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 crônica, 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 crônica 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). [ [End Page 55]
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...