The following is an interview with Currie Thompson, author of Picturing Argentina: Myths, Movies, and the Peronist Vision:
Question: Why did you decide to write Picturing Argentina: Myths, Movies, and the Peronist Vision?
Currie Thompson: I wanted to investigate three interrelated topics: Argentine cinema, Peronism, and the evolution of social norms reflected in cinema. Argentina is the home of one of the world’s major film traditions. In the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s its films were popular all over the Spanish-speaking world, and in the 1960s Argentine directors such as Torre Nilsson enjoyed international prestige. English-language scholarship about Argentine cinema, however, has concentrated on films made since the 1980s, and we have lacked a book-length study dedicated exclusively to movies from these earlier key years.
Another reason I chose to analyze film from this period was to shed light on the government of Juan Perón, Argentina’s president between 1946 and ’55 and arguably the most significant figure in its history. Perón’s presidency provokes acrimonious debate with some considering him a humanitarian hero and others, a fascist tyrant. He intervened in the nation’s film industry in an unprecedented manner, and it was important to assess the impact of this intervention and to determine the extent to which movies made while he was president shared his worldview.
Finally, as the French scholar Roland Barthes has explained, societies have developed myths that confuse what is habitual with what is natural, and movies reflect this confusion. But social myths change over time. My book assesses these changes in Argentine movies made during the Perón years.
Question: What do you hope your readers take away from your book?
Currie Thompson: This book gives readers an essential overview of early Argentine movies that enables them to recognize the critical role Argentina played in the development of Latin American and world cinema. It clarifies the impact of Perón’s government on the nation’s film industry. By examining the evolution of Argentine film genres in the context of Barthes’s understanding of myth, it demonstrates the relationships linking that country’s motion pictures to prevailing social mindsets and to their evolution in the years preceding Perón and while he was in power.
Question: This book also benefits those in film studies in general. Could you please tell us why?
Currie Thompson: Readers will also gain from this book a better understanding of how film genres developed during these years and the relationship between changes in genre films and prevailing social attitudes concerning proper male and female behavior, the family, ethnic groups, and crime.
Finally, although the book focuses on broad patterns, it also conducts in-depth analyses of key films that will enrich readers’ appreciation of them and of the artistic and intellectual environment that prevailed during these years.
Question: What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?
Currie Thompson: Although I am proud of what my book has accomplished, more work remains to be done. We need, for example, additional in-depth assessments of individual films. We also need to study the careers of key filmmakers such as Leopoldo Torre Nilsson. He is a major figure who on more than one occasion distinguished himself at Cannes and gained international renown but who has, especially with scholars writing in English, passed into obscurity. And he is not an isolated example. Many talented cineastes worked in Argentina during these years—Mario Soffici, Hugo del Carril, Lucas Demare Daniel Tinayre, Carlos Hugo Christensen, to name only a few—and we need studies dedicated to their accomplishments. A particularly intriguing case is that of the mulatto director José Agustín Ferreyra, who was a contemporary of the African American Oscar Micheaux but who, unlike Michaux, was a central figure in his country’s mainline cinema. My book studies several of Ferreyra’s films, but we need an appraisal of his entire career. In sum, there is much to be done, and I look forward to reading the studies of scholars who tackle the topics mentioned.
Picturing Argentina will be on display at the LASA congress next week.
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