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Cinema

The subversive who invented cinematography criticism

Author of the praised novel and the unpublished work Cemitério [Cemetery], which will come out by June, Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes will have his complete works published and is the theme of a master's thesis at USP

AGÊNCIA ESTADO archive/AEFour decades after having been taken prisoner as a subversive by the political police of president Getulio Vargas (1882-1954), something still appeared to torment the São Paulo critic and writer Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes (1916-1977). In the year of his death, more than the trauma of having lost his liberty and of having been obliged to seek asylum in France, there was still his nonconformity to the socialist militant in the face of the behavior of the São Paulo elite in the Brazilian political life that came before the New State dictatorship (1937-1945) and, especially, the repression commanded by Armando Salles de Oliveira.

The year was 1937 and critic Paulo Emilio managed to flee thanks to a tunnel dug together with his cell companions. He went to France, where he had his interest awakened for the cinema and to democratic socialism. For all of his life, he did not move an inch away from this ideal that had stuck to him so much. For him, this was the natural form of viewing the world. However, he did not have time to express this posture in a more bruising manner against the directing class that annoyed him so much because he died without concluding his second romance, Cemitério.

The volume is defined by the critic, professor and cinema historian Carlos Augusto Calil as a settling of accounts with his first youth. Exactly 30 years after the death of Paulo Emilio, the work is finally coming out as a book, in a painstaking edition, with notes and postface by professor Calil. The original text, in manuscript and of difficult reading, was registered in a spiraled notebook. The forecast is that the volume will arrive in the bookstores by the beginning of June.

The plot takes place between 1935 and 1937, in the moments that precede the start of the New State dictatorship. It mixes fiction with biography. It tells the tale of an employee of a publishing house who ends up being responsible for the publication of the book entitled Cemitério, a corrosive criticism of the political role of important names in the São Paulo  bourgeois. At a determined moment, Paulo Emilio himself becomes the personality and goes on to relate his existence within the political repression of that era. “One is dealing with a game of mirrors, of reflections, exercised to exhaustion by the author”, anticipated professor Calil.

Cemitério will be the second book of an ambitious project from the publisher Cosac Naify to bring together all of Paulo Emilio’s work into approximately 12 books. The first came out in March, the applauded romance Três mulheres de três pppês [Three women of three ppps], a text revised starting from the three prior editions and with the author’s fragments cut in the original – now brought together in an annex. The work is composed of three short stories that explore the acidic form of the world of the wealthy class of the country’s richest city, showing them in situations of conjugal crisis. “In his serene and corrosive modernism he expresses himself in almost classic prose, translucent and ironic, with a certain libertinage of tone that makes one think of the French fiction writers of the 18th century”, writes critic Antonio Candido.

In order to coordinate the series, the editorial director, Augusto Massi, invited professor Calil, ex-student and supervised by  the critic Paulo Emilio at USP, as well as a companion in the fight to resurrect, Brazilian Cinema in the decade of the 1970’s. The greater expectation, however, is in the recovery of his production related to the cinema – which included two film scripts, in partnership with his wife, the writer Lygia Fagundes Telles. But there are other new details.

At the same time in which the film maker Glauber Rocha (1939-1981), from the state of Bahia, had installed a foxhole against his peers and started a polemic controversy about policy and cinema, and vice versa, the São Paulo critic and writer Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes also took on a solitary fight to do with an understanding in relation to the supposed compliance that he had with the national cinema, especially pornochanchada (erotic comedies). In both cases there was an attempt to discredit them without going deeply into the discussion. Paulo died in 1977. Glauber disappeared 1981.

For many, Glauber is the greatest Brazilian film director of all time. And Paulo Emilio, the greatest film critic. Something else also brought them together: a reasonable amount of correspondence between both, still unpublished, in which they discussed the directions of national cinema within a conception still engaged with culture. It is not by chance that, after beginning a complete organization of the director’s written production, publisher Cosac Naify started the publication of Paulo Emilio’s intellectual production, grouped together, reviewed and organized in its entirety.

The forecast, according to Massi, is that the two collections will be finalized with a volume that brings together the letters that these two cinema lovers exchanged over decades. Glauber will have eight volumes, concluded by the end of the year; Film critic Paulo Emilio, between ten and twelve, with editions from 200 to 250 pages – the final one should come in during 2009. Of the director, Cosac Naify will launch, before the end of this year, not only his unpublished diary, but a romance never before published entitled, Adamastor – the film director’s father’s name. Also forecast are screenplays that were not filmed.

In the case of critic Paulo Emilio, the first attempt to bring together the critic’s production in book form happened during the first half of the 1980 decade, when Paz & Terra published five volumes, organized by the Embrafilme Documentation and Marketing Department: the romance Três mulheres de três pppês; Cinema: trajetória no subdesenvolvimento [Cinema: Trajectory in underdevelopment]; the biography of French director Jean Vigo; and the two very thick volumes Crítica de cinema no Suplemento Literário [Cinema criticism in Literary Supplement], with the texts that he wrote for the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo between 1954 and 1965. In 1986 Calil organized Paulo Emílio: um intelectual na linha de frente [Paulo Emilio: an intellectual in the frontline]  for Brasiliense publisher, which were not included in the two volumes. The idea now is to make his production more intelligible and accessible to new generations.

The criticisms, for example, were grouped by Paz & Terra in chronological form, which made them difficult to be understood and consulted. As well as this it produced a dispersion of his ideas. In the new edition they will be organized by themes – genre, discussions, memories etc. “In his production the style, type of militancy and engagement are impressive. It’s interesting for a publisher to have in his catalogue this type of intellectual, of character of intervention”, observes Massi. For Calil, critic Paulo Emilio established the concept of the elaborate, methodological criticism, in which the technical aspect was analyzed, the building of the film and its insertion into the cinematographic universe. A style that he certainly perfected during his stay in France, where he dedicated himself to rescuing the life and emphasizing the importance of the short time film director Jean Vigo (1905-1934).

AGÊNCIA ESTADO archive/AEThe critic: Paulo Emilio’s form of expression was attention to detail, in the manner in which the film producer manipulate his materialAGÊNCIA ESTADO archive/AE

These and other aspects led Adilson Mendes to develop his master’s dissertation entitled, “Escrever cinema – A crítica de Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes (1935-1952)” [To write cinema: a criticism of Paulo Emilio Gomes (1935-1952), supervised by professor Ismail Xavier, and defended at the Communication and Arts School of the University of Sao Paulo (ECA-USP). With support from FAPESP, the study sought to throw new light upon the writing of Paulo Emilio, with emphasis on the period of genesis and of consolidation of his style, respectively the criticism he wrote in the magazine Clima and the book entitled, Jean Vigo. “I believe that the incomprehension of his work occurs today principally because of the sparse attention given to his writing, in the manner that within it merge critical analysis, experience and subjectivity, much more visible in his fiction”, affirmed researcher Mendes.

He related that he attempted to understand the diverse postures assumed by the critic and how they related to his writing. “With this, I was led to investigate his style and his notion of essay.” The researcher studied how this prose is influenced by Modernism, politicized during the 1930’s and which accumulated density with the debate of post-war French criticism, taking the critic André Bazin (1918-1958) as an important reference point. “Paulo Emilio initiated a style of cinema criticism in Brazil, since before him whoever was inclined towards the cinema wrote small critiques with emphasis on the intrigue of the plot. Whilst in the magazine Clima (1941-1944) one can find long essays, with clean-cut prose, which is inspired a lot on the films that are analyzed.”

Mendes recalls, in this historical context, the contribution of the Chaplin Club during the 1920’s, which was responsible for the debating of the most advanced cinematographic ideas in the country and, from the theoretical point of view, did not owe anything to the debates of the French avant-garde. The writings by Plinio Sussekind Rocha or Octavio de Faria, the main names of the Chaplin Club, nevertheless, never had any self-reflecting investigation about the act of writing and much less paid attention to the fact that they wrote theory in an underdeveloped country. “Therefore, we can affirm that critic Paulo Emilio is the founder in Brazil of the cinematographic essay.”

This critical disposition, continued the researcher, after his return from France in 1954, was decisive for a whole generation of critics and film producers, since it helped to understand the conditions of the cinema in a peripheral country. If the analysis procedures change in conformity to the object and the experience of the analyst, what would be the point of view of a Brazilian critic commenting on a foreign film? This question, answers Mendes, posted principally in the essays published in the literary supplement of the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, impressed the thinking of the young New Cinema and of a whole generation of critics to place in conjunction esthetical and political theses.

Critic Paulo Emilio’s principal way of expression, defended the researcher, was through the essay, with attention to detail, in the manner of how in films the director manipulates his material. “Nevertheless, the immanent analysis hardly is solitary and always becomes denser with external elements offered by the story, which the experience of the critic condenses.” In an essay by Paulo Emilio, he explained, there is multi-focal criticism, which looks to learn in films the individual experience and story, but for this falls back on the prose of the critic. “This tends to gives coherence to this movement of coming and going between the text and the context, but making use of all creative liberty.”

Paulo Emilio was a critic attentive to the most diverse cinematographic genres. Nevertheless, at the end of his life, he arduously dedicated himself to the study of the bad national film. “Ultimately Paulo Emilio has been the target of hasty criticism that tends to tag him as ‘nationalist’ because of his tacit posture during the decade of the 1970’s in relation to the Brazilian cinema. But what these critics don’t understand is that, for him, in play was the death of the national cinematographic system – which included the film, its realization by the film director, its reception by the public and the guarantee of distribution.”

This system, which up until then had functioned well, began to be threatened with the end of the New Cinema, and the fragility of Embrafilme. Hence, continued the researcher, his wagering on the bad national film, his analyses of erotic comedy, of the films by Mazzaropi etc. “Though more limited from the esthetic point of view, they had a public and guarded historical and sociological significant items that help to understand our mediocrity.”

Critic Antonio Candido highlighted in the first edition of Cinema: trajetória no subdesenvolvimento, that to write had cost an effort by his life long friend. “Not that he didn’t master the words. His verbal concatenation, on the contrary, was prodigious. But because he only wrote what he thought and felt. And he wanted to present it in the most lucidly authentic manner.” Today, when the cinema critic confuses himself with superficial accounts, when the “I think” situation is not always well built and the impressions make the tone, when camaraderie and parochial preconceptions predominate over logic of a supposed criticism, to read Paulo Emilio becomes a duty of fundamental line – principally within the educative aspect of new generations. We’ll have to sit and wait for his books.

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