domingo, 11 de dezembro de 2005

The Death of Glauber Rocha

Inspired and irritating; the best known and probably the greatest Brazilian director was somewhat forgotten. Cinema novo, tropicalism, tricontinentalism - where are they now? Glauber Rocha himself forgot nothing.

The last time I saw Glauber Rocha was in the office at Cahiers du Cinema, near Bastille. I didn’t know him, but I’d seen his films ten years earlier. Nobody talks about him anymore, except to say that he had gone crazy or that he’d compromised himself with the Brazilian military regime. He had come to France for what was virtually a sneak screening of his latest film, a film he’d spent a lot of time, money and work on and which had left the Venice Festival-goers perplexed to say the least. It was called A Idade da Terra and was like nothing known to man. A torrential, hallucinatory film. A filmic flying saucer, no more, no less. Glauber was in Paris to try and get the film distributed, to renew old contacts and take his bearings. He talked a lot, he was probably raving: nothing of what he said was without significance.

At Cahiers we asked him whether he would write something or say something about Pasolini, whom he had known, and to whom we were devoting a special issue. He shut himself up in an office and, having no need of an interviewer, talked alone for two hours in front of a small tape recorder. Usually, we could hear his vehement tone of voice, the charm of his Brazilian accent in French, his bad-tempered and affectionate settling of scores with PPP, his post-mortem reproaches. It was already a dialogue of the dead. We didn’t see him again, for he went off to Portugal, where it seemed he was working on a film project. He has just died, on his return to Brazil, of complications from an illness we knew nothing about.

Of the great mischiefmakers of modern cinema, Glauber Rocha was perhaps the furthest from us. Firstly because from the seventies on, his reputation became distinctly bad: he had turned his coat, he had spoken in favour of the military regime of Geisel, then Figuereido, and the state cinema organisation, Embrafilme, had swallowed up a lot of money in that crazy film-fleuve of his, the flying saucer, A Idade da Terra. And then becuase, when it came down to it, he had always been far away, as far from us as Brazil can be. We had only come together because in those crazy times there was still something called ‘the history of the cinema’, which, before our very eyes, would weave the most paradoxical alliances. Glauber Rocha could discuss Eisenstein montage with Godard, say what made Faulkner a cinematographic writer, or why one should, paradoxically, regard Bunuel as a ‘tricontinental’ director. There seemed to be no differences between the guerillas who were leading the ‘new waves’ all over the world, on whatever shores they died. We were resisting; we were resisting Hollywood-Mosfilm, with a mixture of revolt and piety. We did not yet believe that America had conclusively won in the realm of sounds and images.

In 1963, Glauber Rocha and his friends (Diegues, Hirzman, Guerra, Dos Santos, Saraceni, etc.) had published a pamphlet: ‘A Critical Revision of Brazilian Cinema’. Born in Bahia in 1938, like everyone else in Latin America, he and his friends had made the most of a brief period of liberalisation, a breathing space, to try and change Brazilian cinema from the inside. Three films established his reputation: Black God White Devil (1963), Terra en transe (1966) and Antonio das Mortes (1968).

Western criticism , which is always curious about folklore and addicted to labelling, loved this new cinema, this cinema novo which Glauber symbolised. Knowing nothing of its old cinema, nor of Brazil at all, it loved it all the more. Then, as the military began to make a comeback (and what a comeback!), it forgot it. Returned to their contradictions, the cream of the aforesaid cinema novo faced the events that followed each in his own way: Glauber going into exile in 1971, Hirzsman clamming up, Ruy Guerra going off to Mozambique, only Diegues gradually becoming the Brazilian director. Glauber Rocha, the most patently brilliant of them all, will have the most erratic development. Two monster films which ought to be seen again today, Der Leone have sept cabecas (1969) and Cabecas Cortadas (1970), the failed project for a History of Brazil, an unsuccessful film in Italy (Claro), a gag appearance in Godard’s Vent d’est, a controversial short (Di Cavalcanti), and to wind up

He was brilliant but bothersome, a figure vaguely admired, feared or scorned in the Brazilian intellectual landscape, a public figure who was hard to manipulate, even for the military, whose merits he had noisily made much of (as a tactic?) but without it being clear how he could become their hostage or official film maker. Too crazy. So Glauber Rocha laid a lot of false trails, wore out a lot of friends, spouted a full complement of horrors. In Venice in 1980 he behaved very badly, insulting Louis Malle, whose Atlantic City had just been honoured. Everywhere he saw American imperialism, everywhere he saw the hand of Hollywood.

This was nothing new. In 1967 he stated - a banal enough idea at the time - ‘The tools are Hollywood’s just as others belong to the Pentagon. No film maker is free enough’. It was the era of the tri-continental dream: ‘For the tri-continental film-maker the moment of choice comes when the light strikes, I mean when the camera opens on the Thirld World, an occupied territory. In the street, in the desert, in the forest and the city, choice has to be made, and even though the material is neutral, the editing speaks. Speech which can be inprecise and vague, wild and irrational, but whose every resistance is significant.’ Watching A Idade da Terra fourteen years on, I told myself that Glauber hadn’t changed in this point. A film in the image of Brazil, ‘a verbose and loquacious, energetic, sterile and hysterical nation’ (still the words of G.R.).

In a film now devoid of trickery, where he was all alone with his lunacy, Glauber made us recall a forgotten dream, the dream of an other cinema, something other than what is ‘made in USA’. For there had been various times when this existed - this idea that film makers of every continent could assemble images differently, and offer the cinema something other than its bad televi-sation or its sinister museum-isation. A cinema of montage, of materiality and discrepancy, an opera-cinema to convert us from the American operetta. It had once existed.

As I re-read old interviews with Glauber in Cahiers, the image of the inflexible and suspect prophet, with which in the end he had merged, becomes dimmed. It’s true, more than anyone else he had been the petit-bourgeois artist which all orthodoxies throw up, the eternal sorcerer’s apprentice of politics, the faithless provocateur, etc. He was even the subject of Terre en transes, a brilliant masochistic film: which dictator will the poet serve? Yet what’s striking in these interviews is Glauber’s prodigious knowledge: his intimate acquaintance with movies (American ones included), the claiming of ‘Brazilian-ness’ and at the same time the idea that everywhere, beneath the garb of the official saints, are the idols of the subjugated. Behind which they sometimes rise up. Glauber’s films are westerns where cangaceiro killers, peasant mysticism and political manipulations create a single scenario. When it came to ‘folklore’ he had a lot to teach us. As someone with a Protestant upbringing, he was fascinated by Catholic rituals, finding African gods behind them, and behind Saint George deities named Oxosse or Ogun, behind the Church the Candomble.

A word of warning: for him there are no true or false gods, there are (as Deleuze and Guattari would say) ‘rhizome’ gods, there are images which slide one beneath the other, all of them true or all of them false. What counts is not the Earth but the Age. If the word culture has any meaning nowadays, where but in Brazil? A film maker turned into the flux of images, the languages of the whole world, who but Glauber? It’s rather like the way he reproached Pasolini at the Cahiers du cinema office: PPP was perverse when what was needed was subversiveness; worse still he dreamt of an Oedipus-Christ when what was needed was a black and naked Christ.

That it is Eisenstein to whom Glauber Rocha constantly refers is not to be wondered at. In the ruins of our cine-clubs today the director of Potemkin has become a remote and virtually incomprehensible glory. We forget that every film-maker starting out in that part of the world which is itself starting out (the part we call ‘Third’) meets him along the way. There’s nothing political about this. Eisenstein brings back the cabaret and the circus, transvestism and gay paranoia, a fondness for forms and their metamorphoses, for the great and the small, the macro and the micro. Encyclopaedic learning and the Samba danced in front of idols. To foster in things an impure, mongrel beauty. For Glauber there is no end to the dialogue with Eisenstein. ‘Even for Eisenstein, the project of aestheticizing the New World was the same as taking the word of God (and the interests of the conquistadors) to the Indians’ he says. In the age of video, zoom lenses and over-saturated sound, A Idade da Terra is to some extent an answer to S.M.E.; it’s the third part of Ivan the Terrible.

He disconcerted and invented, shocked and disappointed. He gave up nothing of his desire. Stubbornly, he never ceased asking a question which, I fear, has become obsolete: what sort of cinema might there be that owed nothing to the USA? It is maybe asking too much. But who will answer?

Serge Daney

24 August 1981

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