Originally published as part of a weekly quarantine column at Cinema Tropical in May 2020.
Brazil has a rich and disperse parallel history of film and video through the visual arts. Helio Oiticica’s films with Neville de Almeida, included at the artist’s 2017 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, are landmark works in the visual arts, but their affinity with the cinema marginal production still seems critically underexplored; the political echoes of the video work of an artist such as Letícia Parente—some of them included in the recent, traveling exhibit Radical Women: Latin American Art 1960-1985 – can be felt in recent film festival hits, such as the powerful performance-video Experiencing the Flooding Red (Experimentando o Vermelho em Dilúvio, 2016) by Musa Michelli Mattiuzzi; other contemporary artists, like Cao Guimarães, Marcellvs, Jonathas de Andrade, Ana Pi, and the duo Bárbara Wagner/Benjamin de Burca have created numerous great works that have circulated in both museums and film festivals, including Veredas – A Generation of Brazilian Filmmakers, in the past few years.
Despite important scholarly and curatorial efforts to underline the significance of this production, this very other “marginal cinema”—in this case, a cinema that positively exists at the margin of the cinematic institution – remains vastly unmapped. The relentless multiplicity of formats, the often scarce documentation, as well as the sheer volume of works have created pockets of inaccessibility where these territories overlap. Threatened by a peculiar combination of the material obsolescence of film and video and the programmatic scarcity of the art world, the exposure and reflection about this production is necessarily temptative, speculative, and somewhat accidental.
It’s the case of this week’s recommendation, the haunting short video Alvorada (2004). Directed by the visual artist, writer, songwriter, and public intellectual Nuno Ramos, the 5-minute long video is available without any contextual information on the artist’s Vimeo page, alongside video documentation of some of his sculptural and performative works. Although unsubtitled, the only word repeated in the film is its title: “alvorada”, literally “dawn.”
Exposed to a perverse form of mechanic repetition in the film, the word opens up in multiple directions, as is often the case in Ramos’ work: alvorada, the title of the early morning wake-up call played by the army trumpeter – a simple practice made eerie by Brazil’s military trauma; Alvorada, the name given to the Modernist palace designed by Oscar Niemeyer that has been the official residence of Brazilian presidents since 1958; “alvorada”, a hidden neologism that combines the word “alvo” (target) and the suffix “ada” which implies a group, measure, or action – a collection (or an attack; or an abundance; or a series) of targets.
The polysemic concreteness of Alvorada adds palpable features to Nuno Ramos’ long-lasting interest in violence as “the primordial theme of Brazilian society” – as he wrote in an article originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo in 2014 and recently republished in his latest book, the collection of essays Verifique se o Mesmo (2019). This violence is introjected in his work both as theme and as part of the creative gesture itself, which gets another fold in the video’s posthumous detachment: it was originally part of a larger installation of the same name, exhibited at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in 2004, which included sculptural, literary, and sound elements.
Removed from the museum space, the short video suggests a parodic, albeit morbid, seriality that is reminiscent of Julio Bressane’s Cuidado Madame(1970) and Memórias de um Estrangulador de Loiras (1971, quoted in the previously-recommended Bedouin), infiltrating the museum institution with the radical alterity of underground cinema.But this removal cuts both ways. Orphaned from the cinema as well, the mysterious autonomy of Alvorada, reminiscent of Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989) and Pedro Costa’s The End of a Love Affair (2003), adds unheard harmonics to the historical role of violence and its representation in Brazilian cinema.