By Glauber Rocha
‘Aesthetic of Hunger’ was first presented in Genoa in 1965, as part of a retrospective survey of Latin American cinema, re-published in Revista Civilização and subsequently translated in French and published in Positif. ‘The Tricontinental Filmmaker’ was published in Cahiers du Cinéma in November 1967. ‘Aesthetic of Dream’ was presented at Columbia University in 1971.
Aesthetic of Hunger
Translated by Randal Johnson and Burnes Hollyman.
Dispensing with the informative introduction so characteristic of discussions about Latin America, I prefer to examine the relationship between our culture and “civilized” culture in broader terms than those of the European observer. Thus, while Latin America laments its general misery, the foreign onlooker cultivates the taste of that misery, not as a tragic symptom, but merely as an aesthetic object within his field of interest. The Latin American neither communicates his real misery to the “civilized” European, nor does the European truly comprehend the misery of the Latin American.
This is the fundamental situation of the arts in Brazil today: many distortions, especially the formal exoticism that vulgarizes social problems, have provoked a series of misunderstandings that involve not only art but also politics. For the European observer the process of artistic creation in the underdeveloped world is of interest only insofar as it satisfies a nostalgia for primitivism. This primitivism is generally presented as a hybrid form, disguised under the belated heritage of the “civilized world,” a heritage poorly understood since it is imposed by colonial conditioning. Latin America remains, undeniably, a colony, and what distinguishes yesterday’s colonialism from today’s colonialism is merely the more polished form of the colonizer and the more subtle forms of those who are preparing future domination. The international problem of Latin America is still a case of merely exchanging colonizers. Our possible liberation will probably come, therefore, in the form of a new dependency.
This economic and political conditioning has led us to philosophical weakness and impotence that engenders sterility when conscious and hysteria when unconscious. It is for this reason that the hunger of Latin America is not simply an alarming symptom: it is the essence of our society. There resides the tragic originality of Cinema Novo in relation to world cinema. Our originality is our hunger and our greatest misery is that this hunger is felt but not intellectually understood.
We understand the hunger that the European and the majority of Brazilians have not understood. For the European it is a strange tropical surrealism. For the Brazilian it is a national shame. He does not eat, but he is ashamed to say so; and yet, he does not know where this hunger comes from. We know-since we made these sad, ugly films, these screaming, desperate films where reason does not always prevail -that this hunger will not be cured by moderate governmental reforms and that the cloak of technicolor cannot hide, but only aggravates, its tumors. Therefore, only a culture of hunger, weakening its own structures, can surpass itself qualitatively; the most noble cultural manifestation of hunger is violence.
Cinema Novo shows that the normal behavior of the starving is violence; and the violence of the starving is not primitive. Is Fabiano [in Barren Lives] primitive? Is Antão [in Ganga Zumba] primitive? Is Corisco [in Black God, White Devil] primitive? Is the woman in Porto das Caixas primitive?
From Cinema Novo it should be learned that an aesthetic of violence, before being primitive, is revolutionary. It is the initial moment when the colonizer becomes aware of the colonized. Only when confronted with violence does the colonizer understand, through horror, the strength of the culture he exploits. As long as they do not take up arms, the colonized remain slaves; a first policeman had to die for the French to become aware of the Algerians.
From a moral position this violence is not filled with hatred just as it is not linked to the old colonizing humanism. The love that this violence encompasses is as brutal as the violence itself because it is not a love of complacency or contemplation but rather of action and transformation.
The time has long passed since Cinema Novo had to justify its existence. Cinema Novo is an ongoing process of exploration that is making our thinking clearer, freeing us from the debilitating delirium of hunger. Cinema Novo cannot develop effectively while it remains marginal to the economic and cultural process of the Latin American continent. Cinema Novo is a phenomenon of new peoples everywhere and not a privilege of Brazil. Wherever one finds filmmakers prepared to film the truth and oppose the hypocrisy and repression of intellec-tual censorship there is the living spirit of Cinema Novo; wherever filmmakers, of whatever age or background, place their cameras and their profession in the service of the great causes of our time there is the spirit of Cinema Novo. This is the definition of the movement and through this definition Cinema Novo sets itself apart from the commercial industry because the commitment of Industrial Cinema is to untruth and exploitation. The economic and industrial integration of Cinema Novo depends on the freedom of Latin America. Cinema Novo devotes itself entirely to this freedom, in its own name, and in the name of all its participants, from the most ignorant to the most tal-ented, from the weakest to the strongest. It is this ethical question that will be reflected in our work, in the way we film a person or a house, in the details that we choose, in the moral that we choose to teach. Cinema Novo is not one film but an evolving complex of films that will ultimately make the public aware of its own misery.
The Tricontinental Filmmaker: That is Called the Dawn
The text was written in French and corrected by Sylvie Pierre. Translated by Randal Johnson and Burnes Hollyman.
For the Third World filmmaker, commitment begins with the first light, because the camera opens on to the Third World, an occupied land. Choices must be made, in the street, in the desert, in the forest, or in the city, and even when the material might be neutral the montage transforms it into discourse. A discourse that can be imprecise, diffuse, barbarous, irrational, but one in which even refusals are significant.
These films from Asia, Africa, and Latin America are films of discomfort. The discomfort begins with the basis material: inferior cameras and laboratories, and therefore crude images and muffled dialogue, unwanted noise on the soundtrack, editing accidents, and unclear credits and titles. And on the screen a desperate body writhes, advances jerkily only to hunch over in the rain, its blood confounded.
The tools belong to Hollywood as arms belong to the Pentagon. No filmmaker is completely free. Even when not the prisoner of censorship or financial commitments he remains a prisoner until he discovers within himself the tricontinental man. Only this idea liberates him, for within it the perspective of individual failure ceases to be important. Che Guevara said: “our sacrifice is conscious; it is the necessary price of freedom.”
All other discourse is beautiful but innocuous; rational but fatigued; reflexive but impotent; “cinematic” but useless. Lyricism is born with words gliding in the air; but it is immediately structured into passive form in a sterile conspiracy…
There is a great deal to do today. A national cinema that concentrates on didactic films makes a contribution: the de-intoxication from socialist realism.
“Simplifying the terms of the polemics, which involved some artists and functionaries, some defended a kind of socialist realism, while others (mostly artists) defended an art which would not renounce all the conquests of the avant-garde. The rejection of the first tendency was made clear in Che Guevara’s essay, ‘Man and Socialism in Cuba,’ which condemned socialist realism without finding a completely satisfying alternative: for him, it had to be transcended. But to go further, one must begin from somewhere, and the avant-garde seems to be the best point of departure”. (Jesus Diaz, ‘Partisans’, no. 137)
Other Latin American countries, meanwhile, can only use their cameras to make official newsreels showing generals and their medals.
Tupi, Cangaço, Bossa
I. Brazil speaks Portugese. In order to understand the phenomenon called Cinema Novo it is important to know that the Portugese are less fanatical and more cynical than the Spanish: we have the heritage that is not as nationalistic as the Spanish. Brazilian filmmakers have lost their “awe” for cinema. They have laid their often awkward hands on cameras without asking anyone’s permission. Although intellectuals used to say, to the point of convincing critics and intimidating filmmakers, that “Portugese is an anti-cinematic language,” Cinema Nova decided to take the daily speech and music of Brazil as its material. Peopled by long-winded, chattering, energetic, sterile, and hysterical individuals, Brazil is the only Latin Americal country that never had a bloody revolution like Mexico, or the baroque fascism of Argentina, nor a real political revolution like Cuba, or guerrillas like those found in Bolivia, Colombia, or Venezuela. So as sad compensation Brazil has a cinema that turned out sixty films this year (1967) and will double that figure next year. More than a hundred young filmmakers have presented films in 8mm and 16mm at the last two amateur film festivals in Brazil, and the public, disappointed by the last soccer match, discusses each film with passion. In Rio, São Paulo, Bahia, and other cities, there are art cinemas, cinematheques, as well as 400 different film clubs. From Rio to São Paulo, Godard is as popular as De Gaulle. Cinematic madness abounds in the land.
II. Tupi is the name of an Indian nation in Brazil. Its characteristics: intelligence and artistic incompetence. Cangaço is a mystic, anarchist guerilla: the word cangaço describes violent disorder. Bossa is a dance: it is also the art of feinting toward the right while attacking from theleft, coming together in a dance with rhythm and eroticism. This tradition, whose values are questioned in the films of Cinema Novo, make up the tragic caricature of a melodramatic civilization. For Brazil has no historic density: there have been only a few military coups and counter-coups carried out in the name of imperialist interests and the national bourgeoisie. The populist left always ends up by signing a pact with the repentant right, advancing once more on the path towards “redemocratization.” It is noteworthy that the political avant-garde of Latin America is always led by intellectuals and that poems frequently precede gunshots. Popular opera, music, and revolution all go hand in hand: that is our Iberic heritage. Today, in the Brazil of unforeseen reconciliations, the urban left is known as the “Festive Left.” There one discusses Marx to the sound of the samba. But that doesn’t stop students from descending into the streets to join violent demonstrations where professors are arrested, universities are closed, and intellectuals write protest manifestos.
III. Cinema Nova represents thirty percent of all cinematic production in Brazil. The collective nature of the movement allows for control over publicity, distribution, and criticism. Confronted with a relatively uncultivated (or at least, less literate) audience, a Tricontinental cinema has to overcome immense obstacles to create a means of meaningful communication in popular language and stimulating revolutionary feelings. A Cinema Nova film is polemical before, during, and after it is projected. A Cinema Novo film inevitably shocks the paradise of inertia of its public. Thus, Vidas Secas gives information concerning the peasants; The Guns goes beyond Vidas Secas to become an anti-militarist film. Black God, White Devil raises the protest of The Guns to a frenzied, fanatical level that is repeated in O Desafio. Ganga Zumba deals with blacks, Os Cafajestes is the urban version of Vidas Secas. From Plantation Boy to Land in Anguish, or from Land in Anguish to The Brave Warrior, Cinema Nova seems to lose its central thrust through the difficult exercise of individual expression; it could be said that still, taken as a whole, Cinema nova forms a concerto that, as a kind of permanent, ongoing polemic, constitutes a political action.
I. The past and present cinematic technique of the developed world interests me to the extent that I can use it the way the American cinema was used by certain European filmmakers. Certain cinematic techniques have transcended both individual auteurs and the films in which they operate to form a sort of vocabulary of cinema: if I film a cangaceiro in the sertão, it belongs to a montage tradition that is linked to the western, more than to individual auteurs like Ford or Hawks. On the other hand, imitation need not be perceived as a passive act, a need to take refuge in the established language of the form, in an attempt to “save” a film. In an interview Truffaut said: “All of the films that imitate Godard are unbearable because they lack the essential. They imitate his casualness, but they forget his despair. They imitate his wordplay but not his cruelty.” Most film made today by young filmmakers suffer from mal de Godard. But it is only by encounters with reality and by the exercise of one’s profession that one can go beyond imitations. Brazilian films like The Deceased, Vidas Secas, and The Guns show how the colonized filmmaker can use technique to express himself. The problem is different for Americans or Europeans, but even films from socialist countries are anything but revolutionary. The attitude of most filmmakers degenerates into a kind of calligraphic cinema that betrays a contemplative or demagogic spirit. And the short films that are shown at international film festivals all seem to have been made in the same mold, manufactured (innocently?) on the editing table and distributed in projection booths, part of a cinematic production line.
II. Cinema is an international discourse and national situations do not justify, at any level, denial of expression. In the case of Tricontinental cinema, aesthetics have more to do with ideology than with technique, and the technical myths of the zoom, of direct cinema, of the hand-held camera and of the uses of color are nothing more than tools for expression. The operative word is ideology, and it known no geographical boundaries. When I speak of Tricontinental cinema and include Godard in this grouping, it is because his works opens a guerrilla-like operation in the cinema: he attacks suddenly and unexpectedly, with pitiless films. His cinema becomes political because it proposes a strategy, a valuable set of tactics, usable in any part of the world. I insist on a “guerilla cinema” as the only form of combat: the cinema one improvises outside the conventional production structure against formal conventions imposed on the general public and on the elite.
III. In the case of Barravento, Black God, White Devil and Land of Anguish, I think that I have taken the first steps toward this guerrilla cinema. I see in these films the disasters of a violent transition. But it is through this rupture that I have come to see the possibilities of Tricontinental cinema. The goal of epic-didactic cinema cannot displace the epic-didactic mise-en-scène of a true revolutionary like Che Guevara, it can only fuse itself with it. If Bunuel’s films displace the conventions of the continental cinema, the Tricontinental cinema must infiltrate the conventional cinema and blow it up. At the moment when Che Guevara’s death becomes legend, poetry becomes praxis.
Aesthetic of Dream
As found on tempoglauber.com.br
The worst enemy of revolutionary art is its mediocrity. Before the subtle evolution of imperialist revolutionary ideology’s reformist concepts, the artist must offer revolutionary responses that, under no circumstances, accept evasive proposals. And, what’s more difficult, the artist must demand a precise identification of what revolutionary art at the service of political activism is; of what revolutionary art thrown into the spaces opened up to new discussions is: and of what revolutionary art by the left and operated by the right is.
As an example of the first case, I, as a man of film, cite La hora de los hornos, a film by the Argentine Fernando Solanas. It is typical of the pamphlets of information, agitation and controversy that are currently used by political activists around the world.
To illustrate the second case, there are some films, including my own, from the Brazilian Cinema Novo.
And lastly, the work of Jorge Luis Borges.
This classification reveals the contradictions of an art that expresses its own times. A revolutionary work of art should not only act in an immediately political fashion, but also encourage philosophical speculation; it should create an aesthetic of eternal human movement towards cosmic integration. The spotty existence of this revolutionary art in the Third World is due, fundamentally, to rationalism’s repression.
Breaking with colonizing rationalisms is the only way out.
The vanguards of thought can no longer spend their time uselessly responding to oppressive reason with revolutionary reason. Revolution is the anti-reason that conveys the tensions and rebellions of the most irrational of all phenomena, which is poverty.
No statistic can transmit the dimension of poverty.
Poverty is each man’s heaviest self-destructive charge and it reverberates psychically such that a poor man becomes a two-headed animal. One head is fatalist and submissive, reason exploits him like a slave. To the extent that the poor man can not explain the absurdity of his own poverty, the other head is naturally mystic. Dominating reason calls mysticism irrationalism, and keeps it down with bullets. For it, everything that is irrational must be destroyed, be it religious mysticism or political mysticism. Revolution, as the possession of the man who throws his life towards an idea, is the highest spirit of mysticism.
Revolutions fail when this possession is not whole, when the rebellious man is not completely freed from oppressive reason, when the signs of the struggle are not produced on the level of rousing and revelatory emotion, when -still activated by bourgeois reason- method and ideology are confused to such a degree that the struggle’s transactions are paralyzed. To the extent that non-reason formulates revolutions, reason schemes repression.
Revolutions happen in the happenstance of a historical practice that is the fortunate coming together of the irrational forces of the poor masses.
Taking political power does not imply the success of the revolution.
Mysticism, the vital point of poverty, must be touched by communion. This mysticism is the only language that transcends oppression’s rational structure. Revolution is magic because it is the unforeseeable within dominating reason. It must be dominating reason’s impossibility to comprehend such that that same dominating reason denies itself and devours itself in the face of its impossibility to comprehend.
Liberating irrationalism is the revolutionary’s strongest weapon. And, even in the encounters with violence caused by the system, liberation always means denying violence in the name of a community founded by the unlimited sense of love between men.
This love is wholly different from traditional humanism, symbol of the dominating clean conscience.
The Indian and black roots of Latin American people must be understood as the only force for development on this continent. Our middle class and bourgeoisie are declining caricatures of colonizing societies.
The people’s culture is not what is technically called folklore, but rather the people’s language of constant historical rebellion. The meeting of revolutionaries untied to bourgeois reason and the most meaningful structures of that people’s culture will be the first cast of a new revolutionary sign.
Dreaming is the only right that can not be denied. The Aesthetic of Hunger was the measure of my rational understanding of poverty in 1965.
Today, I refuse to speak of any aesthetic. Full living can not be tied to philosophical concepts. Revolutionary art must be magic capable of bewitching man to such a degree that he can no longer stand to live in this absurd reality.
Overcoming this reality, Borges wrote the most liberating irrealities of our times.
His aesthetic is a dream’s. For me, it is a spiritual illumination that helps to expand my Afro-Indian sensibility towards my race’s original myths. Poor and apparently hopeless, this race devises its moment of freedom in mysticism.
The Afro-Indian gods denied the colonizing mysticism of Catholicism, which is the witchcraft of repression and the redemption of the rich.
I do not justify or explain my dream because it is born of a greater and greater intimacy with my films, the natural meaning of my life.