29 July 2010

María Félix

A couple of follow up comments regarding that entry of 24 July on the International Film Festival are in order. When I reread that, there was a whiff about it that diminished Pedro Armendáriz, Jr. Actually, he is the real deal. If you are unfamiliar with his work, I think the film you ought to start with is Herod's Law. If you are a Gael García Bernal fan, then take a look at The Crime of Father Amaro (2002). Pedro's part in that as the Mayor is not big, but it does show his skill as a character actor.

Regarding that same entry, a couple of kind folks have tactfully and privately pointed out that María Félix adamantly refused to learn English. Perhaps you have never heard of her before. Without English she did not appear in Hollywood films. For this reason, she is not in the same category as Pedro Armendáriz, Dolores del Rio, and Cantinflas.

This may have occurred to you, too, if you had heard of her. To which I can only reply with the suggestion that you hop on an airplane, fly down here, and help me explain that distinction to La Mexicana. Her position is that if you are making any list of Mexican film stars for any purpose, María Félix must be on it.

She had what strikes me as a kind of Ava Gardner-like, changeable beauty but always with a smoldering sexuality about it. "Smoldering sexuality" is a cliché that has lost some of its descriptive usefulness through overuse. So that we know what we are talking about here, let me add that María Félix set men on fire. The reports are consistent. Men who had the opportunity to meet her in the flesh were cooked. You could have stuck a fork in them afterward.

María Félix is not just the most famous Mexican film actress still, she is the most famous Mexican film star. Period. Regardless of gender. Interestingly enough, Ms. Félix did teach herself French in order to appear in French films. I am not sure what that means, but it certainly seems to be a statement of some sort.

The real reason for all this is to provide some explanatory background to the remark about her at the end of that entry concerning the International Film Festival. María Félix did openly put up some serious numbers in terms of men in her life. She famously said,

I cannot complain about men. I have had tons of them and they have treated me fabulously well. But sometimes I had to hurt them to keep them from subjugating me.

The period we are talking about here is primarily in the forties and fifties. In this country where women have traditionally been subjugated, at least a couple of generations of women lived vicariously through María Félix, La Doña.

Now, this is not an uncommon phenomenon with celebrities and their fans generally of course. What is unusual about this case is the penetration of the phenomenon across the spectrum of Mexican society. This is what people are talking about when they say that she is the most famous of all, I think.

Of course newspaper readers followed her reported exploits avidly, but newspapers did not print everything about the involvement of government figures and their pals primarily because the mainstream press was on the government payroll albeit off the books. However, other news of her traveled by word of mouth even into remote villages where women led a stark existence and could not read. The Mexican people have always kept track of the high and the mighty through word of mouth, and in that era what they heard was in most cases probably more accurate than what was printed.

Even illiterate women of all ages living in poverty would discuss María Félix—what she should probably do about her latest man, whether her current man was mistreating her, what those women would do if they were in her shoes, and on and on—while they were bent over a mortar and pestle grinding corn meal. That is not overstating the case by much.

So in the course of these conversations among the women of Roman Catholic Mexico, the question quite naturally came up as to whether María Félix was really a whore. The overwhelming consensus among these women, as nearly as I can tell, was always, “Not really.” She was loved by the women of Mexico and therefore given the benefit of the doubt.

She was loved by the men of Mexico, too, and the rich ones could act on this.

María Félix became notoriously wealthy herself in great part courtesy of wealthy, powerful men. She is in the history books of Mexico, not just the cultural history books, because of her liaisons with the powerful and the wealthy including at least one President. A big chunk--we are talking a large number of pesos here--of the Mexican national treasury at the time was spent on María Félix by many of these men.

La Mexicana's purely rhetorical question probably summarizes the attitude of Mexican women generally regarding the money, "What was she supposed to do? Turn that down?"

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