Presence of Paulo Emilio

Seminar, book and editing projects confirm the critic's central role in culture

Photos Reproduced from the book Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes – O homem que amava o cinema e nós que o amávamos tanto

Paulo Emilio Gomes at the Cinemateca Brasileira, 1975, São PauloPhotos Reproduced from the book Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes – O homem que amava o cinema e nós que o amávamos tanto

The figure of Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes as a critic, researcher and professor has received extraordinary attention since his death in 1977, an interest singularly expressed this year. The 45th Brasília Festival of Brazilian Cinema paid homage to Gomes by hosting a seminar where critics, filmmakers, professors and students convened to debate his legacy. In parallel with the event, a book was also published: O homem que amava o cinema e nós que o amávamos tanto (The man who loved cinema and we who loved him so dearly), a collection of articles and testimonials confirming his central role in Brazilian culture and in shaping new generations since the late 1950s, when his critical intervention gained enormous repercussion through his column for the Literary Supplement in O Estado de São Paulo, a major newspaper.

In September, the Formation of Modern Brazil research group, coordinated by researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), discussed Gomes’s reflections on the trajectory of Brazilian cinema. In its annual study seminar, the group included cinema in its scope of inquiries, which focuses on assessing and updating the problem set developed by Antonio Candido in his classic work Formação da literatura brasileira (Formation of Brazilian literature), published in 1959.

In England, a group of King’s College London professors, coordinated by Maite Conde, are preparing a book of select writings by Gomes. In Brazil, a project headed by Carlos Augusto Calil for the publisher Editora Cosac Naify, with support from the Cinemateca Brasileira film archive, is editing previously unpublished materials and re-editing some of his works published in Brazil and abroad.

These initiatives underscore the broad reach of the dialog achieved by Gomes through his contributions to the press, his fight for the Cinemateca, and his activities as a researcher and professor. This latter aspect of his life began in the 1960s, the time when cinema found its place in academic circles as a field of research. While it was common for universities to incorporate the expertise of critics and historians with connections to film archives, in USP’s case, there was a migration of culture from the Cinemateca Brasileira, through the first cinema professors at the university’s School of Communication and Arts (ECA) in 1967, including Paulo Emilio Gomes, Rudá de Andrade, and Jean-Claude Bernardet.

Photos Reproduced from the book Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes – O homem que amava o cinema e nós que o amávamos tanto

Paulo Emilio Gomes with film appreciation students at UnB, another rare recordPhotos Reproduced from the book Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes – O homem que amava o cinema e nós que o amávamos tanto

Gomes studied philosophy at USP in the early forties, when he created the Philosophy Cinema Club, an initiative brought forth at the same time as the creation of the Clima magazine by the group of young friends who had an enormous impact on the history of cultural criticism in Brazil: Antonio Candido, Décio de Almeida Prado, Paulo Emilio Gomes, Gilda de Mello e Souza, Ruy Coelho, Lourival Gomes Machado. It was then that the group first delved into the field of cultural history and inquired into the formative process, targeting the many different sectors of Brazilian culture, in an effort to reinforce, through essays and erudite research, a spirit of renewal inherited from Modernism. This spirit was later expressed when Paulo Emilio Gomes spearheaded the opening of Cinemateca Brasileira, in 1954. He knew that a film archive was essential for elevating film studies in Brazil to a new level, opening the way for research and acting as an educational center. At the universities, he combined his efforts to organize the field and his power to bring people together, giving life to cinematographic research at USP after his teaching stint at the University of Brasília (UnB) in 1964-65.

Like the strength of his writing, which enchants and enlightens us, Paulo Emilio Gomes is a unique presence because of the extraordinary mark he left on those who met him. Erudition, political sensitivity and a rare personality allowed the hard-working intellectual to address concrete situations that engendered the keenest syntheses currently available to us. Syntheses that used cinema as a starting point to shed light on certain aspects of Brazil’s culture and social formation. Gomes brought us the affirmation of an inquisitive spirit, both rigorous and broad in scope, able to define a far-reaching project that caused individual inclinations to converge into a comprehensive investigation of culture, articulating different aspects of the intellectual endeavor – history, critical analysis, and theory. In other words, it was an auspicious result of his passion for the tangible, pinpointed by Gilda de Mello e Souza as his defining trait.

Paulo Emilio Gomes’s main writings on cinema: Jean Vigo [1957], Cosac Naify, Edições Sesc SP, 2009; Humberto Mauro, Cataguazes, Cinearte, Perspectiva, 1974; Cinema: trajetória no subdesenvolvimento (Cinema: trajectory in underdevelopment), Paz e Terra, 1980; Crítica de cinema no Suplemento Literário (Film critique in the Literary Supplement), 2 v., Paz e Terra, 1982; Paulo Emilio: um intelectual na linha de frente (Paulo Emilio: an intellectual in the front lines), Carlos Calil and Teresa Machado (orgs.), Brasiliense-Embrafilme,1986

*The comment by Gilda de Mello e Souza can be found in the article “Paulo Emilio: a crítica como perícia” (Paulo Emilio: critiquing as a skill), in O Baile das quatro artes – Exercícios de leitura (The dance of the four arts – Reading exercises) (São Paulo, Livraria Duas Cidades, 1980).