Berkeley Film & Media Seminar
BFMS Lecture Series: Rielle Navitski -
Public Violence and Visual Culture: Cinema's Emergence in Brazil
142 Dwinelle Hall
Films that restaged public spectacles of real-life violence became the first popular successes of narrative cinema in Brazil, a tendency that finds echoes in the early film cultures of Bolivia, Colombia, and Mexico. These films took part in a sensational visual culture that spans the moving image and the illustrated press, a visual culture uniquely revealing of the constitutive role of violence in shaping public life in Latin American contexts where modernization has accentuated profound social divides.
This presentation traces the contours of this broader argument through a case study of turn-of-the century cinema and print culture in urban Brazil. As elites sought to transform the burgeoning cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo by encouraging European immigration and implementing reforms that pushed poor and working-class residents out of city centers, police reportage and popular theater framed real-life acts of violence involving newly visible social actors—particularly immigrants and young women—as thrilling markers of local modernity. Such narratives acknowledged the human costs of rapid urbanization, even as they transformed criminality into a public spectacle with a powerful cross-class appeal. Building on this repertoire of popular sensationalism, film producer/exhibitors in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo shot reenactments of real-life crimes, early experiments with narrative form that also embodied the fascination with visual documentation running through silent-era Brazilian cinema. Reconstructing these lost works, I trace how filmed reenactments sensationalized quotidian experience under a markedly violent regime of modernization.
Rielle Navitski is Assistant Professor of Theatre and Film Studies at the University of Georgia. She is the author of Public Spectacles of Violence: Sensational Cinema and Journalism in Early Twentieth-Century Mexico and Brazil (Duke University Press, 2017) and co-editor (with Nicolas Poppe) of Cosmopolitan Film Cultures in Latin America, 1896-1960 (Indiana University Press, 2017). Her research takes comparative approaches to Latin American cinema and visual culture, with a particular focus on film’s intermedial relations with print media. Currently, she is conducting research for a book-length project tentatively entitled Transatlantic Cinephilia Between Latin America and France, 1945-1965.