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Title:Stateless nation building: early Puerto Rican cinema and identity formation (1897-1940)
Author(s):Garcia-Crespo, Naida
Director of Research:Curry, Ramona
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Curry, Ramona
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Basu, Anustup; Basu, Manisha; Goldman, Dara E.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):National Cinemas
Puerto Rican Film Historiography
Silent Film
Post-colonial Film
Transnational Cinema
Film History
Puerto Rican Cinema
Abstract:This dissertation centers on the processes of Puerto Rican national identity formation as seen through the historical development of cinema on the island between 1897 and 1940. Anchored in archival sources in film technology, economy, and education, I argue that Puerto Rico’s position as a stateless nation allows for a fresh understanding of national cinema based on perceptions of productive cultural contributions rather than on citizenship or state structures. As I show, the development and circulation of cinema in Puerto Rico illustrate how the “national” is built from transnational connections. With the aim of elucidating such social-political linkages, the first chapter provides a historical contextualization of the period 1897-1952. I argue that this historical period (the transition from a Spanish Colony to a U.S. commonwealth) was marked by highly pronounced political ambiguity for Puerto Rico’s status as a nation, which encouraged the creation of a collective identity that paradoxically both appropriated and rejected attributes from both colonizers. The second chapter turns to the period of 1897-1908 to argue for a transnational approach to the archives to clarify long-standing historiographic absences about the introduction of film to the island. In this chapter I contend that early traveling film exhibitors as well as productions made in relation to the Spanish-American War helped to mold international and local conceptions of Puerto Ricans as inadequate citizens. The third chapter employs a transnational approach to cinema-related discourses of national belonging, by approaching the early career of filmmaker Rafael Colorado, a Spanish citizen until his death, as a case study of how Puerto Rican cinema history appropriated transnational figures to strengthen national cultural identity. The fourth chapter considers the role of intellectual elites in the production of both popular culture and discourses about its social function. Here I argue that popular conceptions of the role of cinema in the construction and creation of the nation are based on the works of intellectual elites of the 1910s. I focus entirely on one company, Tropical Film (1916-1917), led by writers Luis Lloréns Torres and Nemesio Canales, to show how their conception of cinema as equal parts education, culture, and business has virtually remained unchanged for nearly a century. The fifth chapter looks beyond the Puerto Rican border and argues that U.S. productions made in and explicitly about Puerto Rico have formed an important part of the conception of Puerto Rican identity. In this chapter I contend that American films made the island both visible and invisible by creating a homogenizing stereotype that does not accurately represent Puerto Rico’s diverse history and culture. The sixth and final chapter centers on issues related to the transition to sound, popular appeal and marketability to argue that these concerns force us to rethink traditional intellectual conceptions of nation building through cinema. Here I focus on the careers of filmmaker Juan Viguié Cajas and producer Rafael Ramos Cobián during the 1930s and the local involvements in coproductions with American companies, to argue for the development of alternative approaches to film production in Puerto Rico. Overall, this dissertation presents early Puerto Rican cinema as a case study for how cultural productions can structure and maintain national identity even in the absence of a state. I argue that the constant flow and adoption of outside products and ideas is a defining element of the colonial condition, and colonial formations of the national. That is, I contend that stateless nations often appropriate transnational discourses and subjects as the foundation for national identities.
Issue Date:2015-03-18
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Naida Garcia-Crespo
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-07-22
Date Deposited:May 2015

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