Thursday, 18 June 2009

Samba em Brasília - 1960

I started my first blog and called it 'Samba em Brasilia', a Brazilian musical-comedy directed by Watson Macedo I had watched in November 1960, when I was 11 years old.  

Then I began to think why I had enjoyed this film so much. Would it be that I was such an impressionable young man that I was hugely impressed by a 'middling' movie and didn't know better? 

I came to the realization that is not true! 'Samba em Brasilia' is not only a 'middling' musical comedy. It has actually got all the elements that made this sort of movies hit a chord with the paying public. 

It had Eliana Macedo, the most popular (and likeable) actress in the land at that moment. It had wonderful music. It had good-looking  Herval Rossano as leading man. But most of all it had some of the best comedians in the land: the queen of Brazilian slapstick comedy Nancy Wanderley and marvelous Heloisa Helena to boot. Try and top all those elements. 

14 to 20 November 1960 - Watson Macedo's 'Samba em Brasilia' premieres in Sao Paulo in mid-November (Rio de Janeiro had seen it in October). 

Eliana (Tereza Coutinho)
Heloisa Helena (Eugenia)
Nancy Wanderley (Albertina)
Herval Rossano (Valdo)
Geraldo Meyer (Ricardo)
Humberto Catalano (Rodolfo, mordomo)
Sergio de Oliveira (Vladimir)

Darcy Coria (Virginia)
Paulo Celestino (Dagô, cronista social)
Henrietta Brieba (tia Clotilde)
Carmen Montel (Ivete)
Chiquinho (Giló)
Norma de Andrade (Beatriz, mãe de Virginia)
Zeni Pereira (Maria, da favela)

Alvarino Pereira (Matias, da escola-de-samba)
Valença Filho (Jorge)
Georgette Villas (Jurema)
Alberico Bruno
Antonio Laborda
Margot Melo

Giló (Chiquinho), Rodolfo (Catalano), Tereza e Tia Clotilde (Henrietta Brieba)

Adolfo Machado 
José Silva
Eneyd Maria Neiva
Rodolfo del Rio
Odete Pinage
Lana Batista
Roberto Ramos
cão Stick

Musical numbers:

'Tudo é ilusão' (Hanibal da Silva-Eden Silva-Tufic Lauar) with Odete Amaral;

'Novo dia' (Eden Silva-Djalma Costa-Oldemar Magalhães) with Escola de Samba Academicos do Salgueiro;

'Brasil, Fonte das Artes' (Djalma Costa-Eden Silva-Nilo Moreira) Escola de Samba Academicos do Salgueiro 1956 samba-enredo which was the first 'plot-samba' ever recorded by a professional singer (Emilinha Borba) here in a rendition by Escola de Samba do Morro;

'Fechei a porta' (Sebastião Motta-Francisco Santos) a 1960 Carnaval hit by Jamelão, in the film being sung by Herval Rossano's character Valdo who was actually dubbed by Francisco Carlos;

'Favela amarela' (Jota Jr.-Oldemar Magalhães) with Aracy Costa;

'Não quero mais amar' (I'll never fall in love again) Johnny Ray; v.: Ramalho Netto sung by Francisco Carlos;

'Brasilia' (Bené Nunes-Marino Pinto) with Eliana, Bené Nunes & Severino Filho his orchestra & choir.

Albertina (Nancy Wanderley), Gilá, Rodolfo & aunt Clotilde. 

Watson Macedo's 'Samba em Brasilia' is one of my all-time favourite Brazilian musical-comedies. It's got all the right ingredients to be successful: a major star (Eliana Macedo) who could act as well as sing and dance; a good-looking leading-man (Herval Rossano); a plot that opposes different social classes; Teresa (Eliana) a poor attractive girl from the slums works as a kitchen-maid at a rich household whose mistress Eugenia (played by marvelous Heloisa Helena) is the benevolent mother of Ricardo (Geraldo Meyer), a strapping young lad just-returned-from-Europe who also plays the piano.

Ricardo becomes romantically involved with Teresa who suddenly sees her prospects changed in a most dramatic way. He takes her out in his convertible automobile to Rio de Janeiro's best night-clubs.

Eugenia's only aim in life is to be included among the 10-best-dressed-society-ladies drawn up by a gossip-journalist (Paulo Celestino). When Eugenia finds out that Teresa is familiar with 'umbanda', the Afro-Brazilian equivalent of voodoo, she persuades her to help her to reach her all-consumming goal of getting included in Dago's very selected list. Teresa's preparation of an 'umbanda' session with the help of Albertina (Nancy Wanderley) and Giló (Chiquinho) is uproariously funny and the comic highlight in the film.

All that happens during the 1960 Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro a few weeks before Brasilia, a brand-new capital city is inaugurated on 21 April 1960. Class disparity plus popular culture against elitism and pretentiousness is a must; it's the kitchen against the dining-room with a smart butler (Catalano) being the liaison.

When great pretender Virginia (Darcy Coria) realizes Ricardo, her once-prospective-husband had been snatched by a mere kitchen-maid she gets mad and with the help of her most practical mother Beatriz (Norma de Andrade) devises a plan to throw a big party so that Teresa could be properly introduced to the high-society. She actually thought up a plan to sabotage the very party engaging a catering company that serves deliberately rotten stuff to the guests. That evil-plan though is thwarted by Albertina who finds out the fiendish machination in the nick of time kicking up a storm in a slapstick-style fight thrashing all the bad waiters. All hell break loose in the kitchen while the party is going on.

Virginia's co-conspirators try to persuade Teresa to wear a grotesque 'avant-garde' frock and an outlandish make-up but Teresa, who is not dumb, suspects their heinous intention and before she goes out to be introduced to the assembled high-society downstairs changes both the make-up and dress descending the gorgeous steps that lead to the great lounge like a queen that she really is.

Undaunted by her first setback, Virginia summons Teresa to be 'friendly' grilled by her swanky accomplices. Teresa goes through a barrage of questions concerning high-brow topics but is never discomfited. Teresa is asked whether she prefers dodecaphonic or diatonic music. She calmly retorts she really likes Bossa Nova which is a brand new Brazilian music. The frivolous bunch giggle away but only for a short time; soon Dagô the Brazilian Cholly Knickerbocker who overheard Teresa's anwer says she's right, Bossa Nova is indeed a very good example of diatonic music and it is most excellent.

Still not put off by the drubbing they endured one of the girls says she had visited many countries in Europe like Paris, London and Madrid. Teresa asks her point blank whether she'd been to Brasilia the newest capital city in the world. The pert girl has to acknowledge she'd never been there. Teresa regrets that and says she'd have liked to hear her impressions about Brasilia.

Brasilia is actually the key-word for a whole change of scenary. That's when virtuoso pianist Benè Nunes says he'd like to present his new composition about Brasilia and invites Teresa to take part in the pageant that starts at the drop of a hat... and like in Hollywood movie anything goes. The living room becomes a huge sound stage where the most elaborate musical fantasia is performed with a big orchestra & choir plus a massive dance ensemble that takes up about 6 minutes of the highest quality song & dance sequence in Brazilian movie history.
Teresa (Eliana Macedo) lives up in the slums perched off the cliffs of Rio de Janeiro. Valdo (Herval Rossano) is a musician who writes songs for the favela's samba-group that will enter a competition for best song & dance performance at Carnaval. He's in love with Teresa who is the girl who bears the samba-group flag during their performances but she's noncommittal about their relationship. Teresa loses her place as the standart-bearer for the group to a Ivete
Teresa is a little weary of living in the slums and see no way out of poverty every time Valdo talks about better times to come.
1940s singer Odete Amaral, one of the samba-group's seamstress sings 'Tudo é ilusão'.
Albertina (Nancy Wanderley), Giló, Rodolfo & aunt Clotilde; Teresa's aunt Clotilde (Henriqueta Brieba) who works as a cook for a well-off family is on sick-leave and asks her niece to relieve her for a few weeks; the kitchen gang: Giló, Rodolfo, the butler,
Teresa is courted by both father & son
Teresa working as a kitchen-maid at an upper-class household meets the heir Ricardo (Geraldo Meyer) who falls for her.
from kitchen-maid to darling of the heir...
Ricardo starts dating Teresa and takes her out on the town.
at the night club Francisco Carlos sings 'Não quero mais amar' a cover of Johnny Ray's I'll never fall in love again'.
Teresa and Ricardo's convertible automobile.
Eugenia (Heloisa Helena) confides to hubby Vladimir (Sergio de Oliveira) she's afraid she won't make it this year's Dagô's 10-best-dressed-socialites; then tells the buttler (Catalano) she needs to devise a plan to get into Dago's list somehow.
Teresa overhears her mistress saying she'd do anything to get into the high-society's 10-best-dressed list; later on after being laid off from her job Teresa shrugs off saying her Afro guardian angel would surely help her find another one which immediately raises Eugenia's suspicion the maid had some hidden power that could help her get into the best-dressed-socialite list and reverses her order. Soon, Teresa is guiding Eugenia on the rites of umbanda & macumba the Afro-Brazilian kind of voodoo.  
snobbish Virginia (Darcy Coria) is afraid she's losing Ricardo to the kitchen-maid.
Virginia concocts with her high-society girl-friends a plan to ruin Teresa's chances to shine during the party celebrating Eugenia's inclusion in the intensely exclusive 10-best-dressed-socialites list.
Dagô (Paulo Celestino), Ricardo at the party; Teresa is quizzed by Virginia and her posh friends about high-brow subjects like whether she prefers diatonical or dodecaphonic music.
butler Rodolfo & master are happy everything turned out for the best. Rodolph signs it's show time and the big pageant rolls on...
Teresa climbs down the steps triumphantly...
she is received reverentially by pianist Bené Nunes... and the grand finale starts
'Samba em Brasilia' fantasia
Brasilia and its gorgeous Oscar Niemeyer shapes are featured in the background...
after the rich pageant is over Teresa leaves her upper-class beau, returns to the slums, resumes her place as a standard-bearer and marches with Valdo & her own people on the avenue.

Brazilian politics in 1960

'Samba em Brasilia' was probably custom-made. As 1960 approached Brazil would go through another Presidential election on the 3rd October 1960 that incidentally was bound to be the last one in as many a-generation. Ever since 1930 Brazil had been governed by a new Oligarchy which was more identified with Industrialization and rapid Growth as opposed to the old (rural) Oligarchy that ruled the country since Imperial times represented by the coffee-crop land-owners of Sao Paulo aka coffee-barons and the milk-farmers from land-locked Minas Gerais. That backward period is usually called 'coffee-and-milk Republic'.

The 1960 election was different from the previous ballots because the old rural Right wing had a strong candidate in the person of Janio Quadros, an idyosincratic politician who had a direct line with the populace - he knew how to use the every-day language that struck a chord with the masses - some call it populism.

On the centre-left there was an old Marshall called Teixeira Lott who was the scourge of the right-wing plotters against democracy. The right had already attempted to overthrow elected governments twice before; in 1954 and 1955 when Mr. Juscelino Kubitschek won the national election but was suddenly threatened by undemocratic sectors of the Brazilian Army identified with the 'carcomidos' (the old Oligarchy). hey would not 'recognize' JK's victory saying he would have to have 50% of the votes plus one, something utterly made up at the spot that had no basis whatsoever on the 1946 Constitution.

Left-of-the-centre Juscelino Kubitschek was a popular president and built Brasilia, a new capital-city out of nothing in the central highlands of Goias in less than 5 years. The conservative media made a relentless campaing against him and the building of Brasilia but to no avail. Even though J.K. was popular he knew he wouldn't make his successor and for the 1st time in 30 years the Right was back in power through the popular vote.

I don't know much about director Watson Macedo's political stance but it is clear to see he subscribed to the ideia of Brasilia as a new landmark (hope) in Brazilian society, therefore he must have been friendly to Mr. Kubitschek's policies. Some say 'Samba em Brasilia' was meant to be made earlier to coincide with Brasilia's inauguration-day on 21 April 1960. I don't believe it so because the story runs around Carnaval time and everyone knows Carnaval is either in February or March. The film's release date - September 1960 is more relevant in relation to the Presidential elections in the next month than to the inauguration itself.

Ever since 1888 when Slavery was abolished in Brazil, the Negros were left on their own with nothing to fall back upon after 300 years of thralldom. Suddenly the Black population was thrown out of farms, houses and fields with no place to live so they took to the hill-sides in towns and cities that were too steep for the white to build safely. These aggregations of huts and shacks became known as favelas (slums) that still exist 127 years later. Some of them like Rocinha is home for almost a hundred thousand people.

What some people who take up Brazilian musical-comedies as a subject-matter for Academic purposes don't seem to understand is that the very vehicle - the musical-comedy-films - were made specifically to be consummed by the poorer section of the Brazilian population. Due to the high illiteracy rate in Brazil - 60% circa 1960 - a lot of people would only go to the movies when the film was spoken in Portuguese. Why? Foreign films were shown in their original languages with subtitles in Portuguese that illiterate people obviously were not able to read. Brazilian movies were really popular in the 1940s and 1950s. With the advent of TV in the 1960s that popularity began to wane and disappear altogether as of the 1970s.

These scholars don't seem to understand that one cannot resort to the conservative elitist press archives to have an idea how these musical-comedies were received by the paying public then. Most columnists from reactionary rags like 'Jornal do Brasil', 'O Globo', 'O Estado de S.Paulo', 'Folha de S.Paulo' hated those films viscerally branding them sneeringly as 'chanchadas' (dirty tricks) - etymology hails from 'chancho' meaning pig. The stuckup media actually abhorred the Brazilian movie industry as a whole. They were after all the greatgrandchildren of former slaveholders who could not appreciate 'negroid' art. It's almost like the Southern USA white press columnists praising 'Cabin in the sky' or 'Stormy weather' in the 1940s.

Talking about Negros and Slavery one cannot but admit that the biggest mistake of Watson Macedo's approach to 'Samba em Brasilia' is the fact that his main character (even though poor) is white. Whites didn't settle up in the slums. Poor whites could always manage to find a place at crowded tenements called 'cortiços' but hardly ever in a 'favela'. So one has to take the whole exercise with a pinch of salt.

Samba is an Afro rhythm brought along with Blacks in bondage crossing the Atlantic Ocean in slave-ships. The only reference to the existence of Blacks in the slums in 'Samba em Brasilia' is in the beginning when Black standard-bearer Ivete quarrells with Teresa and wins the battle. But in the end white Teresa is back and reclaims her job from the rightful Black owner.

Palacio da Alvorada (Dawn's Palace) is the official residence of the President of Brazil.
1960 Presidential contenders; Janio Quadros on the left is the right-wing candidate; Marshall Teixeira Lott, wearing sunnies, on the right is the left-of-the-center candidate.

23 October 1960 - Correio da Manhã - Mudancismo em fita - 'Mudancismo' was the name of a movement of those who wanted to move the national capital-city from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia. It was finally victorious when Juscelino Kubitschek won the 1955 Presidential election and pledged to make it a dream come true. He was true to his words and a brand-new capital city was inaugurated on 21 April 1960. Rio de Janeiro's press were mostly against such an idea and fought as hard they could to prevent it but to no avail. Carioca newspapermen could no refrain their derision and contrariness even after the deal had been done and kept on harping on it; The note says: 'The Capital has been changed to Brazil's central dust-pan... but Brazilian cinema never does (change)...'  'Central-dust-pan' was obviously a pun on 'planalto-central' (central highland) where Brasilia was located.

Cultural cringe 

According to 'cultural cringe' (a noun) is the perception that one's culture is inferior to that of another group or country

Wikipedia goes a little further and says: Cultural cringe, in cultural studies and social anthropology, is an internalized inferiority complex that causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the cultures of other countries. 

It is closely related, although not identical, to the concept of colonial mentality, and is often linked with the display of anti-intellecutal attitudes towards thinkers, scientists who originate from a colonial or post-colonial nation. 

'Correio da Manhã's review is an exercise in cultural cringing.

1st November 1960 - Even 'Correio da Manhã, a Rio daily one could not call conservative, had an arts & entertainment section made up of arrogant & pretentious journalists. Read the film review written by A.V. and you'll see the columnist really despises the whole concept of Brazilian musical-comedy and is disdainful of what he calls the new 'trend' opened by French director Marcel Camus who filmed 'Black Orpheus' in one of those Rio slums. This is how the columnist sums up his review: 'Do jeito que a coisa vai o morro se transformará na sede e símbolo do cinema nacional – ou do abacaxi'. The way things are going the slum will become the seat and symbol of Brazilian cinema. Then the columnist compares the Brazilian cinema industry with a pineapple which in Brazilian parlance means something worthless.

As one reads the review one is bound to see the columnist gets particular enjoyment in repeating the disparaging word 'chanchada' twice in the same paragraph. He adds that Watson Macedo was compelled to make the film in Rio (as opposed to Brasilia) because he 'feared inflation' and wanted to save money. Higher inflation was then blamed on the policies implemented by Mr. Kubitscheck who dared to build a city out of nothing in the central plateau of Goias. Inflation has always been the most common right-wing bogeyman in Latin American politics and they always find a scapegoat to blame. One can only understand the acrimony against JK's positivism and progressiness if one studies XX Century Brazilian history. And, unfortunately, it seems not many people have bothered to read it otherwise they would have written better essays about Brazilian cinema.  

After declaring Watson Macedo was poor the columnist is outraged by the fact that Mr. Macedo portrays the socialite Eugenia (played marvelously by Heloisa Helena) as a loquacious patrician; he objects to journalist Dagô being portrayed as an 'imbecile social columnist'. Actually, Dagô is one of the best character in the whole movie... he's funny without being outrageous. What the reviewer doesn't seem to understand is that the public who paid to see Brazilian musical-comedies were mostly working class people who found it hilarious to see upper-class characters being sent up. Charlie Chaplin knew that maxim 50 years earlier otherwise he wouldn't have made 'The idle class' in 1921. Actually, Chaplin's 'little man' was a poor man in constant opposition to law-enforcement-agents or upper-class archetypes. 

The reviewer was unfortunate in his depiction of 'Samba em Brasilia' as just another 'thin-plotted-flick with lots of musical numbers inserted in between'. He complains that 'such singer who has nothing to do with the plot comes out of nowhere, sings his song and is soon followed up by another act eager to do the same'. That might be true to some other comedy, not to this one. 'Samba em Brasilia' has actually fewer musical numbers than the usual musical comedy and all of them have a special meaning in the plot line. Old-timer Odete Amaral starts the music with 'Tudo é ilusão' but she is part of the story playing a seamster stitching up costumes for the Carnaval party in which the whole plot is wrapped up.

Francisco Carlos could have been out of place with 'Não quero mais amar' his cover of Johnny Ray's 'I'll never fall in love again' but he's not. 'El Broto' as Francisco was known actually sings at a night club where Geraldo takes Teresa in their first night out.

Aracy Costa's rendition of 'Favela amarela' (Yellow slum) is pertinent to the plot as it was originally written as a protest against some bigwig in the Tourism Board who declared the slums should be painted yellow and other strong colours to make them look better to foreigners who visited Rio de Janeiro. 

The final musical number 'Samba em Brasilia' is a tour-de-force that no one but a strong-biased narrow-minded run-of-the-mill journalist  would classify as 'mediocre'.  
the man himself and the dream come true -  President Juscelino Kubitschek
President JK and vice-president João Goulart at Brasilia's inauguration on 21 April 1960.

Here's the review in the original Portuguese printed on ‘Correio da Manhã’ on 1st November 1960

Apesar da nova capital do Brasil aparecer (como chamariz para o publico) no titulo, esta ultima chanchada de Watson Macedo foi filmada aqui mesmo no Rio. A Brasilia do filme é de um samba (Benè Nunes & Marino Pinto) que foi requisitado para encerrar o medíocre desfile musical introduzido, à força, na chanchada. Watson Macedo & Cia temendo a inflação resolveram fazer uma Brasilia de madeira-compensada, identificável através da fachada do (Palácio da) Alvorada. E esperam, naturalmente, que a onda publica compense o dinheiro gasto no samba-caricatura.

‘Samba em Brasilia’, além de acumular todos os defeitos das fitas de seu gênero ainda traz mais um: o da projeção longa. Watson Macedo  influenciado certamente pela moda dos filmes quilométricos, entrou, meio desconfiado, numa experiência naquele terreno,  ao prolongar por quase 2 horas este samba. Felizmente não levou avante sua ameaça. Parou na metade do caminho. Ainda assim é grande o suplício.  

A história, do próprio diretor e Ismar Porto, é um amontoado de situações já vistas inúmeras vezes e em todas as posições. Até os personagens são os mesmos de outros shows: o cronista social imbecilizado; a grã-fina faladeira que quer ver seu nome da coluna social, a .... interesseira etc.  No meio do falatório radiofônico e das palhaçadas de costume, aparece de vez em quando, cantor que nada tem a ver com o negócio. Executa seu número e desaparece, e o microfone é ocupado pelo que está esperando atrás da cortina.

A chanchada nacional continua marcando passo no mesmo lugar e desafiando a paciência dos que ainda a prestigiam.  Nenhum progresso se verifica. A turma, na verdade, não quer nada com o cinema: apenas sombra e água fresca. De nada adiantou a lição que Billy Wilder deu ao mostrar em ‘Some like it hot’, que de história maluca pode-se fazer uma excelente chanchada.

Depois que o francês Marcel Camus subiu o morro com a câmera nas costas para filmar as favelas e fazer uma panorâmica sobre a cidade, o movimento intensificou-se por aquelas bandas.  Os argentinos já andaram por lá. Golias (‘Tudo legal’) também. Em ‘Samba em Brasilia’, Eliana mora no morro e é porta-estandarte de uma escola-de-samba. Do jeito que a coisa vai o morro se transformará na sede e símbolo do cinema nacional – ou do abacaxi. V.A. 

Tereza e Ricardo tornando-se amigos...

Vladimir (Sergio de Oliveira) e Virginia (Heloísa Helena) os donos da mansão.

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