Latin America in Ferment: The Vision Of Saul Landau
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 5, Number 1, February 1975
- pp. 1-14
- Additional Information
LATIN AMERICA IN FERMENT: THE VISION OF SAUL LANDAU By Paul Vanderwood Vanderwood, associate professor ofhistory, has published widely on modern Mexico andpioneered in the study offilm as a historical document at San Diego State University, where he directs the History Through Film Program Although no historian has yet systematically examined Latin American cinema as a reflection of conditions and attitudes in that tense region ofthe world, new films are in increasing numbers reaching the United States which dramatically illuminate the social concerns of the 290 million people who live in Mexico, Central and South America. This trend recently received important impetus from New York's Museum of Modern Art which featured a series of new Mexican motion pictures, some ofthem financed by the Mexican government, which explored, among various themes, peasant-life on hemp plantations in Yucatan (Living on Credit), student protest in 1 968 which climaxed in the massacre on the eve of the Olympics (The Shout and Take It as You Want It), and the restlessness of people who find their society unresponsive to their needs (Change).(l) While most Latin Americanists continue to depend for teaching purposes upon a core of well-regarded films which has served them in the past, to include Blood of the Condor, Barren Lives, The Young and the Damned, and The Hour of the Furnaces, more current motion pictures have for both research interests and classroom needs begun to attract the historian's serious attention. Many of them were made by North and South American leftists employing documentary-style techniques, for example: Tupamaros, Memories of Underdevelopment, Mexico, the Frozen Revolution, and Against Reason by Force. A few full-length fictional films with social emphasis have also received critical acclaim: State of Siege, The Harder They Come, and The Green Wall. Now the self-admitted North American Marxist, Saul Landau, has in a new movie about the recent military coup d'etat in Chile attempted to raise the political consciousness of his audience by blending newsreel and other non-fiction footage with staged fictional sequences. The final product entitled Que Hacer? (What Is To Be Done?) is not totally successful, but the endeavor itself is worth examination. (Rent from Impact Films, New York, N.Y.) As a disciple ofthe playwright Bertolt Brecht, filmmaker Landau has similar concerns) he wants to strip audiences of their comfortable illusions about life, which he believes have been nurtured by their cinematic experience. Landau aims to put the spectators in touch with social reality. Certainly he wants his films to be entertaining, but he also insists that they be instructive. Once the moviegoer understands the truth about his social surroundings, Landau suggests that the viewer might then act rationally to adjust and to control those surroundings. The pitfalls ofthis assumption are two-fold. First, there is the problem ofdefining a "rational reaction" to one's social reality. Landau presumes that "rational," in this sense, means a carefully planned cooperative (class) endeavor, which settles for nothing less than genuine revolutionary results. Playwrights like Harold Pinter (The Homecoming), on the other hand, suggest that most individuals prefer a psychological adjustment of their surroundings, as opposed to activist confrontation, even ifthat adjustment relegates one to a life of torment. Landau would 1 reject such resignation to one's misery; he demands action. Secondly, the notion that one acts rationally when faced with social realities denies the findings ofan entire body of knowledge which began with Freud's investigations into the motivations behind man's behavior. Experience seems to indicate that many individuals, when troubled by an image ofthemselves, seek a scapegoat for relief, rather than making any personal adjustments. Displaying a thorough disgust with bourgeois materialism in a variety ofart forms, Brecht never proved very successful in raising the political consciousness ofthose Germans he was trying to reach in the 1 920's and the early 1 930's. Most notably, he did not deter the German youth on its steadfast march toward fascism, an ideology purportedly based in rationality but in fact generated by emotion. But then totalitarianism is one solution to problems rooted in societal alienation. Now Landau, equally as sympathetic to Marxism as was Brecht, has picked...