Vera Cruz, the dream factory

Image: Adir Sodré


Commentary on the book “Bourgesia e Cinema: o Caso Vera Cruz”, by Maria Rita Galvão

The book by Maria Rita Galvão (1939-2017) is a pleasant read for those interested in the history of Brazilian cinema, describing the life cycle of Companhia Cinematográfica Vera Cruz, São Paulo's Hollywood of the 1950s, written in a light tone, stripped of jargon and theoretical quotes. Initially presented as a doctoral thesis at the University of São Paulo, the book version is a compact adaptation – the original had five volumes and over a thousand pages – of the turbulent daily life of the cinematic mecca that emerged in November 1949.

Maria Rita traced the history of Vera Cruz through the testimonies of those who accompanied its development and the collection of information scattered in the press at the time. Tom Payne, Walter George Durst, Rex Endsleigh, Alex Viay and Nélson Pereira dos Santos.

The origins of Vera Cruz can be found a few years earlier, in the period following the end of World War II. In São Paulo, at that time, there was a strong and mature bourgeoisie, benefited by the recent industrial development, willing to finance the production of culture based on institutions: museums, schools, theaters – all equipment for cultural diffusion that reached a considerable portion of the population.

Thus, in a short period of time, the city witnessed, “somewhat perplexed and very proud”, the birth of two art museums (Museu de Arte Moderna and Museu de Arte de São Paulo), the formation of a theater company of high level (TBC – Teatro Brasileiro de Comédia), the multiplication of concerts, art schools, conferences, seminars, exhibitions, magazines for artistic and cultural dissemination, the construction of a large show house, the creation of a film library, the creation of of an International Visual Arts Biennial.

In October 1948, the TBC was inaugurated, initially an undertaking financed by Franco Zampari to provide shelter for the amateur theater in the capital, which did not have venues to hold its presentations. However, there was soon a need for professionals to guide the young amateurs who had to perform impeccable productions, similar to those staged in Europe, and the Italian scenographer Aldo Calvo was hired for this purpose.

Shortly after, Adolfo Celi arrives from Argentina to take up the post of artistic director at TBC. From then on, professionalization became just a matter of time, taking effect in January 1950 with permanent technicians, directors and actors, most of them from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro amateur groups. Other Italian technicians and artists were called, and soon arrived in São Paulo: Bassano Vaccarini, Luciano Salce, Ruggero Jacobbi, Flaminio Bollini and, later, Alberto D'Aversa, Mauro Francini and Gianni Ratto, most of whom would call successively to TBC and Vera Cruz.

In 1949, the Center for Cinematographic Studies of the Museum of Modern Art (MAM) promoted a Cinema Seminar, “the first regular course in cinematographic technique and aesthetics created in Brazil”, inviting filmmaker Alberto Cavalcanti – who had been in Europe for 36 years – to participate in the event with a series of conferences. As soon as he arrived, Cavalcanti agreed to participate, as general producer, in the company that was being formed and hired foreign technicians of various nationalities to work for the company.

He called, among others, Chick Fowle, Bob Huke, Oswald Haffenrichter, John Waterhouse, Jacques Deheinzelins, Rex Endsleight, Eric Rassmussen and Michael Stoll, as well as several Brazilians: Lima Barreto, Agostinho Martins Pereira, Oswaldo Sampaio, Tônia Carrero, Eliane Lage, Marisa Prado, Anselmo Duarte, Mário Sérgio and Alberto Ruschel, among directors and actors.

The initial capital of Vera Cruz reached the amount of 7,5 million cruzeiros, a fortune at the time. In 1953 the company had the largest film studios in the country, located in São Bernardo do Campo, with an area of ​​101 thousand square meters (25 thousand buildings), with 6 filming stages, mechanical workshops, carpentry, residential apartments, fleets of automobiles and a fake city built for exterior filming.

His first production was caiçara (1950 – director: Adolfo Celi), and a dozen and a half films followed, almost all of them at a loss, namely: 1951 – Earth is Always Earth e Angela; 1952 - Passionate, You know from Frente, Tico-Tico no Cornmeal e Veneno; 1953 - Miss Girl, O Cangaceiro, A flea on the scale, Lero-Lero Family, Rolling in Cash, Corner of Illusion e Light off; 1954 - kissing is forbidden, candinho, On the Path of Crime e Flowering in the Mountains.

exception made to O Cangaceiro, directed by Lima Barreto, which cost 7 million and earned 33 million cruzeiros, Miss Girl and two or three more films, the others failed at the box office, leading Vera Cruz to close its activities in 1954. While the carioca chanchadas cost five or six times less and had their own distribution and exhibition circuit, Vera Cruz delivered the distribution of its films to Columbia Pictures, which, as a direct representative of the international trusts, was not very involved in the distribution of similar national films.

Add to this situation the very high salaries of technicians and artists. Tônia Carrero earned 25 thousand cruzeiros when the minimum wage was 125 cruzeiros; Anselmo Duarte received 13 at Atlântida and went on to earn 50 at Vera Cruz. Furthermore, tickets have had their prices frozen for nearly three years. Finally, given this set of unfavorable situations in financial terms, it is not difficult to understand the main reasons that led the enterprise to bankruptcy.

Maria Rita Galvão, disciple of the critic and professor Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes (1916-1977), rolled up her sleeves and collected a large amount of empirical material that was published little by little, contributing significantly to the understanding of the so-called São Paulo industrial cinema of the 1950s, technically consolidated with the advent of Vera Cruz.

After reading this Bourgeoisie and Cinema It is understood that perhaps the biggest mistake of the São Paulo bourgeoisie that participated in this adventure was to believe too much in itself as a class and to have become too involved with its sweeping dream Factory – by the way, other is not the original title of Maria Rita’s thesis.

*Afranio Catani is a retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF. Author, among other books, of the shadow of the other (Panorama)

Originally published on Jafternoon newspaper in 30.01.1982


GALVÃO, Maria Rita. Bourgeoisie and Cinema: the Vera Cruz case. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization / Embrafilme, 1981.


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