A new era in Mexican movie poster art: the 1970s.

By Rogelio Agrasánchez, Jr. © 2009.

Visit the Mexican movie poster art of the 1970s gallery.

Animated by a progressive ideology, the regime of President Luis Echeverría Álvarez (1970-1976) launched a series of reforms aimed at reorganizing the Mexican film industry, which had been crumbling after repeated crises. The effort was massive and it touched all areas related to motion picture production, distribution, and exhibition. Orchestrated by Rodolfo Echeverría, the president’s brother, this strategy sought to modernize the infrastructure of the industry: movie studios, theaters, advertising agencies, etc. The government also encouraged the making of quality films, generously giving money for new projects and establishing partnerships with film workers. A promotional outfit, Procinemex was in charge of developing effective publicity methods for the exploitation of movies. As a result, Mexican films were released at first-class theaters using exceptional advertising campaigns.

Thanks to a climate of open-mindedness, filmmakers scrutinized taboo subjects: religion, politics, history, and sexual mores. Movie directors such as Arturo Ripstein, Sergio Olhovich, Juan Manuel Torres, Alberto Isaac, Paul Leduc, and Marcela Fernández Violante expressed their views in some of the most original films of the era. Other people that made outstanding contributions to Mexican cinema were Alejandro Jodorowsky, Felipe Cazals, Miguel Littin, Rafael Corkidi, and Gabriel Retes. With the support of the government, the new generation was given a chance to make films for the educated sector of society. A number of of these movies drew the attention at international film festivals.

The 1970s gave birth to a group of graphic designers that transformed the face of the Mexican movie poster. Various local artists began to experiment with innovative ideas and techniques imported from other countries. Their imaginative designs were essentially inspired by the Polish poster tradition, but also borrowed concepts from the new artistic movement in Cuba. Opening up to international trends was a direct consequence of the Summer Olympic games, which took place in Mexico in 1968. The games not only brought in outstanding athletes, it also attracted gifted artists and performers from all over the world. Already, the stylish artistic trends of the sixties influenced the official posters for the ”México ‘68“ Olympics.

In 1974, a poster exhibit with samples from Poland and Cuba opened at the recently inaugurated Cineteca Nacional in Mexico City. The event signaled the importance of these two countries in the revitalization of the graphic arts. Besides the work of Polish artists Wiktor Gorka and Roman Cieslewicz, the Cineteca exhibited film posters signed by Cubans Fernández Reboiro, Eduardo Muñoz Bach, René Azcuy, and Ñiko. An interesting poster for Reed, México insurgente, made by Ñiko, showed an impressive figure of the revolutionary leader Francisco Villa. Mexicans borrowed heavily from these influences and added their own ideas to create original works. Rafael López Castro, Álvaro Yáñez, Rafael Hernández, Oteyza, and Helmut Bernhardt are to be considered in this group. Together with other designers, they set in motion a renaissance of the graphic arts that injected fresh blood to film publicity.

Some of the most amazing posters for films of the period were the work of Rafael López Castro. In addition to making book covers, theater and museum pamphlets, etc., he used his talents to create the publicity for Coronación, Canoa, and La guerra santa, for example. Born in the State of Jalisco in 1946, López Castro has demonstrated a supreme ability for the amalgamation of images. His imaginative collages in the style of René Magritte and Max Ernst, adorn numerous promotional sheets. The influence of graphic designers Miguel Prieto, Vicente Rojo, Roman Cieslewicz, and Wiktor Gorka can be detected in his movie advertising. At the same time, the inspiration behind Raíces de sangre, La otra virginidad, and Longitud de guerra can be linked directly to the Polish poster tradition. Other significant influences in López Castro’s designs are to be found in the work of Cuban artists René Azcuy and Ñiko. In the advertising for the political film La casa del sur, López Castro mimicked an image from Antonio das Mortes, an astonishing poster by Ñiko that was shown at the 1974 Cineteca exhibit. Finally, the ascendancy of Pop Art in the designs of López Castro can be demonstrated in Zona roja, a 1975 film poster of striking colors and splendid erotic composition.

Psychodelic art powerfully influenced the looks of several Mexican movie posters. The one-sheet for Cuando quiero llorar no lloro, by artist Alirio Palacios, is a sophisticated painting of a dead person’s body. A radical mix of pink and yellow colors festoons this enigmatic image. Also affected by this popular trend are the posters for Juan Pérez Jolote and Te quiero, two inscrutable works designed by Bruno López. Armando Villagrán created a chic visualization of wild mushrooms for the promotion of El hombre de los hongos. Other posters made by unknown authors showed psychodelic influences: Mariposas disecadas, El reventón, and Fantoche, for example. This last image for a political film drew its inspiration from the celebrated cartoon movie Yellow Submarine (1968). Using flat figures and primary colors, the artist painted a typical family reunion watching the news. This innocent scene is disrupted by huge, menacing hands emerging from behind the TV set, pulling strings that turn the newsperson and his audience into docile puppets.

On a different level stands the poster for Pafnucio santo, an allegory inspired by the naïve icons painted by Indians and which is the work of Judith Gutiérrez. Consistent with her choice of images, the artist presents the film’s credits in handwriting; she also paraphrases the pious language of Colonial Mexico. Grotesque people and unusual settings stand out in Nuevo mudo and Divinas palabras, two posters done by M. Sisi. The same bizarre atmosphere is apparent in the publicity for Xoxontlta, an enigmatic image crafted by Sergio Martínez.

A lighter mood permeates the work of Álvaro Yáñez, who designed the one-sheets for El gran perro muerto, Llámenme Mike, and Barrio de campeones. These playful posters celebrate the art of the comics. Yáñez also made the advertising images for Días de combate, Cosa fácil, and Para usted, jefa. Representing Mexico, his poster for El recurso del método was included in the 1982 Swiss publication ”Graphis Poster.“ Other artists that left excellent illustrations for film propaganda were Helmut Bernhardt, Oteyza, and Rafael Hernández. Bernhardt’s El llanto de la tortuga has become a classic piece for collectors of advertising; it is truly a delightful work of art. Oteyza has several posters of merit like Cuando tejen las arañas, La viuda negra, and El lugar sin límites. This last image shows a transvestite as a central figure.

Perhaps the most active poster designer of this generation was Rafael Hernández. His film publicity work has a very clear slant that he liked to call ”magic realism.“ A selection of his posters attests to this distinctive characteristic. For instance, the image for Cadena perpetua reveals several human silhouettes trapped inside a cuadrangular maze. In the middle of this labyrinth, an ominous hand stretches out to snatch a policeman, while further down men and women hopelessly try to run away. The scene gives the impression of a nightmare. Rafael Hernández’s Con la muerte en ancas and La tía Alejandra confront us with death, mystery, and baffling settings. The hazy background of these scenes accentuates the elusiveness of reality.

Several posters by Rafael Hernández contain surreal erotic scenes, like Amor libre, Estas ruinas que ves, Ratas del asfalto, and El vuelo de la cigüeña. Done with simplicity, Amor libre is an overlay of two images: a transparent apple (forbidden fruit) and a lovemaking couple inside of it. Bashfully portrayed, the bare body of actress Blanca Guerra adorns the poster for Estas ruinas que ves. In Ratas del asfalto, a scene of a nude couple that is kissing appears to be springing from a sensational car crash. Last but not least, El vuelo de la cigüeña humorously illustrates a love triangle between a woman and two scantily clad men.

Rafael Hernández should be commended for his genius and mastership of the medium. For this artist, the poster is the ”graphic representation of an idea“; it is a ”creative search“ that goes beyond reality. He was at his best doing representations of the fantastic. His astonishing design for La casa del pelícano has won him much praise. Filling the entire poster, this highly symbolic painting presents us with a pair of scissors aggressively piercing a dripping-blood image of an egg. The scissors appear suspended in space by a mysterious force.

The posters of the 1970s continue to surprise movie fans with their audacious and incredible designs. Artists and illustrators like Rafael Hernández, Álvaro Yáñez, Rafael López Castro, Helmut Bernhardt, Oteyza, and others have transcended their times. Without doubt, they made more than simple publicity: they created authentic works of art. Whether advertising a winning or a losing film, these images have the power to awaken our curiosity on the spot. Struck by dramatic colors and shapes we instantly sense the magic behind these posters, a quality that endures for the enjoyment of present and future generations.




A list of authors and posters:

Rafael López Castro: El cambio (1971), El hombre desnudo (1973), Presagio (1974), Bellas de noche (1974), La casa del sur (1974), La otra virginidad (1974), Coronación (1975), El apando (1975), Canoa (1975), Zona roja (1975), La vida cambia (1975), Longitud de guerra (1975), Raíces de sangre (1976), La casta divina (1976), La guerra santa (1977); Mina, viento de libertad (1977)

Rafael Hernández: La casa del pelícano (1977), Ratas del asfalto (1977), México de mis amores (1977), Amor libre (1978), Cadena perpetua (1978), El vuelo de la cigüeña (1978), Los supersabios (1978), Con la muerte en ancas (1978), La tía alejandra (1979), El infierno de todos tan temido (1979), Estas ruinas que ves (1979), Oficio de tinieblas (1979), Manaos (1979), Deseos (1979), En la tormenta (1980), Mundo mágico (1980)

Álvaro Yáñez: El recurso del método (1977), El gran perro muerto (1978), Días de combate (1979), Llámenme Mike (1979), Cosa fácil (1979); Para usted, jefa (1979), A paso de cojo (1979),

Helmut Bernhardt: El Llanto de la tortuga (1974), Más negro que la noche (1974), Viaje fantástico en globo (1974).

Oteyza: Cuando tejen las arañas (1977), El lugar sin límites (1977), La viuda negra (1977), La hora del jaguar (1977).

Ángel Del Palacio: Matar por matar (1978), Lo blanco, lo rojo, lo negro (1978), Visita al pasado (1979), La Alacrana (1986)

J.G. Granados: Erótica (1978)

Bruno López: Juan Pérez Jolote (1973), Te quiero (1978).

Carlos Palleiro: Los indolentes (1977), En la trampa (1978).

Alberto Castro: Los pequeños privilegios (1977).

Judith Gutiérrez: Pafnucio Santo (1976).

Alirio Palacios: Cuando quiero llorar no lloro (1972).

M. Sisi: Nuevo mundo (1976), Divinas palabras (1977).

Sergio Martínez: Xoxontla (1976), El jardín de los cerezos (1977).

Armando Villagrán: El Hombre de los Hongos (1975).

Abel Quezada Rueda: Cuartelazo (1976).


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