by Robert Stam and Randal Johnson
Cut, no. 21, Nov. 1979, pp. 13-18
Brazilian Cinema, we are convinced, is one of the most culturally vital, formally innovative, and politically progressive cinemas in the world today. While Cinema Novo's original practitioners — Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Rui Guerra, Carlos Diegues, Joaquin Pedro de Andrade, and Leon Hirszman — remain active, even prolific, they now form but a small part of a burgeoning national cinema. Arnaldo Jabor, whose TUDO BEM (ALL'S WELL, 1978) won first prize at the Brasilia Film Festival last July, counts at least twenty filmmakers of indisputable talent. The golden age of Brazilian Cinema, he predicts, will arrive in the eighties, when these talents flower and Brazil completes the task, now well under way, of wresting its own market from foreign domination.
We are aware, at the same time, that relatively few North Americans have seen Brazilian films, and therefore lack the grounding to either share or reject our enthusiasm. The lack of awareness in the United States concerning Brazilian Cinema and Brazilian culture derives, we feel, from a solid and documentable reality — cultural neo-colonialism. The existing global distribution of economic and political power makes the First World nations of the capitalist West "transmitters" while it reduces the Third World nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America to receivers. Thus while Brazilians are inundated with North American cultural products — from Kojak to STAR WARS to Portnoy's Complaint — Americans receive precious little of the vast Brazilian cultural production. While Brazil throbs and twitches to forced injections of disco music, Americans know only those Brazilian musicians who happen to wind up in the United States — Astrud Gilberto, Deodato, Sergio Mendes, Flora Purim — while remaining unaware of music which is more typically, and perhaps more authentically, Brazilian. While Brazilians read daily of political developments in the United States, the Worth U.S. press limits its coverage of Latin America to coup d'etats, earthquakes and presidential visits. While Hollywood dumps its waste products on Brazil, the Brazilian film industry, although the third largest producer of feature films in the "West," has difficulty getting its best products even seen on its own multinational-dominated TV screens, not to mention non-Brazilian screens. Given this one-way flow of sounds, images and information, many Americans conclude, not irrationally, that those cultures of which no one speaks must be without interest. It is precisely this lack of cultural reciprocity, this unidirectional flow of images and sounds, that this Special Section seeks to counteract.
U.S. unawareness of Brazil is especially unfortunate in that Brazil is perhaps the country which most strikingly resembles the United States in its historical formation. Both countries began as colonies of European states-Great Britain and Portugal. In both countries there ensued a conquest of vast territories which involved the genocidal subjugation of the Amerindian peoples. Both countries massively imported slaves from Africa, and both abolished the institution of slavery in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Both Brazil and the United States received waves of immigration from all over the world, ultimately forming pluri-ethnic societies with substantial Indian, Black, Japanese, German, Italian, Slavic and Jewish communities.
Brazilian cultural history is marked by the same struggle for independence from Europe that characterizes the U.S. experience. Emerson's "American Scholar" address, which Oliver Wendell Holmes called "our intellectual Declaration of Independence," came a year after a similar declaration by the Brazilian poet Gonçalves de Magalhães. In both countries one encounters the same struggle between what Marcus Cunliffe calls "palefaces" (Europe-oriented artists) and "redskins" (aggressively native writers). The crucial difference between the U.S. and Brazilian historical experience derives from the fact that in the United States formal political independence led to real economic independence, while in Brazil formal independence from Portugal led only to British free-trade domination in the nineteenth century and U.S. multinational imperialism in the twentieth, alternatively taking either the form of Big Stick and Monroe Doctrine imperialism a la Teddy Roosevelt and LBJ, or the Good Neighbor Policy of FDR, the Alliance for Progress of JFK, and the imperialism-with-a-human-face policies of Jimmy Carter.
Brazil has always been economically vulnerable, exploited, subject to periodic booms — sugar, gold, cacao, rubber, coffee — which have thoroughly enriched foreigners and temporarily enriched the Brazilian bourgeoisie, but which have left little but misery for the Brazilian people. The U.S.-supported coup d'etat in 1964 merely strengthened tendencies toward foreign economic domination. The dictatorship, in Eduardo Galeano's words, "hawked the country to foreign capitalists as a pimp offers a woman," offering generous concessions to multinational companies, with virtually no limits on the repatriation of foreign capital. (1) For people who were not foreign capitalists or their Brazilian accomplices, the dictatorship brought the following: terror against unions, terror against peasants, a sharp decline in real wages, censorship, the suspension of habeas corpus, the policing of universities and the servilization of Congress. Most of the films of which we speak were made under this regime, a regime currently under intense popular pressure to dismantle its repressive apparatus.
What are the consequences of cultural colonialism for Brazilian cinema?
The first consequence is that U.S. films are seen daily throughout Brazil — both on television and in movie theaters — while Brazilian films are rarely seen in the United States. Nelson Pereira dos Santos estimates that for every 1,200 U.S. films shown on Brazilian TV, only 20 Brazilian films are shown. The disproportion does not derive, as one might naively assume, from a lack of quality Brazilian films — national films could supply all the channels for years on end. It is rather a question of raw economic power. It is more profitable for Brazilian TV programmers to show U.S. films, in which Telly Savalas, Farrah-Fawcett Majors and Burt Reynolds speak fluent dubbed Portuguese, than to screen the corresponding Brazilian product. U.S. films, having already covered their costs on the domestic market, are profitably "dumped" on Brazil at very low prices. Foreign films, as a result, literally wipe Brazilian films off the TV screen. By way of illustration, Brazil recently caught a serious case of Saturday Night Fever, to the extent that the supple Brazilian language sprouted neologistic verbs and nouns from the root "Travolta" — travoltar (to travolt), travoltice (travoltage) — to delineate the symptoms of the disease. The problem is not that Brazilians see SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. The problem is that the success of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, promoted by an international apparatus and artificially stimulated by constant media airplay of Bee Gee songs, literally kept the highly-praised Brazilian film DORAMUNDO (dir. Joao Batista de Andrade, 1977), promised at the same chain of theaters, off the screen.
The corollary consequence — that Brazilian films are rarely seen in the U.S. — has equally lamentable results. Americans, for one thing, are deprived of some very exciting films. When Brazilian films are seen, it is generally only in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. When screened in film festivals, they are often enthusiastically applauded by the audiences — as was Nelson Pereira dos Santos' TENDA DOS MILAGRES (TENT OF MIRACLES, 1977) in the 1977 New York Film Festival — only to be panned the next day in ho-hum reviews by uncomprehending critics. Like many Third World films, they are subjected to the haughty ethnocentricity, to the "tendentious ignorance," in Tomás Gutiérrez Alea's apt phrase, of First World critics with neocolonialist attitudes. Rather than plead an all-too-transparent incompetence, these critics — Andrew Sarris, Janet Maslin, Stanley Eichelbaum among others — confronted with films they are not politically or culturally prepared to understand, retreat into postures of defensive arrogance. Their implicit logic would seem to go as follows: the Third World is culturally destitute; this film is from the Third World; therefore this film — whether I understand it or not — must be culturally destitute as well, to be put down as "boring," "inept," and "pretentious." These critics, unaware of the cultural context or cinematic heritage of Third World Cinema, practice a pretended universalism — eloquently denounced for its racist character in Sartre's preface to Fanon's Wretched of the Earth — which reduces to the idea that Euro-Americans are the center of the universe, and that what is patronizingly referred to as "the rest of the world" is peripheral and of lesser importance.
We of the First World left, for our part, occasionally fall into unconscious cultural colonialism as well. At times we set up an abstract model and demand that every Third World film, regardless of the political, economic or cultural conditions from which it issues, conform to it. We set up a model film, for example THE HOUR OF THE FURNACES, and ask that every film display that work's particular brand of documentary militancy. Speaking from the amniotic comfort of the bourgeois-liberal belly of the imperial beast, we should be modest when we give advice to Third World leftists, be they revolutionaries or filmmakers. While we are aware of the opposite danger of taking a romantic, the-colonized-is-always-right attitude, we believe that it is a form of left colonialism to ask that every Third World film be revolutionary in the way that First World leftists understand the term, or to make unreal formal demands; to ask, for example, that every political film be anti-narrative or self-reflexive. Latin American cinema, Carlos Diegues suggests, "sill has a lot of stories to tell."(2) Films like TENT OF MIRACLES and MACUNÁIMA (1969) and novels like One Hundred Years of Solitude suggest that from Latin America might come the rehabilitation and de-alienation of the ancient storyteller's art. Latin American filmmakers, while not about to be colonized by Variety, can also not make films to
Every cinematic tradition has its own intertextuality. Every film is part of a text larger than itself; each film answers and echoes the films that have preceded it. One of the major victories of Brazilian Cinema in the last decade is that it has created a national intertextuality. Brazilian films can no longer be seen as partial reflections of European movements, as earlier phases of Cinema Novo might be seen as tropical echoes of Italian Neo-Realism or the French New Wave. Asked about the influences on his recent films, Nelson Pereira dos Santos cites only Brazilians. The artistic current, furthermore, can also reverse directions. The New German Cinema, both in its esthetics and in its production methods, is immensely indebted to Cinema Novo. Asked in Berkeley about the directors he admired, Werner Herzog cited three directors, all Brazilians — Glauber Rocha, Rui Guerra, and Joaquin Pedro de Andrade. The subtitle of his KASPAR HAUSER — Every Man for Himself and God Against All — is taken, not surprisingly, from Andrade's MACUNÁIMA.
THE LONG TRADITION OF BRAZILIAN CINEMA
To appreciate current Brazilian films, it is important to know the tradition from which they spring. Since Brazilian cinema became internationally famous through Cinema Novo, it is especially important to know that much came before Cinema Novo, and that much has happened since Cinema Novo.
Brazilian cinema did not begin with O PAGADOR DE PROMESSAS (THE GIVEN WORD*, 1962), the film that won First Prize at Cannes, nor with BLACK ORPHEUS (1968) — that film is French — nor with O CANGACEIRO* (1953), double prize-winner at Cannes and shown in over 80 countries, nor with the films of Carmen Miranda in the thirties. Cinema reached Brazil within six months after Lumière revealed his cinématographe in Paris in late 1895. The first screening of what was called the "omnigraph" was held in Rio de Janeiro on July 8, 1896. Italo-Brazilian Affonso Segreto introduced the first filmmaking equipment in 1898. During the next few years, he filmed public ceremonies, festivals, Presidential outings, and other local scenes and events. Although initially greeted with fascinated amazement, cinematic spectacle did not become a widespread and stable form of entertainment until several years later. The delay, as Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes points out, was partially due to underdevelopment in electricity, even in the national capital. When energy was industrialized in Rio de Janeiro in 1901, exhibition halls "proliferated like mushrooms." (3) Brazilian exhibitors resolved to make their own films on national topics to supply these halls.
From 1900 to 1912, Brazilian films dominated the international market, reaching an annual production of over one hundred films a year. Segreto himself strengthened such domination by producing, toward the middle of the decade, filmic re-creations of much-talked-about crimes, rather like our own THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY. The first widely popular Brazilian film was Antônio Leal's 1908 reconstruction of just such a criminal incident, entitled OS ESTRANGULADORES (THE STRANGLERS). The same year, Leal made another crime film — A MALA SINISTRA (THE SINISTER SUITCASE) — about a murderer who dispatched the corpse of his victim to Europe in a suitcase. Throughout the decade Brazilian filmmakers, under a vertically integrated system of production, distribution, and exhibition, produced a wide variety of genres: sung films (performed by singers from behind the screen, much as in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN), drawing both on the Brazilian and the international repertoire (THE MERRY WIDOW); satirical reviews like Patrocínio Filho's PAZ E AMOR (PEACE AND LOVE); novelistic adaptations like O GUARANI and A CABANA DE PAI TOMÁS (UNCLE TOM'S CABIN); carnival films like O CORDÃO (CARNIVAL MERRYMAKERS) and PELA VÍTORIA DOS CLUBES CARNAVALSCOS (FOR THE VICTORY OF THE CARNIVAL CLUBS); and historical dramas like ÍNES DE CASTRO and A REPÚBLICA PORTUGUESA (THE PORTUGUESE REPUBLIC). Filmmaking activity was so intense during this period that Vincente Paula de Araújo, one of the major researchers of early national cinema, calls it the Bela Época, or Golden Age, of Brazilian Cinema.
In 1911 a group of North American businessmen, received with open arms by Rio de Janeiro dignitaries, went to investigate the exploitability of the Brazilian market. By that time North American cinema had organized itself as an international industry, and the takeover of the Brazilian market was achieved easily. No one, it seems, had thought of rendering the importation of foreign films difficult in order to protect the budding national industry. The Bela Época ended as Brazilian films were forced off the screens by North American and European products. The foreign film became the standard by which all films were to be judged, thus making the exhibition of the more artisan-style Brazilian product problematic. Since local distributors lacked the infrastructural organization possessed by foreign distributors, the internal market began to function for the benefit of the industrial products from abroad. From that point on, when forced to choose between the guaranteed profit of inexpensive foreign films and the risks involved in dealing with the national product, exhibitors tended to opt for the foreign film. The Brazilian market became a tropical appendage of the North American market, and Brazilian cinema was reduced to the production of newsreels.
There were, of course, individual filmmakers who made films in the face of U.S. domination. In Rio de Janeiro, Luis de Barros — perhaps the world's oldest active filmmaker, still making films at the age of eighty-five — anticipated the Cinema Novo penchant for creatively incorporating works of Brazilian literature by adapting a series of Romantic novels: A VIUVINHA (THE LITTLE WIDOW, 1914), IRACEMA (1917), and UBIRAJARA (1919), all based on works by José de Alencar. In the Italian working-class districts of São Paulo, meanwhile, Gilberto Rossi and other immigrants were creating an embryonic infrastructure for the production of features by making newsreels, documentaries, and commercial and political propaganda films. After thus training filmmakers and technicians, Rossi and his partners began making fiction films of great quality and vitality, with masterpieces like José Medina's EXEMPLO REGENERADOR (REDEEMING EXAMPLE, 1919) and FRAGMENTOS DA VIDA (FRAGMENTS OF LIFE, 1929), based on the O'Henry short story, Soap." But largely blocked in its industrial development, stifled by foreign commercial and cultural domination, Brazilian cinema in the twenties evolved primarily in regional cycles, often far removed from the busy urban capitals. Film cycles developed in Rio Grande do Sul (in the extreme South), Recife (northeast), Manaus (on the Amazon), Cataguases (Minas Gerais) and Campinas (interior of the State of Sâo Paulo).
The Brazilian films of the twenties and early thirties betrayed a wide range of foreign influences. Eugênio Centenaro, an Italo-Brazilian, renamed himself E.C. Kerrigan and made ersatz westerns whose characters bore names like Bill and Tom. Adalberto Kemeny and Rodolfo Lustig made SÂO PAULO: SINFONIA DE UMA METRÓPOLE (SÃO PAULO: SYMPHONY OF A METROPOLIS, 1929), in the genre of European city-symphony films like BERLIN: SYMPHONY OF A GREAT CITY and RIEN QUE LES HEURES. Mário Peixoto's LIMITE (LIMIT, 1930), which Eisenstein reportedly called a "work of genius," mimicked the French avant-garde. Often the influence took the form of parody, a genre which reconciled the simultaneous love and hostility that Brazilians felt toward foreign films. Luis de Barros parodied Roman Navarros THE PAGAN (in Portuguese, O PAGÃO, 1979) in O BABÃO (THE IDIOT, 1930). Through parody, Brazilian filmmakers could make fun of foreign films, laugh at their own incapacity to imitate their production values, and indirectly exploit the success of these same films. (4)
The most important filmmaker to emerge in the twenties was undoubtedly Humberto Mauro. French film historian Georges Sadoul calls Mauro "a great cinéaste," a "pioneer of Latin American film art," who will one day "impose himself internationally as a master of cinema." (5) Glauber Rocha cites Mauro as the most important precursor of Cinema Novo, while underground filmmaker Rogério Sganzerla finds in his "inexpensive, direct, and lucid' films an antecedent for the low-budget avant-garde films of the late sixties. (6) Although influenced by foreign films, Mauro was felicitously unsuccessful in his attempts at imitation, due to what Salles Gomes calls the Brazilian "creative incapacity for copying." His first film, VALADIÃO O CRATERA (1925), already synthesizes the influences of Griffith, Vidor and Henry King. NA PRIMAVERA OA VIDA (IN THE SPRING OF LIFE, 1926) shows traces of American avant-garde films from the teens and twenties. GANGA BRUTA (BRUTAL GANG, 1933), which so impressed the future Cinema Novo directors who saw it at a 1961 Retrospective, creatively melds a number of cinematic styles — expressionism, documentary, Soviet montage — in a story about a man who kills his bride on the honeymoon and then attempts to rebuild his life. (7)
A wave of optimism swept Brazilian film circles with the advent of sound. Foreign cinema, no longer understood by Brazilian audiences, would simply self-destruct. Impelled by such naive optimism, producer-director Adhemar Gonzaga founded the Cinédia Studios and invited Mauro to direct its first production, LÁBIOS SEM BEIJOS. (LIPS WITHOUT KISSES, 1930). It was a North American, ironically, Wallace Downey, who made the first great commercially successful sound film, COISAS NOSSAS (OUR THINGS, 1931). The thirties also witnessed the birth of a very Brazilian genre: the chanchada. Partially modeled on U.S. musicals (and particularly on the "radio broadcast musicals) of the same period, but with roots as well in the Brazilian comic theater and in the "sung films about carnival, the chanchada typically features musical and dance numbers woven around a backstage plot. The chanchada as such begins with sound and especially with Adhemar Gonzaga's ALÔ, ALÔ BRASIL (1935) and ALÔ, ALÔ CARNIVAL (1936), both of which featured Carmen Miranda, already quite popular from radio performances and records. Shortly thereafter, Carmen Miranda went to Hollywood, where her energy was exploited by the Fox machine. "Once again," Brazilian historian Carlos Roberto de Sousa wryly remarks, "we furnish raw material for the North American industry."(8) Hundreds of chanchadas dominated Brazilian film production throughout the forties and fifties. Although they fostered an idealized and inconsequential image of Brazil and Brazilians, crystallized in a Rio de Janeiro of perpetual playfulness, the chanchadas had the virtue of establishing an authentic cultural link between Brazilians and their cinema. With the growing popularity of TV in the late fifties, the chanchadas lost their broad popular appeal, although there are traces of the genre in Andrade's MACUNAÍMA (1969) and Diegues' QUANDO O CARNIVAL CHEGAR (WHEN CARNIVAL COMES, 1971), not to mention chanchada's debased offspring, the pornochanchada.
Women have made an extremely important contribution to Brazilian cinema, not only as actresses but also as directors and producers. Carmen Santos, who began as an actress in URUTAU (1919), was already in the twenties producing her own films. In the early thirties she founded her own studio — Brasil Vita Filme — under the technical direction of Humberto Mauro. In 1948, she produced, scripted, and directed INCONFIDÊNCIA MINEIRA (CONSPIRACY IN MINAS), in which she was also the principal actress. During the same period, Gilda de Abreu contributed her astonishingly diverse talents — songwriter, popular and operatic singer, actress, scriptwriter, director and producer. In 1946 she scripted, directed and co-produced O ÉBRIO (THE DRUNKARD), an immensely popular melodrama of which five hundred copies — a Brazilian record — were made.
In the late 1940's, a group linked to São Paulo's industrial bourgeoisie, inspired by the commercial success of the chanchada, but scorning what they saw as that genre's vulgarity, founded the Vera Cruz film company, modeled on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios at a time when the studio system in Hollywood itself was beginning to decline. Brazilian-born Alberto Cavalcânti came from Europe to direct the organization, but left before it went bankrupt in 1954. Vera Cruz produced seventeen feature films, the most famous of which was Lima Barreto's O CANGACEIRO (1953), double-prize winner at Cannes and a worldwide success. Although Vera Cruz improved the technical level of Brazilian cinema, it made many serious errors. Too ambitious, it aimed at conquering the world market before consolidating the Brazilian market. It naively left distribution, furthermore, in the hands of Columbia Pictures, an organization more interested in promoting its own films than in fostering a vital Brazilian industry. Most important, Vera Cruz was flawed in its very conception, an attempt to create First World cinema in a Third World Country. A tropical Hollywood, it set up an expensive and luxurious system with contract stars and directors, but without the economic infrastructure on which to base such a system. Finally, in its attempt to create a classy cinema with glossy production values, it completely ignored the tastes and interests of the Brazilian people. These class values would be swept away by Cinema Novo.
Cinema Novo (and similar movements in theater and popular music) grew out of a process of cultural renovation which began as early as 1955, coinciding with the election of Juscelino Kubitschek as President of Brazil. The period of his presidency was somewhat atypical in terms of the general tendencies of Brazilian political life since the Revolution of 1930 when Getúlio Vargas took power; atypical, especially, in its relative stability. Kubitschek was the only civilian President in the 1930-1964 period to remain in office, legally, through his designated term. His administration, characterized by economic expansion and industrialization, was stable for several reasons, but primarily because he managed to unite the Brazilian people behind a common ideology: developmentalism.
Developmentalism must be seen in the context of the longer political tradition of Brazilian populism. This tradition goes back at least as far as Getúlio Vargas, who became president in 1930, who decreed the corporatist New State in 1937, and who was deposed by the military in 1945, only to be elected president in 1950, finally governing until his suicide in 1954. Populism employed a quasi-socialist language but in fact constituted, in Hélio Jaguaribe's words, a kind of capitalism which had a certain ability to incorporate the masses and redistribute income. (9) A powerful catalyst for popular mobilization, populism was also an effective way of controlling and defusing social and political conflict. It generated popular support by promising a more just distribution of the benefits of development. But since these benefits were not in fact distributed equally, populism had to rely on demagoguery and simplistic slogans. The Kubitschek government, for example, fanned nationalist sentiment, but based its economic policy on foreign investment.
The Kubitschek administration's open-handed generosity to foreign investors increasingly alienated the left, and the end of Kubitschek's presidency was marked by vocal opposition from many sectors. By 1959, virtually all governmental crises revolved around economic questions such as inflation — one result of developmentalist policies — and the role of foreign capital in the nation's economy. The middle class became increasingly politicized, and power became consolidated in the hands of the industrial bourgeoisie. In the Northeast, Peasant Leagues led by Francisco Julião pressed for agrarian reform.
We are dealing, then, with a period of apparent economic expansion based on foreign investment, a period of political militancy, strong nationalist sentiments and increasing social polarization. The Kubitschek years and the early sixties were essentially optimistic; Brazil, it was felt, was on the verge of escaping underdevelopment. The ultra-modern architecture of Brasilia symbolizes the euphoric mentality of the period. The euphoria subsided as deeply-rooted class antagonisms resurfaced and the veneer of populism began to wear thin. In the early Sixties, Goulart, under intense popular pressure, moved to the left, thus alienating the bourgeoisie and its foreign allies, both of which felt threatened by labor militancy, agrarian reform, and new legislation controlling the profits of multinational corporations. These events culminated in the U.S.-supported coup d'etat in 1964.
For the purposes of this general overview, we will break down the Cinema Novo movement into several phases, each corresponding to a specific period of Brazilian political life. After a preparatory period running roughly from 1954 to 1960, we see three main phases: a first phase going from 1960 to 1964, the date of the first coup d'etat; from 1964 to 1968, the date of the second coup, within-the-coup; and from 1963 to 1972. After 1972, it becomes increasingly difficult to speak of Cinema Novo; one must speak, rather, of Brazilian Cinema. This latter period is marked by esthetic pluralism under the auspices of the state organ Embrafilme. While such a posteriori divisions are artificial and problematic, they are also broadly useful, because they illustrate the inseparable connection between political struggle and cultural production. While on one level Cinema Novo remained faithful to its initial project — to present a progressive and critical vision of Brazilian society — on another, its political strategies and esthetic options were profoundly inflected by political events.
The first signs of a new awakening in Brazilian cinema occurred several years before the official beginnings of the movement, specifically with Nelson Pereira dos Santos' RIO 40 GRAUS (RIO 40 DEGREES, 1955). Its independent production and its critical stance toward established social structures marked a decisive step toward a new kind of cinema. It is difficult to overestimate the contribution of Nelson Pereira dos Santos to Brazilian cinema. His practical contribution to the formation of Cinema Novo includes, besides RIO 40 GRAUS, the film RIO ZONA NORTE (RID NORTHERN ZONE, 1957), the production of Roberto Santos' O GRANDE MOMENTO (THE GREAT MOMENT, 1958), and the editing of several early Cinema Novo films like Rocha's BARRAVENTO (THE TURNING WIND*, 1962) and Leon Hirszman's PEDREIRA DE SÃO DIOGO (SÃO DIOGO QUARRY, 1961). The latter was incorporated into the feature-length CINCO VEZES FAVELA (FAVELA FIVE TIMES, 1961), an early landmark of Cinema Novo, produced by the leftist Centers for Popular Culture of the National Students' Union, whose goal was to create through cultural production a link with the working class. [More important, dos Santos became a kind of generous presiding spirit, the "conscience," in Glauber Rocha's words, of Cinema Novo.
The initial phase of Cinema Novo extends from 1960 to 1964, including films completed or near completion when the military overthrew João Goulart on April 1, 1964. It is in this period that Cinema Novo coalesced as a movement, making its first feature films and formulating its political and esthetic ideas. The journal Metropolitano of the Metropolitan Students' Union became a forum for critics like David Neves and Sérgio Augusto and for filmmakers like Rocha and Diegues. The directors shared their opposition to commercial Brazilian cinema, to Hollywood films and Hollywood esthetics, and to Brazilian cinema's colonization by Hollywood distribution chains. In their desire to make independent non-industrial films they drew on two foreign models: Italian Neo-Realism, for its use of non-professional actors and location shooting, and the French New Wave, not so much for its thematics or esthetics, but rather as a production strategy. While scornful of the politics of the New Wave — "We were making political films when the New Wave was still talking about unrequited love," Rui Guerra once said — they borrowed its strategy of low-budget independently-produced films based on the talent of specific auteurs. Most important, these directors saw filmmaking as political praxis, a contribution to the struggle against neocolonialism. Rather than exploit the tropical paradise conviviality of chanchada, or the just-like-Europe classiness of Vera Cruz, the Cinema Novo directors searched out the dark corners of Brazilian life — the favelas (slums) and the sertao (backlands) — the places where Brazil's social contradictions appeared most dramatically.
The most important films of the first phase of Cinema Novo include CINCO VEZES FAVELA (FAVELA TIMES FIVE); the short ARRAIAL DO CABO (1960) and the feature PORTO DAS CAIZAS (THE PORT OF CAIXAS, 1962) by Paulo César Saraceni; BARRAVENTO (1962) and DEUS E O DIABO NA TERRA DO SOL (BLACK GOD, WHITE DEVIL*, 1964) by Glauber Rocha; OS CAFAGESTES (THE HUSTLERS, 1962) and OS FUZIS (THE GUNS, 1964), by Mozambican-born Rui Guerra; GANGA ZUMBA* (1963), by Carlos Diegues, and VIDAS SECAS (BARREN LIVES*, 1963), by Nelson Pereira dos Santos.
The films of this phase deal typically, although not exclusively, with the problems confronting the urban and rural lumpen-proletariat: starvation, violence, religious alienation and economic exploitation. The films share a certain political optimism, characteristic of the developmentalist years, but due as well to the youth of the directors, a kind of faith that merely showing these problems would be a first step toward their solution. BARRAVENTO exposed the alienating role of religion in a fishing community. THE GUNS and BARREN LIVES dealt with the oppression of peasants by landowners, while BLACK GOD, WHITE DEVIL demystified the twin alienations of millennial cults (the black god) and of apolitical cangaceiro violence (the white devil). GANGA ZUMBA memorialized the 17th Century slave republic of Palmares and called, by historical analogy, for a revolt of the oppressed against their oppressors. Made for the people by an educated, middle-class, radical elite, these films occasionally transmitted a paternalistic vision of the Brazilian masses. In BARRAVENTO, as critic Jean-Claude Bernardet points out, political salvation comes from the city; it is not generated by the community. Esthetically, these "sad, ugly, desperate films" showed a commitment to what Rocha's manifesto called "An Esthetic of Hunger," combining slow, reflexive rhythms with uncompromising, often harsh, images and sounds.
The second phase of Cinema Novo extends from 1964 to the "coup-within-the-coup" of 1968. The military takeover and its subsequent hardening constituted an historical cataclysm, which left democratic institutions and the political style of populism in ruins. Between 1964 and 1968, the military junta expelled radical members of congress, decreed indirect elections, banned all existent political parties, and created two new parties (often referred to by Brazilians as the "Yes" and "Yes, Sir" parties), and deprived many Brazilians of their political rights. Democratic forms were replaced by authoritarian military rule; the social gains of the previous era were reversed; laws were signed assuring foreign corporations high profits; and Alliance for Progress money, withheld during the Goulart period, flowed into Brazil. Due to this closing of the political system, certain sectors of the left began to favor strategies of urban and rural guerrilla warfare. (10)
Many filmmakers, not surprisingly, poked around the smoldering ruins of populism in an attempt to disentangle the causes of a disaster of such magnitude. If the films of the first phase were optimistic, those of the second phase are anguished cries of perplexity; they are analyses of failure — of populism, of developmentalism, and of leftist intellectuals. Paulo César Saraceni's O DESAFIO (THE CHALLENGE, 1966), Rocha's TERRA EM TRANSE (LAND IN ANGUISH*, 1967), Gustavo Dahl's O BRAVO GUERREIRO (THE BRAVE WARRIOR, 1968), and dos San Santos' FOME DE AMOR (HUNGER FOR LOVE*, 1968) all dissect the failures of the left. Gustavo Dahl, writing of his own BRAVO GUERREIRO, sums it up:
Although the left, unprepared for armed struggle, was politically and militarily defeated in 1964, its cultural presence, paradoxically, remained strong even after the coup d'etat, exercising a kind of hegemony despite the dictatorship. Marxist books proliferated in the bookstores, anti-imperialist plays drew large audiences, and many filmmakers went from left reformism to radical critique. One senses in these films an angry disillusionment with what Roberto Schwarz calls the populist deformation of Marxism, a Marxism that was strong on anti-imperialism but weak on class struggle. The contradictory class-alliances of left populism are satirized in Rocha's LAND IN ANGUISH, where pompous senators and progressive priests, Party intellectuals and military leaders, samba together in what Rocha calls the tragic carnival of Brazilian politics.
If the films of the first phase displayed — Glauber Rocha being the obvious exception — a commitment to realism as a style, the films of the second phase tend toward self-referentiality and anti-illusionism. While the films of the first phase tended to be rural in their setting, films of the second phase were predominantly urban. Luiz Sérgio Person's SÃO PAULO S.A. (1965), with its punning title — S.A. means both Incorporated and Anonymous Society — deals with alienated labor and alienated love in São Paulo; Leon Hirszman's A FALECIDA (THE DECEASED WOMAN, 1965) explores the spiritual torments of the urban middle class; and Carlos Diegues' A GRANDE CIDADE (THE BIG CITY*, 1966) treats the fate of impoverished Northeasterners in Rio de Janeiro. At the same time, many films were drawn from Brazilian literary classics, notably: Andrade's O PADRE E A MOCA (THE PRIEST AND THE GIRL*, 1966), based on a poem by Carlos Drurmond de Andrade; Walter Lima Jr.'s MENINO DE ENGENHO (PLANTATION BOY*, 1966), based on a novel by Jose Lins do Rego; and Roberto Santos' A HORA E VEZ DE AUGUSTO MATRAGA (MATRAGA*, 1966), based on a short story by Guimaráes Rosa.
During the second phase of Cinema Novo, filmmakers realized that although their cinema was "popular" in that it attempted to take the point of view of "the people," it was not popular in the sense of having a mass audience. Although the policy of low-budget independent production seemed sound, nothing could guarantee the films' being shown in a market dominated by North American conglomerates. If the masses were often on the screen, they were rarely in the audience. The filmmakers linked to Cinema Novo consequently began to see the making of popular films as, in Gustavo Dahl's words, "the essential condition for political action in cinema." (12) In cinema as in revolution, they decided, everything is a question of power, and for cinema existing within a system to which it does not adhere, power means broad public acceptance and financial success.
In their efforts to reach the public, Cinema Novo adopted a two-pronged strategy. First, with producer Luiz Carlos Barreto, they founded a distribution cooperative: Difilm. Second, they began making films with more popular appeal. Leon Hirszman's GAROTA DE IPANEMA (THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA, 1967), the first Cinema Novo film in color and the first to attempt the new strategy, explored the myth of the sun-bronzed "girl from Ipanema" in order to demystify that very myth. Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's MACUNAÍMA (1969), however, was the first Cinema Novo film to be truly popular both in cultural and box-office terms, offering a dialectical demonstration of how to reach the public while aggressively advocating a left political vision of Brazilian society — and this in a situation of intense repression.
MACUNAÍMA is generally classified as part of the third phase of Cinema Nova, the so-called "cannibal-tropicalist" phase. (13) Tropicalism in the cinema begins around the time of the 1968 coup-within-the-coup and the promulgation of the Fifth Institutional Act (initiating an extremely repressive period of military rule) and extends roughly to the end of 1971. Because of rigorous censorship, the films of this period tended to work by political indirection often adopting allegorical forms, as in Andrade's MACUNAÍMA, Rocha's ANTÔNIO DAS MORTES* (1968), dos Santos' AZYLLO MUITO LOUCO (THE ALIENIST, 1969), Guerra's OS DEUSES E OS MORTOS (THE GODS AND THE DEAD*, 1970), Diegues' OS HERDEIROS (THE HEIRS, 1970), dos Santos' COMO ERA GOSTOSO MEU FRANCÊS (HOW TASTY WAS MY LITTLE FRENCHMAN*, 1970), and Jabor's PINDORAMA (1971). An artistic response to political repression, Tropicalism, at least in the cinema, developed a coded language of revolt. THE ALIENIST, for example, made subversive use of a literary classic. Based on the novella The Alienist by Machado de Assis, it tells the story of a mad psychiatrist who constantly changes his standards for placing people in the local madhouse, a story with obvious implications for military-ruled Brazil. HOW TASTY WAS MY LITTLE FRENCHMAN, a kind of anthropological fiction, suggested that the Indians (i.e., Brazil) should metaphorically cannibalize their foreign enemies, appropriating their force without being dominated by them. At the same time it criticized the government's present-day genocidal policies toward the Indian by making analogies to 17th Century massacres.
Tropicalism, a movement that touched music and theater as well as the cinema, emphasized the grotesque and the gaudy, bad taste and kitsch. It played aggressively with certain myths, especially the notion of Brazil as a tropical paradise characterized by colorful exuberance and tutti-fruti hats á la Carmen Miranda. The movement was not without its ambiguities. Roberto Schwarz, a Brazilian intellectual then living in Paris, interpreted the movement in an article published in Les Temps Modernes, "Remarque sur la Culture et la Politique au Brésil, 1964-1969." Tropicalism, he suggests, emerges from the tension between the superficial "modernization" of the Brazilian economy and its archaic, colonized and imperialized core. While the Brazilian economy, after 1964, was becoming even more integrated into the world capitalist economy, the petite bourgeoisie, threatened by economic marginalization, was returning to antiquated values and old resentments.
Concurrent with the third phase of Cinema Novo, there emerged a radically different tendency — Udigrudi, the Brazilian pronunciation of "underground." Just when Cinema Novo decided to reach out for a popular audience, the Underground opted to slap that audience in the face. If the public did not appreciate "the most interesting files on this planet," Júlio Bressane shouted, "too bad for you, idiots" As Cinema Novo moved toward technical polish and production values, the Novo Cinema Novo, as it also came to be called, demanded a radicalization of the esthetics of hunger, rejecting the dominant codes of well-made cinema in favor of a "dirty screen" and "garbage" esthetics. A garbage style, they argued, is appropriate to a Third World country picking through the leavings of an international system dominated by monopoly capitalism. The Underground proclaimed its own isolation in the names they gave their movement: marginal cinema, subterranean cinema. Although they were intentionally marginal, identifying socially downward with rebellious lumpen characters, they were also marginalized, harassed by the censors and boycotted by exhibitors.
The movement nurtured an Oedipal love-hate relationship with Cinema Novo, at times paying homage to its early purity, while lambasting what it saw as its subsequent populist co-optation. In THE RED LIGHT BANDIT, Rogério Sganzerla symbolically puts to flame the St. George triptych from ANTONIO DAS MORTES, while he spoofs the multilayered soundtrack of LAND IN ANGUISH. Some of the important names and titles in this diverse and prolific movement are: Rogério Sganzerla's O BANDIDO DA LUZ VERMELHA (THE RED LIGHT BANDIT, 1968); Júlio Bressane's MATOU A FAMILIA E FOI AO CINEMA (KILLED THE FAMILY AND WENT TO THE MOVIES, 1970); João Trevisan's ORGIA OU O HOMEM QUE DEU CRIA (ORGY, OR THE MAN WHO GAVE BIRTH, 1970); Andrea Tonacci's BANGUE BANGUE (BANG BANG, 1971); André Luiz de Oliveira's METEORANGO KID, O HEROI INTERGALACTICO (METEORANGO KID, INTERGALACIIC HERO, 1969); José Mojica Marins' A MEIANOITE ENCARNAREI NO TEU CADAVER (AT MIDNIGHT I WILL INCARNATE YOUR CORPSE, 1967); Ozualdo Candeias' MEU NONE Ê TONHO (MY NAME IS TONHO, 1969); Neville Duarte d'Almeida's JARDIM DE GUERRA (WAR GARDEN, 1970); and Luiz Rosemberg Filho's AMERICA DO SEXO (AMERICA OF SEX, 1970).
Toward the end of what we have called the Tropicalist phase, Cinema Novo entered into a politically-engendered crisis of creativity which reached its nadir in 1971-1972. As censorship and repression worsened, Glauber Rocha, Rui Guerra and Carlos Diegues left Brazil for Europe. As funding became more problematic, several directors undertook co-productions with other countries or financed their projects completely abroad. Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's brilliant OS INCONFIDENTES (THE CONSPIRATORS, 1972) was produced by and for Italian television. Nelson Pereira dos Santos' QUEM Ê BETA? (WHO, IS BETA? 1973) was a co-production with France. Gustavo Dahl's UIRÁ, UM ÍNDIO A PROCURA DE DEUS (UIRA, AN INDIAN IN SEARCH OF GOD, 1973) was a co-production with Italian television.
Around this time, a flood of vapid erotic comedies — pornochanchadas — rushed into the vacuum left by political censorship and departing filmmakers. These films exalted, and unfortunately still exalt, the good bourgeois life of fast cars, wild parties, and luxurious surroundings, while they offered the male voyeur titillating shots of breasts and buttocks. Their titles give some indication of their sexism and vulgarity: UM SOUTIEN PARA PAPAI (A BRA FOR DADDY), ESSAS MULHERES LINDAS, NUAS E MARAVILHOSAS (THOSE BEAUTIFUL, NAKED, MARVELOUS WOMEN); MAIS OU MENOS VIRGEM (MORE OR LESS VIRGIN); AS SECRETÁRIAS…QUE FAZEM DE TUDO (SECRETARIES…WHO DO EVERYTHING), and A VIRGEM E O MACHÁO (THE VIRGIN AND THE MACHO). Sexist and reactionary, these films were also anti-erotic and moralistic. Rather than deliver on the erotic promise implicit in their titles, they offered instead frequent nudity and perpetual coitus interruptus. The military regime, phenomenally alert to violations of "morality" in the films of the more politicized directors, hypocritically tolerated, indeed encouraged, these execrable productions.
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