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National Film Day: Argentina Film

The National Film Day celebrates the premiere of the first Argentine plot film, “The May Revolution”, on May 23, 1909. History of the pioneers of the seventh Creole art.

 Nobility Gaucha. Horn Hour. The official story. Pizza, Birra and Faso. The secret of his eyes. Argentine film titles depicting the progress, sadness, and hopes in motion, of a country.  Eugenio Py, whom mythology points to as the first director of a recorded and processed film, “The Argentine Flag” of 1897, pointed to a path that José A. Ferreyra, the first great director, Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, Leonardo Favio or Lucrecia Martel turned into a different look in the world around the world, awarded twice by the Oscar. And recognized as a serious Latin American octopus competition in its first decades, which from 1943 drowned the local industry by denying the sale of celluloid and monopolizing the distribution system.   Carlos Gardel  and Libertad Lamarque, directed by Negro Ferreyra, were the first Latin stars with the impulse of their films coming from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Bravo. Let us return then to the epic times of immigrants and dreamers who began to turn the crank of the old Pathé and Gaumont, and that first story film by Italian Mario Gallo, “The May Revolution” of 1909.  

After the first films, close to today's news reels filmed by Py for the house of Belgian Enrique Lapage, who later belonged to Max Glücksmann, attempts began on films with plot and greater extension.  It would have been Eugenio Cardini in 1901 with “Street Scenes” the initiatico, a minimal plot with a shoeshine, two boys playing balls and a lantern, and filmed in the streets of Buenos Aires.  Py would set up the first film set on a terrace on Bolivar Street to experiment with sound cinema, which was basically a synchronization with discs, and recorded the spouses Flora and Alfredo Gobbi and Ángel Villoldo, the masters of the Vieja Guardia tanguera.  The honor of the first feature film with plot would remain for an Italian who earned a living as a pianist of cinema and neighborhood varietés since 1905, Mario Gallo, although he came with lyrical experience. Premiered on May 23, 1909 at the Ateneo Theatre in Buenos Aires, located on the corner of Corrientes and Maipú, and filmed in 35mm nitrate film, “The May Revolution”  has a painted curtain to represent the Cabildo. In that fixed plane you can see the actors separated into groups, so as not to cover the bottom, and they hold umbrellas, so that the sun does not ruin the shots — it was filmed outdoors. It features performances by Eliseo Gutierrez and Cesar Fiaschi, and a group of curious/passers-by turned into extras, to represent, in five minutes, the before, during and after the May gesta.  It contains great historical inaccuracies, such as the presence of Saint Martin, and errors such as the appearance on camera of the person holding the curtain.   Successive restorations in 1955, 2009 and 2016 allow access to this pioneering work, of which nine of the fifteen original paintings are preserved, each preceded by an explanatory poster.

 Another version, suggested by one of the founding film researchers, Pablo Ducrós Hicken, states that Gallo had previously premiered “El fusilamiento de Dorrego” on May 24, 1908,   and that the film about the May Revolution was made for the Centennial  . This film was assisted by Julián de Ajuria, an employee of the Lepage house with whom he would continue to associate, and the company that was performing this theatrical piece at the Teatro Nuevo, with great success. In fact, it was filmed with theatrical sets and locker rooms. Salvador Rosich /Dorrego, Roberto Casaux and Eliseo Gutierrez, top actors of the moment, were then the first to jump from one medium to another. Gallo would follow this line of historical, in the way of Italian and French films, and hiring theatrical authors such as José González Castillo — who with his selection of verses from Martín Fierro for “Nobleza Gaucha” (Martínez de la Pera/Gunche/Cairo. 1915 ) collaborated in the biggest event of Argentine silent cinema, a film that raised 700,000 pesos, with the investment of 20,000, and was enjoyed throughout America, Belisario Roldán and Joaquín de Vedia; and notable theatrical actors such as the Podestá or Florencio Parravicini. For a decade Mario Gallo Films would film, or produce, “Civil Death”, “The creation of the anthem, Argentine National Anthem”, “Güemes y sus gauchos” (all from 1910), “Tierra baja”, “La Battle of San Lorenzo”, “Battle of Maipú& rdquo; (1912), “Juan Moreira” (1913) and “In a Day of Glory” (1918). Gallo's latest film as a producer is with Olinda Bozán, “En buena ley” (1919) by Alberto Traversa, and  during the twenties he is dedicated to photographing films of others, some by Luis Landini, and “working piecework control for major distributors of foreign films... Gallo he didn't film if he didn't have good theatrical actors... solid arguments... wrong or not, Gallo had given all his talent and money to the national cinema,” says Estela Do Santos.  


 Paris and Buenos Aires, the first to give the cinema 

 “ There is documentation to be able to say that there are three similar devices that began to be used publicly, more or less simultaneously, in July 1896  ,” says specialist Fernando Martín Peña in  - There was the cinematographer of the Lumière, but also two other devices: one from Edison and the other of British origin, that there is no good certainty what it was. It seems to me that the Lumière was preferred because at the time when it was decided that the first exhibition would be in the Odeon, they prioritized, perhaps, rather than historical precision, the fact of appearing in the national newspapers and where it had been carried out . It was, say, the most spectacular, while the other exhibits went unnoticed because they barely reached the press. But we don't know much about the projection itself, nor exactly what material was projected,” he says  leaving a question about the first projection in the country, which is usually stated in the Buenos Aires Teatro Odeón, on July 18, 1896 — although there are some versions that in Rosario some screenings had already been made privately . In that building of Esmeralda and Corrientes, short films by the Lumière brothers were apparently exhibited using a kinetoscope, the projector's predecessor, in an afternoon of curiosities for the hazy spectators.  The operators were Francisco Pastor and the Spanish journalist  Eustaquio Pellicer , who would be the founder of Caras y Caretas magazine. The first projections in France had been only a few months earlier, in December 1895, for 35 people. In Buenos Aires there are about 200  and says Pellicer, also the businessman who rented the device to Lapage, “the audience's impression in front of the first film was to stay with his mouth open. I myself, who acted as an operator, from my post managed to hear perfectly the exclamations of the spectators, who did not imagine how it could be contemplated in photography until the movement of the waves”  Unverifiable the sources that speak of the public that was thrown from the stadium when the famous Lumière train was coming.  

Cinema is another major contribution of immigrant flows of the late twentieth century. A city in Buenos Aires eager for novelties, and with the resources available, goes out to search for the machine, and rolls, “that puts pictures in motion,” first in France, and then in the United States, which would quickly dominate the world market. The first devices to arrive in Argentina are French for the simple reason that Lepage has its distributors in Paris.  Bolivar 375 arrived the Pathé or Gaumont to delight photography fans and, especially, students and teachers of the National College, who spent long hours in March 1896 testing projectors and filmmakers, exclusively operated by Belgian Py and Austrian Glücksmann .  With the event of the function in the Odeon , Lapage is encouraged to offer a regular function and sell the appliance in kermeses, and cafes that offered in the afternoon the vermouth. That's where the afternoon section would be left in theaters . If at first they broadcast foreign films, the following year Py starts with his “newsreels”, which recorded the visit of the Brazilian president in 1900, or a walk by Bartolomew Mitre at the National Historical Museum.  And those “documentaries” by Eugenio founded Argentine cinema. Already for the first year of the new century, Gregorio Ortuño opens the first show built as cinema, El Nacional de Maipú at 400, and by the end of the decade, almost a thousand rooms cover Argentina with 7 million souls.  


 The doctor's film 

Among the few uses that Lumières imagined for their toy in Paris, which they estimated to have little chance of commercial success, was  scientific use. Thus, Dr. Alejandro Posadas understood it in a distant Buenos Aires, and commissioned Casa Lapage in 1899, or 1900, to the Lapage House, the record of two operations he would perform in the courtyard of the old Hospital de Clínicas, at noon — today Plaza Houssay . His cameraman Py, in addition to the head of laboratory, proceeded to film an advanced method of thoracic surgery against pulmonary hydatidosis, a very common pathology of the time.  And it became the first tape of a surgical operation known in the world, according to Alejandra Portela.   The 29-year-old Professor Posadas, who died only two years later in Paris from tuberculosis, notices him right and precise, before his hand condition from the disease, in a real-time sequence of three and a half minutes. The film was in a faculty in the United States, which denotes its educational use, until screenwriter Antonio Pagés Larraya, in the middle of a  biopic  of Posadas, learned about its existence by Dr. Ricardo Finocchietto. It was shown that year for promotional purposes for a film that was not made, on Radio Belgrano TV — that is, it was broadcast on Canal 7- and at Rawson hospitals and Clínicas. He stayed in the Museum of the History of Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine and in 1971 the film was found by Dr. Florentino Sanguinetti, who handed him to the Fundación Cinemateca Argentina for proper preservation.

 It is estimated that 90 per cent of the huge national silent film production is lost while waiting for other “Sanguinettis”, who are engaged in the repair, and construction, of collective memory.   Although more than a hundred years after the first silent films, which were sensation in flirty halls and modest circuses of the first decades of the 20th century, it seems increasingly difficult to come across such a treasure of everyone. Not only because of the logical deterioration of the supports. Federico Valle, the tireless Italian who had worked with the visionary Georges Méliès, and performed the first aerial shots with the Wright brothers, and participates in Argentina in the exhibition, distribution and production of hundreds of storyline films, documentaries ( sent a team to the Orkney Islands!) and a famous weekly news “Film Magazine Valle”, was ruined in 1930. This was due to the fire of his studies on Boedo Street in 1926, and the cancellation of his futuristic project of using films in public education. In need of money, despite having invented with Alberto Etchebehere a subtitling system that was adopted around the world, he approached the official institutions with the intention of offering, at a reasonable price, its invaluable archive and incunabula rolls. Practically Argentine history in images between 1910 and 1930, in protagonists and landscapes. He didn't interest any authority or the press, and Valle sold the celluloid to a combs factory. The End.  

 Horacio Quiroga,  from the pioneer “The Vampire” of 1911, where a figure on the screen comes to life, as does Woody Allen's famous film of the eighties, Jorge Luis Borges and his fascination with Rita Hayworth, the An iconic actress of the forties who evocative the story of Manuel  Puig  in “The Betrayal of Rita Hayworth”, there are several examples of the lights of cinema in literature. And how writers transformed their perspectives, their gaze of the world, into the darkness of a room. The poet Nicolás Olivari in “Nuestra vida folletín” transports the universe of the shocking close-ups, and the heroes of celluloid, of the unrepeatable silent cinema, “ we lost five years in the stalls, /-five years I lost at the National Colegio Nacional-/To be able to love us with liking carbonic acid film/and atmosphere”. A cinematographic climate in black and white at the dawn of national identity.  


Sources:  Criollo mosaic.   Pablo Ducrós Hicken Film Museum. Ministry of Culture. Buenos Aires. 2010; Dos Santos, E.  National cinema . Buenos Aires: CEAL. 1972; Mahieu, J. A.  Brief history of Argentine cinema . Buenos Aires: Eudeba. 1966.

Rating: 5.00/5.