Skip to main content

Black Orpheus...or, "City of God" before the hard drugs

I just saw the movie Black Orpheus (1959), a film set in the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janiero during carnival, and paralleling the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice from Ovid's Metamorphoses. As 50s films go, it's really not bad in and of itself. It's fun to watch because of the exotic music and setting, and doesn't have that "yawn-when-is-this-going-to-be-over" quality like a lot of films of the period. What's especially cool is that it's a more innocent look at favela life before the advent of hard drugs, which is where the film City of God comes in. If you've seen and liked City of God, you should watch Black Orpheus, just to see what I'm talking about.

Briefly...Black Orpheus is a technicolor re-telling of the legend of Orpheus, a musician and son of the sun god Apollo. Orpheus is legendary for his ability to charm all things--people, animals, even rocks--into obeying his commands. When his wife Eurydice is killed and sent to the underworld, Orpheus goes down to retrieve her, only to fail because he looked back at her while they were trying to re-emerge into the mortal world (if you want more detail, please read the legend on your own). Anyway, Black Orpheus takes this tale and gives it a modern-day spin, casting Orpheus as a local guitar-playing lothario in a favela in Rio, who falls in love with a girl named Eurydice, to expectedly unpleasant results.

Taking place in the midst of Carnival, the film is loaded with music and dancing. In fact, it's almost a continuous music video, with the set looking, at times, like a late-50s version of MTV's The Grind. The music and dance scenes are strikingly modern, making me think the Brazilians have been on to something, music-wise, for a long time. If you've ever heard Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto's famous duet album Getz/Gilberto, you'll recognize a lot of the rythms and beats.

My only other exposure to slum life in Rio is City of God. The two films couldn't be more different in terms of content: one is a contemporary, somewhat lighthearted adaptation of an ancient Roman myth, the other is a dark, violent film about a 70s drug war that actually happened. And I guess that's what's the most interesting thing about Black Orpheus: it's a look at life in the slums during a seemingly more innocent time, before the 1960s and before hard drugs.

Last I checked, it was streaming on Netflix. So if you have any interest at all in Brazilania (if such a word exists), give this film a try.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #146: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Issue: May 9, 2016

Story: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Rating: $

Review: I feel like this is a somewhat tired technique, straight out of Creative Writing 101: write a story consisting of three or four different snapshots or snippets out of a character's life at different ages, sort of like a series of written photographs. Fun perhaps, but strikes me as a bit amateurish. However, I also think L'Heureux succeeds here by pushing it a bit further, playing with the character's tentative attempts at something close to faith -- in childish, adult, and mature adult ways -- and tying all three "Short Moments" together in a subtle and readily decipherable way.

L'Heureux's prose and his frank humor and his ability to glorify and find the meaning in the mundane events and thoughts of every day life, and thereby turn the life of an ordinary person into a drama with meaning and significance puts me in mind of John Irving. As well a…

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Water Review: San Pellegrino 250ml Bottle

Damn you, tiny little bottle of San Pellegrino. So little. So cute. But what are you really good for other than to make me wish I had a full bottle of Pellegrino? 
Good as a palate cleanser after a nice double espresso, I will give it that. But little else. The suave yet chaotic burst of Pellegrino bubbliness is still there, but with each sip you feel the tragedy of being that much closer to the end of the bottle, that much faster.

This is a bottle of water made specifically for the frustrated, for the meticulous, for the measurers among us with a penchant for the dainty. This water does not love you in the wild, on a sunny porch or with the raucous laughter of friends. No...much the opposite. Whatever that may be.

Best drunk in tiny, tiny sips, while forcing oneself through an unreadable and depressing Russian novel one does not want to read but feels one should, on a cold, wet day in December that promises four months of gloom and depression...or in pairs or threes and poured over …