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In early twentieth-century Mexico, photographic and filmic images of crime, punishment, and military conflict both asserted state power and demonstrated its crisis. As the illustrated press expanded in the late nineteenth century, photographs of assaults, murders, and executions fueled anxieties about criminality while making visible expanded methods of social control under the regime of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1910). When widespread unrest exploded into revolution in 1910, illustrated journalism and nonfiction compilation films worked to capture and ideologically manage violent acts of sabotage, combat, and murder. As nonfiction filmmaking declined after 1916, screen adaptations of real-life cases played a key role in attempts to establish profitable film production in Mexico City. The true-crime serial El automóvil gris (Enrique Rosas, 1919) and similar films repackaged public violence as popular entertainment, drawing on a cosmopolitan imaginary of crime shaped by imported film and literature to frame criminality as a sign of Mexico City’s modernity.

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