Note to my small handful of readers as of Aug. 10, 2012: please accept my apologies for the non-linearity of this essay-in-progress and of course for the ridiculous number of typos. A lot of this narrative instability is caused by the almost ceaseless ongoing discovery, as I write, of new materials relating mainly to the Ashima core mythical narrative, and NOT the finished film, but their discovery prompts substantial rethinking of the substructural logic of the opera-in-film that I am here writing about. A brief bibliography, not of individual articles, but of internet-available journals and specific articles concerning the evolution and genetic variants of the mythological kernels from which the film(s) I discuss were made, some of which are more ethno-narcissistic (from the Yi point of view) than exactingly scholarly. But many of which bring to attention aspects of Yi chthonic myth and storytelling that don’t turn up in more pompously academic sources. (see esp. http://126.96.36.199/mzwz/news/2/z_2_55082.html). My apologies too for the repetitions of whole sections which my sloppy editing procedures have failed to catch in time for this for this draft. If there is a bit too much stream-of-conscioosuness, let me say however that I have found this particular opera–in-film exceedingly moving and intriguing, always room for another perusal.
Chthonic Storying from Beyond the Southern Hills – an episode in early PRC filmscripting
The film I remember best from my late teenhood inaugurated me, still a highschooler, into the world of foreign “art” films (at the now long-gone Thalia) may not be familiar or appreciated by under-50 readers of this day (save perhaps followers of Juan Carlos Jobim with a retro feel for samba…). A cult film in the 60s, it is no longer any such thing. Can you guess?
That film was Orfeo Negro, made in Rio in 1959 by a French director, but entirely in Brazilian Portuguese. The keyline story, retelling or rather reworking the myth (for the 100th time), filled me with a with a tragic if mawkish sadness equaled (for me) only by Zifferelli’s Romeo and Juliet and Polansky’s Tess. But even these last two masterpieces of archaic gloom were not on a par: they were not operatic, had no song line, moved on without musical reflection.
What I remember still is the centrality of Carnival, a plot element that is there from the start almost till the end, sustained by an almost never-ceasing musical and dance-provocative pulse, even as it pushes the Orpheus-Eurydice storyline relentlessly forward, and – through ghoulish costume , predicts how it will end and why (fate and jealousy).
At that young age, the franticness and ceaselessness of the rhythm and wild singing, the seemingly never ending dancing for display of skill, costume, and of course for on-the-spot partnering (and provocation of jealousies) all haunted me for a good many years after.
But like many others I never though of Carnival-in-Rio as a generalizable narrative topos, one that might be echoed elsewhere. The mestizo or creole dress within the carnival pageant (18th century bewigged costume, carriages etc) ,) and its fusion (in sight as-in-sound) with obviously East African dance music and Peninsular lyrics seemed as unique as Brazilian racial integration and thus irreplicable. Though they are no longer much listened to, (Tresteza, Manha de Carnaval indeed are by now sound-emblems of a unique Brazilian heterogeneity of culture… one that at any rate WAS such in the seemingly stagnant world of post-War Latin America.