Pictorial (1914). Easy railway communication with Mexico brought some 80 North American cameramen to cover the Revolution, including L.M. Burrud, Tracy Mathewson, Victor Milner, Charles Pryor, Charles Rosher, and Gilbert Warrenton (Fritz Arno Wagner was sent from Pathé’s New York office). Kevin Brownlow (in his book The War, The West and the Wilderness, 1978) offers a stirring account of the perilous adventures of the American cinematographers, having as much difficulty in staying in line with the United States’ ever-shifting policies towards Mexico as in dodging Mexican shells and bullets. The exclusive rights to film his battles which Villa had sold to Mutual were hard to protect; and while Charles Rosher was filming the battle of Ojinaga for Mutual, the enterprising Charles Pryor was competing on behalf of the El Paso Feature Film Co. Under fire, Pryor filmed both rebel and Federal forces. A shell damaged his camera. Finally he was arrested by Federal troops and deported to the United States. His film was shown in London in May 1914 and subsequently throughout Europe. Rosher was also arrested by the Federals, but had better luck: he was taken before General Mercado, Huerta’s brother-in-law, who turned out to be a fellow Mason: “Well, I was entertained royally in Ojinaga.” Raoul Walsh recalled that Villa was paid $500 a month to be photographed for the big feature being planned by Mutual, The Life of General Villa. D.W. Griffith was supposed to have supervised it. The film was directed by Christy Cabanne, and released in May 1914. Walsh, who played Villa as a young man, remembered that Villa obligingly postponed the daily executions and looting of the resultant corpses until 7 or 8 in the morning, when the light was better for filming.

The allies’ advance proved unstoppable, and after a brilliant campaign, Obregón entered Guadalajara on 7 July 1914 and Querétaro on 4 August (Entrada triunfal de Obregón a Querétaro). On 20 August, the Federal army having surrendered, Venustiano Carranza and Álvaro Obregón entered Mexico City (Entrada de las fuerzas constitucionalistas a la Ciudad de México, Agosto 20 de 1914).

Carranza declared himself President, and, hoping to avoid conflict between his fellow victors, called a convention to discuss the future of the country. It began in Mexico City on 1 October, but became so heated that it was moved to the more neutral location of Aguascalientes (Francisco Villa en la Convención de Aguascalientes). Villa arrived at the head of his army; Zapata sent delegates. Things did not go Carranza’s way. Eulalio Gutiérrez was named Interim President and Carranza was asked, but refused, to give up his title as Primer Jefe of the Revolution. The Revolution was now definitively split between the Constitucionalistas (Constitutionalists) led by Carranza and Obregón and the Convencionistas (Conventionists) led by Villa and Zapata. What had been revolution now became a bloody civil war. In September Zapata and Villa broke with Carranza, and in November both declared war. Carranza departed for Veracruz.

On 1 December Villa and Zapata marched through Mexico City (Entrada de Emiliano Zapata y Francisco Villa a la Ciudad de México, 6de Diciembre de 1914). While the peasant-clad Zapatistas behaved in an orderly fashion, Villa and his uniformed and well-equipped army were widely accused of rape and looting. One of Villa’s first acts, however, was to visit the grave of Madero, who he knew had countermanded Huerta’s order to kill him (Villa en la tumba de Madero). The tables were quickly turned; and between January and June Obregón inflicted succession of defeats on Villa’s army, notably the battles of Celaya and Trinidad. Though his military strength progressively dwindled, Zapata kept up his assault. Carranza and General Pablo González had less success in trying to disarm Zapata in his southern state of Morelos.

In October 1915, the U.S., acknowledging the definitive shift of power, recognized Carranza and cut off arms supplies to Villa. Villa unwisely retaliated by attacking a train, killing 16 Americans, and subsequently staging an invasive raid on Columbus, New Mexico. Carranza agreed to allow the American General John J. Pershing to enter Mexico with a force of 3,000 to try to capture Villa, though they never found him.

On 6 April 1918 Zapata was murdered by the troops of a Carranza officer who had pretended to defect to him: after his death resistance in the South dissipated. The shots we see of him in the compilation Emiliano Zapata. Momentos históricos de su vida y funerales are rare. Successive governments, right through the 1930s and 40s, strove to keep images of Villa and Zapata and their followers off the screen, though the situation had changed by 1968, when President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz scolded protesting students for featuring portraits of Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong), and Ho Chi Minh in their demonstrations, rather than such Mexican national heroes as Zapata and Villa.

In 1920 Carranza’s term of office was coming to an end, and the policy of no re-election was now positively upheld. Obregón (who had lost an arm at the Battle of Trinidad) announced he would run for election. Many of his supporters were imprisoned, and he himself was obliged to flee Mexico City. On 13 April Obregón called for an uprising against Carranza. His supporters included Villa. On 7 May Carranza fled to Veracruz, taking with him 10,000 followers and the national treasury. A dynamite-laden train smashed into his first train. Carranza retreated, but on 21 May died – either by suicide or murdered by the apparently friendly guerrilla leader Rodolfo Herrero.

On 24 May 1920 Adolfo de la Huerta was appointed Interim President, and subsequently granted amnesty to Villa. Pursued by the government and no longer supplied with arms by the U.S., Villa fought for a while with guerrilla tactics, until finally he offered to lay down his arms, following the death of Carranza in 1920, as a gesture of goodwill towards the pacification of the country. The event was recorded by two cameramen, in Sabinas, Coahuila, and at the hacienda de Tlahualillo, Durango, where the arms were handed over. The film record Rendición de Villa is notable for a more “modern” technique, with shorter shots and faster cutting.

On 30 November 1920, Obregón was elected President. De la Huerta accused Obregón of corruption and in 1923 attempted to unseat him, but his armed revolt was crushed on 24 January 1923. De la Huerta fled to Los Angeles; Obregón ordered the execution of every rebel officer with rank above major.

On 20 July 1923 Villa was shot and killed in the car in which he was driving with six bodyguards in Parral, Chihuahua. The circumstances of the assassination have never been clarified, though Villa’s support for the Interim President Adolfo de la Huerta had bitterly provoked Álvaro Obregón and General Plutarco Elías Calles, who was to succeed Obregón at the forthcoming presidential election. Villa’s grave was later desecrated and his head removed and stolen.

(Aurelio de los Reyes García-Rojas).

Film sources

All films in this programme are from the Filmoteca de la UNAM, Fondo Gabilondo and/or Fondo Toscano, except for the final title which belongs to the Cineteca Nacional. All films are DCPs, and have Spanish intertitles unless otherwise indicated.

  • ·         [MILITARIZACIÓN DE LA ESCUELA NACIONAL PREPARATORIA] [Militarization of the Preparatory School] (1913). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 5’38”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [MANIFESTACIÓN CELEBRADA EN LA CIUDAD DE MÉXICO EL 1° DE MAYO DE 1913 EN CONMEMORACIÓN DEL DÍA DEL TRABAJO] [Demonstration Celebrating Labour Day in Mexico City, 1 May 1913]. Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 6’57”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [EXHUMACIÓN DEL SENADOR CHIAPANECO BELISARIO DOMÍNGUEZ, AGOSTO 13 DE 1914] [Exhumation of Belisario Domínguez, Senator from Chiapas, 13 August 1914]. Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 1’01”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [ENTRADA TRIUNFAL DE OBREGÓN A QUERÉTARO] [Triumphal Entry of Obregón into Querétaro] (1914). Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 2’10”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         ENTRADA DE LAS FUERZAS CONSTITUCIONALISTAS A LA CIUDAD DE MÉXICO, AGOSTO 20 DE 1914 [Entry of the Constitutionalist forces into Mexico City, 20 August 1914]. Prod: Hermanos Alva, Salvador Toscano, Jesús H. Abitia; ph: Hermanos Alva, Antonio Ocañas?, Salvador Toscano?, Jesús H. Abitia; 16’27; Fondo Edmundo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano, ramo [section] Jesús H. Abitia.
  • ·         [REVISTA DE TROPAS VILLISTAS, FEBRERO-MARZO 1914] [Review of Villa’s Troops, February-March 1914]. Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 7’28”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [TOMA DE ZACATECAS, JUNIO DE 1914] [Capture of Zacatecas, June 1914]. Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 8’55”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [FRANCISCO VILLA EN LA CONVENCIÓN DE AGUASCALIENTES] [Francisco Villa at the Aguascalientes Convention] (1914). Prod: Salvador Toscano; ph: Salvador Toscano?, Antonio Ocañas?; 2’49”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         [EMILIANO ZAPATA. MOMENTOS HISTÓRICOS DE SU VIDA Y FUNERALES] [Emiliano Zapata. Historic Moments of his Life and Funeral] (c.1919?). Prod: ?; ph: ?; 8’21”; Fondo Gabilondo.
  • ·         ENTRADA DE EMILIANO ZAPATA Y FRANCISCO VILLA A LA CIUDAD DE MÉXICO, 6 DE DECIEMBRE DE 1914 [Entry of Emiliano Zapata and Francesco Villa into Mexico City, 6 December 1914]. Prod., ph: Hermanos Alva; 18’25”; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano.
  • ·         [VILLA EN LA TUMBA DE MADERO] [Villa visits the grave of Madero] (1914). Prod: Hemanos Alva, Salvador Toscano; ph: Hermanos Alva, Antonio Ocañas?, Salvador Toscano?; 3’16”; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano.
  • ·         [RENDICIÓN DE VILLA] [Villa’s Surrender] (1920). Prod: ?; ph: ?; 5’49”; Fondo Gabilondo, Fondo Toscano.
  • ·         [ASESINATO DE VILLA] [Assassination of Villa] (1923). Prod: ?; ph: ?; 2’17”; Fondo Toscano.
  • ·         [FRANCISCO VILLA EN OJINAGA] [Francisco Villa in Ojinaga] (1913-1914). Prod: El Paso Feature Film Co., Charles Pryor; ph: Charles Pryor; 15′, col. (tinted); Cineteca Nacional (Fondo American Film Institute). English intertitles.  Digitally restored by the Cineteca Nacional from original tinted nitrate prints in an advanced state of decay. Colours digitally reconstructed to match the originals; titles restored from black and white acetate copies.

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