Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Movie Prologues: Cinema, Theatre and Female Types on Stage at Rio de Janeiro Cinelândia
Luciana Correa de Araujo

Last modified: 2010-05-12

Abstract


In 1926, four new, sumptuous movie theaters of the Rio de Janeiro Cinelândia, owned by exhibitor Francisco Serrador, unveiled a novel attraction imported from the United States: movie prologues. These were stage presentations preceding the screening, which took the form of sketches accompanied by song and dance numbers and referred to the theme/characters/dialogue of the main feature. This novelty reproduced in Rio de Janeiro something which had been a success in North American “movie palaces”. The idea of the prologues was imported, but not the content. To produce the sketches, Francisco Serrador contracted filmmaker Luiz de Barros, along with a group of publicity people from Paramount’s Brazilian office.

Films accompanied by a prologue in Rio de Janeiro included The phantom of the Opera, (Rupert Julian, 1925), The king on Main Street (Monta Bell, 1925), a comedy starring Adolph Menjou, and Go West (1925), directed by and starring Buster Keaton. Based on editorials, reviews and photos published in local magazines and the texts of prologues still surviving in the Arquivo Nacional (National Public Archive), this paper will analyze the female types portrayed in such attractions: the maid, the modern woman, the mulata (mulatto woman). On the one hand, the treatment of these characters reaffirms gender, race and class stereotypes. On the other, the use of character types recurrent in other kinds of popular attraction – especially the teatro de revista (Brazilian vaudeville), a successful genre at the time – also contributed to the development of a unique local reading of the film, which was not subordinate to the original text (foreign films). In the prologues, the prevailing Hollywood model is given a reinterpretation through parody and the incorporation of characters and situations already familiar to the theatre-going public – the very people the new movie theaters wished to attract.

 In the press, specialized movie magazines took issue with the prologues, accusing them of stealing the limelight from the main attraction and also of displaying poor taste and frequently lapsing into purely attention-grabbing smutty humor. From the point of view of the present day, these prologues reveal an important stage in the dialogue between cinema and theatre in Brazil. The comic prologues, in particular, with their undeniable predilection for parody, reveal a close affinity with procedures which would become the stock in trade of Brazilian cinema after the introduction of talking pictures, from Luiz de Barros’ comedies (of the 1930s and 40s) to the popular chanchadas (musical comedy films) produced between the 1940s and the early 1960s.

 

 


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