Reporter 451, 8 May 2000
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The Brazilian chanchada and its relationship with Hollywood paradigms (1930-59)
Dr Lisa Shaw
From the mid 1930s until the end of the 1950s Brazilian cinema was dominated by a popular genre which came to be known as the chanchada, although the frame of reference of this umbrella term was to shift significantly during this period, as the Brazilian film industry felt the impact of socio-political, economic and cultural transformations. The term chanchada was coined in the 1930s by journalists and film critics to refer scathingly to the highly derivative, light musical comedies that were used to promote carnival music and were often modelled on Hollywood movies of the same era. But it was soon to become the accepted way of referring to increasingly polished productions, particularly those of the Atlântida studios, founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1941, which enjoyed unprecedented popular success in Brazil. By the 1950s chanchadas were no longer necessarily musicals, but maintained a tradition of carnivalesque humour.1 This article aims to examine the relationship between the chanchada and Hollywood, and to show how imitation of the latter’s cinematic models gradually gave way to parodic reworkings of these same generic templates. It will begin by considering the ways in which the Brazilian musical revues of the 1930s and 1940s adopted and adapted key elements of the Hollywood musical, particularly its so-called backstage variant. It will then focus on the impact that the USA’s celluloid depiction of Brazil/Latin America had on the chanchada, particularly in the musical/dance sequences of films from the 1950s. It will finally look at the parodic comedies produced in Brazil in the 1950s, which undercut Hollywood’s stock motifs in a spirit of carnivalesque inversion, and reflected changes in popular sentiment, particularly in the face of increasing threats to Brazil’s socio-cultural identity.
BRAZILIAN MUSICALS IN THE 1930S: THE CARNIVAL REVUE MEETS THE BACKSTAGE PLOT
During the silent era carnival was the focus of much interest amongst Brazilian filmmakers, and it has been estimated that between 1906 and the arrival of the talkies in the early 1930s around fifty shorts were produced using footage from the annual celebrations in the city of Rio de Janeiro (Augusto 1993, 88). The first sound documentary on this popular theme, O carnaval cantado de 1933 no Rio de Janeiro, was screened on Ash Wednesday 1933, and paved the way for a series of carnival films, such as A voz do carnaval (1933) from the Rio-based Cinédia studios, which combined real-life footage of carnival balls and processions with a fictitious plot line. As the decade progressed the promotion of carnival music became the raison d’être for most films, which found a ready-made cast of actors, actresses and performers amongst Brazil’s radio stars, whose established fame and popularity represented a huge box-office draw.2 The nascent Brazilian cinema industry took much of its inspiration from the U.S. musical revues which flooded the domestic market from 1929 onwards, the year in which Broadway Melody, the screen’s first musical, was shown in Brazil, complete with primitive subtitles. This film inspired the Brazilian talkie, Coisas nossas, of 1931, produced by an American, Wallace Downey, and which included performances by popular musicians such as the samba maestro Noel Rosa.
With the release of MGM’s Broadway Melody in 1929, which portrayed chorus girls trying to make it big on Broadway, the trend for backstage musicals was born, and it was largely thanks to Busby Berkeley’s extravaganzas at Warner Brothers in the mid 1930s and the highly successful MGM productions of the 1940s (many choreographed by Berkeley after his 1939 move to Metro) that the show musical became a recognised sub-genre in Hollywood. The first Brazilian musicals were clearly inspired by their sophisticated Hollywood counterparts, and the established stars of the radio and popular music found themselves in front of the cameras. Alô, alô, Brasil! of 1935, the plot of which revolved around a radio fan’s obsession with a fictitious singer, set the trend for allowing audiences to see their favourite radio stars playing themselves on screen, both in front of and behind the scenes, affording the public a voyeuristic glimpse of life ‘nos bastidores’. This musical featured the most well-known radio presenter of the era, César Ladeira, the comedians Jorge Murad, Barbosa Júnior and Cordélia Ferreira, and the hugely popular actor from the ‘teatro de revista’, Mesquitinha.3 The musical numbers were provided by Carmen Miranda, her sister Aurora, and the equally famous performers Francisco Alves, Dircinha Batista, Almirante and Mário Reis. In Estudantes of 1935 Carmen Miranda played an up-and-coming radio star, and in Alô, alô, carnaval! of the following year, which Sérgio Augusto (1993, 92) calls ‘Carbono dos primeiros musicais (ou filmes-revista) da Metro’, she and her sister performed a memorable rendition of the song ‘Cantoras do rádio’ by the popular composers Braguinha and Alberto Ribeiro. The plot of Alô, alô, carnaval! centred on the production of a revue show in a ritzy Rio casino and the difficulties encountered off-stage. The show-within-the-film combined the comic talents of its actors with performances of carnival marches or marchinhas and sambas written by some of the most acclaimed popular musicians of the time.4 Although by the end of the 1930s the backstage device was being supplanted in Hollywood by less stereotypical motives for song and dance (Altman, 1987, 234), its adoption by Brazilian filmmakers was to continue until the end of the 1950s, and in the chanchada the revue aspect was to retain its structural prominence long after it was eliminated from the U.S. musical.
THE CHANCHADAS OF ATLÂNTIDA CINEMATOGRÁFICA
The Rio-based film production company, Atlântida Cinematográfica was founded in 1941 by Moacyr Fenelon, Alinor Azevedo and José Carlos Burle, and although they set out to produce serious, quality films, the studios inevitably succumbed to commercial pressures and began to exploit the carnival musical to the full, adding comedy to the winning formula. Atlântida produced a series of low-budget but highly successful chanchadas in the 1940s and 1950s which appealed to both children and adults. Atlântida’s chanchadas typically portrayed disadvantaged migrants and their humour often hinged on the sense of alienation and confusion experienced by such characters in the big city. These films were a focus of popular identification in the 1950s in particular, when mass migration from rural areas to urban centres reached its peak. They tended to be filmed against the clock and to follow a schematic plot line. The director Carlos Manga has identified four basic stages in the archetypal chanchada plot: firstly, a young man or woman becomes embroiled in a sticky situation, secondly, a comic character tries to protect him or her, thirdly, the villain gains the upper hand, and finally, the villain is defeated (Augusto 1993, 15). The famous double act of the comic actors Oscarito and Grande Otelo, who appeared together in thirteen of Atlântida’s films, ensured huge popular appeal. They both starred in the paradigmatic Atlântida chanchada Carnaval no fogo of 1949, which like numerous examples of the genre centred on carnivalesque inversion, more specifically of exchanges of identity, and followed the formulaic story line to the letter. The hero, Ricardo, played by Anselmo Duarte, finds a cigarette case belonging to the villain of the piece, a gangster named Anjo played by José Lewgoy. By using the silver case Ricardo is identified by other hoods as their leader, in a classic case of mistaken identity.5
The chanchadas were typically set in fancy hotels, glamorous night-spots, ocean liners (De Vento em popa of 1957), radio stations (Garotas e samba of 1957), record companies (Quem roubou meu samba? of 1958), television studios (Absolutamente certo of 1957) and other pleasure-oriented locales frequented by society’s elite or associated with the world of showbusiness. Locations such as the Copacabana Palace and the Quitandinha, an exclusive hotel and former casino on the outskirts of the Imperial city of Petrópolis in the state of Rio de Janeiro, are visual leitmotifs of the "white telephone" sets of Hollywood movies of the 1930s and ’40s, and they provided Brazilian cinema audiences with a seductive and illusory cultural domain in which representatives of the working masses, who are employed there or trick their way in, and the elite come into contact. The chanchadas took as their basic premise a desire on the part of certain characters to be a part of the entertainment industry, usually as performers in casinos or cabaret clubs, radio stars, or showbusiness impresarios, thus facilitating the incorporation of stage/musical numbers, and escapist settings far removed from the humdrum everyday life of Brazilian audiences. In Garotas e samba (1957), said to have been inspired by the Hollywood movie How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), the three ambitious female protagonists (one of whom wants to become a cabaret singer, another a musician at a radio station) frequent the fictitious Rádio Carioca station and night-club shows in their ambitious quest for success, and the twelve musical interludes are set in these locations. In the chanchada the musical numbers were rarely linked thematically to the story line and they tended to interrupt the plot rather artificially.
Rick Altman has identified a work/entertainment dichotomy in the American film musical which, he argues, serves to acknowledge and counter the dominant work ethic in society. He writes (1987, 49), ‘In the musical this tension is worked out through the thematic material identified with the members of the couple, one partner representing the thoroughly cultural values identified with work and a stable family structure, the other embodying the counter-cultural values associated with entertainment.’ The chanchada adopted this same basic opposition between labour and leisure. In the opening scene of De vento em popa, of 1957, two wealthy parents receive a telegram announcing the return of their son, Sérgio, to Brazil from the USA, where, they believe, he has been studying to be an atomic scientist. Beaming with pride, his father, Tancredo, announces that his son is destined to invent ‘a primeira bomba nuclear brasileira’(‘the first Brazilian nuclear bomb’). The intentional irony of his misplaced pride is heightened as the camera cuts to a close-up shot of a drum kit and symbols, which are being played with gusto on the deck of a cruise ship. The audience soon learns that the exuberant youth playing the drums is none other than Sérgio, who has been working in showbusiness in the USA and has never set foot in a university. His ambition is to stage cabaret shows in Brazil, and the climax to the film sees him opening his night-club, the ‘Boite Atómica’ (‘Atomic Night-club’), the name of which fittingly captures the essence of the work-versus-play ethic in this and other chanchadas, and comically undercuts the First World’s nuclear projects. The counter-culture of malandragem is central to the chanchada and the popular heroes of these films spurn the work ethic and capitalist fervour of 1950s Brazil in favour of improving their fortunes via a stroke of luck or a slightly underhand ruse. The lazy civil servant or barnabé features in several examples of the genre, such as Barnabé, tu és meu of 1951. The protagonist of Esse milhão é meu of 1958, a lowly civil servant named Felismino Tinoco played by Oscarito, is ironically awarded a prize of a million cruzeiros for managing to complete a full week’s work. The camelô or unauthorised street vendor, who flouts the law in order to make ends meet, is another commonplace figure in the chanchada who earned hero status among the marginalised audience, the vast majority of whom were kept on the fringes of the capitalist development of the mid to late ’50s.
The final scene of the chanchada De vento em popa is typical of the genre in that the differences between the male and female characters are resolved, tensions are smoothed over to an up-beat musical accompaniment, and romance wins out. The chanchada always ends in a mood of carnivalesque festivity, and the final scene is often set on a stage or on a dance floor, where straight-laced women are paired off with fun-loving men or vice versa. This convention was again borrowed from Hollywood, where it tended to be only the male and female leads who were united at the close of the movie.6 In the words of Rick Altman (1987, 51):
The musical’s typical romantic resolution, which depends on the harmony of a couple originally at odds, is thus matched by a thematic resolution in which opposite life styles or values merge. In most cases, to be sure, we are not permitted to verify whether this apparent solution is actually a workable one: the couple is united, the film ends, and we must accept on faith the implied assertion that they lived happily ever after. By convention, time stops when the couple kisses, and change is forevermore banished from their life together. … The ecstatic, uplifting quality of the musical’s final scene permits no doubt about the permanence both of the couple and of the cultural values which the couple simultaneously guarantees and incarnates.
In the Brazilian context the romantic pairing is replicated among a wide selection of characters in a spirit of Utopian democracy and collectivity. Conflicts are resolved and the world is set to rights, as men and women previously at odds dance and celebrate together in a carnival atmosphere. Samba resolves everything, smoothes over tensions, and forces all concerned to abandon their inhibitions and forget their problems. In Garotas e samba, for example, the typical celebratory climax sees the three female leads finally being paired off with the men of their dreams, as they sing and wave to the camera. This characteristically up-beat finale embraces all the characters on screen and invites the audience to join in the party.
Many scholars have commented on the way in which the chanchada overturned traditional aesthetic hierarchies in a spirit of carnivalesque irreverence and inversion, giving status to popular culture, particularly music, and ridiculing examples of elite culture, usually in the form of parody or pastiche.7 Such inversions have been interpreted as a reflection of the pervasive influence of the carnival tradition in Brazil. But the veneration of the popular, at the expense of the classical or erudite, was also an established feature of the Hollywood musical, which grew out of the ‘opera versus swing’ plots of a series of musicals produced by Joe Pasternak at MGM in the 1940s. As Jane Feuer writes (1993, 55-56):
The battle between popular and elite art was waged on every front in the Hollywood musical. . . . Classical music, popular music, ballet and tap dancing may be said to be elements of the genre’s vocabulary. The particular syntax opposing popular and elite elements arises out of the genre’s overall rhetoric of affirming itself by applauding popular forms. When classical music comes to be used in a Hollywood musical (which by definition already contains popular music) the logic of the genre, which always uses cultural prejudices to its own benefit, dictates the war of musical styles. . . . Those musicals which do raise the classical/popular conflict to a central position in the film’s plot always show the triumphant victory of the popular style.
Carnaval Atlântida, produced by the Atlântida studios in 1952 hinges on this battle between the popular and the erudite in the chanchada.8 The backstage plot revolves around the production of an epic movie about Helen of Troy, but in spite of the best efforts of the producer of this epic, one Cecílio B. de Milho, which include contracting as technical advisor a professor of Greek mythology named Xenofontes (played by the well-known comic actor, Oscarito), the production of an historical epic on Brazilian soil proves impossible and only a carnival musical is a viable option.9 Xenofontes succumbs to the bewitching rhythms of popular music, losing all composure when learning to dance the mambo with the Cuban actress Maria Antonieta Pons. The ultimate defeat of classical music by popular song occurs when two humble studio hands, played by Grande Otelo and Colé, watch a scene on the set of a Greek garden in which Helen of Troy is entertained by the strains of a harp. The two onlookers make fun of the choice of music and in their minds the scene is transformed into a carnival celebration, in which the Afro-Brazilian singer Blecaute, dressed in a toga, performs the lively and risqué carnival marchinha, ‘Dona Cegonha’.10
The musical-cum-dance sequences of the chanchada that feature scantily clad dancing girls can be read as diluted and simplified interpretations of what Rick Altman (1987, 204) calls the ‘chorus girl spectacular’, which borrowed in part from the French music-hall or Folies-Bergère tradition, and was popularised in the USA by Florenz Ziegfeld, who made a series of yearly Follies from 1907 to 1931.11 Altman explores the dynamics of desire in the ‘chorus girl spectacular’, in which "The audience is the passionate male eye, the show is the unattainable female vision, unattainable precisely because it is a show, a theatrical illusion, a fiction." (1987, 213) The cinema audience is encouraged to feel part of the screen audience, to identify with and share in the latter’s reactions, and the spectator is able to transfer feelings of guilt to the voyeuristic camera itself. The female body is overtly displayed in the chanchada, and despite the fact that these films were family entertainment, they clearly aimed to entice adult males into cinema halls, along with their wives and children. The male gaze is particularly apparent in the dance sequences, in which the dancing girls display their ample thighs in leotard costumes and high heels. The costumes of the show-girls and the rather simplified choreography are clearly based on Hollywood templates, and it is the pastiched tourist’s eye-view of Brazil/Latin America as depicted in countless ‘south-of-the-border’ U.S. movies, which forms the basis of many of the cabaret shows within the chanchada.12 In the third musical number in the chanchada Esse milhão é meu of 1958, for example, black musicians dressed as African tribesmen play what appear to be atabaque drums, as used in the Afro-Brazilian cult practice of candomblé, and dancing girls appear in a skimpy version of the baiana costume made famous by Carmen Miranda in a host of Hollywood movies, such as Down Argentine Way (1940), That Night in Rio (1941) and The Gang’s All Here (1943).13 Four male and four female dancers appear on the palm-fringed set, the latter carrying baskets of tropical fruit, and then a Carmen Miranda lookalike takes centre stage, wielding a large mesh, spherical cage. This interlude clearly takes its cue from the beach-ball dance sequence in The Gang’s all Here, directed by Busby Berkeley and in which Miranda starred. It is a pale imitation of the extravagant kaleidoscope dance sequences of Berkeley’s classic; in the Brazilian ‘version’ there are only four dancers and the choreography is limited to the showgirls lifting their legs in synchronised movements, caught in a spotlight in an effort to recreate the typical circular framing of the kaleidoscope effect. Here the chanchada looks to the mythical ‘Brazilian’ identity created by the Hollywood studios in the ‘Good Neighbour Policy’ era.14 In spite of the genre’s assertion of popular grass-roots identity, the musical and dance sequences of the chanchada often provided the cosmopolitan night-club audience on screen with Hollywood’s celluloid vision of Brazil.
The epitome of sexual temptation in the chanchada was the exotic foreign beauty, particularly the lascivious latina, a stereotype that the Brazilian film industry took from Hollywood.15 It is no coincidence that in Carnaval Atlântida the respectable professor of Greek mythology, Xenofontes, is led to his moral downfall by a Cuban beauty. Only moments after they meet Oscarito’s character is dancing a rumba and surrendering to the physical pleasures of carnival. The numerous ‘south-of-the-border’ Hollywood musicals of the 1940s, which equated Latin nations with loose morals, rhythm and vivacity, undoubtedly made an indelible impression on the chanchadas, particularly in the musical/dance sequences. Evidently, Brazil does not consider itself sufficiently ‘exotic’, and looks instead to its Spanish-speaking neighbours for icons of a mythical latinidad. In Esse Milhão é Meu the clownish civil servant, Felismino, uses his new-found wealth to visit the tellingly named ‘Sevilha Club’ night-spot with a group of male colleagues. The cabaret act features female dancers dressed as stylised sevilhanas in flamenco dresses, their male partners wearing mock toreador outfits. The stage set is that of a bull ring, and more dancing girls enter dressed as bull fighters from the waist up, but in fetishistic high-cut leotards and stiletto heels. This caricatured depiction of ‘Latin’ passion is enough to entice the lecherous, drunken Felismino on stage, where he charges around like a bull as the audience cheer ‘olé’. The musical interlude reaches a farcical climax as Felismino imitates a flamenco dance, followed by a mimed rendition of cante jondo with guitar accompaniment. Here the Latin motif is comically undercut, but its very presence is a legacy of Hollywood’s obsession with all things ‘Latin’ in the late 1930s and 1940s.16 Similarly, in Cinedistri’s Absolutamente certo of 1957, directed by the former chanchada heart-throb, Anselmo Duarte, one of the television shows, which form the central focus of the production numbers in the film, takes the form of a cabaret act which begins with a flamenco-style dance routine, followed by a vocal performance by three male crooners singing in Spanish.17
PARODY, BURLESQUE AND COMIC IRREVERENCE IN THE 1950S
In the mid to late ’50s the chanchada continued to look beyond its shores for inspiration, to create what Roberto Schwarz calls "mirror-culture" (1992, 6), copying well-known Hollywood films like How to Marry a Millionaire, High Noon, and Samson and Delilah, and imposing an alien reality on its audiences. In spite of the apparent naivety and playfulness of these films, they display an irreverent critique of the sacred dominant model, and they acknowledge the culture shock between Hollywood’s vision of the world and the realities of life in Brazil, by devouring the original in order to give birth to something new, authentically national in character. The Brazilian imitations were dismissed by critics as poor relations of the U.S. originals on which they were based, sometimes quite loosely, but it is precisely their innocence, their lack of pretension, their technical inferiority and their self-deprecating humour which hold the key to their intrinsic Brazilianness. The parodic comedies of the 1950s support Roberto Schwarz’s view that parody of dominant cultural forms is inevitable in a country where culture is an import product, and that it can be used to counter the incursions of the hegemonic power.18
The chanchada director Carlos Manga admitted to being heavily influenced by Hollywood cinema, and once stated "Minha formação cinematográfica foi totalmente americana" (Manga 1983, 30). However, in the 1950s he directed two chanchadas which contained an important oppositional undercurrent in relation to Hollywood’s cultural hegemony. These playful spoofs were Matar ou correr of 1954, a self-confessed burlesque of High Noon of 1952 (entitled Matar ou morrer in Brazil), and Nem Sansão nem Dalila of 1954, which satirised Cecil B. de Mille’s biblical epic Samson and Delilah of 1949.19 Having copied Hollywood slavishly for the best part of two and a half decades, the Brazilian film industry had now mastered the techniques and generic formulae, and parody was the next logical step. Like any example of parody, films like Matar ou Correr and Nem Sansão nem Dalila hinge on blatant stylistic hybridity, and part of their success lies in the fact that they paradoxically acknowledge a debt of gratitude to the parodied style and admit to their own weaknesses, and yet cock a snook at Hollywood and assert Brazil’s autonomy at one and the same time.20 Carlos Manga reproduces the Hollywood Western with striking authenticity in Matar ou correr, and the quality of the sets even led some critics to accuse him of stealing a clip (the stage-coach scene) from the film Calamity Jane (1953). He thus asserts the competence of the Brazilian cinema industry. The only comic elements are the characters played by Oscarito and Grande Otelo, and the rest of the film is played straight. The Brazilian comic "version" of High Noon is set in a frontier town called City Down (inevitably pronounced like the English "sit down", as Grande Otelo’s character explicitly acknowledges in the film), where the sheriff is a former con man played by Oscarito, described by João Luis Vieira as half-cangaceiro, half coward (Johnson and Stam 1995, 256). This yellow-bellied clown, who is terrified of the villains, frequently bursts into tears, and is even afraid of riding a horse, represents a blatant ironic contrast with the heroic Gary Cooper in High Noon. Grande Otelo plays the equally timid cowboy named Ciscocada.21 Typically of the chanchada genre, the two hustling malandros find themselves in positions of power by a quirk of fate in a classic case of carnivalesque role reversal. By keeping two distinct levels of discourse, one a faithful reproduction of the Western, the other an intrinsically Brazilian clownish, malandro double-act, Carlos Manga expresses his admiration for Hollywood’s craft (he saw High Noon many times), and at the same time subverts its message, revealing his resentment of the USA’s domination of the Brazilian market. Whereas the stars and mythical heroes of the Westerns are far-removed from their fans and fulfil a macho fantasy, in the chanchada the appeal and hero status of the leading comic characters lie in their similarities to their audience, and thus in their foibles and willingness to laugh at themselves.22
Comic irreverence towards the USA, its representatives and its cultural clichés was an established feature of the chanchada, and formed part of the inversions of traditional hierarchies that were so inherent to the genre. In Cinédia’s Berlim na batucada of 1944 the American tourist who arrives in Brazil in search of carnival is a thinly veiled caricature of Orson Welles, the Roosevelt administration’s cultural ambassador to Latin America, who visited Brazil in 1942. The USA’s preoccupation with the Cold War is alluded to via the references to the atom bomb (De vento em popa) and to sputnik satellites (O homem do sputnik, discussed in detail below, and Esse milhão é meu).23 In Segura esta mulher of 1946, directed by Watson Macedo, Grande Otelo played a stereotypical movie detective, sporting a top hat and clutching a cigar. Even the names of Hollywood icons are ridiculed: Cecil B. de Mille becomes Cecílio B. de Milho (Mr Corn) in Carnaval Atlântida, the Cisco Kid becomes Ciscocada (a play on the word cocada or coconut sweets) in Matar ou correr, and Elvis Presley is transformed into Melvis Prestes (whose surname means ready in Portuguese, but more importantly was shared by the former Brazilian Communist Party leader, Luís Carlos Prestes) in De vento em popa. The chanchada played on the public’s prior knowledge of Hollywood movies and delighted in undercutting their conventions, whilst at the same time poking fun at Brazil and its relative inferiority. The local and the exotic were often drawn in comic opposition. In the chanchada Garotas e samba (1957), for example, which was allegedly modelled on the Hollywood movie How to Marry a Millionaire and copies the latter’s basic premise of three young women on the make, the female protagonists live in a humble and overcrowded boarding house called Pensão Inocência, run by the disapproving spinster of the same name, worlds apart from the Manhattan apartment inhabited by the three glamorous gold-diggers in the Hollywood film. The greatest irony of all is the fact that the only millionaire to appear in Garotas e samba is the owner of the biggest factory of "aparelhos sanitários" in Latin America (a hilarious contrast with the oil barons of How to Marry a Millionaire).
Carlos Manga’s comedy O homem do sputnik (1959) represents a significant shift in his attitude towards Hollywood, Brazilian cinema and his own identity. He had become aware of the fact that the influence of American cinema had in some ways been detrimental to his own career, admitting that: "não era a minha raça, o meu país - então me revoltei contra isso" (Manga 1983, 30). This film mocks the imperial pretensions of the First World and the superpowers’ ignorance of supposedly ‘underdeveloped’ nations. In it a caipira couple, Anastácio Fortuna, played by Oscarito, and his wife, played by Zezé Macedo, discover what they think is a sputnik satellite on top of the chicken coop in their back yard. As the news of their discovery spreads, they are both drawn to the capital city, Rio de Janeiro, and eventually they become the centre of attention, as officials from France, Russia and the United States try to acquire the treasure. The final scene shows all the interested parties fighting over the ‘sputnik’ in Anastácio’s backyard. The representatives of the three superpowers crowd around the well where they believe it to be hidden, each claiming ‘é nossa’ and playing out their imperial pretensions in a comic parody of the Cold War. The supposedly ignorant Anastácio exclaims ‘Até parece a Liga das Nações. Veja aqui a diplomacia’. Finally one of the villagers, a portly Portuguese by the name of Seu Manuel, passes by on his donkey again and points out that they are in fact squabbling over nothing more than a weather vane, which he has had mended and placed back on the roof of the church. As the representatives from the three nations leave deflated and humiliated, the Portuguese villager exclaims: ‘E depois nós é quem somos os burros!’.24 After their brief flirtation with ‘high society’ in the city of Rio de Janeiro, and a stay as the emblematic Copacabana Palace Hotel, a trope of glamour and modernity in Atlântida’s chanchadas, Anastácio and his wife are happy to return to their wooden shack in a rural backwater.
The carnivalesque inversion of rural/urban and third world/first world hierarchies is central to O homem do sputnik, and the country bumpkin is shown to have more common sense and clearer judgement than all the big shots from the city and from overseas. Rural simplicity and homely values win out in the end. Brazil (and its cinema industry) is retaliating for being treated as primitive and a cultural backwater, forced to look outside its borders for inspiration. National pride lies in the paradoxes of life in Brazil, where vestiges of colonial/rural life co-exist with the impact of the Cold War. As Sérgio Augusto (Augusto 1993, 144) writes, "Manga se refere a O homem do sputnik como o seu ajuste de contas com o poder cultural e econômico dos EUA." This film was produced in the context of the Brazilian government’s increasingly tense relationship with the International Monetary Fund, which was trying to oblige Brazil to adopt much more restrictive economic policies. This period of mounting tensions culminated in President Kubitschek’s controversial decision to sever links with the IMF in June 1959. O homem do sputnik eloquently captures the capitalist backlash and anti-foreign/IMF feeling at the close of the 1950s. As Thomas Skidmore (1967, 179) writes, "The United States government and the IMF became the scapegoats for the painful stabilisation measures the Kubitschek government had begun. . . . Although the extreme version of radical nationalism did not represent the views of most Brazilians, the resentment against ‘foreign pressure’ was widespread." The film’s message is thus a product of the defiant mood of the times, as Brazil shook off the condescending image of Third World underdog and asserted its cultural and political sovereignty.
In the 1930s and early to mid ’40s the Brazilian cinema industry was just finding its feet and was content to emulate U.S. musicals and musical comedies and to produce highly derivative chanchadas, which undeniably improved in quality as the industry gained in technical know-how and in self-confidence. Although this tradition of adopting Hollywood templates wholesale, with little or no critical edge, continued well into the 1950s, that decade also witnessed the parodic reworking of some of these very templates. Why did this shift take place within the chanchada genre at this time? If we accept that popular film acts as a kind of cultural barometer, what does this change of approach and focus tell us about popular sentiment in this era? During the first Vargas era (1930-1945) the issue of national identity had been high on the regime’s agenda, and a clever balancing act of censorship and co-option of popular culture, the arts and the media, had been employed to foster a heightened sense of belonging to a wider community. For the most part, this official promotion and framework of exaggerated patriotism was not endorsed in popular film, which instead expressed a kind of anti-identity and celebrated the commonplaces of everyday life, which ordinary people could identify with. This, however, suited Vargas’s populist approach to government, which entailed active support for the growth and diffusion of popular cultural forms. By and large, the musicals of the 1930s did convey a real sense of brasilidade and everyday life, dealing with prosaic topics such as water shortages, the failings of public transport, and political corruption. These chanchadas were primitive but it was precisely their self-deprecating humour, their perceived inferiority, the clash between them and their polished First World cousins, which held the key to collective identity. Popular cinema was in synchrony, at least nominally, with the cultural policies of the central state apparatus (Benamou, 371). However, in the late 1940s and early 1950s Brazil felt the impact of a sharp increase in U.S. investment and also steadily acquired a new-found confidence. On the one hand, identity now became more of an issue in the face of increasing U.S involvement in domestic affairs, and on the other popular film began to assert the independence of the Brazilian cinema industry in relation to Hollywood with increased conviction. The irreverent comedies of the 1950s charted the shifts taking place in the social structure, as the process of industrialisation gathered momentum and the urban centres of the South East received increasing numbers of rural migrants. Popular film articulated the resulting identity crisis experienced by many Brazilians, particularly the humble man in the street, who now found himself confronted by dramatic economic and cultural transformations.
In the latter half of the 1950s Brazil was a rapidly changing place. The mid-1950s were a time of fear of military intervention following President Vargas’s suicide in office in 1954. By 1960, however, a mood of tremendous optimism had replaced that of anxiety, thanks to the economic developmentalism and populist reforms of the Kubitschek presidency. A new capital city was inaugurated in that year, a symbol of faith in the future, and equally of a new era for Brazilians. Depictions of carnival scenes and the performance of the accompanying music on screen were no longer adequate sites on which to map popular identity, as Brazilians tried to make sense of a changing world and reassert their place in it. Consequently, many of the chanchadas of this decade turned their attentions away from exuberant displays of carnival pleasure and towards a questioning of Brazil’s place in the world, particularly in relation to the USA. The chanchada became a site of irreverence and transgression, and increasingly employed cultural negations and symbolic dissonances in order to challenge hierarchical order and assert the autonomy of the Brazilian nation and its cinema industry. Challenges to Hollywood’s domination provided a fitting metaphor for Brazil’s affirmation of its economic independence in the face of constraints imposed by the capitalist world. The overturning of established hierarchies of authority and power on screen represented a more adequate use of the carnival metaphor as a means to contest dominant ideology and values.
1. In the 1950s radio stations only played compositions if they were paid by the creators or the record companies to do so, and thus the public only got to hear a limited range of carnival music. The resulting lack of true competition led to a decline in the quality of carnival songs, and meant that many old "classics" were revived in the annual celebrations. By the mid ’50s carnival music had largely vanished from the chanchada.
2. The success of A voz do carnaval (1933) in guessing which would be the greatest hit songs of the forthcoming carnival was never equalled by subsequent carnival films or chanchadas. Virtually all the hits of the subsequent carnival had featured in the film.
3. The Brazilian teatro de revista competed with Parisian vaudeville and Italian opera in the latter half of the 19th century and opted for costume comedies that often parodied foreign styles and works. It also incorporated references to the cotidiano, just as the chanchada was later to do. The teatro de revista, which died out at the end of the 1950s, changed little over the years, and gave the radio and record industry some of its brightest stars, such as Carmen Miranda, Francisco Alves and Sílvio Caldas. It felt the impact of the expansion of the cinema, although the two complemented each other in the 1920s, when revistas accompanied the showing of films in Rio’s cinema halls.
4. Unlike U.S. musicals, the early chanchadas placed little importance on choreography, which resulted in rather static performances, and it was the music itself that was central to the films. According to the chanchada director Carlos Manga, like in the teatro de revista the dance sequences in the chanchadas acted as ‘cortinas musicais’ to ‘facilitar a construção do roteiro e quebrar a continuidade’ (Augusto 1993, 15).
5. Carnaval no fogo (1949) was to represent something of a watershed in the development of the chanchada, in that for the first time the plot took precedence over the musical numbers incorporated into the film, which were not carnival songs. A review in the newspaper O Globo of 8 February 1950 even went so far as to state, ‘Carnaval no fogo, da Atlântida, é superior à maioria dos musicais norte-americanos exibidos ultimamente no Rio. Pela primeira vez, temos um filme em que a história supera a parte musical’ (Augusto 1993, 52). It is no coincidence that 1949 saw a perceptible shift in the role of carnival music within the cinema, since it was in that year that copyright laws were tightened significantly, and the performance of carnival songs was increasingly restricted by legislation and the payment of copyright charges. Even the most popular songs could not be performed in the dancehalls, on the radio, in the cinema or on the television, without proper authorisation.
6. In the archetypal Hollywood musical each partner is seen as potentially complete, but needs the perfect mate in order to awaken a specific facet of their personality. As Altman says (1987, 82), ‘Until boy meets girl, an important aspect of human experience is lost for each character. When two lovers meet, however, each sees his/her repressed self in the other as if he/she were looking in a psychic mirror.’ In the chanchada De vento em popa, the fun-loving Sérgio is the perfect antidote for his fiancée’s reserved character. It is only when she takes off her spectacles, literally and figuratively lets down her hair, and rejects her classical music for sultry love songs, that she succeeds in winning his heart.
7. As the chanchada gradually lost its close associations with carnival music in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the inversions so intrinsic to carnival became central to this cinematic genre. Gender bending, the subversion of racial stereotypes and prejudices, and the elevation of the status of the popular at the expense of the pillars of erudite or hegemonic culture characterised much of Atlântida’s production in this era. The actor Oscarito’s propensity for dressing as a woman on the screen was even commented on in the press; in Atlântida’s prototype chanchada Este mundo é um pandeiro of 1946 he performed a parody of the foxtrot ‘Put the Blame on Mame’, made famous by Rita Hayworth in the film Gilda of the previous year. The diminutive black comic actor, Grande Otelo, succeeded in disguising himself as a white man in E o mundo se diverte (1948) by answering the phone in a theatre and passing himself off as someone ‘alto, nem gordo nem magro, nariz afilado, lábios finos, mais pra louro que pra moreno.’ Erudite culture is ridiculed in this same film, in a scene in which the voices of male concert singers are replaced by those of their female counterparts and vice versa, another example of troca (Augusto 1993, 116).
8. Sérgio Augusto writes of this film (1993, 122), ‘Nenhuma outra fita do gênero brincou tão explicitamente com as labaredas da carnavalização, provocando a mais expressiva vitória simbólica do popular sobre o culto, da farsa sobre o épico, do esculacho sobre o solene’.
9. This film sets out to ridicule Hollywood’s big-budget excesses, and according to Sérgio Augusto the character of Cecílio B. de Milho (whose surname translates as corn or maize in Portuguese) is a caricature of Samuel Goldwyn rather than Milho’s virtual namesake (1993, 123). Sérgio Augusto (1993, 123) comments on the similarities between the plot of this chanchada and Vincente Minnelli’s MGM musical The Band Wagon, produced a year later in 1953. Given that the Brazilian film appeared first the obvious parallels serve to reflect the pervasiveness of this theme of the superiority of the popular over the classical/learned.
10. Blecaute’s recording of ‘Dona Cegonha’ (Continental 16669) was one of the hit songs of the 1953 carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Written by Armando Cavalcanti and Klecius Caldas, the song deals with a well-worn theme, namely that of the decline in the birth rate: Ai! ai! ai! dona Cegonha/ Saiu risonha/ Pra trabalhar/ Voltou danada/ Encabulada/ Com a cegonha ninguém quer nada! (Ai! ai! ai!) Ela trabalhava noite e dia/ Não encalhava mercadoria/ Mas a carestia está medonha/ Ninguém quer nada com a cegonha! [Oh! oh! oh! Mrs Stork/ She went out smiling/ To work/ She came back mad/ Embarrassed/ No one wants anything to do with Mrs Stork! (Oh! oh! oh!) She worked day and night/ She doesn’t let her goods pile up/ But the prices are terribly high/ No one wants anything to do with Mrs Stork!]
11. Altman (1987, 204) writes, ‘…Ziegfeld made it de bon ton to go to the theater to watch scantily clad women performing simple but visually effective routines. More than any other showman, Ziegfeld is responsible for the show musical’s tendency to deemphasize individual talent and to concentrate interest on the visual patterning of costumes and bodies. This now-familiar approach deprives woman of her status as an equal partner in a shared act; instead she becomes a pretty ‘hoofer.’ Not just in the films of Busby Berkelely, but throughout the entire show musical tradition, this vision of woman inherited from burlesque and Ziegfeld will be reiterated.’
12. Over two dozen ‘south-of-the-border’ musicals were produced in Hollywood in the 1940s, as well as countless individual ‘Latin’ numbers in other musicals (Altman, 1987, 186). As the only continent within reach not torn apart by the war, Latin America came to represent a Utopian vision of life. The USA identified its southern neighbours with rhythm, life and a certain looseness of morals. MGM was late to jump on this band-wagon, and only did so in 1945 with Yolanda and the Thief, a musical fantasy with Mexican settings. Perhaps the best-known examples are Twentieth Century Fox’s ‘Good Neighbour’ musicals, such as Down Argentine Way (1940), Weekend in Havana (1941) and That Night in Rio (1941), all of which starred Carmen Miranda.
13. Black characters are conspicuous by the absence in the chanchada, with the notable exception of the ubiquitous comic actor Grande Otelo. They either appear in cameo roles, such as the typically lascivious mulatto maid who works for Inocência in her boarding house (Garotas e samba), and the self-effacing office boy who is patronised by his white colleagues in the civil service (O homem do sputnik), or as token members of the supporting cast, like the couple of attractive mulatto women in the turma at the college (Esse milhão é meu). Even within the musical/dance sequences the performers are predominantly white. Allusions to the Afro-Brazilian roots of samba in De vento em popa take the form of the white actors Oscarito and Sônia Mamede darkening their faces with make-up in order to perform a duet of ‘Tem que rebolar’ in which she is referred to as a ‘nega gostosa’ and a ‘moreninha’. An interesting exception to the rule governing the absence of black actors in the chanchada is Cinedistri’s Quem Roubou Meu Samba of 1958, which gives the story line of Nelson Pereira dos Santos’s classic Rio Zona Norte a comic, popularesque treatment, and stars Chuvisco as Atanásio, the equivalent role to that played by Grande Otelo in the social-realist film.
14. Although the baiana persona was taken to the United States by Carmen Miranda in 1939, it was the exaggerated Broadway/Hollywood version of the outfit which reappeared in Brazil. The stylised creations by Travis Banton worn by Carmen in That Night in Rio (1941) made such an impact in the Brazilian press that organisers of the Rio carnival celebrations requested replicas from the Twentieth Century Fox wardrobe department, which were used as the inspiration for the parade costumes in 1941. The image of the baiana as the quintessential embodiment of lo latino was central to Walt Disney’s animated film The Three Caballeros, which combined real people with cartoon characters, in which the Brazilian cartoon parrot named Joe (Zé) Carioca takes the audience on a journey to Brazil. He appears with three identical parrots, all dressed in a stylised baiana costume, and Aurora Miranda, Carmen’s sister, dressed in the costume her sibling made famous, then performs the samba ‘Os Quindins de Yayá’ surrounded by an entourage of malandros. This scene is highly reminiscent of Carmen’s rendition of the song ‘O que é que a baiana tem?’ in the Brazilian musical Banana-da-terra of 1939 (distributed in Brazil by MGM), which is the first time she appears on screen in her characteristic outfit. The musical cartoon Hollywood Canine Canteen of 1945 depicted Carmen and its other stars in the form of various breeds of dogs, and in Carmen’s case the animal wore her typical platform shoes and fruit-laden headdress, both items adapted from the baiana costume.
15. Ana López (1993) examines Hollywood’s filmic manipulation of three female stars from Latin America, namely the Mexicans, Dolores del Río and Lupe Vélez, and Carmen Miranda, who each represented different aspects of the exotic ‘other’ from the late ’20s to the mid-’40s. In the 1930s Vélez played the archetypal Latin temptress with an insatiable sexual appetite, and embodied a potent ethnic ‘otherness’ that was too subversive for the climate of the Good Neighbour Policy era. Whereas Vélez was by the late ’30s too ‘Latin’, Del Río’s beauty and aloof indifference were not ‘ethnic’ enough, and it was Carmen, whose aggressive sexuality found its expression on screen in only gesture, innuendo and risqué comments, who became a non-derogatory and non-threatening symbol of latinidad in the 1940s.
16. In Paramount’s musical comedy Here Come the Girls of 1953, described as a ‘colorful musical filled with ethnically clichéd productions [sic] numbers’ (Alfred Charles Richard, Jr., 1993, 484), which featured Arab sheiks, harem girls and Black tap dancers, Bob Hope appears dressed in a gold flamenco costume and performs a tango with Arlene Dahl, surrounded by 50 Spanish dancers, and against the backdrop of a giant Spanish fan. The flamenco dancing motif was to resurface in MGM’s Sombrero of 1953, set in Mexico, in which a Spanish/Mexican bullfighter with a vengeful murderous nature, has a great talent for this Spanish dance. Similarly, in United Artists’ The Barefoot Contessa of 1954, Ava Gardner, playing the barefoot character Maria Vargas, dances ‘in a second rate flamenco nitery’ (Richard, Jr., 1993, 498). The bullfighting motif was likewise given both a comic and serious treatment on screen; in Twentieth Century Fox’s The Bullfighters of 1945, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy find themselves in Mexico City, where Laurel is mistaken for a matador and forced into the bullring, with predictably hilarious consequences; in MGM’s Fiesta of 1947, Esther Williams wants to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a bullfighter, and when her twin brother, played by Ricardo Montalbán in his Hollywood debut, fails to appear in the corrida she steps in to the thrill of the crowd.
17. The influence of Hollywood musicals on this chanchada is even more apparent in the next section of this cabaret act, when male singers, complete with top hats and walking canes, sing in English to a ‘big band’ accompaniment, against a backdrop of skyscrapers. The show then conjures up stereotypical images of Paris and Venice, before returning to a cardboard Sugar Loaf Mountain. Rio de Janeiro/Brazil is portrayed through the eyes of Hollywood, and the latter’s stock motifs of ‘Brazilian’ identity once again overtly inform the way Brazilians depict themselves and their country on screen. In Warner’s melodrama Now Voyager of 1942, Bette Davis’s character, Charlotte Vale, points out the famous sites of Rio, such as Pão de Açúcar, Copacabana beach and Corcovado, to her fellow traveller, Jerry, as the pleasure cruiser on which they are travelling arrives at the port. Sugar Loaf mountain became the symbol par excellence of Rio, Brazil and the exotic continent of Latin America as a whole.
18. When interviewed by the pro-democracy weekly Movimento during the period of fiercest military repression, Schwarz was asked about the use of parody in Brazilian letters, and replied (1992, 40): ‘Parody is one of the most combative of literary forms, so long as that is its intention. And anyway, a little contemplation never did anyone any harm. Aside from which, in countries where culture is imported, parody is almost a natural form of criticism: it simply makes explicit unintentional parodies which are in any case inevitable.’
19. The extended dream sequence, which became an accepted alternative to the backstage musical’s production number in the Hollywood of the 1940s, was incorporated into the chanchada Nem Sansão nem Dalila of 1954, and a shorter dream sequence featured in Carnaval Atlântida of 1952.
20. Generic hybrids like these two films fit logically into the Bakhtinian category of the grotesque, not that which is simply the opposite of the classical or erudite, but rather the grotesque which ‘is formed through a process of hybridisation or inmixing of binary opposites, particularly of high and low, such that there is a heterodox merging of elements usually perceived as incompatible’ (Stallybrass and White 1986, 44).
21. The casting of Grande Otelo in these roles adds a further dimension to the critical reworking of the Tinseltown model, in addition to the more obvious ironies. The Western, which tellingly is a genre which has only appeared in Mexican film in the form of parody (Monsiváis 1993, 141) provides the perfect vehicle for launching a comic attack on Hollywood’s cultural ideals from south of the border. Traditionally the Western is a cinematic genre which upholds the ideals of both machismo and Wasp supremacy. Black actors are conspicuous by their absence in the genre, and like other minorities when they do appear they are relegated to supporting and comic roles (French 1977, 94).
22. High Noon was a new-style Western, critically acclaimed and subject to various allegorical interpretations. Read initially as a liberal critique of McCarthy’s witch-hunts of the ’50s (the script was written by the black-list victim, Carl Foreman, and proved to be his last for a Hollywood movie), it was subsequently seen by some critics as an allegory of U.S. foreign policy and the Korean War. By parodying the film, Manga brings these intellectual interpretations abruptly down to earth, and seems to be making his views of Hollywood’s didactic and lofty pretensions plain.
23. In one of the opening scenes of Esse milhão é meu the boyfriend of the niece of the protagonist, Felismino, comes to collect her in his car. The car in question is decorated with a flamboyant chequered design in the style of a racing car, and the driver jokes ‘Isto anda mais que o sputnik’, to which Felismino replies ‘Porque não oferece aos americanos que eles compram?’ Ironically, however, the car will not start at first, and then suddenly jerks into motion, in a humorous fashion, making its occupants shake with laughter. Once again an ironic contrast is drawn between ‘underdeveloped’ Brazil and the power-crazed First World.
24. The tradition of jokes at the expense of the Portuguese community was an established one in Brazil. These anti-Portuguese jokes were more than just a source of easy laughter in the chanchada; they helped to bolster the self-image of the poorly educated Brazilian audience in the face of the mounting demands of modernity. As Davies (1982) argues, such ethnic jokes are not primarily about prejudice or ethnicity, but about the normative structure of modern industrial society, which values two personality traits beyond all others, namely the rational pursuit of advantage, and the ability to enjoy the fruits of success. Jokes about someone else’s stupidity and stinginess presuppose that these traits are the norm (Palmer 1994, 62).
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Barros, Luiz de (1944) Berlim na batucada, Cinédia
Beaumont, Harry (1929) Broadway Melody, MGM
St Clair, Mal (1945) The Bullfighters, Twentieth Century Fox
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Thorpe, Richard (1947) Fiesta, MGM
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Manga, Carlos (1959) O homem do sputnik, Atlântida
Negulesco, Jean (1953) How to Marry a Millionaire, Twentieth Century Fox
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