My research is focused on Latin American/Latino film and media and is transnational in scope. Since my early publications on the New Latin American Cinema movement (a political pan-continental film movement that defied easy categorizations), I have sought to maximize my position as an outsider (that is, as a scholar of Latin America who lives and thinks outside of the region). This has allowed me to explore transcontinental movements and connections that are not readily visible or available to those within Latin America, where film scholarship has tended to be circumscribed by national concerns. Thus, my work extends beyond the specific scope of one country or period of specialization.
My early essays and edited collections that include books and special issues of journals set out new agendas for the field of English-language Latin American film scholarship. As one of a handful of Latin American film scholars in the late 1980s and early 90s trained in film studies, I inserted the Latin American into the mainstream of the field, engaging with pertinent theoretical debates, and challenging many of the standard interpretations and periodizations, while simultaneously acknowledging and debating with Spanish-language Latin American film scholarship. Thus, after working on the New Latin American Cinema, for example, I moved to explore questions of gender and filmic representation in the classical cinema period (1930s-50s), especially in the melodrama, and later in the telenovela, as well as questions of historicity and historiography. My essay “Tears and Desire: Women and Melodrama in the ‘Old’ Mexican Cinema,” initiated the recuperation and serious analysis of the maligned “classical” Latin American cinema and its melodramatic excesses as well as the intervention of feminist film theory into the debates. Similarly, “Setting up the Stage: A Decade of Latin American Film Scholarship” was the first assessment of English language scholarship on Latin American film. Subsequently, I have explored Latin American/transnational stardom (Dolores del Rio), documentary filmmaking, transnational cinematic practices, exilic and Latino cinema, and spatiality and musicality in pieces that have appeared in journals and edited collections. Several of these have been reprinted. A particular important publication was “Early Cinema and Modernity in Latin America,” (Cinema Journal, awarded an honorable mention for the Kovacs essay award in 2001), the first sustained analysis of early Latin American cinema to be published in English and the first to address early cinema as a continental rather than a national phenomenon in any language.
My work has been translated and has circulated in Latin America and Europe, but the publication of a collection of my translated essays, Hollywood, Nuestra América y los Latinos, by Ediciones Unión (Havana, Cuba) and was officially presented in June 2012 at the UNEAC (Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas Cubanos) at a formal event presided by noted film and cultural critic Reynaldo González.
Most recently I collaborated with Marvin D’Lugo and Laura Podalsky to produce the massive Routledge Companion to Latin American Cinema. This was a multi-year undertaking with more than 30 authors that tried to present a snapshot, an x-ray, of the most salient issues in contemporary Latin American Cinema studies. We corralled an array of international contributors that lent the volume enormous depth and significance.
As editor of Spanish and Latin American Cinema Studies (Intellect journal) since 2015, I also feel that I am playing a significant role in establishing and constantly reformulating the canon of Latin American (and Spanish) film studies.
I currently have a couple of new scholarly projects in various stages of development. All have roots in previous work but point in new directions.
1. The Radiophonic Imaginary in Latin American Transitional Cinema and Intermedial Relations
That radio and early sound cinema throughout the world were inextricably intertwined industrially has been amply documented. Yet, beyond some recent efforts to situate the predominance of musical performance in sound cinema in Latin America as a vehicle for nostalgic aural identification associated with the schisms of modernity and urbanization, little attention has been devoted to how radiophonic practices impacted the narrative practices of early sound cinema. My research explores the diegetic presence and imprint of “radio”—as a presentational and performative practice—on early sound cinema in Latin America. It also explores the narrative work of radio as a diegetic element in early sound cinema (primarily in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil). The radiophonic—either as physical presence, as narrative device, or as invoked in representational practices—served to develop new forms of narrative continuity for the emerging sound cinemas of the continent. Synergistically, radio and the early sound cinema, developed a transmedial narrative platform that hinged on affect (sentimentality, banality and melodrama) and performance as its key registers.
I have already presented work on this area at a number of national and international meetings and have published bits and pieces of the research in collections. I am working on both a synthetic piece for a journal article and a book length project.
2. Historiography and Screen Cultures in Cuba
In collaboration with the Cuban Cinematheque, Cuban film scholar Juan Antonio García Borrero, and Belgian film scholars DÃ¤niel Biltereyst (University of Ghent) and Philippe Meers (University of Antwerp), I am doing the groundwork to set up the mechanisms to replicate in Havana and Santiago, Cuba a historiographic, cartographic and oral history project carried out by the Belgian researchers in Flanders, and replicated by Texas A&M researchers in Monterrey, Mexico. The project entails gathering and mapping empirical data about the location of movie theaters in Havana and the socio-demographics of different neighborhoods (data that already exists), gathering exhibition data for as many theaters as possible (some of which already exists), and documenting the cinematic experiences of audiences through in depth interviewing/oral histories.