Saturday, March 7, 2020 at 3pm
Enrique Rosas's El automóvil gris

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

El automóvil gris, Enrique Rosas, 1919, digital projection, 224 mins

A landmark of early Mexican cinema, Enrique Rosas’s El automóvil gris follows the notorious true-life story of the Gray Automobile Gang, a band of criminals who robbed and terrorized wealthy residents of Mexico City amid the chaos of the Revolution, gaining access to their homes by posing as soldiers with search warrants, then driving away with their jewels and cash in a gray Fiat. Rosas, who began his career as a newsreel cinematographer, based the screenplay on contemporary newspaper accounts and police casebooks, and shot many events in their actual locations. Professionals performed alongside non-actors throughout—the police chief in charge of the investigation, for instance, played himself—and in the final chapter Rosas inserted his own 1915 footage of the real gang’s execution by firing squad.

Beyond its remarkable mingling of fact and fiction, El automóvil gris is also renowned for its formal innovations, which advanced the development of Mexican narrative filmmaking and anticipated the Cine de Ora era that would begin in the 1930s. As historian Charles Ramírez Berg notes, Rosas’s epic is articulated in a distinctive visual style, bringing the nascent strategies of Hollywood with a range of other influences: “penny press illustrations, early documentary reportage, the melodramatic strain of Italian cinema, the vitality of Feuillade’s French crime serials.”

El automóvil gris was first released as a twelve-episode cycle, and remained popular into the sound era; Rosas’s heirs even recut the film into feature-length versions in the 1930s, adding spoken dialog and sound effects. While these abridgments helped make Rosas’s work one of the most widely-seen Mexican films of all time, the process effectively destroyed El automóvil gris’s initial design. In 2018, after years of tracking down lost elements and reconstructing the montage, Mexico’s Cineteca Nacional completed an ambitious digital restoration of the 1919 original. This afternoon at Light Industry will be its New York debut.

Digital restoration courtesy of the Cineteca Nacional. Special thanks to Alfonso Rosas Priego and Lourdes Rosas Priego.

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 2:30pm.