In an understudied cluster of films from the 1920s in Spain that feature the tumultuous lives of female music-hall entertainers, posters, postcards, and magazines not only mirror the shape of windows, doors and thresholds, but also direct the flow of circulating images of women. These portable, paper media immobilize or propel women’s bodies into motion, constituting portals that enable or disrupt fame, security and “happiness.” Rectangular artifacts both don the walls, windows, and cabinets in these films' mise-en-scène, and drive the story, character development, and the production of gender and racial identity. These films show characters interacting with posters, postcards, and magazines in a way that becomes as determining as the gripping plots, enabling women to pivot between stark, atavistic, or impoverished rurality and electrifying urban spaces. In this article, I examine the governing status of paratexts and the female star image in early Spanish film culture by tracing the history of La gitana blanca, a film directed by Ricardo de Baños initially released in 1919 and then reedited and redistributed internationally in 1923. In its opening moments, La gitana blanca offers us a view into how paratexts not only saturated the media ecology of the 1920s but also were “responsible for popular culture’s encounters with countless story worlds.” In the context of Spanish film historiography’s master narratives, in which cultural hierarchies remain tightly enmeshed with gendered and racialized logics, a cross-media perspective proves instrumental in revealing the extent to which film culture mediated the real and fictive lives of women.
Paratexts as Portals: Raquel Meller and La gitana blanca (1919/1923)
Eva Woods Peiró is a Professor of Hispanic Studies at Vassar College. She is the author of White Gypsies: Race and Stardom in Spanish Musicals (Minnesota UP, 2012) and is the coeditor of the collected volume of essays Seeing Spain: Vision and Modernity, 1868–1936 (Berg, 2005; Routledge 2020). She is a coauthor of Cinema and Everyday Life in 1940s and 1950s Spain: An Oral History, to be published in 2024. Her monograph book project on cinema magazines in 1920–30s Spain is contracted with Lexington Books. Her articles on Spanish cinema and culture focus on race, gender, cinema magazines, digital media, surveillance, and migration. She has taught, mentored, and directed Media Studies, Latin American and Latinx Studies, and Women, Feminist, and Queer Studies.
Eva Woods Peiró; Paratexts as Portals: Raquel Meller and La gitana blanca (1919/1923). Feminist Media Histories 1 July 2023; 9 (3): 4–14. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2023.9.3.4
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