- The derelict movie palace of the Filipino film Serbis
Later this week I plan to post an interview I recently conducted with Brazilian film critic and professor Franthiesco Ballerini, who's currently in town as a guest of the Mostra Brazilian Film Series
. In addition to giving me an overview of Brazil's film history, Ballerini also indulged my curiosity about what it's like to go to the movies there. I was fascinated to learn that, for a while, moviegoing was considered déclassé in Brazil. During the country's period of dictatorship (1964-1985), the film industry went into decline. In the 1970s, much of the national output consisted of what we'd call exploitation films, lurid stories marked by racy (though not flat-out pornographic) content. The movie palaces of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo—many designed to hold over a thousand spectators—were chronically underpopulated, attended mainly by single men sitting far apart from one another.
I instantly thought of the New York grindhouse cinemas that Martin Scorsese immortalized in Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, as well as the empty old movie palaces of Tsai Ming-liang's Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003) and the fine Filipino feature Serbis (2008)—theaters characterized as hiding places for down-and-out types. Their glamor having decayed and given way to squalor, these places function as metaphors for alienation, depression (both economic and emotional), and disillusionment. I wonder how many Brazilians associate them with life under dictatorship.
Ben Sachs writes about moviegoing every Monday.