Alton's Paradox

Foreign Film Workers and the Emergence of Industrial Cinema in Latin America

By Nicolas Poppe

Subjects: Latin American Studies, Film Studies, History
Series: SUNY series in Latin American Cinema
Hardcover : 9781438485034, 376 pages, September 2021
Paperback : 9781438485041, 376 pages, January 2022

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

1. Alton's Paradox

2. Hollywood, City of Dreams: The First Spanish‑Language Film Industry

3. "The Biggest Revelation of Hispanic Cinema": José Mojica's Transnational Stardom

4. Mexico City Dreams: The Emergence of Latin America's Most Important Film Industry

5. "The Best We Have in This Forsaken Place": Cinematography and Collaboration in Alex Phillips's Films with Arcady Boytler and Fernando de Fuentes

6. "But only one, Juan Orol, is fundamentally different from the rest": Orolian Melodrama and cursilería in the 1930s

7. In the Studios of Buenos Aires: The Rise and Fall of Argentina's Film Industry

8. "The Primary Champion of National Film": Ángel Mentasti and the Invention of Argentina Sono Film

9. "A Man Expert in the Needs of the Set": Tito Davison, an Éminence grise in the Argentine Film Industry of the Late 1930s and Early 1940s

10. Foreign Film Workers and the Emergence of Industrial Sound Film in Latin America


Uses extensive archival research to explore the manifold contributions of foreign film workers to emerging film industries in Latin America from the 1930s to early 1940s.


Alton's Paradox builds upon extensive archival and primary research, but uses a single text as its point of departure—a 1934 article by the Hungarian American cinematographer John Alton in the Hollywood-published International Photographer. Writing from Argentina, Alton paradoxically argues of cine nacional, "The possibilities are enormous, but not until foreign technicians will take the matter in their hands and with foreign organization will there be local industry." Nicolas Poppe argues that Alton succinctly articulates a line of thought commonly held across Latin America during the early sound period but little explored by scholars: that foreign labor was pivotal to the rise of national film industries. In tracking this paradox from Hollywood to Mexico to Argentina and beyond, Poppe reconsiders a series of notions inextricably tied to traditional film historiography, including authorship, (dis)continuation, intermediality, labor, National Cinema, and transnationalism. Wide-angled views of national film industries complement close-up analyses of the work of José Mojica, Alex Phillips, Juan Orol, Ángel Mentasti, and Tito Davison.

Nicolas Poppe is Associate Professor of Luso-Hispanic Studies at Middlebury College and the coeditor (with Rielle Navitski) of Cosmopolitan Film Cultures in Latin America, 1896–1960.


"A book that film scholars, historians of Latin America, and students will find stimulating and innovative, Alton's Paradox is a provocative inquiry into the many meanings and definitions of a 'national film culture,' the essentially transnational character of cinema, and the persisting and everlasting relationship between Latin American cinema and Hollywood." — Hispanic American Historical Review