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The Aesthetics of Garbage, Part 1

Coverage from Rotterdam's retrospective The Mouth of Garbage, on Brazil's "successful avant-garde" of popular cinema.

Above: Ozualdo Ribeiro Candeias’ A margem (The Margin, 1967).

"I will never transmit sanitised ideas, eloquent discourses or plastic images before the garbage (…) Crushed and exploited, the colonized can only invent their own form of suffocation: the scream of protest comes from an abortive ‘mise en scene’ (…) I’ll continue to make an underdeveloped cinema by condition and vocation, barbarian and ours, anticulturalist (…)" —Rogério  Sganzerla, The Aesthetics of Garbage

Not even garbage escapes retrospective respectability; what was once reviled by snobby film buffs has now become their new gospel. Subcultural capital (that which is “hip” and “illicit”) is usually outsourced from our business enemies (China, Iran, etc.) or from forgotten episodes of film history. One wonders what will the subject of a retrospective be in 30 or 40 years when the whole globe will have been converted to consumer fundamentalism. Now that our visual economy is funded on total exposure and immediate consumption, where are the cultural rejects to be showcased in future retrospectives?

The difference though between retro-maniacal nostalgia and the Mouth of Garbage programme at this year's IFFR is crucial. The former clogs our cultural landscape with encyclopedic accumulation while the latter challenged our assumptions on the geometrics of cinema. Audiences at Rotterdam were exposed to the centrality of margins in relation to creativity. Taking off the lid from the dustbin of cinema history raised important questions around issues of cinematic taste and waste, denouncing the inadequacy of classifications and the moral bias of film preservation.

(De)generating from the working class district hiding behind São Paulo’s railways, Boca do Lixo, the “Mouth of Garbage” devoured and regurgitated cinema with anthropophagic fervour. Antithetical to Cinema Novo in its intentions, the cinema do lixo surpasses it in its conclusion: from the militant purism of elitist films to popular experimentalism. From the “aesthetics of hunger” to the “aesthetics of garbage,” the problem being wasted overabundance as opposed to scarcity. Not a romanticized Third World of exploited innocence, more a mass-mediated junkyard of outlandish debris that is the Brazil coming out the Mouth of Garbage. Cinema marginal was not a subgenre, more an unwelcome buoyancy defying both the state and its “official” opponents. The Mouth of Garbage vomited a most rare hybrid: a popular cinema, commercially successful, able and willing to experiment with forms, moral codes and conventions. In other words: a successful avant-garde insofar as it was understood and followed by the retro-guard (popular taste). It is hard to clearly define such an uneven phenomenon with its unruly aesthetics and hysterical narratives. There definitely are recurrent themes such as eroticism (leading to pornography), marginal characters, lack of moralising and a passionate disenchantment as well as shared productive restrictions (often turned into assets).

These deserters of world cinema turned down the offers of Cine-Orientalism whereby they could have made the “right” films for the “right” (European) audiences, opting instead for the “wrong” films destined to the “wrong” (local) audiences.

An underdeveloped overproduction, a marginal social reputation wherefore garbage is simultaneously a poetic subject and artistic object; the lixo is a place where rejects acquire heroic status. Transgression is not an artistic provocation but a daily practice that seeps into cinema, cultural anthropophagy in the age of mass-mediated colonialism. Neither subjective nor objective, cinema marginal caught everyone off guard with its multi-subjectivity; that is why Ozualdo Ribeiro Candeias’ A margem (The Margin, 1967) can be considered its poetic debut. Against the orthodox ethics of Cinema Novo, A margem captures outcasts beyond revolutionary redemption unhinging the binary dialectics of “us” vs. “them.” In the film every shot is the look of each character, rather than supervising it from above the director grant the story a multiplicity of gazes. São Paulo’s river is afoot with toxic waste and devoid of promises; the present not a brighter future awaits our anti-heroes on the edge of the city.

Above: Rogério  Sganzerla's O bandido da luz vermelha (The Red Light Bandit, 1967).

Even more radical in its refusal of moralistic pedagogies is O bandido da luz lermelha (The Red Light Bandit, 1967) by the 21 years old Rogério  Sganzerla, an insubordinate debut of a far-out genius. In a Brazilian metropolis a bandit/rapist is mythologized by the media, his political incorrectness is simultaneously subjected to scandal and admiration. He is the crude child of injustice, an indigestible figure for a literate audience looking for exotic dreams of revolution yet palatable to those accustomed to the unkindness of life. A criminal hunted down by the criminal order that bred him, a hysterical loose cannon immune to good and beyond evil; an aphrodisiacal danger. If on the one side Sganzerla’s film is clearly influenced by the European new waves, on the other side it is utterly devoid of alienating intellectualisms, literary conceits and calculated provocations. The Red Light Bandit evinces the multiple signs of an aboriginal force, it pulses out a savage sensibility, it is unwilled willingness to create and its vision(s) cannot be contained, only experienced. Irreverent yet thoughtful, refined popular cinema—Unidentified Cinematic Object—irrational declaration of disengagement: only aliens can save the Third World! Violence as the ultimate therapy against cultural academicism, swindle as an action of urban sabotage aiming at the heart of aesthetic dogmatism. The worst multiplied by the best equals this film; unthinkable today when the hardest challenge faced by young film practitioners is that of choosing the right ass to kiss…

The Aesthetics of Garbage, Part 2 can be found here.

Celluloid Liberation Front is a multi-use(r) name, an "open reputation" informally adopted and shared by a desiring multitude of insurgent cinephiles, transmedial terrorists, aesthetic dynamyters and random deviants. For reasons that remain unknown, the name was borrowed from a collective of anti-imperialist blind filmmakers from the Cayman Islands whose films have rarely been unseen. @CLF_Project

Great! This sounds like a very interesting program. Cinema of Garbage seems to be a predecessor to the Cinema of Transgression, which is playing in Berlin as a retro as we speak.
Definitely. The crucial difference being that this stuff came out of a ‘Third World’ catholic country in the middle of a military dictatorship, not the bohemian ‘hip ghetto’ of New York City.
Good point, though I know a lot of ghettos in NYC that are far from “hip” or “bohemian”! At a quick glance it seems that the Cinema of Garbage has strong roots in genre filmmaking, while the Cinema of Transgression seems to be more experimental. I’m no expert on either and I’m sure there is a lot of diversity within the respective movements.
Some interesting material; a bit light on analysis, a little heavy on theoretical airs. Hoping for a balancing of the scales in the next installment. I also wish that all you smart, serious, passionate film writers (not just ‘CFL’, but the Ferronis, and the rest of the Infrequent-Postironic-Interjection Installment Plan to which MUBI evidently subscribes for better or worse) would ditch the general maquis-cum-Merry-Pranksters affect and just try to write thoroughly and well about the things you care about. Nobody is confused about the situation here: the above is not the seedling of a revolution of any kind, critico-cinematic or otherwise. Perhaps it’s time to come down from the tree house and just talk about films like the educated Western adults we all definitely are.
Hahaha! The Merry Pranksters affect. Pretty funny. There do seem to be enough quirky gonzo collectives writing in Notebook. But I prefer the CLF to the Ferronis. Way too much insider slang in the writing of the latter. I read all their articles but I still can’t speak Ferronese.
Or maybe there’s just a myriad of ways of talking about film and engaging in film culture…
There is. But keep your eyes on the prize, Kasman. I’m watching. This is advertised as “part 1” and the closing line is “to be continued…”. Don’t drop the ball on yet another promised series.
Haha, don’t worry, second and final part is lined up! As for what you are referring to, I’m trying, I’m trying….
Heehee! I know you are. Sorry I’m harsh on you. That’s a sign of how highly I rate Notebook as an online publication. Believe me, I don’t spend my reading time carelessly.
A couple of trends I notice. Justify your perversity by praising schlock. You have the technical jargon to polish that poop. Justify your racism by setting your work in the 50s. It’s a good way not to have black people in your work, and if they are there they have demeaning roles. Mad Men, The Help. Justify your sexism by praising current movies. This has been yet another bad year for representation of women in films. Go ahead and do the Bechdel test.

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