In his work on the different forms of cinematic stillness, Garrett Stewart has written about two broadly divergent experiences of the ‘fantastic’ in European and Hollywood cinema, at least part of which has to do with recent uses of photographs and freeze-frames. In Europe, the still image has tended to take on an uncanny appearance, often bringing to our attention fates that fall into coincidental alignment; in the US, it is symptomatic of a more supernatural kind of cinema, where a minor detail uncovered in a photo or freeze might act as the big reveal at the end of a story. In each of these sweeping trends, the contribution of stillness is instrumental, and its varying uses among European and Hollywood cinemas almost suggest a kind of cultural logic of the device. While I don’t think Stewart wants us to take his distinction altogether too seriously (and I don’t), I thought it would be interesting to consider whether the freeze-frame had any particular tendencies in Brazilian cinema, and how we might (however speculatively) account for those tendencies.
Still Brazil considers the extensive use of still images in two Brazilian films: Garrincha: alegria do povo (Garrincha: Joy of the People, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1963) and Cidade de Deus (City of God, Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002). As my prologue suggests, the freeze-frame is by no means native to Brazil, but by analysing these two films, it is possible to discover some of the historical and cultural particulars towards which a still image might gesture. While I had initially addressed more films in less detail – including the three seen at the end of the essay – Violet Lucca’s reader’s report prompted me to create a more focused piece, which yielded much more from the images as a result. Although I was unable to offer more in the way of comparative analysis, the clash of different images here, as well as the brief comments I make about the similarities and differences between Garrincha and City of God, help to demonstrate the continuities of the freeze that are still evident in the shift from analogue to digital.
Tiago de Luca suggested that the digital composition of a video essay in some ways resembles the organisation and remixing of contemporary cinematic images more broadly, praising the form for its sympathy with its object of study. In the process of making this video, I was struck by Raymond Bellour’s suggestion that – from the advent of video onwards – the task of the film critic more or less amounted to the creation of a series of freeze-frames, the distilling (and killing) of the moving image for the purpose of analysis. While video essays most obviously allow for the better dissection of moving images, Still Brazil focuses instead on those moments that could seem to be adequately represented as images alongside a written text. However, watching the still images here not only allows them to sit alongside moving images, but also reveals (at least in the grain of the celluloid images) the way in which even the same still image continues to move across the film strip, which complicates traditional oppositions of photographic stillness and cinematic movement.
As I mention at the start of the video essay, one obvious purpose of the still image in motion pictures is to allow the viewer a brief moment of contemplation, an opportunity for a kind of ‘pensive’ spectatorship (Bellour, Mulvey) in the face of an onrushing flow of visual data. However, Still Brazil creates a different kind of space for experiencing the still image. Here, not only is there little room for contemplation, as the images are analysed in the voice-over, there is also less of a hierarchy between still and moving images, as they are organised in a non-sequential montage. While these aspects of the work might seem to detract from the potentially arresting effect that the still image can have, this comparative approach encourages the viewer to draw connections of their own between the different films on show, not necessarily following the suggestions of the commentary. Indeed, a repeat viewing, with the voice-over muted, would allow for another opportunity to compare these images of stillness in Brazilian cinema.
Araújo, Luciana Corrêa de. Joaquim Pedro de Andrade: primeiros tempos. São Paulo: Alameda Editorial, 2013.
Bellour, Raymond. ‘Analysis in Flames’. Diacritics 15, no. 1 (Spring 1985): 52-56.
Lyotard, Jean-François. ‘Acinema’. Trans. Paisley N. Livingston. Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader. Ed. Philip Rosen. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. 349-359.
Mulvey, Laura. Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image. London: Reaktion Books, 2006.
Nagib, Lúcia. Brazil on Screen: Cinema Novo, New Cinema, Utopia. I.B. Tauris: London and New York, 2007.
Stewart, Garrett. Framed Time: Toward a Postfilmic Cinema. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Stefan Solomon is Postdoctoral Researcher in Film at the University of Reading attached to the AHRC/FAPESP-funded project, ‘Towards an Intermedial History of Brazilian Cinema: Exploring Intermediality as a Historiographic Method’ (short title: IntermIdia). He is currently analyzing the interplay of cinema and the visual arts in films associated with the Tropicália movement, as well as considering contemporary experimental developments in Brazilian filmmaking. He also maintains an interest in the various relationships between cinema and literature, and has recently completed a monograph entitled William Faulkner in Hollywood: Screenwriting for the Studios.
Stefan Solomon’s research is supported by:
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