A Tribute to a Mexican Film Legend

Rare showing of Santa, starring Lupita Tovar, followed by Q&A, 12.7.06

By Rare showing of Santa, starring Lupita Tovar, followed by Q&A, 12.7.06
Published on LatinoLA: December 7, 2006

A Tribute to a Mexican Film Legend

The night of Thursday, December 7, the Academy of Motion Pictures Art & Sciences (AMPAS) will present an in-person tribute to Lupita Tovar. The actress will be present for a Q & A session conducted by historian Bob Dickson that will follow with the showcase of a new print of the film Santa (1932), the first sound film produced in Mexico.

Lupita Tovar ‘«Ű daughter of Maria Sullivan and Egidio Tovar - was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, on July 27 of 1910, a year that witnessed the downfall of President Porfirio D?°az and the birth of the revolution.

Her film career began to shape in 1928 when Tovar auditioned for a contest, organized by El Universal Ilustrado newspaper. The judge was none other than filmmaker Robert Flaherty who chose her the winner of a contract with Fox film studios. In November of that same year, Tovar arrived in Hollywood accompanied by her grandmother Lucy Slocum Sullivan.

Following bit parts in three films directed in 1929, The veiled woman, King of the Khyber Rifles and The Cock Eyed World, Tovar joined Universal studios. The transition from silent films to ‘«£talkies‘«ō had started and Hollywood - in an effort to retain foreign audiences- began producing different language film versions of a same film.

It was during this period that Tovar was assigned the starring role of La Voluntad del Muerto (1930), Spanish film version of Universal‘«÷s The Cat Creeps (1930). In December of 1930, Tovar returned to Mexico for the premiere of the film. Images of her arrival illustrate the excitement of the fans and the satisfaction of the young starlet who had met the expectations of her nation. During her stay Tovar had an important meeting with Carlos Noriega Hope and producer Juan de la Cruz Alarc??n. Noriega Hope, editor of El Universal Ilustrado, represented an important group of film critics that scrutinized what they considered the often deplorable results of Hollywood Spanish films, productions that congregated under one film actors from different regions of Latin America and Spain, whose accents proved unnerving for the Mexican audiences. Juan de la Cruz Alarc??n was a successful businessman who had fought in the revolution and who had turned his attention to the distribution and exhibition of films.

Noriega Hope and Alarc??n had come with an offer, the starring role in a film that was to be the first sound film made in Mexico. The film was to be based in Santa, a novel previously adapted to the screen in 1918 by Luis G. Peredo. A meeting was arranged to introduce Tovar to the author, Federico Gamboa, who in turn introduced the actress to Emerenciana, the old lady whose life story had served as the basis for the novel. The event was documented by Noriega Hope in an article: ‘«£I remember her temper [Emerenciana‘«÷s] when accusing Gamboa of portraying her as a bad woman. And Federico, a gentleman at heart, smiled and took some photographs with Emerenciana and Lupita.‘«ō

Tovar returned to Hollywood and the plans of filming Santa were left in the hands of Juan de la Cruz Alarc??n. At first he tried pitching the film to US producers, but none were interested in the project, in consequence Alarc??n amassed the backing of local colleagues and founded the Compa??ia Nacional Productora de Pel?°culas in collaboration with Gustavo Saenz de Sicilia, Felipe Mier, Jack Epstein and Eduardo de la Parra, among others. The film adaptation of Santa was commissioned to Carlos Noriega Hope.

Alarc??n hired talent from Hollywood that included Mexican actors Lupita Tovar and Ernesto Guillen (aka Donald Reed), another actor, Antonio Moreno, a native of Spain with a consolidated career in Hollywood, was assigned the direction of the film and Alex Phillips, a native of Canada, was in charge of the cinematography.

The most crucial element for the making of Santa ‘«Ű the sound film recording ‘«Ű was assigned to two very unlikely characters. During a trip to rent a sound recording system, Alarc??n found his budget unable to meet the pricy demands of the Hollywood companies and was preparing to depart when he was met at Burbank airport by two young Mexican brothers. Joselito and Roberto Rodr?°guez explained to Alarc??n the capabilities of their invention, the Rodriguez Bros. Sound Recording system. Skeptical, Alarc??n promised a future meeting to test the equipment. The brothers explained that their system was lightweight and that their conversation had been recorded all throughout. The sound test was shipped to Mexico and the brothers got the job.

The film depicts the story of Santa (Lupita Tovar) a naive girl who is seduced and then abandoned by a soldier (Ernesto Guillen). The misstep lands her out of her house and into a brothel where Santa is met by the character of Hipolito (Carlos Orellana), a blind pianist who expresses his love through the performance of the film‘«÷s theme song composed by Agustin Lara.

‘«£In the eternal night of my despair. You‘«÷ve been the star that brightens up my sky
And I‘«÷ve imagined your rare beauty which has illuminated my darkness.

En la eterna noche de mi desconsuelo tu has sido la estrella que alumbra mi cielo.
Y yo he adivinado tu rara hermosura que ha iluminado toda mi negrura.‘«ō

Santa premiered in Los Angeles at the California Theater, on May 20th of 1932. The event gathered the likes of Jose Mojica, Luana Alca??iz, Mona Maris, Ernesto Vilches, Jose Crespo, Mimi Aguglia, Ramon Pereda, Adriana Lamar, Barry Norton, Conchita Ballesteros, actors who had come the world over to join the Hollywood ‘«£Hispanic‘«ō film productions, and who had witnessed in Santa the promise of an emerging Spanish language film industry.

The tribute will conclude with after-hours access to ‘«£Made in Mexico: The legacy of Mexican cinema‘«ō, an exhibition produced by the Academy - in collaboration with the Cervantes Center of Arts & Letters- that features awards, photographs and wardrobe from Tovar‘«÷s private collection

$5 / Free parking

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