Nosferatu and the High, 1971

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By FERNÃO PESSOA RAMOS*

Considerations on the short film directed by Ivan Cardoso

Nosferatu in Brazil, from 1971, is a short film directed by Ivan Cardoso, a homemade production of the 'Marginal' generation of Brazilian cinema. For those interested, there is a version (26 min.) on the internet (Vimeo). The film shows the broth of the counterculture and the swallowing pop intertextuality, absent, in this more intense way, from the previous generation of Cinema Novo.

General concepts, such as modernity, do not always account for the diversity of Brazilian cinema produced in the second half of the XNUMXth century. An avant-garde with initial realistic or neorealist dominance (River, 40 Degrees), gave rise to narratives with an increasingly fragmented and intertextual structure, with cross-ideological references quickly succeeding one another.

Nosferatu corresponds to the production we call Cinema Marginal: young filmmakers with a parricidal vocation, linked to the culture underground that penetrated broad sectors of the Brazilian middle class in the early 70s. Drugs, rock and roll and classic MPB, gender issues, women's affirmation and new LGBT sexuality, racial prejudice with the black population and ethnographic issues (Andrea Tonacci), alternative marginal communities with holistic environmental concerns, form the innovative ideological context that surrounds them. A swallowing (anthropophagic) intertextuality faces classic genre cinema in the narrative, in the mode of debauchery, with screams of exacerbated horror and extreme figuration of bodily abjection.

These are traits that, on a broader horizon, single out Marginal Cinema with nuances. Crossings with the Cinema Novo generation undoubtedly exist. Boundaries are fluid. The protagonists exchanged rather bitter polemics among themselves, based on different ideological projects, disputing production spaces. Torquato Neto, poet who plays the protagonist of Nosferatu in Brazil, took sides and was one of the fierce polemicists of the counterculture, with an active voice in the so-called nanica press and in columns such as “Geleia Geral”, in the Rio de Janeiro newspaper Last Minute. When Ivan Cardoso published a General Jelly criticizing Cinema Novo, the column's main title was 'Mixagem Alta Não Salva Burrice' (1972).

Ivan Cardoso was a 19-year-old young man in 1971, the main point of his curriculum having worked the previous year as assistant to Rogério Sganzerla in the direction of Without That Spider – a feature-length production, with community features, in the famously brief Belair. Cardoso will release his first feature, The Mummy's Secret, only ten years later (1982). Nosferatu in Brazil was shot in Super-8 on the hot beaches of Rio de Janeiro, composing a series of small films, with the same gauge and production conditions, which the director dubbed “Quotidians Kodak”. It has the grace and spontaneity of the direct cinema style (but without direct sound) that dominated minds and hands in those years.

Directed with a strong openness to improvisation and contingency in the shot, it deals with the world without existential guilt, on the basis of filth and the behavior of 'enjoyment', the action released in the whirlwind of its power in the new ideological framework of the time. In stylistic terms, it brings density and intertextual dazzle with recurring citations in cascade, with tropicalism as a backdrop and the reference to classic genre cinema (particularly horror).

So, in addition to the Nosferatu of Murnau, Cardoso refers to the first cinema of Sganzerla, to the experience of Belair and, certainly, to the great inspiring figure of this group, José Mojica Marins, with his character Zé do Caixão. Bressane also walked through these waters when filming Baron Olavo the Horrible (1970) and Elyseu Visconti, later with The werewolf, the midnight terror (1974). Genre cinema (musical, horror, science fiction, noir) is a strong presence for the Marginal gang.

This was 'udigrudi', as Glauber Rocha liked to call it, polemicizing in a mixture of ideological attraction to the libertarian way of life; oscillating stylistic identification, with an eye on production agility; and rejection for personal reasons (particularly with the trio Sganzerla, Bressane, Helena Ignez, and others, like Trevisan (João Silvério). It was Marginal Cinema, a generation of 15 or 20 directors and about a hundred actors and technicians (filmmakers ) that appear recurrently around 40/50 features in 35mm and 16mm (and also Super-8), with very cohesive style characteristics, during a period of 6/7 years, between 1968 and 1973/1974. individual authors that go beyond that, the influence of this marginal 'core' in Brazilian cinema is wide and lasting.

Particular sets, many times, do not allow in the arts in general the establishment of defined categories, or substances that have homogeneous ways of being in the world. This bothers analysis that needs clear boundaries to orient itself. The Marginal, in fact, has the shape of moving constellations over time and a filmic-stylistic consistency of variable stability. The configurations are very visible, clear, but they don't always bring enough definition to be photographed by the mirror of identity. They have no equivalence in a design of the historiographical panorama with figures of 'cycles', of more positivist epistemological stability.

The generational break in Marginal occurs with the outbreak of 'enjoyment' and 'avacalho' behavior (the affirmative action called 'desbunde'), as opposed to the more existentialist demand of the first moment of Cinema Novo, which still carries the weight of engagement and the sticky density (like nausea) of guilt for the necessarily ambiguous dimension surrounding the action decision in the praxis.

Richard Rorty well defines the abyss of the black hole over which Marginal Cinema dances when he ironically criticizes the victory of analytical philosophy over poetry in the history of thought – and brings together the dilations of a poetic pragmatics, power and metaphor, about the domain of theory, inference and perception: “the difference between investigation (inquiry) and poetry, between fighting for power and accepting contingency, lies in what could be a culture in which poetry, rather than philosophy-with-science, is the paradigmatic human activity” (Philosophical papers, vol. II).

The set that makes up Cinema Marginal is strong. It presents, during the years of continuous production in Brazil, and in exile, films of fairly homogeneous authorial quality, with recurrent actors and filmmakers who interact with each other in different places such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas, Bahia. The main reason for the difficulty with the name Marginal is perhaps the intrinsic rebelliousness of young people who flee the more regular ideological framework, established in opposing dualities.

Revolted at the root, in line with the most radical deconstructive spirit of the time, they refuse, in the very crystallization of the denomination, the formalization in language of what designates them – which should not prevent, however, the enlightened critic's observation. Added to this is the fact that the qualifier 'marginal', although having a neutral negative connotative charge in poetry or the visual arts (as in the case of 'marginal poetry', from the same period), carries a more charged negative connotation in cinema. Collective art, cinema involves a collegiate movement of production in which marginality eventually weighs on another perspective.

Ivan Cardoso was at the center of this whirlpool. What was called counterculture, or more imprecisely alternative or hippie movement, occupied the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and the main bars and cultural spaces of São Paulo and other Brazilian metropolises. Because he was young (Hélio Oiticica nicknamed Ivan's group, who attended his house, 'The Kids'), in addition to being talented, Cardoso had easier access to mature exponents of Brazilian culture in the early 1970s, such as Oiticica himself ( who would stage for him the beautiful HO, 1979), Torquato, Caetano, Gal, Bressane, Sganzerla, and several others.

The 'Kodak Daily Life' productions also opened several doors and Ivan began to shine in the middle of the alternative production that bubbled in the 'cheap dunes' as the “king of super-8”. The Quotidianas exhibitions were a kind of disputed informal happening, with a soundtrack of records improvised on the spot, as described by the chroniclers. Apparently, Torquato immediately accepted the invitation to star in his younger colleague's film, incarnating the character of the vampire Nosferato. Filming was done quickly, in about 10 days, in October 1971, with no major production scheme following the availability of the protagonists. Torquato would commit suicide a year later, in November 1972.

The short has a light production scheme, but with the density of stylistically mature cinema, which makes it, in the simplicity of an improvised short film, a reference of an era in Brazilian cinematography. Incorporating this spirit of the times (as in a Zeitgeist), is his main feat bringing, still beardless, the spirit that will make ruler and ideological compass in the coming decades. The themes of counterculture have a pioneering manifestation in the production of Cinema Marginal, before their denser and more organic outbreak in affirmative discourse of minorities in society as a whole.

It is clear that this original ideological field of the counterculture has a strong contemporary evolution. It is shown as one of the roots that forge the emergence of the political discourse of identity statements. It is his emerging moment, the end of the 1960s, 1970s. The historical consistency reveals density beyond a reductive dilution in the market of ideas or in the cultural industry. It is not a consumer product that can serve as a double-edged sword in different axes of the ideological framework.

The identity issue has a historical background and its own struggles, sometimes on the axis of classes, sometimes crossing, which should not be superimposed in equivalence of extremes to the new niche of the leveling media engine, which gives breath to right-wing authoritarianism. Only one gimmick arrogant and malicious intellectual can support, as clarified, a comparison that in itself is a retrograde fallacy – because it starts from a premise that the argument, because it is very well situated in the contextual circumstance, does not provide.

In the images of Nosferatu one can breathe the lightness and sensuality of these 'golden years' that walk alongside the ghost of horror and the blood spilled in the political barbarism that surrounds them. If here horror appears under the cover of gender and the figural beauty of enjoyment (as improvisation in everyday life), in other Marginal films it is explicit, leading to exasperation and the representation of the torn and abject body.

Em Nosferatu in Brazil everything is fun and the blood is plastic – as in the beautiful shot that introduces the second part of the film, dripping from an abstract painting on the wall, a kind of black bag that is cut with a razor blade, the red substance falling onto a poster with the letters in a graphic format that introduces the title.

The reference to the blood dripping slowly down the wall is certainly Helena Ignez's famous blood drool scene that ends The noise family (1970), Belair production by Júlio Bressane. In the background, as a soundtrack, a sweetened instrumental version of Brazilian watercolor sets the tone. Then follows the handwritten expression in the sand, 'Rio 1971', indicating the time and circumstance that the film shows: images of still empty, narrow beaches, with the yellow-green national flags of the time and the 'this is a Brazil that go ahead' of the advertising song (with terrifying relevance) together with the ubiquitous logo of Esso, the multinational oil company that dominated the market.

Nosferato/Torquato Neto crosses the MAM walkway in Rio and the 'cheap dunes' are still there, with their pier under eternal construction and surfers enjoying the bigger waves: “You call me, I want to go to the cinema, you complain, but suddenly the dawn changed… I have no time to waste”. The diegetic universe of the narrative begins with the vampire in the transylvanian 'XNUMXth Century Budapest' (which opens the film in black and white), where Nosferatu is killed and reappears – ready to live in color the space of tropical enjoyment. The dead Nosferatu, as in the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker and in Murnau's film, he submerges himself to be able to travel and here he appears in the summer of Rio de Janeiro, without fear of the sun. The cheap thing is to enjoy the text.

Nosferatu is this enjoyment and, in this time of horror, everyone seems to have a lot of fun in the mise-en-scène of the vampire who comes from the icy, nocturnal mountains (“where you see day, see night” says the mocking sign that facilitates precarious production) and ends in Copacabana. The soundtrack, a later creation since the 1971/1972 film of the happenings is in Super-8 without sound, punctuates the action and creates the atmosphere. It goes, according to demand, from a beautiful Roberto Carlos to heavy lysergic rock, from the most lyrical melody to the agonizing guitar of Jimmy Hendrix. A bossa nova announces the vampire's arrival in Rio. There are no lines or dialogues.

The soundtrack was improvised at the time of the projection's happening, with two record players. Ivan says in his autobiography, the master of terrier (Remier/Imprensa Oficial), that the tracks were “debugging”, but that the essentials were already in the first sessions. It should be noted that more than one version of this film circulates, with different durations. They vary between 26 and more than 30 minutes, and a mythical, or unlikely, long version of almost an hour, which would have been presented at the premiere – an event with wide coverage in the columns. underground of Torquato and Daniel Más (the prince who kills Nosferatu in Transylvania) and which resulted in almost 200 people crowding into a cover of the Lagoon, according to Ivan's description. Variety between versions is relatively common in cinema, not only in Super-8, but also in mass gauges such as 35mm. Being a technological art, versions of classic films overlap in the history of cinema in a way that is different from literature or the visual arts.

No case of Nosferatu in Brazil, Cardoso's cinematographic talent comes from the economic plastic beauty of the shots that make a Rio de Janeiro that no longer exists vibrate, bringing the look of the 'disbunde' in 1971. The unmistakable colors of the film Kodachrome, now lost forever, shine brightly on the Super-8 gauge that after all proves to be able to resist the passage of time well and gives a special color to the disappeared beaches and streets. The color is not the same as that which surrounds us in today's ubiquitous digital camera images, which we take as the specular color of the world.

The more plastic vein of short and medium-length films from the beginning of Ivan Cardoso's career, bring a close dialogue with the concrete and neo-concrete avant-garde of Brazilian poetry and visual arts, showing the experimental face of a filmmaker who would later embark on the axis more commercial he will call 'Terrir'. Work of youth, the images of Nosferatu have a certain rigor in their decoupage – short shots well put together in the composition of the sequences – not always found in super-8 gauge films. This gauge has difficult technological conditions for finishing the assembly – which gives rise to good works, but sloppy or excessively amateurish in this aspect.

Nosferatu it is a work of cinema with a capital 'C', already mature in its composition, ready to take off. The 'actor' Torquato Neto is directed with lightness to keep his natural air intact blasé, within the personal characteristics that coincide with the character – for which he was probably chosen, simultaneously constituting the persona on the scene.

He mixes his type, already a personality at the time, with the fictional figure created by the film in a superimposition proper to the staging in the camera-image shot, something that works with particular effect in the direct style. The vampirized girls, including the great Scarlet Moon by Chavalier, are in tune to interpret the action in 'enjoyment' mode, always at ease in the role, mocking the film itself, history, horror and life.

A sign takes over the screen and makes it clear what is the spirit of the 'high' of the film and the blood-ketchup that abounds: “No history is made without blood”. The dubious mention carries the dialogue to the other side of the record, which shines with the tension of the time. The sign is followed by a shot that forms a pop-oriented picture, with a figurative tone in keeping with the taste of those years: the television turned on to the eternal Silvio Santos with the voice of his Lombardi-Baú-da-Felicidade and next to the TV a glass of ketchup-blood, closer to scale, in front of the device with the image of the image.

Watching television, the vampire group flips through superhero comics and laughs. A skin-deep sensuality exudes through the pores of the young actors who have just discovered the freedom of sensations and sensuality and seem to want to explore it to the fullest extent.

Homemade productions, avant-garde or not, in super-8, 16mm or digital, can be fun, but good cinema is felt from afar, in whatever gauge or medium. Nosferatu in Brazil is part of that strain. Small polished stone that breathed, as art, the most genuine spirit of its time.

Fernão Pessoa Ramos He is a professor at the Institute of Arts at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Marginal Cinema (1968/1973): Representation at its Limit (Brazilian).

Originally published as a book chapter Brazilian Short – 100 essential films (Ed. Abraccine)

 

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