Alem do Limite, 16MM
On the Limit of time - A reflection upon Mario Peixoto and MP89
Our primary source concerns a “found footage” produced in 1989 and consists of eight hours of VHS tapes with a legend of Brazilian cinema, Mário Peixoto. Two young students of University of Brasília went on a road trip to Angra dos Reis, on Rio de Janeiro state, with a VHS camera in a quest for the legendary filmmaker. Mário was 81 years old and living in a very tiny apartment in a decadent hotel downtown Angra dos Reis. The two friends knocked on his door, got consent and filmed about 8 hours of magnetic (VHS) tape with the director. The material is very rare, and an important document for Brazilian cinematographic culture.
Despite its rarity, the recording of the material was done in an awfully poor manner.
The audio was taped directly from the camera, without the use of any sound apparatus, with no microphones. The shooting is fairly uncreative, the talking head style takes control for most of the time. Furthermore, there is no attempt at lighting except for a misused home lamp and the little mise-en-scene performed by the “directors”. The street sounds often become very loud, interrupting the extended list of poems and hand writings read by Mário Peixoto. The reading is interrupted occasionally by an extemporaneous story told in an enthusiastic manner by the protagonist. The most interesting parts ended up being the mistakes and the in-between scenes. Another relevant detail is about the pre-set camera effects used for the filmic material. Threshold and negative VHS effects were used to exhaustion during the whole eight hours extension, apparently in an attempt to give the material some kind of experimental tone.
The producers of the footage kept the material locked in a humid closet for twenty years. When this material came to my hands, it was starting to get lost. The overall quality is bad. It gets worst if we consider the action of time and humidity over the magnetic tapes.
The Mário Peixoto 1989 archive (MP89) is in my possession since 2009 when the two producers of the material earned public Brazilian funds to restore, edit and print the film in 16MM.The pair spent most of the money earned on a second trip to Angra dos Reis in an attempt to remake Peixoto`s masterpiece. As expected, the result was an epic failure. Lasting five months to their deadline, the two friends looked for me with a proposition. Would I digitalize, restore and edit their material for a symbolic amount of money. But why would I do that? Because it was Mário Peixoto. However, there was a condition under which I agreed to do all their work for no money. The eight hours would become my possession, and I could keep working on it with the attention that it deserves, with my own deadlines. Being an experimental filmmaker, and also a historian, the possibilities of the material, from my point of view, were immense. Both historically and artistic.
The power of Mário Peixoto`s myth in the Brazilian cinematographic circles is not to be underestimated. Acclaimed as the first Brazilian experimental filmmaker, Peixoto rarely gave any interviews and there is almost no footage where he would appear talking about the processes that made his only film, “Limite”, possible. In his essay “Space and Materiality of Death – On Mário Peixoto`s “Limite”, Alexander Graf writes about Peixoto`s beginning:
"Peixoto was born to a wealthy Brazilian family, akin to that country’s royalty of colonial days, the landed gentry that controlled and exploited the industrial/agricultural production of coffee and sugar and the slave trade. The wealth of the family enabled Peixoto to attend ten months of schooling in England and, a year later, to return to London and Paris for a shorter period, where, it seems, he was exposed to the artistic experimentation with film that was flourishing at the time. One may speculate that this could have included works by the Soviet directors Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Vertov, the Germans Murnau and Lang, and the Spanish/French Renoir, Man Ray, Picabia and Duchamp. Naturally, one may be forgiven for seeing the beginnings, or the contours of a “context” in Peixoto’s European experiences, within which to place “Limite” in art history, as some commentators certainly have. But Peixoto returned home to Brazil an amateur, both as an artist and as a filmmaker, and this is the context in which one must consider the inception and realisation of “Limite”, as well as the rejection of the film’s scenario by industry professionals Peixoto presented it to, with the certainly well-meant advice that he should go away and make his film himself. Terms that recur in analyses of the film by way of seeking to establish a context within which to interpret it include “existentialist”, “abstract”, “surreal”, “impressionist”, “expressionist” and “montage-influenced”."1
His film “Limite” turned into a landmark for the Brazilian cinema. It has been voted the best Brazilian film of all times year after year by several important cinematographic institutions in Brazil and internationally, despite its experimentalism, and somewhat difficult and non-popular approach.
With a similar fate as our primary source, the original print of “Limite” was forgotten for a long time in some basement until was found and restored. Rarity and scarcity are two words that can be easily linked to Peixoto`s name. This fact still couldn`t take away the sense of wonder about Peixoto`s character.
Jonathan Sterne, in his excellent article, observes that “Scarcity is a fundamental condition of possibility for historicity, but that scarcity has to be created from a condition of abundance”. 2
Peixoto`s work belongs to a context of bold artistic endeavors, the fruitful Brazilian modernism of the twenties and thirties, which was tuned with the European avant gardes. Graft observes that “Limite” was way ahead of its time:
"Though the presence of avant-gardist intent is, perhaps, difficult to assert on the basis of the film’s mixture of formal features, this should not forbid an analysis of “Limite” from the point of view of its avant-garde qualities per se. Such a conclusion should not surprise anyone: formal hybridity and the exploitation of avant-gardist approaches to audio-visual productions in Brazil is also a dominant feature of the two most noteworthy films that precede “Limite”, and that show a similar degree of formal-visual playfulness as does Peixoto’s film: Alberto Cavalcanti’s Rien Que Les Heures (1926) and Rodolfo Lustig and Adalberto Kemeny’s São Paulo – Sinfonia da Metrópole (1929). Perhaps one can indeed speak of a specifically Brazilian avant-garde, one that borrowed many formal features from the European experimental scene at the time, but that needs not necessarily be measured by the same art theoretical template. Perhaps these films could also be considered as preparing the way for a truly national Brazilian cinema that was to become known as Cinema Novo. But it is also possible, and a highly productive exercise, to examine “Limite” as a completely original work of art that should perhaps be considered in terms of its maker’s almost fanatical belief in the power of the cinematic image to illuminate the darkest regions of our subconscious, probing for the threshold that divides our spiritual selves from our corporeal selves, and thus to consider “Limite” in the context of the future works of art the film may have served as an inspiration for, instead of looking at it as the culmination of an array of divergent influences. By way of suggestion for future investigation, the film works of Maya Deren in the 1940s –coming only ten years later in time, but worlds away from 1930s Brazil both culturally and politically – seem to me to be a fruitful field of analysis from this point of view."3
In 1959, the deterioration process on the film negative was noted by Plinio Süssekind and Saulo Pereira de Mello, two physicists from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, who were also cinephiles. They took twenty years to restore the film frame by frame. In that period “Limite” was out of circulation, contributing to raise the mysterious aura that Mário Peixoto carries within his name. Again, Graft phrases in a vivid manner the mystique that revolves around Peixoto`s character, as well as the obscure fate reserved for those who engage in the realm of experimental art:
"Few artists have, in the past, gained recognition and been welcomed out of bohemian obscurity and into the frigidity of the analyzed, the processed, the recorded, the catalogued and the constantly shifting, settled- once-and-for-all plateau that is the establishment of art on the basis of a single work. This doubtful privilege has generally been reserved only for ‘artists’ of the avant-gardes: anti-art artists, that is, who were, and are, frequently on a stated mission to evade precisely such a fate. But for such artists, fate also dictates that, in the absence of any analyzable linear progression to their work – career development – they are nevertheless subjugated and absorbed by the insatiable institutions of modern art and accommodated in frequently ad hoc, all-embracing, lineages, crammed into some point and time within a history of art that may, for that single purpose, embrace periods of either two or two-thousand years. That is then its place. And there remains, ne’er again to rejoin with the ethereal spirit that created it, the initial and momentous spark of its unique inception dimmed forever. A fate similar to this seems to have befallen Mário Peixoto, possibly one of the twentieth century’s most successful failed artists. One film, one book of poems and one six-volume novel – the sum of Peixoto’s artistic legacy to the world, and all we have to work with in our academic fervor – do certainly an artist make. But the meagerness of this legacy also forces us to stow away many of our regular analytical tools and instead settle down to a composed and intimate exchange with Peixoto’s solitary film work, premiered in 1931 –“Limite”: a work that is, today, at least as visually addictive, as mysterious and as introverted as was its maker."4
Perhaps intuitively conscious of the ways in which historicity works, Mário Peixoto built a mythical legacy for himself. The meaning of such statement can be verified on the Einsenstein episode. He wrote an essay about his own film and said it was published under the name of Einsenstein on The Tatler magazine in London, 1931. It goes like this:
“The message of cinema, from South America, in twenty years, I`m sure, it will be so new, so full of poesy and structural cinema, as the one I`ve watched today. I`ve never followed a line so close to brilliancy as this narration of south American camera [...].5”
Peixoto created an alternative truth for his experience and defended the authenticity of the essay until his death. Our primary source contains about forty minutes of footage where Peixoto reads the essay in its fullness.
This example shows that Peixoto was somehow aware of the potential of his achievement and concerned with his own historicity and temporality.
Another German historian, Reinhart Koselleck, in his brilliant book Future Past: on the semantics of historical times works with the categories of space of experience and horizon of expectation.6
What the present does is to relate itself to the past, or the space of experience, and the future, or a horizon of expectation, coordinating different temporalities. The recorded image is being recorded according to a constructed space of experience; the techniques of recording and the historicity of the subject who produces the image; in a present where the horizon of expectation, or the future possible audience has to be considered. The act of recording becomes, in this way, closer to the act of processing images. According to Alan Williams, a sound theoretic “...it is never the literal, original “sound” that is reproduced in the recording, but one perspective on it, a sample, a reading of it.”7
On the moment that a image is recorded, the apparatus modifies the nature of the light reflection, therefore it`s impossible to think about something as a pure original image. So, throughout the space that goes between recording a image, seeing it and finally going into post-production, there is constant changes in the materiality of the image. In this way, the post-production appears as an extension of the act of recording. The assumption that there exists a image which is pure and present, which exists unviolated or wholly prior to the “transformations”, a firm ground which is more real than its recording require critical analysis. The notion of “violation” of a image does not take in consideration the infinite creative narrative possibilities of the artistic practice. The present of a recorded image does not exist in itself, but only in the tension between a space of experience and a horizon of expectation, and all the manipulation of video apparatus, in pre and post-production, do refer to this tension.
The echoes of the past influences the shapes of the present recorded images as much as the echoes from the future, both in structural and hermeneutical ways.
Can be fruitful to think about the whole process of experimental film production as a game of scales, combined multiple perspectives of different temporalities. Then, consequently, use film media in a politically conscious manner, breaking hegemonic filmic institutions and prejudices.
1 GRAF, Alexander.Space and Materiality of Death in Ten Contemporary Views on Mário Peixoto`s Limite. Ed, Michael Korfmann. https://www.academia.edu/2214540/Space_and_the_Materiality_of_Death- on_Mario_Peixotos_Limite
2STERNE, J. The Preservation Paradox in Digital Audio in Sound Souvenirs –Audio Technologies, Memory and Cultural Practices, edited by Karin Bijsterveld & José van Dijck. (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009).p.58
3GRAF, Alexander.Space and Materiality of Death.
5 LA FERLA, Jorge. Limite. Sinfonia do sentimento. http://www.scielo.br/pdf/ars/v6n12/v6n12a06.pdf
6 KOSELLECK, Reinhart. Futuro Passado: contribuição à semântica dos tempos históricos. Trad. Wilma Patricia Maas, Carlos Almeida Pereira. RJ: Contraponto: Ed.Puc-Rio, 2006
7 WILLIAMS, Alan “Is Sound Recording Like a Language?,” Yale French Studies (No. 60, 1980: 51-66).
Barreto, Renata Carvalho. “On the Limit of Time - A Reflection upon Mario Peixoto and MP89.” https://www.rcbarreto.com/about-mario-peixoto-and-mp89. RCBarreto, September 2020. https://www.rcbarreto.com/.
renata carvalho barreto
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