Pulling focus : new perspectives on the work of Gabriel Figueroa
This thesis examines the work of Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa (1907-1997) and suggests new critical perspectives on his films and the contexts within which they were made. Despite intense debate over a number of years, auteurist notions in film studies persist and critical attention continues to centre on the director as the sole giver of meaning to a film. Consequently, scholars and critics have overlooked the cinematographer's contribution. The small amount of work that exists on Figueroa, in keeping with studies on other cinematographers, is biographical and anecdotal, concentrating on his personal life rather than his contribution to Mexican cinema. Therefore, this thesis proposes a critical evaluation of Figueroa's cinematography and advocates new analytical paradigms to examine his work. The study constructs its arguments from close visual analysis of Figueroa’s films, his unpublished autobiographical writings, letters and related documents within the theoretical and critical contexts of film and Mexican cultural studies. From an overview of how scholars have neglected cinematography in the past, the thesis deconstructs widespread assumptions that relate Figueroa to notions of the national and focuses attention on the inherent transnational economic, political and ideological relationships that informed his images. Through close analysis of eight films I will examine how Figueroa expressed such transnational contexts in relation to: sound in the nascent Mexican industry, race and class in the rural space, urban modernity and the role of the mother and Figueroa's visual critique of the Mexican bourgeoisie. To pull focus shifts attention from one object in the frame to another. This study shifts critical focus onto Figueroa's contribution to the Mexican and international film industries. In so doing, it offers new analytical standpoints from which to evaluate not only Figueroa as a giver of meaning within Mexican cinema, but to also suggest alternative critical positions from which to view cinematography and its complex ties to, and expression of, a film’s political, economic and ideological contexts.