Public Spectacles of Violence

Sensational Cinema and Journalism in Early Twentieth-Century Mexico and Brazil

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 45 illustrations Published: June 2017

Author: Rielle Navitski

Latin American Studies > Brazil, Mexico, Media Studies > Film

In Public Spectacles of Violence Rielle Navitski examines the proliferation of cinematic and photographic images of criminality, bodily injury, and technological catastrophe in early twentieth-century Mexico and Brazil, which were among Latin America’s most industrialized nations and later developed two of the region’s largest film industries. Navitski analyzes a wide range of sensational cultural forms, from nonfiction films and serial cinema to illustrated police reportage, serial literature, and fan magazines, demonstrating how media spectacles of violence helped audiences make sense of the political instability, high crime rates, and social inequality that came with modernization. In both nations, sensational cinema and journalism—influenced by imported films—forged a common public sphere that reached across the racial, class, and geographic divides accentuated by economic growth and urbanization. Highlighting the human costs of modernization, these media constructed everyday experience as decidedly modern, in that it was marked by the same social ills facing industrialized countries. The legacy of sensational early twentieth-century visual culture remains felt in Mexico and Brazil today, where public displays of violence by the military, police, and organized crime are hypervisible.


Public Spectacles is an artful and enthralling reflection on the interaction between urban visual culture forms and the violence of modernization. An excellent text to assign to advanced students.” — Jessica Stites Mor, EIAL

Public Spectacles of Violence is an important contribution to the historiography of Mexican and Brazilian cinematography and of Latin American silent cinema in general. A must for researchers and students interested in the early cinema of Brazil and Mexico.” — Pablo Alvira, History

Public Spectacles of Violence is essential for scholars of Latin American cinema. It offers conceptual and methodological tools that students and scholars of cinema, cultural studies, or history might use to approach the eternally resonant topic of violence and its symbolic representation.” — Georgina Torello, Cinema Journal

"[Navitski] has provided new insights into the perception of sensational violence as a mark of modernization, and into the close relationship between journalism and film. This book will be of interest to students and researchers working on early Latin American cinema; the relationship between American and Latin American film; and film and cinema as an expression of Latin American nationalism. For readers outside of film studies who are interested in spectacles of violence, the book presents invaluable research on the roots of the sensational public treatment of violence that we continue to see in Latin American media today." — Corrie Boudreaux, The Latin Americanist

"Public Spectacles of Violence is a compelling, convincing, elegant, and exemplary work of the emerging yet momentous field of Latin American silent cinema studies. It is a great read, a crucial contribution to its sub-specialty and to cinema studies in general, and representative of some of the best new scholarship in the area." — Ernesto R. Acevedo-Muñoz, Studies in 20th & 21st Century Literature

"Perhaps the most popular—and today the most neglected—genre of silent cinema was the sensational serial film portraying violent and often rebellious action. It was also the most international film form. In this highly original work Rielle Navitski shows how the cinema of early twentieth-century Mexico, with its experience of a recent violent revolution, gave the genre a unique twist, helping to shape a major emerging film industry." — Tom Gunning, coauthor of Fantasia of Color in Early Cinema

"Public Spectacles of Violence is exemplary of the ground-shifting work on silent Latin American cinema of young scholars in English-language film scholarship today. Obsessively delving into archives and producing not only unknown 'data,' but thoroughly well-grounded and original hypotheses about early cinemas in Mexico and Brazil and their intermedial relationships with the popular press and popular sensationalism, Rielle Navitski's book will take its place in the canon as the must-be-referenced book in the field. It is a tour de force of scholarly rigor and ingenuity." — Ana M. Lopez, Professor of Communication, Tulane University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rielle Navitski is Assistant Professor of Theatre and Film Studies at the University of Georgia and coeditor of Cosmopolitan Film Cultures in Latin America, 1896–1960.

Table of Contents Back to Top
A Note on Usage  ix
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction 1
Part I. Sensationalizing Violence in Mexico
1. Staging Public Violence in Porfirian and Revolutionary Mexico, 1896–1922  31
2. On Location: Adventure Melodramas in Postrevolutionary Mexico, 1920–1927  85
Part II. Staging Spectacles of Modernity in Brazil
3. Reconstructing Crime in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, 1906–1913  123
4. The Serial Craze in rio de Janeiro, 1915–1924: Reception, Production, Paraliterature  167
5. Regional Modernities: Sensational Cinema Outside Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, 1923–1930  199
Conclusion  247
Notes  259
Bibliography  297
Index  315
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Finalist, Richard Wall Memorial Book Award, presented by the Theatre Library Association

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6975-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6963-9
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