Building verisimilar representations
Two boys grab each other in the rain, in a mixture of fighting and playing. The two bodies cling, push, let go and seize each other once again, in a sensual and aggressive choreography without any definite style. The nude backs, shorts and bare feet on the beaten soaked earth underscore the dark-complexioned skin of the two protagonists. There is nothing else in the frame. The body language and skin color suggest a social condition different from that of the video maker, the plastic artist and documentarist Cao Guimarães who, attentive to the city’s movements, registered, as the film title suggests, through the intimacy of his bedroom window, an anonymous and spontaneous street performance. There is no clear method or style. The film amounts to a snapshot, a single happening in space and time.
“From the window of my room” jars with the anxiously verbal tone that characterizes an infinite number of documentaries and fiction films, as in recent works dedicated to register the myriad of cultural manifestations that have been subverting the Brazilian public scene. The major novelty of these phenomena may reside in a movement never seen before, an insistent and consistent, diversified and fragmented movement of appropriation of the mechanisms of constructing representation. The movement occurs in diverse artistic formats and media. In the cinema, video and TV, each in their specific ways.
Perhaps in an overly concise and still provisional way, I present here a kind of introduction to an ongoing study about recent films that show the slums, poverty and violence. The hypothesis presented here is that the idea mentioned above, that different ways of appropriation of the mechanisms of constructing representation are present in dance, in fashion, in literature, mentioned here to situate the main focus of this work, which is focused on film. Mapping these diverse mechanisms forms a comparative criteria that reveals different forms of constructing sometimes opposite but verisimilar universes.
The illusory character -in the sense of being deceptive, false, fetishist, limited to mere appearance- of the mediatic spectacle was exhaustively pointed out in the critical thinking through the 20th century. The works associated with the Frankfurt school started from a first inquiry about the role of the mass communication means of the time, especially radio and cinema, in the rise of nazism. In the 1960’s, the libertarian movements somehow became linked to the critique, perhaps expressed most incisively in Guy Debord’s formulation, “The Society of the Spectacle”, in literary and filmic forms. Plastic artists, including the Brazilians so in tune with pop, proposed alternatives that synthesized art, life and experience, abandoning the illusory appearances of the mediatic representations.
Fifty years later, the spectacle has imposed itself. But its consolidation has taken place in an unusual way, opening up new ways of questioning. In an interesting version, it may be possible to state that, in a contradictory manner, the cultural industry assumes elements of interaction -unequal and distorted- between producers and creators. Adorno’s work on the cultural industry illuminated mechanisms such as qualitative and quantitative researches into indices which quantify the repercussions and suggest paths.
In a way, it’s possible to think that these and other mechanisms have their own movement, a movement which, throughout time, has made public the construction character of cultural representations. Therefore, wide segments of the population participated in one way or another in the struggle over control of what will be produced and exhibited, how and where.
The forms that this widespread engagement in attempting to participate in the universe of the spectacle assumes are varied. They go from the intense competition for a place on “Big Brother” to the “revolution which will not be televised” of rap, an international network that consolidates its own space in TV itself, as well as in radio and in cinema. In a more –more or less- elaborated and conceptualized manner, depending on what case is analyzed, diverse genera of contemporary expression take actual life experience as their raw material. In a certain sense, it’s as if the 60’s and 70’s agenda has been generalized in a profusion of forms -more or less politicized, sometimes quite diluted and even inverted, such as in the case of reality shows.
A world that appeared as separated, inaccessible to receptors condemned to believe in an illusion parade in the shape of images, signs with the connection. In dance, fashion and other diverse artistic areas, vivacity and colorfulness mark a production that legitimates and promotes the popular taste for consumption of wealthy segments. Inequality, urban violence, drug dealing and media become recurrent themes in a literary, musical and audiovisual production that, in many ways, signs with the possibility of full social inclusion precisely through the participation in the universe of the spectacle.
Not that the images today are more “real”. When at least some of it’s manufacturing mechanisms are opened, “real” and “illusory” cease to be situated in opposite fields to be recognized as part of the same universe. The hypothesis is that filmic and television representations are more or less verisimilar according to the forms of appropriation of the repertoires portrayed.
The universe of cultural production, different from partisan politics, presents itself as a privileged means of an inclusion movement with global ramifications, which sets culture in a strategic position. Transnational fluxes of media, capital, weapons and drugs, but also of cultural repertoires and non governmental organizations, announce the paradoxes of a new millennia lacerated by conflicts that resurrect geographic, ethnic and religious fundamentalisms, and weaken the national states.
In the boarders of the occidental world, in a geopolitical situation that favored throughout history the unequal but heterodox confluence of languages, religions and ethnic groups, Brazil has accumulated reflections and practices that place it in a favorable position when it comes to thinking artistic, cultural, politic, social and mediatic contemporary phenomena. Here, social inclusion, participation in the spectacle universe and full citizenship mingle.
Gender, race and class discrimination, the devastation of the environment and carelessness with life quality go alongside with the production and handling of innovative technologies and aesthetic expressions, which sign possibilities of inclusion. Native leaders have circulated in the world arena for decades, participating in encounters and ceremonies that gather their peers around the planet. Here, as in Australia, with the help of anthropologists and videomakers, different groups have learned the arts of audiovisual registering. In the heart of forests, cutting edge technological projects engage local people in the cataloguing and study of a rare biological diversity, one of the greatest reserves of humanity.
Autochthonous publications bring us the freshness of native stories of collective authorship, such as “Histórias tuyuka de rir e de assustar” (Tuyuka stories to laugh and scare). MV Bill has World Citizen title, granted by the United Nations in the World Culture Forum in Barcelona, 2003, and besides singing he does research and publishes on socio-anthropology. Fashion cooperative societies in slums in Rio de Janeiro or Porto Alegre have commercialized products that are successful in inner circuits, such as the popular craftwork “fuxico”, although they don’t necessarily enjoy the same status in their communities of origin.
Most times, these heterodox feats start from some sort of fecund interaction between “natives” of diverse places and “external agents” of some sort. The project “Vídeo in the Villages” by the politically engaged anthropologist-videomaker Vincent Carelli is an illustrative example. Ivaldo Bertazzo, the acclaimed choreographer from São Paulo’s high middle class adventures himself in the periphery of São Paulo, where he lives, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia or Balinese orient. In each of theses places, he promotes the strain between professional knowledge and local languages.
Many of his works have brought “dancing citizens” to express in stage choreographies that blend popular and erudite references. Perhaps “Samwaad, street of encounters”, staged in 2005, is the most sophisticated of these research efforts of movement as an encounter and multi-dialogue between diverse languages. Many of these inventions happen in consonance with art-education or citizenship strengthening projects. Rarely do they operate meaningful aesthetic expressions. The acute perception of these rare but auspicious forms challenge the categories of contemporary critique.
Audiovisual workshops, reality shows, “City of God”, “City of Men”, “The Prisoner of the iron bar”, “Bus 174”, are some examples of fiction and documentary films and television programs that express different forms that this appropriation may assume, and does in fact assume, in audiovisual expression. In search of overcoming the “object” position and gaining some control over the constitution of subjectivity, aspiring protagonists participate in the dispute for control over what is being represented, how and where. In other words, they recognize politics -and inquire into the poetics- of representations. They seek to become part of the gears that produce illusions, a movement that by itself modifies the statute of these fruitions, suggesting the limitations of simplistic notions about the spectacle.
The anthropological research of Alba Zaluar in the slum of “City of God” has awakened the fictionist talent of her local assistant, Paulo Lins, whom adventures in an usually elite form of expression in a country of little literary culture. Paulo Lins’ movement is a presage for “marginal” or “peripheral” literature, which, starting from hip hop, would articulate in the last 10 years a movement with transnational connections, inaugurating an autonomy of manifestations perhaps never seen before among the Brazilian popular classes. Some publications and debates later, Feréz, author of a manifest and organizer of the first collection of works by this trend, published in “Caros Amigos” magazine, expresses his anguish for a recognition that goes beyond social denouncement, which would reach literary quality and legitimacy as well.
Be it as a base for cinematographic scripts, in music, in sound effects for fiction films or as a subject in itself for documentaries, this literature goes beyond written manifestation. Paulo Lins’ book inspired Fernando Meirelles, a moviemaker coming from the video production movement in São Paulo in the 1980’s, with experience in the advertising area. The option of filming in the slums and casting amateur actors resulted in the development ) of an extensive laboratory conducted by Kátia Lund around a non-governmental organization called “Nós do Cinema” (We from the movies). According to the director, the script of the film was rewritten 11 time starting from elements taken from the speech of the aspiring actors, who were characters of themselves.
The fast edition language, the rounded up script, the well told story, the use of artifices such as the one that accentuated the brightness of the skin of black characters didn’t damage the verisimilitude of the film, founded in spoken language and the autochthonous corporal swing. The construction “method” of dialogues created in the making of “City of God” has been used, with larger doses of improvise, in the making of the TV series “City of Men”, in which the script and plot were referenced in ethnically inspired research and counted with the decisive collaboration of the actors, called to coin speeches starting from the described situations, sequence to sequence, at the moment of filming. It would be possible to detect here a kind of mimesis of local repertoires appropriated by the film. It’s as if the fable making by Paulo Lins, re-worked by Meirelles and Bráulio Mantovani, would gain “real” bodies and voices in the flesh of local actors.
1 - This text expresses the ongoing process of the project “Inclusão e exclusão: a política das representações em uma favela paulistana” (Inclusion and exclusion: the politics of representations in a slum in São Paulo), financed by CNPq. A previous version of this work has been published in the general catalogue of the exhibition “Brazil-France”, 2005.
2 - For a discussion about the relations between video clip, MTV, the renaissance of Brazilian cinema and rap see Ivana Bentes, Ivana. "Videoclipe, Cinema e Política." In: Maria Goretti e Rosana Martins Pedroso (org.) “Admirável Mundo MTV Brasil” (Saraiva, 2005, pp. 176-8).
3 - Celso Athayde, MV Bill and Luiz Eduardo Soares, “Cabeça de Porco” (Objetiva, 2005).
4 - “Caros Amigos, “A Cultura da Periferia - Ato I”, s/d, and “Caros Amigos”, “A Cultura da Periferia - Ato II”, s/d (Ed. Casa Amarela).
5 - Fernando Meirelles interviewed by Tata Amaral in “Trópico” -– /tropico/html/textos/1605,1.shl