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Two Hispanic Werewolves in London

by Juliana Costa

          In London act like the Londonians, and in 1970, Julio Bressane made his begs and went to kill blondes in the city of Jack, the ripper, in Memoirs of a Strangler of Blondes (1971). But it is another British blondephobe/blondephobic that we will invoke in Bressane old world images: Alfred Hitchcock. 

         By 1958, Hitchcock had already killed or attempted to kill many and many blondes through a 35-year career. It is on Vertigo (1958) that the most loved and hated Leo in film history exposes the entrails of his controlling character as director and maker of images (and blondes). Madeleine is an exquisite created image for a traumatized gaze, without a body, a typical dark screen spectator. James Stewart with his little cane (and back in 1954, Hitchcock had already left the actor without legs in Rear Window) is not what one might call an alpha male, and Gavin Elster’s whole plan to kill his wife is based on his fear of heights. 

        Taking the image as the presence of an absence, and still, the film image as a phantasmagoria made to create a reality effect, Madeleine is the perfect image, custom-made for that gaze asking to be deceived.  And there aren’t only a few clues that make us see Madeleine as a representation: her framed appearances, her persistent reflection, the portrait shots, her appearances and disappearances, her opaque personality. And it is against this image, of the illusionist pleasure, which sustains the film industry’s capitalist desire, that Laura Mulvey, pioneer of film feminist theories, directs her fierceness and theory through the 1970s. This same image that Hitchcock is proud of producing, to kill and create again at each movie. 

          When the ghost is killed (?) and reborn as Judy with her body and women desires, imperfect, in love, she isn’t worth the illusion anymore, and Mr. Little Cane, tormented by the discovery of having been deceived, or better, of desiring to be deceived, will kill this body so turn it again into an image and follow his numb state. With full consciousness, the filmmaker exposes through Vertigo his procedures and illusionist strategies. A perfect crime.

         Hitchcock knows very well how to make his movies and his blondes and love to show his gifts, killing them when it fits. So, he did on Psycho (1960) by killing the lead – and by consequence the movie we are watching – which we are attached, mid film (the boldness!), or on Dial M for Murder (1954), in which he shoots a scene with the husband who set the murder in motion, the wife-victim’s lover and a detective, every one of them lively speculating about the perfect plan to kill the woman. And the perfect plan/shot is what Hitchcock is after, to thwart expectations and bring them back to life again, as a controller of dreams, like Freddy Krueger, the mention another manipulating serial killer, who goes to the core of the audience-dreamer desire to throw them at the abyss. 

             This is of course just a part of the story, and one can’t reduce Hitchcock’s work to these theories, but it is the one that interest us to think about the adventures of Guará and Bressane in London. Coming from the margins of the world, in self-exile, our Latin American heroes arrive at the blonde capital and also want to play at killing them. Why not? 

          Early on Memoirs of a Strangler of Blondes (1971), Bressane shoots his own hand in front of the camera. The criminal revealing his crime weapon? Does he want to mislead us? It is a warning about who is doing the killing here. Like Hitchcock’s famous cameos in the background of his movies (it is no accident that on Vertigo he appears in front of Gavin Elster’s office, the brain behind the plan), Bressane is telling us “I am here”. It is the hand that strangles, the hand that directs, the hand that makes the images and the hand that manipulates the mise en scène’s puppets. The hand of a body that has an eye. A hand that matches a gaze.

          But it is also the hand of a Brazilian in London. It is with certain happiness that Bressane waves to us, show us his hand: “Hey! This is an image, but I’m here, I have a body!”. A hand that will return in many of his later movies and film essays, like Nietzsche Sils Maria Rochedo de Surlej (2019), or Ver, Viver Reviver (2007), in which he visits Antonioni grave at Ferrara.

        It follows a prologue. Bressane shows us a baby that seemingly doesn't nourish any affection for breasts, or something like that. In the following images, this baby will become Guará, who, now an adult, becomes a traumatized character living some of his time enclosed in a functional apartment in London. And so, the early deaths begin. It is not by chance the first strangled blonde is framed among the walls and pillars of a British house complex. It is a recurring image. The deaths multiply like the sets, which are almost always the same ones: the park, the house fence, some neighborhood cafes. But not the framings or scenes. Guará strangles in close-up, in long takes, in long shots, up front, from behind, seen only by foot, by mirror reflection, inside the frame, outside the frame, in plongée and in counter-plongée... A medley of film language strangling blondes.

 

         To kill is to establish a power. Who detains the narrative power? In this film, it is Bressane and Guará who, when coming across the endless London blondes, kill them one by one. They are all blondes, the parks are blondes, the houses, the cars. The images of the city, of order and civilization rotate with the small room Guará sleeps, shits and drinks coffee. You might not believe it, but London is blonde. The blondes are the image of classical cinema, maybe of centuries of colonization, real and imaginary. The jewel of the empire, the girl at the eyes of the crown. But they never die! They keep returning and returning, they don’t stop arising. The movie starts to become disturbing. Those are images of second, third and fourth generation (is there so many?). And they are always the same - maybe Bressane and Guará didn’t have so many blonde friends to play the victim roles. They are like the heads of a hydra; you kill a blonde and five new ones will come. 

         The careful framed static shots deceive a control that isn’t in the images or characters. Bressane wants to exert control, but something escapes, intentionally, of course. Na what escapes isn’t on the narrative, obviously, but the images. They don’t seem to have any control over that image that repeats itself. Our Brazilian Hitchcock gets overtaken by those images of fading women, until the death into the abyss, absolutely out of control, dominates the movie.

       But not completely. Bressane takes the reins of Memoirs of a Strangler of Blondes playing with Hitchcockian decoupage. The same one that Laura Mulvey refused when making Riddles of the Sphinx (1977), in which she makes a mise en scène of space, shooting in 360° long shot, in the world round form, in opposition to the small frames of desire of classical cinema. Small frames who Bressane’s hand driven desire to another dimension, a little warmer, I’d say. 

          Beyond the serial deaths, one must call it a pioneer slasher, Bressane also makes use of images that recall his early movies like A Familia do Barulho (1970) and Killed the Family and Wen to the Movies (1969), and images of his personal archive. As a contrast to the Londonian imaginary, that frames Guará’s actions, an archive of moving portraits and landscapes that establish a relationship between strangler and filmmaker, Guará and Bressane. A Rio de Janeiro corner, Renata Sorrah looking at the camera: the memoirs of the strangler are Bressane memoirs, echoing a nostalgia of the present, as they date from one or two years before, but in friction with the blonde London, already seem so far away. An Atlantic of times past. 

        By the end, between the images of Guará Reading in the toilet and an old Guará, with a cane, a regret: “We are what civilization calls INHUMAN.” The character, still in London, resents something. The uninterrupted morbid actions become a thought. To make and then to think: the hand that kills, now writes. By the end of his memories, the strangler talks to “us”. He shares with the audience a responsibility for all those slaughtered blondes. If he killed them, we watched them die. Or is the “we” he refers to an exclusive category that only Bressane and his stand in belong? Which of us, Bressane? The men? The killers? The Latin American in London? The filmmakers? Is there a difference? 

 

October, 2022

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