In this episode we’re going to be covering journalism, and journalists, as portrayed in film. I could say that we picked this topic because it is timely, but, really, when is this topic not timely? But in reality, it was picked simply because it seemed interesting to us.
That said, it is timely, in our current age of fake news. Not the “fake” news that dangerously incompetent narcissists decry when the word they are looking for is “inconvenient”, but the genuine fake news, the sort that helped said mendacious arse-trumpet get elected, the kind of false news that at best misleads, and at worst causes division, violence and harm to the vulnerable. Perhaps more worrying is the decline in the general standards of both writing, and investigative journalism.
It still exists, of course, though it seems much more difficult to come by. Fortunately we can always turn to celluloid when we want to remember (or, perhaps, delude ourselves) that an individual journalist or an organisation can make a genuine difference to a person’s life, an industry or a country, as cinema has a longstanding love of the profession and those around it; from the corrupted by power Charles Foster Kane and the vilified by the press Jefferson Smith, to the meticulously-researched and explosive collective efforts of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team.
There were a huge number of films that featured either journalism or journalists that we could have selected for this episode, and some we reluctantly had to leave out (including films we highly recommend, such as the Hitchcock thriller Foreign Correspondent, Federico Fellini’s magnificent La Dolce Vita and Costa-Gavras’s Z), but we tried to provide a selection that included some highly-regarded and popular films, as well as some that we hadn’t seen before, including some lesser-known pieces, and to cover a range of topics, eras and countries.
To that end, in this episode we will explore the story of a journalist whose mild curiosity about a classified ad turns into a crusade to free an innocent man; a young man who decided that making it all up was a better way of doing things than actual work; two political reporters who stumble upon one of the biggest scoops of the twentieth century, and produce some of the most influential and famous reportage in history; a reserved older writer whose conscience is stirred by the passionate youth around him; a principled television producer fighting against corporate self-interest to get his story broadcast; and a journalist poet who gets caught between two opposing, but equally corrupt, politicians.
We hope that you’ll find something to take your fancy.
The theme of this podcast means that we are spending an extended amount of time in the murky waters of “based on a true story”, a cinematic statement that at times I feel ought to carry the same weight and feeling as “Here Be Dragons” on ancient maps. Henry Hathaway’s 1948 noir-ish drama Call Northside 777 is another of these, purporting to tell the true tale of a journalist’s investigation and campaign to exonerate two men he believes were wrongly imprisoned.
The story begins in Prohibition-era Chicago, a pretty damn lawless time, when a police officer is shot and killed in a speakeasy. Two men, Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) and Tomek Zaleska (George Tyne) are convicted by the eyewitness evidence of the speakeasy’s owner, Wanda Skutnik (Betty Garde), and sentenced to life in prison.
Eleven years later, Chicago Times reporter P.J. McNeal (James Stewart) is tasked by his editor Brian Kelly (Lee J. Cobb) to look into an intriguing classified ad, which offers a $5,000 reward for information relating to the Wiecek case, asking anyone with such information to call Northside 777. This leads him to Tilly Wiecek (Kasia Orzazewski), Frank Wiecek’s mother, who he encounters scrubbing floors. She is convinced of her son’s innocence, and has offered the reward in the hopes of clearing his name. The sceptical McNeal discovers that she has raised the money by scrubbing floors for a decade, and saving every penny, nickel and dime that she can. When cautioned by the reporter that she is likely to only attract crazies and money-seekers, she is unconcerned, and tells him that she will scrub for another ten years and offer $10,000 if necessary, if it will help her boy.
Moved by Tillie‘s faith and dedication, but otherwise believing it unworthy of further pursuit, McNeal intends to write up a minor human interest piece and go on with his life. His editor, Kelly, has other plans, though, and urges him to follow it up. This includes a trip to the state penitentiary to interview Wiecek and talk to Zaleska, meetings with Wiecek’s ex-wife, and trips through newspaper and police archives of the time. During this, The Times publishes the story, and Wiecek’s plight captures the public’s imagination.
The sceptical McNeal gradually becomes convinced of Wiecek and Zaleska’s innocence, and begins a crusade to clear their name, or at least to get a retrial. This draws the ire of the State (not because of such petty considerations as wrongful imprisonment, of course, but because it will reflect badly on the governor, and it was a different party in power then, but they will be blamed and so on. Politics has never not been reprehensible), as well as that of the Chicago Police Department, who blank McNeal and attempt to stymie his investigation, rather than, say, making sure they actually did a good job as police. (Isn’t it funny how the more corrupt/inept/systematically racist a police force is, the more likely it is to be described as “the greatest police force in the country/world/universe” by its members in a film? Witness the Chicago PD here, the LAPD in the 1940s and 50s – think L.A. Confidential – and the NYPD, in every film ever.)
After trying several avenues – having Frank Wiecek undergo a lie detector test (administered in the film by Leonarde Keeler, the actual inventor of the device, who apparently didn’t trust any actor to correctly operate the machine); a search through the Polish immigrant neighbourhoods of the city to find Wanda Skutnik and get her to refute her testimony; failing that to try to invalidate it and question her character – McNeal is at a loss, and the paper is being pressured to drop the story. Eventually McNeal manages to secure an all or nothing review of Wiecek’s case at the State Parole Board.
Partly noir (though both journalist and defendant are really too upright and of good character for that genre), partly documentarian (Truman Bradley’s narration brings to mind newsreel footage), Call Northside 777 is a thoroughly entertaining ride, that perhaps only suffers nowadays from being a little familiar in structure and payoff, though was undoubtedly considerably fresher when released in 1948. Unsurprisingly the film’s biggest draw is Jimmy Stewart, notably dispensing with much of his more charming attributes to portray a tough and cynical reporter, but one whose conscience clearly nags at him, and who finds a fire lit inside of him when he becomes convinced of a miscarriage of justice, a fire further fuelled by his indignation that those who should be invested in righting this wrong are resolutely uninterested in doing so.
Conte paints a sympathetic and compelling character as the man done wrong, particularly when the truth of his divorce is discovered, and it is impossible not to be won over by Kasia Orzazewski as Frank’s loving mother Tilly. Though some of the other more minor characters are pretty standard, there are no wrong notes, save perhaps the almost cartoonish boyfriend of Wanda Skutnik, and Lee J. Cobb’s editor, who spends much of the film seemingly wryly amused, but he does provide something of a foil to the rather serious protagonist, so maybe that flies.
It’s a crisply shot piece, with the real Chicago locations looking great, though it undoubtedly becomes most visually interesting when it adopts a look more fitting of a film noir, particularly in the building where McNeal first meets Tilly, and during his search for Wanda Skutnik in the areas behind the docks.
Story-wise it is compelling, as I mentioned earlier, and the only caveats that I have are that the tense finale is undoubtedly less so nowadays as it feels particularly well-worn, and that, based on a true story as it may be, it’s one of the earliest examples I can recall of the great Hollywood salvation by technology trope, and absolutely the earliest of the magical improvement of image quality. The crucial revelation – whether or not the date on a newspaper seen in a photograph proves police malfeasance – is undermined by the last-minute transition, at the greatest level of magnification, from illegible blurriness to crystal clarity. Every time that I watch this film I keep imagining Jimmy Stewart yelling “Enhance!” at the fax machine. Further proof that there’s nothing new under the sun, especially in Hollywood. But don’t let that put you off, I definitely recommend this one.
Of all the films on this list, this was the one I’d looked forward to most, as I’ve somehow contrived not to have seen it thus far, and it’s supposed to be the exemplar of the genre. In the unlikely event you’ve not heard of it, Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 film sees Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford take up the mantle of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward as the Washington Post reporters responsible for every news story having the word Gate suffixed to it.
New to the paper, Woodward is assigned to cover the seemingly minor incident of the red-handed capture of some goons at a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex, but his interest is piqued but the surprisingly expensive lawyer representing supposedly low rent clientele, and the claims of their ties to the CIA. Tugging on the strings of this seems to connect increasingly higher profile members of the Republican Party machine, with the more experienced Bernstein also getting assigned to the growing story.
They gain the help of a high placed anonymous source codenamed Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook), which gave me X-Files flashbacks, but the reliance on such mysterious sources spooks the Post’s senior editors who wants more legitimate sources on record, and this as much as following the story taxes the duo’s determination and ingenuity.
There’s little value in recounting all the uncovered cover-ups that eventually led to Nixon resigning in disgrace, and indeed the film sensibly breaks off its pursuit and cuts to the chase itself, presumably having felt that it had fulfilled its remit of showing the procedural side of things and the character of those reporting on it.
I don’t think I have a great deal negative to say about this film – Hoffman and Redford aren’t my favourite actors, but there’s little to complain about with their performances. It moves along quickly enough, given the era it’s from, and it’s a solid look at the technicalities of reliably investigating and reporting an unarguably important story, undeniably an import lesson in this time of erroneous tweets immediately becoming headline news.
Yet, this film just didn’t click with me. Which is not to say I disliked it, really, but it made little lasting impact on me. Which I can’t rightly explain, as I enjoyed the very similar approach Spotlight took, which clearly owes a massive debt to this film. But All The President’s Men just couldn’t hold my attention. Perhaps I should have watched the animated adaptation, All The President’s Hens. Pens, Fens, Lens, Benz, Cleanse, Glens, Dens
As a side-note, Pakula should be commended for his dedication to office space veracity, making replicas of old phone books, and purchasing the exact same desks in the exact same shade of paint as the Washington Post office, at a reasonable expense for his backlot set. Although one does have to ask the question – who on earth cares about that?
Again, no obvious reason for me not to recommend this even if I didn’t enjoy it. I’ll mark it up to mental distress from the tail end of my illness.
I think that it would be fair to say that, back in 2003, no-one, including myself and Scott, who I believe I saw this with, would’ve been tremendously enthusiastic or optimistic about seeing a film starring Hayden Christensen who, to most of the world at that point, was best known as that guy largely failing to do a passable impression of a comatose tree in Star Wars: Episode II: The Attack of the Clowns. Though, to be fair, he did a pretty decent attempt at irritating, petulant, whiny brat (trapped in the body of a tree), assuming that was how George Lucas wrote that character (I can’t fit the appropriate number of quotation marks around the word wrote, or we’d be here all day).
But, in his defence, most of the actors involved in that farcically bad effects showcase were so wooden that I’m surprised that the Wookiees weren’t constructing their dwellings around them. Still, it did make Christensen as a young journalist in writer-director Billy Ray’s Shattered Glass a difficult sell, as the film very much had to excuse Star Wars, rather than cash-in on it. Fortunately it was a stumbling block worth overcoming.
Ol’ Anakin plays Stephen Glass, a hotshot writer for NYC-based political magazine The New Republic, which had a vibrant staff of writers mostly in their mid to early 20s. Glass is painted as the shining star amongst them; kind, helpful, willing to help others, while writing his own entertaining, colourful stories. Though loved and revered by most of his colleagues, he seems to get under the skin of Peter Sarsgaard’s Chuck Lane. When Lane unexpectedly replaces Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria) as editor and finds himself required to investigate the veracity of some of Glass’s stories, colleagues rally around, and all assume that Lane is, and always has been, jealous of Glass’s popularity and skill.
It’s not an unreasonable assumption; Lane isn’t particularly popular in the office, and certainly doesn’t receive the love and adoration that his predecessor did, an editor who was seen as being protective and fatherly towards his staff. His pieces, while no doubt well-researched, don’t seem to have the zing and personality of Glass’s work. But the problem is, it’s not sour grapes. Turns out, Glass is a bullshit-artist extraordinaire.
The problems begin under Kelly’s editorship, when the chairman of the American Conservative Union questions the veracity of Glass’s story on the drunken antics of attendees at a Young Republicans convention. When Kelly confronts him, we can almost see the wheels frantically turning behind Stephen’s eyes as he tries to explain away the lie he has just been caught in. He concocts another lie, and cops to a singular error, which is enough to mollify Kelly and have him back Glass’s article.
Soon after Chuck Lane takes over, though, Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn), a reporter for the then-fledgling website Forbes Digital Tool, begins investigating Glass’s vivid tale of a Californian tech company hiring a 15 year old hacker as it was more efficient than fighting him. Penenberg contacts The New Republic when he is unable to corroborate any of the details, and Lane begins to conduct his own investigation. Quickly Glass’s story (and Glass himself) begins to unravel, and it is discovered that Glass concocted the story from whole cloth. So false is it that one of the only pieces of fact in the article is that there is a state in the union named California, though even that may cause doubt after so many other lies.
Glass is fired, and all of his other stories for the magazine investigated: of 41 pieces published, 27 of them were wholly or partly fabricated. The magazine arranges to publish corrections and apologies before Glass’s breath-taking and audacious mendacity brings the whole publication tumbling down.
It’s a really quite compelling story, and it’s particularly fascinating to watch the wheels turn as Glass is forced to create lie after lie to cover all of the untruths that have been discovered, and see his increasingly desperate attempts not to be found out, including faking the website of a tech firm on, of all places, AOL. It bombs along, and tells its fairly dense tale efficiently and effectively in a brisk 94 minutes.
It suffers from an unnecessary framing device (Glass visiting his old school, and giving a – possibly imagined – talk to the pupils there), which adds nothing of value, though, in a genuine rarity, there are moments of Glass’s voiceover that actually add to the telling, notably his description of the rigorous fact-checking that The New Republic articles went through, and how that can be circumvented. (Something no doubt made easier when you are head of fact-checking, as Glass was at the time).
Perhaps the most notable thing about Shattered Glass (outside of the spectacular amount of lying) is just how not only not-bad Hayden Christensen is, but how good he actually is. While he’s clearly out of his element (not in a kid who’s just wandered into the middle of a movie kind of way, but in that he’s constantly bumping up against the limit of his ability when all around him take their roles in their stride), Christensen is a superb example of the difference that a director that actually cares about acting, coupled with dialogue that an actual human might speak, can make to an actor’s performance.
It would be very easy to paint Stephen Glass as contemptible lying bastard, but here Christensen portrays the young writer surprisingly sympathetically, with the over-riding sense being that Glass was foolish, eager to please and seeking of approval and attention, rather than simply being deceitful and mendacious in order to further his career (though the film does suggest that lying is a habit that he finds hard to break). It doesn’t excuse him, and only Glass and his colleagues know how close to the truth it is, but it’s rather more interesting that making him a straight-up villain.
There’s strong support from Azaria as the mentor-figure and Steve Zahn as the just the right side of scoffingly cynical rival reporter, but it’s Sarsgaard that anchors the film, and he does a fine job in his role as the editor who wants to support and believe his employee, but whose ethical and journalistic standards will not allow him to do so unquestioningly. Alas the women, most prominently Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, fare less well, and as usual it’s the too-old story of lack of material, not inadequate performance.
Far from perfect, Shattered Glass is a thoroughly entertaining drama, and a sadly necessary reminder to modern media not to be so credulous, especially when too many report or repeat “stories” published on just one website. If a respected publication with a dedicated fact-checking process and department can be so thoroughly duped, those lazy, gullible, feckless morons have to do a lot better, and go a lot further in their attribution, than “was on Twitter”. Sadly relevant.
Michael Mann’s not the type to rush into productions, so there’s a four year gap between 1999’s The Insider and the oft-lauded Heat, discussed in podcasts passim. The Insider carries over Al Pacino in a lead role, playing Lowell Bergman, a producer for respected American investigative journalism TV show 60 Minutes. His interest is piqued when a box of documents is delivered to him, alleging that tobacco companies were secretly coming up with ways of making their deathsticks more addictive, while swearing blind that they knew nothing of any such activities, or that nicotine is addictive, or what a “nicotine” was, or that the grass in green and the Pope defecates in the woods.
This documentation comes from the recently fired head researcher Jeffrey Wigand, played by Russell Crowe, everyone’s favourite antipodean phone tosser. He refused to go along with a plan to put another dangerous additive into the companies cigarettes, and was fired under the barely defensible reason of poor communication skills as a result. The film is, then, a two and a half hour chronicle of Wigand struggling to balance his desire to expose these practises and the extraordinary extents that his former company go to keep him silent. This ranges from mildly threatening meetings reminding him of his confidentiality agreement to alleged death threats and finally commissioning a report smearing his name as it comes closer to the piece’s air date.
Meanwhile, Bergman is fighting his own battle to get the piece on the air, with the Corporate lawyers expressing grave concerns about the possible liabilities this could open up for them, unwanted at the best of times, but in particular ahead of a takeover bid, and it’s not like Big Tobacco doesn’t have lawyers with hair triggers. Both these struggles result in trials, tribulations and personal costs for both men, although Wigand clearly grasps a significantly more turd covered stick than Bergman.
There’s perhaps a danger of The Insider being passed over, as evidenced by the disappointing returns at the box office, because what you’d be forgiven for taking as the central conceit of the film – Big Tobacco being Big Arseholes – isn’t really news to anyone. That’s a mistake, as it could be about any subject – as disgusting as this one is. It’s more about the dilemmas involved when doing the right thing is going to come at a terrible cost.
This film lives and dies by the central performances, and that of Crowe in particular, who delivers perhaps his best turn to date, and it’s pretty high up my list of Pacino performances too. Meanwhile, a supporting cast running the gamut from Michael Gambon and Rip Torn to Christopher Plummer means that even some very minor roles get major performances. The narrative is solid enough, but this is a character piece at heart, and Crowe does a terrific job of wringing the emotion from the role.
If this isn’t Michael Mann’s best film, it’s certainly challenging for it – packed with much more tension than you’d expect from the subject matter, with some meaty ethical conundrums to conunder, all doused in Mann’s slickness. Eurgh.
I can’t really come up with much in the way of criticism of it – I perhaps feel it ought to be a half hour shorter, but I can’t point to anything I’d want to cut out of it. Maybe you’re not interested in the story, which may seem a tad dry? Maybe you’ve gone off Crowe thanks to his extra-curricular activities? (although not to minimise his occasional anger issues, he’s hardly Harvey Weinstein) But in general, I can’t come up with any reasons not to recommend the film to everyone, in the event you’ve not seen it.
Sostiene Pereira (variously known in English as According to Pereira, Pereira Maintains and Pereira Declares, from the Italian original) sees Marcello Mastroianni as Pereira, a writer for independent Lisbon newspaper Lisboa (Lisbon in English), during the time of the fascist Estado Novo dictatorship in Portugal, and the civil war in neighbouring Spain.
While once a news reporter, the widowed and solitary Pereira now writes and edits the newspaper’s culture section, and seems content to live in the past, sheltered from the political turmoil that surrounds him on the Iberian Peninsula, and Europe as a whole. Instead, he makes considerable effort to contribute to his poor health, with quality cigars and pancreas-assaulting, tooth-dissolving, quantities of sugar added to his lemonade, while chatting to his dead wife’s photograph. His priorities change, however, when he hires a passionate and political young man to help him prepare obituaries of literary figures.
This man, Monteiro (Stefano Dionisi) professes at first to be apolitical, and not actually interested in obituaries, more interested in life than in death. Still, Pereira offers Monteiro the job, but much to his chagrin his obituaries are politically loaded. Pereira learns that the impetus behind this actually comes from Monteiro’s girlfriend, Marta (Nicoletta Braschi), and further learns that the couple are involved in the anti-fascist struggle in Portugal, and also in recruitment of fighters for the Republican army over the border in Spain.
Being involved with this fiery and determined couple, who are willing to put their own lives at risk to oppose fascism, creates a new spark of life in Pereira, and encourages him, even in his small way, to join the fight and use his position as a journalist to do some good, and open the eyes of the public to what is happening.
Mastroianni spent a large chunk of time towards the end of his career trying to throw off his reputation as a screen playboy and heartthrob (epithets he never cared for), and created several fantastic portraits of older men in his final years. One such is Pereira, and he’s a delight as the quirky, detached from the here and now, but smart, newspaperman, who, far from being described as any sort of Latin lover, could best be described as avuncular.
In reality the story is fairly slight, and Pereira himself plays only a small part in the political strife that is going on in the background, but it’s a charming story with a glint of sharp steel under the surface, and his journey from detachment to heart of the action is rewarding and, perhaps because he begins so far away from politics, quite shocking, particularly when he experiences first-hand the cost of defying the authorities.
Mastroianni is given fine support by Dionisi and Braschi as the idealistic young couple, as well as Lisbon native Joaquim de Almeida as the local waiter who feeds Pereira much of his local news, French actor Daniel Auteuil as the idiosyncratic doctor who is happy for Pereira to postpone his diet as long as he can share one of his fine cigars; and Swiss Marthe Keller, as the Jewish woman who encourages Pereira to use his position as a journalist to make a difference.
(This is set in Portugal, but is an Italian film, and I mention the various nationalities to highlight their skill at acting in Italian, and to create an opportunity to carp about the piss-poor quality of foreign language education in this country, especially when we were at school. And, yes, I know this has sod all to do with Sostiene Pereira, but when has that ever stopped me before? And it’s probably something which warrants some good journalistic think-pieces, so there you go, there’s your tenuous connection to today’s theme).
Visually it’s not particularly exciting, but it does have a very particular look: despite being filmed largely on location in and around Lisbon, its sets and colour process give it a very warm palette that makes much of it feel very sound-stagey, but on the flipside does fit, and evoke, its 1930s setting.
A charming piece, and well worth watching.
If I recall correctly, this film made the list off the back of something like the IMDB summary, which runs roughly thus: “In the hypothetical Latin-American country of Eldorado… poet and journalist Paulo Martins fights against the populist governor, Felipe Vieira, and the conservative president Porfirio Diaz”. Which, to be fair, if you’re trying to boil Terra em Transe, Brazilian writer/director Glauber Rocha’s 1967 film down to a paragraph, is about as close as you’re going to get.
It does rather sell short the outright weirdness of the film, though, and I’m rather sure that’s why the films’ Wikipedia page, so often the home of the needlessly detailed recap, doesn’t even bother in this instance. It would probably be foolish of me to even attempt to recap the plot, but no-one’s ever accused me of good sense.
To be honest, it’s tough to add a great deal more to it. Jardel Filho’s Paulo Martins is a poet first, and journalist a very distant second. If I’m reading it rightly, it’s framed non-linearly, with him reminiscing, sort of, with his girlfriend Sara (Glauce Rocha), while driving very quickly away from the hot mess Eldorado has found itself in, assault rifle in hand, lamenting his part in the hot messification along with pretty much everything else.
We flashback to Paulo’s more idealistic days, as he convinces José Lewgoy’s Felipe Vieira to run for Governor’s office on what appears to be a left-wing, socialist ticket, railing against the elite, but this soon descends into populism, with Vieira making a string of promises he couldn’t hope to meet to the adulation of the masses who desperately want to believe him.
We also see his relationship with hardcore capitalist rich boy President Porfirio Diaz, who stands for all the things you’d expect, and worries that external business investment will drop off after Vieira’s election, and plots to overthrow him, by arms if necessary, although budget constraints rather limits the opportunity for on-screen civil war.
Paulo is, in truth, little more than an observer in these events, and aside from decrying them he has little role in attempting to stop them. And what events they are, as before long both sides are pushed out to ludicrous extents, with Vieira almost subsumed by a wave of the worst sort of mob rule and Diaz playing out some Wolf of Wall Street style playboy excesses before ending up giving what’s possibly some sort of party political broadcast as a frothing, ranting fascist.
I’m perhaps underplaying the oddity of the film. What with Paulo being a poet and all, outbreaks of poetry presented as dialogue are frequent and, well, melodramatic isn’t the right term, but it’s as close as I can come to. In that regard it’s rather like a musical without the backing track. It’s a wildly baffling piece to watch, when entering blind, and while I can’t say I enjoyed it, in any traditional sense, it is fascinating.
Now, having done a little digging, I can at least make some sense of the context. Rocha was a leading force behind Brazil’s Cinema Novo, a movement very much a response to the French New Wave, and indeed the closest examples I can think of to liken this to would be some sort of cross between this year’s Neruda and Last Year at Marienbad. Rocha seemed to have a rather expansive and hopeful view of the influence that cinema could wield, way over and above simply highlighting injustices. It seems, along with their involvement in political causes, that they though to shepard a cultural revolution.
This rather hit the skids when Democratic President João Goulart was turfed out of office in a military coup, with noted asshole Castelo Branco assuming the dictatorship, bankrolled by the IMF and American multinationals. Not unlike the stated aims of Diaz for Eldorado, not at all coincidentally enough. Clearly, writer/director Rocha was affected by this, and Paulo Martins rage at, well, everyone, but particularly the politicians he feels betrayed by or disappointed in, must be a bit of author insertion.
So, with this in mind, it’s possible to parse the film a little better, although ultimately I’m not sure it’s more than raging against the dying of the light, and Paulo’s bellicose denunciations of everyone that isn’t him can grow a touch tiring by the end of the piece. It’s a howl of anguish more than it is a film, although it’s all the more interesting for it.
We’re not the kind of podcast that throws around the term Brechtian, but if we were, we’d be throwing it around right now. The editing, the deliberate desynching of sound, the pacing, the (one hopes) deliberate overacting, some of the framing, and certainly the refusal to establish any shot makes the film a dizzying mess, and as protagonists go, Paulo seems custom built to repel empathy. It has taken the arthouse dial and turned it to “all the arthouse”, which would often have me running screaming, but Terra em Transe is just too peculiar a film to hate.
At the risk of repeating myself, I can’t hand on heart say that I enjoyed Terra em Transe, but it, and the political and cultural mileu around it are absolutely fascinating and well worth reading about. Viewed in a vacuum, it’s hard to take it seriously, and hard to breathe, so don’t view it in a vacuum. Or a hoover, for that matter, although that’s more of a hygiene concern. Looked at as part of the wider goings on in Brazil at the time, it’s a very interesting, inventive and outré mood piece, and a curiosity that’s worth indulging.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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