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Consuming Visions: Cinema, Writing And Modernity In Rio De Janeiro.

Consuming Visions: Cinema, Writing And Modernity In Rio De Janeiro.

Maite Conde. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2012. Paper, 248 pages

While inquiries into national forms of cultural production often concentrate on a single artistic genre, Maite Conde expands on this approach by focusing in on the interwoven nature of Brazil's literary and cinematic history. In Consuming Visions: Cinema, Writing And Modernity In Rio De Janeiro, Conde explores the connections between film and literature as they emerged in Brazilian culture around the turn of the twentieth century. In a text that foregrounds the interrelationship between distinct genres, this work of cultural history illuminates how both cinematic and written forms can act to construct space. Using such a lens to investigate the modernization of Brazilian cities, most notably Rio de Janeiro, Consuming Visions shows how this intersection of different art forms, both high and low, enabled the creation of a politicized aesthetics. Conde makes it clear that film, rather than being static and unconnected to the world of everyday practice, is a fluid form, intimately tied to the dynamics of history.

Conde links Brazilian cultural history to that of other European nations, outlining the ways in which the global growth of modern capitalism in the early 20th century inevitably influenced the social landscapes of the city of Rio. The first chapter of Consuming Visions describes how Brazilian writers captured new experiences of urban modernity in Rio de Janeiro that were propelled by industrialism and technological innovation, both of which constituted a major force in bringing "the Seventh Art" of cinema to the city. The forms of the cinema and the cronica, a type of journalistic essay that was part of Brazil's literary heritage, worked to limn out the contours of the newly modernized Rio. Underlying her formal analysis of the cronica is Conde's use of an intertextual methodology that allows her to uncover connections between literature and film in terms of space, as when she notes that early cinema depicting Rio was "akin to a visual travelogue, charting and mapping new urban space for spectators, in much the same way that the cronista himself took his readers on tours of the capital's new spaces" (36). [

Interestingly, there is also a sense in which film and literature interact dialogically in this study. As Conde explains, writers in Rio participated in film production as an attempt to create an alternative political space in the public spher. Concomitant with a literature "governed by aesthetics and style" (59), the author posits, was the disappearance of the "Brazilian man of letters who had participated in, changed, and disseminated the new ideals of progress and civilization" (58). When Brazilian literature thus became divested of its political influences, the emergence of the mass media and the advent of cinema made it possible for displaced literary artists to comment on important events and figures through comical films like Paz e amour. In one particularly striking example, Conde draws attention to the ways in which artistic engagement with popular works and audiences signaled a commitment on the part of the "new bohemians" (65) to engage with the pragmatic, everyday concerns of Brazilian citizens, providing these readers with access to more critical forms of cultural consumption. Such observations underscore the possibilities for public engagement when texts begin blurring the line between forms of high and low art.

Undoubtedly, Conde is aware of the implications of such an interaction between writers and readers, one that can yield a very politicized aesthetics. "Chapter 3: Envisioning A New Political Landscape" describes how the emerging medium of film was transformed into a vehicle for galvanizing the anarchist impulses of the new immigrant populations who were struggling to determine their own place in Rio de Janeiro. Immigrants who moved into the industrializing city of Rio interacted with cinematic portrayals of their native countries and participated in a type of virtual travel that linked them with their homelands. At the same time, the municipal government began to pass legislation which sought to make Rio a city that catered to upper-class elites and segregated out these new immigrant working classes. In response to such an exercise of state power, film and theater presented new avenues for representing the working class's economic and political concerns. Conde reads the film Para um film fantastaco: O maior homem de humanidade A historia da vida de Pedro Krepotkin as a work that carved out a filmic space through which anarchists could struggle against the exploitation of the upper classes and the encroachment of modern capitalism into Rio. For Conde, it seems, cultural forms do not simply express political sentiments, but rather become a tool to galvanize the oppressed and organize social formations as they come into being.

Shifts in Brazilian social history also created a crisis for patriarchal values. In the fourth chapter of Consuming Visions, Conde focuses on those changes in the Brazilian economy that were especially tied to women as an emerging group of consumers, the filmic link to which is evident in Benjamin Costallat's 1923 novel, Mademoiselle Cinema. The novel features what Conde describes as the bourgeoning figure of the "New Woman" in early 20th century Brazil: a more cosmopolitan, modern woman who traveled freely outside the confines of the domestic space as she directed her gaze into store windows throughout the modern cities of the world. The New Woman was a nationally significant consumer ideal that enabled Brazilians to make sense of the dynamism brought about by modern mass culture. Her appearance, Conde asserts, became a sign of Brazil's national identity crisis, one brought on by the process of modernization. Costallat's novel, therefore, spoke "to the need to configure new paradigms that were no longer alienated from domestic structures" and its critique of the protagonist's "consuming desires thus highlights discourses concerning the out-of-place nature of Brazilian modernity, discourses that are structured in and through the body of its cinematic female" (168). Such "out-of-placeness" can be seen even in the figure of the Brazilian writer himself, who began to look for new avenues through which he might establish his own voice. Just as film provided a way for traditionally dominant patriarchal values to be renegotiated, the medium also became a resource for writers as they constructed new forms of representation that were tied to the new forces of modernity.

Overall, Consuming Visions provides an invaluable history of the emergence of modern Brazilian cultural forms. These forms were inextricably linked to ideas about inhabiting space, particularly in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The interrelated nature of these facets of modern Brazil make Maite Conde's study relevant to a wide range of scholars in the fields of film, history, literature, popular culture and space. Obviously, Consuming Visions also examines a period of Latin American cultural production that, as scholars in both Latin American studies and literary studies will recognize, flourished before both the better known literary modernism and nationalist Cinema Novo of the post-World War II decades. What Consuming Visions offers, then, is a way to revise some established notions about innovative methodologies that explore both film and literature. This work asks its reader to approach cultural studies in a multivariate manner, considering the distinct features of the relationship between artistic genres and their social and political milieu; indeed, its rethinking of Brazil's literary and cinematic history convincingly exhibits the common heritage of the two genres. Consuming Visions represents a welcome contribution to existing scholarship.

Joshua J. Cowan, Texas Tech University
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Author:Cowan, Joshua J.
Publication:Film & History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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