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Signs of Chaos: the films of Rogério Sganzerla

Copacabana, Mon Amour

On Friday, November 1, Spectacle Theater launches a two-month long retrospective of the great Rogério Sganzerla. It’s hard to stress enough the importance of Sganzerla’s work in Brazilian cinema – it would be no exaggeration to list him as one of our top-3 greatest filmmakers of all time, which I guess I just did – and the opportunity of seeing his entire (surviving) body of work at once is an extraordinary privilege.

I’m looking forward to introducing one of the screenings of the great Copacabana, Mon Amouron November 6, at 7:30pm. No matter how hard I try to put the experience of this film into words, I’m yet to find a better critic and a fairer enthusiast of Sganzerla’s cinema than the director himself – a terrific film critic in his own right, who started publishing reviews when he was seventeen. As a celebration of this exceptional New York retrospective, I have compiled and translated some memorable quotes fished from interviews made with Sganzerla throughout the years, and compiled by Roberta Canuto in the book Encontros (2007). In her introduction, Canuto appropriately calls Sganzerla “an oracle of cinema,” and his explosive prescience seems even sharper in these decontextualized aphorisms.

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“I am not interested in confirming the desperation of godless souls, the feminine psychology, and the incommunicability. (…) Instead, I choose the global denunciation of the underdeveloped soul and body.”

“The exchange between an underdeveloped cinema and an overdeveloped cinema may produce a conflict, a dialectic, an energy.”

“Our reality is incompatible with cynicism or the pure realization of facts. (…) Under this unbearable reality, we are anti-aesthetic in order to be ethical.”

“Godard and Rosi must be destroyed.”

“Brazilian cinema is born with Humberto Mauro, lives a life with Nelson Pereira dos Santos, gets aroused with Paulo Cesar Saraceni, gets despaired with Glauber Rocha, and dies with all of us.”

“With absolute sincerity, I have tried to lie and speak the truth, to be sad and violent, stupid and sensitive, academical and inventive.”

“I utilize bad taste in order to achieve an intuitive understanding of the Brazilian reality, and of the problems that burden us today, from the smallest to the biggest ones.”

“Every film I ever make will be a form of self-critique.”

“I preach for the destruction of my own ideas, and of my own individual sensibility.”

“Even though I do not believe much in my own independence, I try to put myself in a position of independence.”

“I have always been a little suspicious of the music that started getting made in 1961-62 in search of a national culture, a Brazilian culture (…) if we have buried all of Western culture, why would we want to save our own?”

“We don’t have a cinema that lives up to our century, because of the very structure of human thought.”

“(American) Underground cinema falls behind in terms of film language. It is an anti-linguistic cinema, which is the opposite of my cinema, for I go back in time 25 years, to the American cinema of the 1930s and of the 1940s, to make a revision not only of American cinema, but of the world created according to the vision of American cinema.”

“Coffin Joe might be the greatest Brazilian filmmaker, perhaps not as an author – although I find him to be a good author whose work encompasses everything, in a way that Nelson Rodrigues’ work never has. He is a truthful, accented filmmaker, who has a particular style, a director with a great cinematic and poetic sense, and a strong personality capable of producing a bloody, barbaric work like the one I have been trying to make, even though I’m still burdened by traces of gentleness and good behavior.”

“The 20th century civilization is tired of cultivating danger, so danger today is something that is obviously cool. I might not even like danger myself, but I think it is definitely cool.”

“I believe cinema is an inferior art. I don’t think I would even call cinema an art, you know? I actually like this pulp side of cinema, this nearly-vulgar side, this popular and visionary side that I have seen a lot of in American cinema. So I agree that cinema is an inferior art, and that’s why I make inferior films. When I make a film, I face a thousand problems related to underdevelopment during production, therefore I choose underdevelopment not only as a condition but also as a filmic choice. Because here films are underdeveloped by nature and vocation. So you talked about cinema as being inferior, and that is a perfect definition of what I make.”

“It’s hard to make a film. Especially in Brazil. So I fuck it up and jump headfirst into it. It’s a terrible thing, it’s a suicidal experience, and at the same time it’s mediocre because it doesn’t lead anywhere, it doesn’t solve shit. I think the greatness of cinema comes out of this difficulty.”

“Who am I? I’m not someone, I am nobody, and by that I mean I am alone with a particle of revolutionary thought that does not settle for the mere illustration of appearances (deceiving or not).”

“Jimi Hendrix is a great thinker, and to him I dedicate all my tracking shots, my pans, and my tableaux.”

“With João Gilberto, as well as Hendrix, he may try to imitate himself, but he fails. He tries to repeat himself, but he doesn’t, because each time, even when it’s the same arrangement and all, something else comes out. It’s a form of inner daintiness that exists outside the system.”

“If someone asked me what I think about myself I would reply in all honesty, even though it might seem the opposite: I’m the Yojimbo of culture and that’s why the new underground generation doesn’t get me (the underground does not exist, and if it does then I am against it).”

“I make popular cinema. It’s not an elitist, decadent, or obnoxious cinema. It works toward the popular, and it has a fundamental thing called rhythm. Our local aristocracy is yet to learn how to rhyme.”

“The invention of a new artistic language is like a joke that has been told so many times it is no longer funny.”

“Sometimes I feel Spielberg is more experimental than anyone, because you can’t even understand his stories, like Jurassic Park, for example. Nonetheless, the film is a hit. People are ready to watch anything. It’s the industry that never recycled itself, and there\’s no actual work of distribution or criticism today.”

“Even though Brazilians like cinema very much, cinema does not really like Brazilians.”

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