Late Caetano

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By FERNÃO PESSOA RAMOS*

Essay on the work of Caetano Veloso from the analysis of the film "Narciso on vacation"

The latest documentary about Caetano Veloso has been the subject of controversy. Much has been said about the opinions that Caetano, 'and passant', develops in the work, but not much has been written about the film itself.

narcissus on vacation is a documentary, a documentary film, directed by Renato Terra and Ricardo Calil, authors who have a joint filmography and have also signed a documentary about Carlos Imperial (I'm Carlos Imperial) and another about Record's music festivals, the successful One night in 67.

Both are screenwriters and write for journals such as Folha de S. Paul e Piaui. Renato seems to be the most focused on “mise-en-scène” and he is the one who interferes, with lines, in the scene of narcissus on vacation. It is he who gives Caetano the famous magazine in the film Headline with “those photographs” of the Earth covered in clouds that, years later, would inspire the poet – returning from a session of Star Wars and rocked by his characters wandering in distant galaxies, far from the mother planet – composing one of the best-known and most successful songs in his repertoire (“Terra”).

As a documentary, narcissus on vacation is particularly successful. Renato Terra and Ricardo Calil possess the quality of good screenwriters, which is knowing how to move from long and complicated stories to settling on the point that can render audiovisually to the dramatic language of cinematographic narrative. In the case of documentaries, the dramatic mode of fiction is superimposed with an enunciative layer of assertions in 'voice over' (off-screen), or else the speech of the 'I' that enunciates in testimonies or interviews.

These focus on the external universe or on the 'self' that speaks. In One night in 67 the directors had managed to successfully cut, in one night, the effervescent mood of the time, representing a stimulating panel of the world happening in the intensity of its indeterminacy.

One night… is from 2010 and at that time, Brazilian documentaries were discovering the potential of using archival footage (images from the period) to narrate. The form has been present with maturity at least since the pioneering works of Silvio Tendler in the 1980s (The JK Years, a political trajectory/1980; Jango/1984) and in the four feature films by Eduardo Escorel about the context of the historical emergence of Getúlio Vargas, a series directed from 1930 - Time of Revolution'/1990 (production and research by Claudio Kahns and André Singer).

One night in 67 is one of the highlights of this style. It has an agile narrative, abundant in archival material, contemporary testimonials and the precise focus on the 'night in 67', from which the safe hands of the scriptwriters manage to tell so much. This is cinema, documentary cinema, which has specificities and singularities that differentiate it from the fictional form of film.

narcissus on vacation, as a documentary, is constituted in a different way. At its center is the testimony of Caetano Veloso, which acquires its own dimension. The narrative focuses on the intensity of her bodily expression (physiognomy and gestures), exploring the performance that the way of locution of speech establishes. Renato Terra declares that he initially thought of working with archival material to portray Caetano's arrest, but that he changed his mind during the process and focused on the testimony when he realized the richness of the material he had in his hands.

In the change (archive footage only punctuates the final credits), the talent of the cinematographic artist is revealed, creatively taking advantage of the twists and turns of the production context that always involve and determine the art of cinema. Along this path, the documentary counted, among others (cinema is an authorial art, but one of collective creation), with the participation of João Salles at Videofilmes, probably throbbing in editing and in the way of using the material taken to compose the filmic unit.

Participation in this composition process is briefly mentioned by João's brother, Walter Salles, in an interview about the production of narcissus on vacation the magazine Variety, publication linked to Hollywood studios. The production itself was by Paula Lavigne, who had the sensitivity to start the project's conception, with the shots taken right before the 2018 elections. it caused, a point of reference for the affirmation of its streaming.

narcissus on vacation it is a work that shows the documentary filmmaker in his struggle with the world, as this world leaves its traces, through the shot, in the camera's machinery. So it's a movie mise-en-scène, of scene direction. Terra and Calil deserve credit for knowing how to open the doors of the scene and for putting the 'beast' Caetano there – inside the 'cage' of the staging.

Staging that they conduct in a clearly minimalist way, given the intensity of the performance. The dimension of talent is present exactly in the retreat with which they let Caetano's body and speech breathe, as directors progressively configure themselves in front of him. Letting it breathe at its own pace is a way of unfolding what, as a memory of the experience, was contained, veiled, and now reveals itself through the performance to the camera in the circumstances of the shot.

The shots were taken by two simultaneous cameras articulated without hierarchy (photography by Fernando Young), apparently in two sessions, subtly mixed in the edition of the work, signed by Jordana Berg (Coutinho's favorite editor) and Henrique Alqualo, who follow a path of light cuts, respecting continuity, although quite recurrent.

The type of documentary that explores the matter of the body, particularly the face and speech, has a strong tradition in Brazilian Cinema, with Eduardo Coutinho certainly being its greatest figure. Coutinho discovered his vein in the second phase of his career and devoted himself to it for the last 20 years of his life, with a talent that led him to be considered one of the main filmmakers on the world stage at the beginning of the XNUMXst century.

At the core of his cinema, at least from the 2000s onwards, is the expression of the personality-character through the face/speech, with continuity and organicity taken from the unit of the shot. Terra and Calil, breathing in their heritage and influence, including the production in the 'Videofilmes' environment that sheltered Coutinho, knew how to channel the filmic mode to the particularities of narcissus on vacation.

Caetano Veloso seems to have been composed, in the gestures of his body and in the tonalities of his speech, for this type of cinema. Quite lucid and with a well-articulated memory, he gallops through the main stages of his journey through the prisons of the military dictatorship, without sticking to whiny attitudes sometimes so popular with the public in search of more immediate catharsis. Gil himself, in interviews that accompanied the release of the film and which also asked for his memories of the event, reveals astonishment at the clear chronological structure of Caetano's memory, qualifying his own memories as more impressionistic and affective, around singular episodes.

Caetano gives a particular color to his experience, punctuating it with the intensity of his speech and the constellation of affections, which his physiognomy – familiar to us – directs to circumstances that catch in his imagination. It is at this point that I highlight Terra and Calil's stage direction, as they know how to extract form from their subject, which seems to naturally overflow in this direction. But naturalness does not exist here, as it is not just about cinema, but about the cinematographic scene.

Anyway, Caetano's physiognomic expression for the camera (he has this gift) can be frightening and his speech is lapidary, cuts like a razor. There is a well-known photo by Bob Wolfenson of Caetano with his eyebrows arched in opposite positions, which summarizes well this physiognomic-body strength that the film captures through the intelligent choice of setting: the wall with the concrete slabs and the isolated chair where he can criss-crossing the legs over oneself, forming the centrality of a figure at will to sustain speech.

It is this scenic composition, and the gaze of Terra and Calil directing 'actor' Caetano, which are at the core of the film's strength. Delivery of the photo Headline, generating a certain surprise, at the right time; the precise retreat in a stronger intervention to give way to Caetano's speech; the option to read the case file at the end of the film; they are all elements that make up the construction of the scene in which Caetano's expression is effective.

The records of his testimony at the time were apparently obtained by a member of his family a few months before filming. The singer would have casually scrolled through the pages, but it was during the shots of the documentary that he gave himself up to 'staging' (in 'direct' mode) his reaction, based on a proposal from the stage director. Surrounding and giving north to the performance of his memory, the director uses these two external motives (Revista Headline and court records) to frame and give gravity to the speech, so that it does not get lost in a centrifugal way.

Also noteworthy is the interpretation of the song 'Hey Jude' in the intensity of the unitary flow of the statement in the staging, but inserted in an illustrative way into the memory of his hearing in prison. The flow of the testimony, according to the directors, was taken in two different main moments (Coutinho, in the same type of cinema, is characterized by seeking, at the limit, the absolute synthesis, not admitting the motivated illustration).

The expression of a body and its speech brings an increased intensity when this body is that of a public character, a 'star'. Its configuration, for us, acquires the inevitable particularity that the staging of anonymous faces does not have. The gestures are part of our common repertoire. The voice we know in song mode is the same speech we hear in the statement, indirectly composing memories that can be triggered as affects in our memory. Add to this the presence of Caetano-body speaking in the present duration of the shot, and in our spectatorial time, in a way of speech with strong rhetoric, articulated in the incisive way that is one of the poet's characteristics.

Caetano says he doesn't like to lose control and see himself taken by anger. That it feels really bad when this happens. Seeing his personality, filmic image of the scene in the way of a behavior, we can imagine this anger behind the sweetness that stamps. In some more serious moments, the brow play shows the penetration of the strong temper. But anyone who delivered a lucid improvised speech, without missing a beat, in the face of the revolted audience at the event 'É Proibido Proibir' ('This is the youth that wants to take power...'), should not be afraid of getting lost in exaltation, swallowed by uncontrolled anger. In a similar moment, Sergio Ricardo ended up throwing his guitar into the audience.

In addition to speaking to music, Caetano has this gift of speech, understanding and explanation, in the good tradition of Bahian or Brazilian rhetoric, and he does not hesitate when asked. Once initiated into the exhibition, Caetano goes like a train, or a waterfall (definitions by François Truffaut and Humberto Mauro for cinema) towards his destination. This movement of making a story unfold in duration, inexorable like an arrow towards the end, staging for the camera, is also the movement of the film.

narcissus on vacation it is the expression of memory as it emerges through the present of speech, flowing from physiognomy and gestures. It brings the old man who remembers life, but still cannot leave it behind, as the song exalts. It is immersed in the men's present, entirely at ease in the foam of hubbub, wavering in the pleasure and anger of polemics. He's still the old man, but the heavy air certainly rejuvenates him.

And in the old man Caetano Veloso we witness a shift, if not in the work, in the explanatory lines of this 'understanding' of the world that accompanies him since his youth and now forms something like a 'late Caetano'. A late poet who remains narcissistic, with the enthusiastic naturalness that looks at himself in the camera's mirror, savoring the explanation, but who abandons the spontaneity he once had in the present of the past.

Rather, it brings a reflective root position, an intrinsic overlay on top of the original layer. It already awakens in the very memory of the world to dwell on the reflection of the other, an original quote that he takes pleasure in taking by the hand when showing it to to wow, hatch. There is clearly a past and retrospective impulse in this movement by the last Caetano.

The late style is the one that, above all, can stamp the carelessness and freedom of the self-assured narcissus, stamping the 'power of subjectivity', in the 'irascible gesture with which he takes leave of his own works' (Adorno). It is when, somehow returning, the artist manages to give enough density to the original layer, always reflecting it in an abyss to the point of being able to stop there, to remember or to tear to pieces.

'Late Style' was a concept created by Theodor Adorno, in his youth, in a writing about the old Beethoven. Among others, the Palestinian intellectual Edward Said published a (posthumous) book on the subject, late style (Company of Letters). Said's book is a collection of essays collected by friends after his death and covers the last work of Beethoven, Strauss, Visconti, Jean Genet, Glenn Gould, Euripides, Benjamin Britten and others, in addition to Adorno himself.

Adorno's essay, 'The Late Style in Beethoven', begins with a beautiful paragraph establishing the relationship between ripe fruit and the artist's maturity: “The maturity of the late works of great artists is not similar to that found in fruits. They are, for the most part, rough and irregular, even decomposed, spoiled, ruinous. Devoid of sweetness, bitter and prickly, they are not offered for mere tasting. They lack the harmony that classical aesthetics are in the habit of demanding from art objects, and they show more traces of history than of growth”.

It is in this writing from his 34-year-old youth (1937) that Adorno defines the perception of lateness in art. Afterwards, he himself would become entangled in the meanders of this same late in the half-twisted introspection and in the oscillating search of the writing (and of the thought) in Negative Dialectic, the last work released three years before his death in 1969.

Gilles Deleuze, as the lights went out, already suffering from the shortness of breath that would lead him to suicide three years later, wrote, in 1992, in one of his last essays, L'Épuisé, about the feeling of exhaustion in late Beckett's audiovisual works (see Larissa Agostinho. 'The Late Style: Deleuze and Beckett').

Exhaustion is one of the hallmarks of this late style, when the artist (and also the thinker) rises like a hungry lion over his work 'left behind' and shakes it in full creative irresponsibility, preventing society's conscious ruminating from resting in the good awareness of interpretation. The exhausted work, the work that bears the late exhaustion upon itself, is the one that, on the threshold of representation, faces affirmatively the part of the end that belongs to it. It is testimony, still according to the young Adorno, of the 'finite impotence of the I confronted with being'.

If there is a shift in Caetano, his original basis was always that of a libertarian, provocative style, which, at first, brought to Brazil the unprecedented dialogue without borders with the cultural products of advanced capitalism. Tropicalismo's creative interaction with the rubbish and luxury of the cultural industry, in a 'pop' way, earned it a prolonged polemic with the Marxist critic Roberto Schwarz who, within the coherence of his position, could not see with good eyes the approximation, albeit of a swallowing character, with the alienated archaic and other hypermodern 'shards' that, at the time, exploded 'over Copacabana' – in a 'supercool' way.

Neither the creative exaltation of other products par excellence of this same cultural industry, such as the Jovem Guarda by Roberto Carlos ('listen to that song by Roberto...'), the fragments of advertising on newsstands, the electric guitar, the alienated rock of the Mutants, hallucinogenic culture, 'disbunde', hippie marginalism, etc., etc.

A tropicalist moment that came to have a kind of coronation work, as the breath of a period, in 'Araçá Azul' (1973). In evolution, or in the sequence in a new direction, the culture of the body and naturalism, the peace-love horizon, mark the second moment of Caetano's career from the twin LPs 'Jóia' (1975) and 'Qualquer Coisa' (1975 ).

In these, the displacement of the tropicalist flags is clear in the new naturalist sensibility (particularly intense in 'Jóia'), focused on the dazzle with the revelation of the world of nature, where that tiny god, the god of maidenhair, the pantheistic being 'who lives near the har-avencas' ('Pelos Olhos'). A world in the image of the cosmos, already described as an organic ideal in which 'all the purity of nature prevails, where there is no sin or forgiveness'.

The Late Caetano of narcissus on vacation and the post narcissus on vacation' (the film's scenes were 'taken' about two years ago), carries this past but makes it revolve through the lens of controversy, which seems to be a constant hidden motive in his work, whether in tropicalism, cosmological naturalism, or now in the political bias with a more traditional cut within the field of the left.

The libertarian engine of the 'Caetano' attitude of being, which he constructed as an identity for an entire generation, overlaps in this mode of polemic, forming a background that turns its back on the substance of the clash. The libertarian face already gave rise to the controversial side, but at the time it was placed in it as a consequence, giving gravity and motor. In the late spirit, Caetano remains vibrating at this point, but overcome by the demand and the taste of the shock that in the end acquires a spin of its own when spinning freely.

A taste that is accentuated by the configuration of our present time, with a field to the right, of an authoritarian nature, managing to occupy space in the historical farce of what resurfaces – in a movement similar to that originally detected by the old Marx in Napoleon III, the 'little one', in the Second French Empire. A movement that shows, among us, the political strength of the Marxist intuition of the dialectical return (which is not the eternal return), now dealing with the generals led by the little captain.

After all, the crime of singing the national anthem to the rhythm of Tropicália, even if imagined by the whistleblower (but particularly well imagined), became again very real and again contesting, and could serve as a resurgence of the controversial matrix for the archaic field that Tropicália , in his day, had thought he had swallowed and regurgitated forever.

The mode of irony and allegorical parody shattering the representation, which once took place as a pertinent image, at the moment of farce loses its momentum. They, the generals, the family in the dining room, have returned, but the primary intensity of that sudden displacement, which gave critical mass to the original image of tropicalismo, clearly no longer exists. The green-yellowness copied from the farce lost the fun it had in the first sensation of displacement, when the sudden coexistence of the archaic and the hypermodern threw the allegorical splinter.

In other words, there is not a Tropicália two, a Tropicália bis, but there is yellow-green nationalism returning like a farcical fresco, vibrating in what is the actuality of its replacement. Displaced, then, the late Caetano finds the answer to the farce not in the libertarian side of the counterculture, nor in the mocking swallowing of the relics of Brazil and its 'crepe paper and silver monument'.

Feeling the need to continue breathing at the top of his lungs, now as an old man, he finds new verve in the oxygen of controversy and is faced, as a guide, in the constitution of a symmetrical and challenging opposition, hair by hair, eye to eye, to the fantasy parallel reality of the old generals returning from the catacombs.

Here there was a clear downgrading of the argument (we are not talking about artistic creation) in the discourse of enlightened understanding that Caetano is so fond of undertaking. In the head-on clash of opposites, a polemic is sought that can be so challenging that it gives vent to the indignation we all feel, but under the leveling mode of angry verve, directly to reach the lowest point of the enemy, disputing in the very space of your logic.

Thus, dropping the libertarian field of unreconciled critical thinking, in which it has always been fixed, it exchanges it for the launch of polemics and swings there alone. At this point, the entire tradition of socialism that has a libertarian edge and which was at the root of the formation, from the mid-1970s and the beginning of the following decade, with the defeat of the armed struggle, of the new associations in the Brazilian left is also left. contemporary art that, somehow, incorporated this spirit – and that shudder with the resurgence of 'zombie' values ​​that were believed to be definitively buried.

An even stronger dismay when bringing the seal of a free figure like Caetano Veloso, present in the tradition that always knew how to survive without the 'remnant of synthesis'. The answer to the hallucinatory speech on the right must not be the 'epater le bourgeois' in the laundry room on the other side, especially when the washing machine can burst, lash out without control and at some point coincide in barbarism.

*Fernão Pessoa Ramos, sociologist, is a professor at the Institute of Arts at UNICAMP. Author, among other books, of But after all… what exactly is a documentary? (Senac-SP).

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