Scientific cinema and documentary cinema

Image: João Nitsche


Considerations from the reflections of Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes on these two cinematographic genres

Perhaps the chain of events that led Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes to be appointed to the doctoral committee of Mário Arturo Alberto Guidi, in 1973, could be called a quid pro quo. cinema and professor at the USP School of Communications and Arts, while Guidi defended, at the Institute of Psychology of the same university, the thesis Development of an instrumental technique: cinematographic recording of the behavior of Atta sexdensrubropilosa, Forel 1908.

In short, the work contained a film about the life of the lemon-saúva, which would justify the presence of a film specialist. However, the script of Paulo Emílio's argument, deposited at the Cinemateca Brasileira, reveals the unusualness of the occasion. Faced with his meager intellectual resources to discuss the subject directly, the defendant engaged in a general exposition on scientific cinema, lingering over figures such as Jean Painlevé and Benedito J. Duarte.

It is curious, right at the beginning of the document, the need for justification in view of the discovery of the ants as a character. With this objective in mind, Paulo Emílio travels through his memory in order to place himself in relation to the theme, going through three evocations: (a) Childhood – gastronomic evocation: at a time when the Pacaembu valley, in São Paulo, was still a wasteland , Paulo Emílio went out looking for içás and tanajuras to eat. Moment of complete dominance over the ants. (b) Adolescence – intellectual evocation: contact with literature (Lima Barreto, Mário de Andrade) made ants a “national security issue” (formula used in the text, in reference to the dictatorship). Paulo Emílio acquires a “mild awareness of backwardness”, in the terms of Antonio Candido (Literature and underdevelopment, 1973). (c) Youth – militant evocation: moment in which Paulo Emílio undertakes an attempt to eliminate the ants in a place (taking the literary problem in his hands) but runs into the resistance of the ants, true “Vietcong” (another expression displaced to the present). Passage to a more acute awareness of delay.

As in other texts by Paulo Emílio, the memoirs function as a sounding board for broader problems. The author's training follows the non-linear path of building an intellectual awareness that adds to the utilitarian-compensatory use of the landscape (the exuberance as the food of boastful literature) different degrees of perception of backwardness.

In this regard, Paulo Emílio states, in a famous text published shortly after the argument, that “in cinema, underdevelopment is not a stage, a stage, but a state” (Cinema: trajectory in underdevelopment, 1973). It is important to retain here the temporality implicit in this statement, the distressing perception of the resistance of backwardness, which contrasts with the relative optimism of the time when the author inventoried the problems of Brazilian cinema in terms of “situation” (A colonial situation?, 1960). The effort to differentiate the configuration of time announces the search for other ways of acting.

The problem of delay also accompanies the history of Brazilian cinema. In this regard, Paulo Emílio (The social expression of documentary films in Brazilian silent cinema, 1974) notes the mark left by the theme of the “splendid cradle” at the beginning of the national production, a way as derisive as it is recurrent of compensating for the country’s misery. Years later, without polemical intentions, this theme would be shifted to the inhabitant of the interior, a fact that generated the repudiation of the best national film critics, who deplored the negative image that was made of the country. A blacker, more indigenous, poorer country.

A similar prejudice, always according to Paulo Emílio, hovered over the “caipira” films by Humberto Mauro produced in the late 1920s (Humberto Mauro, Cataguases, Cinearte, 1974). Long before Cinema Novo, therefore, intellectuals from São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro were scandalized by the representation of the country as “sertão”. And he asked for measures to normalize the flow of images. He assumed, finally, the role played by Paulo Emílio in his militant evocation, the role of occupant.

Let's change scale.

The Transamazônica

“The Transamazônica is nothing more than a gigantic 'primitive' operation, reproducing the experience of Belém-Brasília, in what for some romantics 'à la Malraux' is a saga; Brazil would thus be the only place in the world – after the demoralization of Hollywood – where life still unfolds in epic terms, very suitable for shots in eastmancolor by Jean Manzon” (Francisco de Oliveira, Criticism of dualistic reason.

Published almost on the threshold of the Brazilian “economic miracle”, this passage is not only interesting for its immediate theme – the actuality of “primitive accumulation” in the midst of capitalist modernization –, but also for defining a way of representing it. The evocation of André Malraux, author of committed books such as the human condition (1933) and The hope (1937), establishes an ambiguous parameter; this “romantic Gaullist”, recently defeated in France, marks with a certain political ecumenism the aesthetic providence that transforms the advance over the Amazon into a saga. The “Big Brazil”, finally, which revealed itself in color (second category: eastmancolor) in Jean Manzon's reports.

Despite the recent historiographic appreciation of this type of material, the newsreels produced by figures such as Manzon and Primo Carbonari left a bad impression on the critics of their time:

“We are condemned to Primo Carbonari. To this heavy and weekly penalty, some cinemas sometimes add a dose of Jean Manzon. We are not going to restart the classic discussion, already academic, about which one is the worst. The subject has evolved and today the best experts agree that a parallel between Carbonari and Manzon is meaningless, as the nature of the badness of each one of them is different. Manzon is the world-class bad guy, while Carbonari is the underdeveloped bad guy. In short, Carbonari is the worst Brazilian filmmaker and Manzon is the worst in the world” (Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes, The Cousin and the Cousin.

In the same year, Glauber Rocha wrote: “The Brazilian documentary has always been the stupidity of commercial propagandists, heavily paid for by the State; always the forgery of Jean Manzon, which enjoys wide prestige with our highest authorities” (Glauber Rocha, Critical review of Brazilian cinema.

With a difference of ten years, Francisco de Oliveira resumes the “classic discussion” around the badness of Manzon, emphasizing the vitality of an aesthetic and economic standard: the transamazônica epic, a landmark of the Medici government, reproduced the saga of Belém-Brasília , landmark of the JK government. And thus the two basic tendencies that Paulo Emílio observed in the first Brazilian cinema, “splendid cradle” and “power rituals”, merged. The torturous doses of newsreels that preceded the cinema sessions across the country were even more distressing for involuntarily denouncing the continuity and deepening of an economic and aesthetic mechanism set in motion before the 1964 coup.

There were alternatives on the aesthetic level. The passage transcribed above, in which Glauber Rocha criticizes Manzon, precedes the presentation of Linduarte Noronha and his short film aruanda (1960). It is difficult to establish the importance of this film for Brazilian cinema, since its circulation was extremely restricted. However, aruanda helped lay the foundations for an aesthetic research that wanted to be articulated to the Brazilian landscape and social reality and that would have in Cinema Novo one of its most finished formulations.

By representing the trajectory of a small community in the interior of Paraíba, the film establishes a contrasting temporal configuration in relation to the inauguration of Brasília, the main point of developmentalist aesthetics. This aesthetic establishes a specific relationship with speed, a dromology (Paul Virilio, war and cinema, 1986). At the same time, the precarious production of Noronha's film was seen as a positive aspect by critics such as Glauber Rocha, Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes and Jean-Claude Bernardet. For this one, Rucker Vieira's unstable photography would denounce the presence of the film crew in Serra do Talhado. Position completely different from the attempt to hide the shots in eastmancolor from Manzon.

In the 1970s, there would be a repositioning of the left-wing intelligentsia around the relationship between the national reality and its representation. Faced with the overwhelming advance of the State over cinema, an activity that is very dependent on large-scale funding, the dilemmas in which filmmakers found themselves became clearer. Which is not to say that materials like Manzon's have been normalized. New experiences were given in the sense of assuming the dream of the “Big Brazil” in a displaced way.

Tião Brasil Grande (played by Paulo César Pereio), a truck driver from Rio Grande do Sul who goes through the Amazon in search of logs, is a central piece of the parody staged in Iracema: an Amazonian fuck (1974). But perhaps the greatest distance from the projects cherished by critical filmmakers of the 1960s would come in the following decades, with the slow recomposition of experiences, hypotheses and dialogues that would affect films such as Conversations in Maranhão (1983) Goat marked for death (1984) and Old countrymen of war (nineteen ninety). It was no longer a question of producing in terms of an “aesthetics of hunger” (the title of a manifesto published by Glauber Rocha in 1990), but of incorporating in cinema the rest of another country, now hidden, now polished within the scope of the intense aesthetic purification promoted by Brazilian television between the 1970s and 1980s.

At this point, Manzon's overcoming was finally realized, but that brought the acrid taste of the triumph of the television image. From cinema to TV, the viewer was finally integrated into the modern nation, without the noise caused by community or political ties. It does not seem secondary to me, in this context, that a certain memory of resistance to the dictatorship crystallized the idea that the regime's discretion turned against the citizen Qualquer, as in Forward Brazil (1982)

The decontextualization of repression (in the film in question, it is detached from the State itself) was a symptom of the broader difficulty of going through a democratic transition that institutionalized the aesthetic integration of the country, where the whole was inflated and the margin was reduced to distraction. Embrafilme would become disposable in 1990, Embratur would not. A singer very integrated into this new ecosystem, Eduardo Dusek, provided one of the clearest images of this turn in the song “O problema do Nordeste (Caatingatur)”. The refrain “The backlands will carpet, carpet the backlands soon”, makes the prejudices of the South Zone of Rio converge with the highly known musical theme, “the backlands will turn into the sea, the sea will turn into the backlands”, in fact used by Glauber Rocha at the end in God and the devil in the land of the sun (1964)

The Savanization of the Splendid Cradle

The sacrifice of feature-length Brazilian cinema in the early 1990s revived the debate around the costs and financing model of national production, in the spreadsheet spirit that was perpetuated in the following elections. Roughly speaking, the recomposition of production went hand in hand with the relocation of the State in this sector. However, the country to be filmed was no longer the same, and the production of images had to deal with the progressive obsolescence of the television aesthetic standard (the contrast between perfection and emptiness) and with the savannization of the splendid cradle.

The hypothesis of “tropical photogenics”, which based both the idea of ​​“Brasil Grande” and the “aesthetics of hunger”, was fundamentally made unfeasible by the modernization process itself, which highlighted the finite nature of the most fundamental audiovisual resources, the landscape, its inhabitants. What happens when cinema is faced with this damaged state of affairs?

With this question in mind, I turn to a genre that has fallen out of favor, the review of the main films of the season, to reflect on possible answers that were suggested in the distant year of 2019. Evidently, I leave a lot of things out and subject the films to a very specific problem.


It is symptomatic that the film was framed in the newspapers with reference to the 1960s, after all, the image of the sertão that we see there seems to wave with a “classic” tradition (the sertanejo films by Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Ruy Guerra, to name a few). in the genesis of Cinema Novo). In fact, it is known that production waited for the dry season to have this “typical” (actually seasonal) image.

But between Glauber Rocha and Kleber Mendonça Filho the visual parameters are as distant as their explicit references, John Ford and John Carpenter. There is still a reversal of expectations: Dried lives e God and the devil in the land of the sun they moved to the past to deal with a backward present, a denunciation that hints at the idea of ​​revolution; in Bacurau, the so familiar damaged future, rather suggests the urgency of interrupting the march of progress. It remains to be seen whether the hinterland constitutes a relevant dramatic sign for the debate proposed by Kleber Mendonça Filho. Already in the 1960s, Jean-Claude Bernardet and Roberto Schwarz raised doubts in this regard.

divine love

As the country went through the democratic transition, a character was silently emerging that at one point would become ubiquitous in the country's stationery stores. Far removed from the Viet Cong sauva described by Paulo Emílio, Smilinguido printed in notebooks, comic strips and books a certain Christian militancy that adjusted to an aesthetic configuration that was not indifferent to the emergence of digital recording and image banks.

divine love perhaps it is a systematic attempt to incorporate this visuality that smells of a new constructive pattern (where the tile dissolves the opposition between favela and mansion), of a new body discipline (unthinkable that a character would spit on the ground) and of an absolute control of objects ( plastic is perhaps the emblem of this restraint applied to things). In the movie Former shaman (2018) this aesthetic construction has a disciplined body as a stage and a rupture with the past as a temporal configuration.

I'm saving myself for when carnival arrives

The scansion of Chico Buarque's lyrics, which makes the title tiresome, reproduces in miniature the general movement of the film, which often follows the homogeneous and empty time of the factory, dispensing with ellipses that would make the narrative more fluid. This affirms the opacity of the authorial operation that seeks to interrupt a certain automated way of enjoying the film (Bacurau, in this sense, would be the opposite case, extremely elliptical).

However, this authorial trait can coexist with trends that resist director Marcelo Gomes' refusal to close an interpretive system. Hence the clash between the director's principle of distrust and the emergence of Léo and his sentences, which seek to give some meaning to the images. The transfer of the camera to Léo's hands (an operation also marked by the counterpoint in the treatment of images, handling of the equipment, etc.) perhaps expresses a cinema that retreats to the point from which it practically never left in our country, a mode of production that has much more continuity with the regression of capitalism in Toritama and with the experience of its inhabitants.

*Victor Santos Vigneron is a doctoral candidate in social history at USP.


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