Chapter 2 - University of Alberta
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Reading the “Disappeared" Film Censorship Archive in Argentina “Freud had little faith in archives: in his psychoanalytic theory they are frequently described as sites of censorship since acts of remembering are closely related to forms of forgetting” --Citation from Freud Museum in Vienna I would like to begin this chapter with a tragic story about a great loss that is yet awaiting a happy ending. Despite its catastrophic meaning to my own work this story will help to give context to the study of censorship in Argentina and its many challenges that face film scholars and historians. Let us begin with the Ente de Calificación Cinematográfica (Classification Board), an official body created as early as 1963 and responsible for overseeing all films screened in Argentina until 1984. The work of the Ente would gain moral and legal ground once the state passed law 18.019 in 1968, which gave this body the authority to make ideological and moral cuts to the films it received for classification. In order to be screen all films needed the certificate of classification authorized by the Ente. This official and powerful organization kept a file for each of the films that were vying for the certificate that gave them access to national screens. These files contained details about offensive scenes, dialogues, actions and plots according to the laws governing the Ente along with the filmic clippings of the scenes and shots that were cut. Once the Ente was disbanded in 1984 these files were moved to the then Instituto Nacional de Cine (National Film Institute). Researchers accessed these files in the early 1990s and as a result we have some very rudimentary secondary documentation about the process the Ente followed from its creation to its end and the types of films that were censored throughout this time.1 Most of this documentation gives a general overview of censorship and how it functioned, but these studies have not delved into the problems of censorship. Furthermore, the extensive archival work of two scholars Paula Felix Didier and Fernando Martin Peña has never been published. Between 1995 and 1999, during the Carlos Menem neoliberal years, the director of the Instituto Nacional Cinematográfico Artes Audiovisuales (INCAA), Julio Máharbiz,2 wanted to microfilm all the files and then destroy them as they were taking up too much space. The microfilming process was flawed and unsuccessful because the transfer was not clear leaving behind an unreadable microfilm. Although Máharbiz was aware of its failure he continued with the project. Once the microfilming was done the files were destroyed. This is the story I have been able to piece together with my endless search to find the answers.3 This has meant the end of the archive, and the destruction of probably one of the most important archives in Argentine film history. As I confront the loss of this important resource I sit to write the most self-reflexive chapter of this book. In considering the archive I also ponder my own personal struggle with the frustration of doing film research in Argentina on the one hand, and on the other the difficulty of 1
Talk about all the studies that have been published about this. Máharbiz was the director of Radio Nacional from 1989 to 1996 and the INCAA from 1995 to 1999. At the same time that Menem left his post he left the INCAA with a debt of 20 million dollars. As Francesca Lessa would argue during Menem’s tenure there is a clear move towards impunity. Menem worked to move beyond the past with a strategy to forget and move on from the atrocities of the past, what has been called “neoliberal techniques of forgetting,” (Richard, 33). Maharbiz would follow that practice as he was a bureaucrat named by Menem himself. 3 Thank Nicolas. 2
doing research about a topic that has very little “value” or meaning to most people in the field of film and Latin American studies. Of course I am referring to the work of Armando Bó and Isabel Sarli and the commercially “bad” cinema produced by the duo. There is no coincidence that I started this chapter with an epitaph taken from the Freud museum in Vienna because for me, the work of Bó and Sarli is central to understanding the history of sexuality in Argentina and throughout Latin America. Freud becomes pivitol in this discussion as the father of sexuality and an important theorist about memory, providing a basis for the work of many current memory scholars. And yet, the use of psychoanalysis and its function in memory studies does not seem to suffice in this case. As we shall see memory here will be about encountering the past not as a way of confronting the trauma an individual or a society has experienced, that is in the memory work, but more in the way that cultural critic Andreas Huyssen defines it.4 As a memory scholar while Huyssen’s theories are rather dated (1995) for an area that has produced many works on the topic he nonetheless makes a strong connection to time and history, which is the basis needed to understand the value of the work in this book. For Huyssen it is the “tenuous fissure between past and present that constitutes memory, making it powerfully alive” (3). He argues that the “struggle for memory is the struggle for history and against high tech amnesia” (5) a forgetting associated with the same “neoliberal techniques of forgetting” that Nelly Richard describes in the Latin America of the 1990s (33). This case about the lost archive clearly fits along the lines of other arguments that during the Menem period of neoliberal policies there was a state sponsored push for forgetting. We can make the connection to Menem’s period of neoliberal policy***. Confronted with the accelerated pace of temporality that the future has brought, memory and history are the contested forms for Huyssen, a way for the present to hold onto or control time. Without freezing memory, as it is something alive and while different from the archive, (Huyssen, 3) it poses the danger of becoming a commodity as Susanna Draper points out (PAGE). This book consciously works against this commodification of memory, time, or history—to try to show how the past continues to live in and through the present. My purpose in this section of the book (chapters 1 to 3) is twofold: firstly to acknowledge this loss – this gap in knowledge for film scholars interested in the role of the state throughout the history of Argentine cinema- and secondly to openly confront this loss by attempting to recreate the history of censorship in spite of this lost archive while still making the case that the popular cinema produced by the Bó-Sarli team has merit and its own valuable meaning within the history of film in Latin America. Throughout this book I will argue that popular culture fills many holes as we think about society during specific social, political, and historical moments, moments that need not be fossilized in time but continue to reflect on the present and future in a non-linear fashion. Furthermore, popular culture can both hide and highlight many important aspects of society.5 This chapter in particular will introduce the whole section on censorship and function as a theoretical basis for thinking about the methodology of how to study the past when confronted with such a loss, a loss simultaneously mourned but also surmounted. I will focus on the role that 4
Nelly Richard, Alberto Moreiras and Idelber Avelar have all published canonical studies on the effects of the dictatorship on culture in Argentina and Chile (see Avelar, Richard, Richard and Moreiras). All of these studies rely on trauma theory to address issues surrounding memory and mourning from a societal point of view. 5 I take contention with Jon Beasley Murray’s point about the flawed nature of cultural studies. For a more indepth discussion about this see chapter on Peronism.
archives play on the construction of history and on how they define the way we see and interpret the past. Taken further, film as an archive also offers another contested form, one that will complicate the role archives have in constructing history. Finally, I want to take a closer look at the state of archives in Argentina to better explain some of the reasons for this loss and conclude by using this example to consider how this affects our work as film historians and scholars. Under the circumstances we need to better compensate to achieve our goals of understanding this past with the materials available and at our disposal in a conscious effort to go about this reconstruction without the nucleus that binds our interpretation. Said in another way, how do we begin to construct this past building it from the outside in rather than from the inside out? Theorizing the Archive When we think about archives we think about places that preserve memory, where memory evolves from its containment as an in camera private thought to its liberation through worldwide public access. Archives are literal and concrete spaces where those scholars involved with historical inquiry engage with material objects, whether they are artifacts, documents, or films (Manoff, 18). These repositories of memoires are living artifacts; they are never static for they adopt a new life for each critic who interprets them. Furthermore, as historian Dominick Lacapra reminds us—there are dangers in fetishizing archives, mistakenly allowing the belief that they are substitutes for some sort of “‘reality’ of the past, which is ‘always already’ lost for the historian” (LaCapra, 1987, 92). What LaCapra insists on is that any recreation of history will always be flawed because in the end it too proves to be a construction.6 Archives were never really as “raw or primary” (Manoff, 16) as we may have imagined them to be, they were always assembled by someone to lead later researchers in certain directions. Jacques Derrida probably best articulated the contradictory nature of archives in Archive Fever, the most thorough reflection on the topic to date. In his psychoanalytic reading of Freud’s act of archiving he identifies two opposing forces at work: the death drive and the pleasure principle. On the one hand in every archive there is a destructive force, which incites forgetfulness, amnesia, the annihilation of memory, but also the eradication of the archive itself. This contrasts with the accumulative act of collecting, organizing and conserving the human record. Derrida argues that this dual yet contradictory function is intrinsic to all archives. For instance, if one considers precisely that which is both included and excluded from the archive it becomes evident that the act of archiving already imposes a “poetics of exclusion” as David Greetham has called it (CITE). Underlying a social need to want to preserve the best of us for self-representation to those who will follow (CITE). Ironically, this “best of us” may not necessarily be what future generations will want to know about the past. Herein lies the battle between these two drives, and the heart of our problem in the case of the censorship archive in question. What is kept as an archive and what is discarded because it bears no recognized value does matter and is relevant to any discussion about the past and society’s principles and beliefs at the time of its obliteration. Taken from yet another angle Derrida makes clear that to build an archive is not only to preserve the past but also to further affirm the present and future (CITE). Destruction represents 6
LaCapra is criticizing the type of historical research that only values discovering new facts in archives and does not see any value in re-reading already published materials. Archives in this case are seen as the real labor of the historian who is not afraid to “dirty his hands” (93) whereas the intellectual historian is “a parasite who does little more than dilettantish” (93).
for Derrida a failure of the present in its responsibility to the future, a valid point that establishes the important connection between past, present, and future. To build an archive of the past is to encourage critical thinking about the past in the future, and thus ensure an ongoing engagement with the past. In the case before us this is what is missing --by eliminating the archive we are destroying the possibility of engaging with how the state censored films and why these decisions were made at different moments of the Ente’s history. Said another way, by demolishing this access to the past we have eliminated a possible future engagement directly with it. CONNECTION To take Derrida’s words we are reminded of the reproduction of power found in archives: “There is no political power if not control of the archive, if not memory. Effective democratization can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation.” (AF) Access, constitution and interpretation of archives are key stages crucial to producing an informed and democratic society. This quote also makes us think about how archives are institutionalized. Who builds the archive? To what end? And conversely who destroys the archive and why? Why were the censorship files considered so threatening? Or was it just a question of apathy on the part of some bureaucrat? We may never know the answers to these questions whether they are simple or complicated. What we can hope for and practice is advocating for the resurgence of archives such as this one because they do have value. Perhaps it may turn up in some dumpster or in someone’s closet. Archives and Film Studies Part of this archive had film clips of the physical cuts that were made by the Ente. To consider film as an object to be archived further introduces new problems to the concept of the archive. When we think about archiving film there are many paradoxical ideals that we may confront. In her consideration of the construction of time, Mary Ann Doane explains that film complicates the notion of the archive and its function to preserve an object or artifact thought to have original value or meaning. In the case of film as artifact, the medium is constrained by its affinity with contingent and potentially meaningless detail (CITE). Furthermore, Doane borrows Benjamin’s concept of the aura to describe film as “anti-auratic” due to the dissemination of multiple copies without an original. While archival desire or “fever” is meant to stop the vertiginous movement of mechanical and electronic reproduction this argument is hard to maintain in the case of film due to film’s consumable characteristic and the need to make multiple copies for distribution worldwide. To speak of an original is even more problematic, particularly in the case of Bó and Sarli’s films, as censorship of their work globally would ensure the existence of many different versions in circulation at the same time. Doane suggests that film should be seen as an archival process instead, especially for the shift towards film historiography that is taking place in the field. In this instance, film can be considered both a historical artifact and a document of a historical moment. Philip Rosen has led this movement with a complex and in-depth reading of Bazin. Rosen appropriates Bazin who was discarded early on by 1970s film theory, which began to dominate the discipline and lead it towards a psychoanalytic reading of the medium.7 Rosen advocates for a historical approach to film by using Bazin’s term “change mummified.” In this oxymoron he is pushing for a historical knowledge that has as its center the relation of change to stasis (351). Here he speaks of “radical historicity” defined as “historiography that knowledgeably confronts 7
Others who have been part of this movement are Hansen and Willemen.
the instabilities of the relationships that modern historicity establishes between past and present” (354). This historicity acknowledges both the problems of constructing pastness in the present and the corrosive premises of modern temporality. Pastness cannot be excluded from presentness and thus Rosen speaks of a hybrid temporality conceived as being grounded in and embodying the “unavoidable interplay of present with pastness that modern historicity cannot overcome and that is basic to its rationale” (355). This shift proposed by Rosen makes a complex and selfconscious version of history more central to film studies. Similarly following this theoretical trend Eric Schaefer advocates for the preservation of material relevant for the study of ‘adult movies’ (films targeting adult audiences including both hardcore and soft-core) (see 2005). He has made a convincing argument about the necessity to determine the materials that exist, to identify where these are located and to ensure that measures are being taken to safeguard their long term availability. In this case, Schaefer is encouraging that the historical turn in film studies for which Doane, Rosen, Willemen and Hansen had advocated, to also encompass the study of ‘adult movies.’ In doing so he encourages more rigor to this genre by using archival documentation of these films and calling for the collective work of archivists and scholars to ensure their protection and preservation. Schaefer justifies himself by suggesting that scholars are drawn to these films because they “’engage a larger field of contextual issues’ (citing Sconce 392): religion and morality, social relations, law, biology, psychology, and issues of identity—not to mention ‘the three Ps’: politics, power, and pleasure” (89). It is in this spirit that this chapter more specifically and the book more generally studies the work of Bó and Sarli. To advocate for the preservation of film and other archival documents, especially in Argentina, regardless of their content I propose a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of the past and its relation to the present. Archives in Argentina As we take a close look at the state of archives in Argentina the picture does not look any better. A booklet edited by the Asociación Argentina de Estudios de Cine y Audiovisual titled: ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto? Guía para el investigador de medios audiovisuaels en la Argentina laments the sorry state of audiovisual archives in the nation. According to these researchers there are seven main reasons why the situation is so infuriating. They cite the following reasons as the causes of such a deplorable state: 1. The lack of public policy regarding the preservation of local heritage. 2. The absence of a social consciousness about the importance of preserving national heritage. 3. The weakness of an institutional framework that revealed itself inefficient, inadequate, and incapable of adapting to the changes in the area of the preservation of archives. 4. A lack of relevant and effective regulations for the protection of the audiovisual heritage. 5. A shortage of professionals educated in the areas of gathering, conservation, and preservation of audiovisual archives. 6. An absence of instruments and support for professionals in the areas of recollection, conservation and dissemination of archives. 7. No funding for research, recovery, preservation and dissemination of audiovisual materials. As the above reasons would suggest the problem of archival memory can be summarized and directly linked to issues surrounding funding. However, questions of space and lack of information about the whereabouts of some of these collections (9) due to the absence of a tradition of valuing historical documents and its study in the nation are also underlying reasons. If we look at the deplorable state of actual collections only 10 of the 300 silent films made in Argentina exist today and as much as 50% of the sound films have been lost (CITE). The only
state supported entity, the INCAA, has never made “preservation” a priority. Although there has been a critical attempt to change this fate the ground is still not fertile enough for this to happen. Fernando Solanas, film director and senator, created CINAIN (Cinemateca y Archivo de la Imagen Nacional), through law number 25.119 had as its sole objective to preserve filmic memory and to alert on the dangers of the possible disappearance of film and paper archives.8 This law was a long time coming. It dates back to 1999 and was only passed in 2010. The long journey of this bill into law shows the difficult struggle for such a change to happen and the varying degree of buy in from the INCAA itself. When the law was proposed in 1999, the then director of the INCAA Julio Máharbiz, would not support it (Solanas, 89). This is no surprise as Máharbiz was responsible for the destruction of the archive in the first place. In 2010 Liliana Mazure, the current director of the INCAA, ensured that the law was passed by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Yet to date CINAIN remains a far away dream for the future with no foreseeable fulfillment as the cost of making the law a reality is far too great for a country drowning in debt. Constructing Memory Around A Loss Given the loss of this archive what does this mean now and how can we proceed with our work? To continue I go back to the ideas guiding scholars of archival exclusion, scholars trying to look at different or subaltern voices within official archives that have clearly silenced those voices. These researchers find or read the history in the remnants, gaps, silences, and absences in the official documents.9 While in our case, the official documents themselves are absent we can use this methodology as an inspiration. I have not lost hope that these documents may one day turn up yet I can still rely on my ruins and fragments. The rest of this section of the book, and the history of film censorship experienced by Bó and Sarli, will rely on important documents that my hard work in the archives and elsewhere have been able to turn up. These traces have helped me to piece together a history, to reconstruct some of that lost past. These articles include: 1. Article published by Maria Elena de las Carreras de Kuntz “El control del cine en la Argentina. (Primera parte: 1968-1984). Gives a very general sense of the context and some specific examples of the films censored. This is a great overview but the examples are not extensive. 2. The work of Octavio Getino. He was one of the researchers that did access the files and managed to take some photocopies of specific film files, which he later used in Cine argentino entre lo possible y lo deseable (CICCIS and INCAA, 1998). None of these files are complete but they do give us a sense of what the files contained and how they worked. They also give us insight into some of the problems with some of the films he chose to study. These files are available through ENERC (Escuela Nacional de Experimentación y Realización Cinematográfica). 3. Information from the press clippings at the time, interviews, etc. 4. The films and the different versions that I have found for each. 5. Las pautas 8
In 1993 the UNESCO put together a committee to look at the question of film preservation in the world. The General Secretary, Federico Mayor, invited film personalities from across the world to sit on this committee and commit to the task of film preservation. Fernando Solanas was invited to be part of this task force and has thus worked to create Cinemateca y Archivo de la imagen Nacional (CINAIN). 9 Look up and give examples about current historical work on the topic.
6. List others If we look at the different sites of memories within Argentina that have popped up within the last 10 years we can see a trend towards what Susana Draper calls “selective forgetfulness [that] has turned into a surplus in terms of controlled memory” (). This seems like yet another contradiction: on the one hand the production of spaces where memory thrives but is still static and reproduced for consumption purposes (museums, torture centers, parks, shopping malls), and on the other the loss, deterioration, and disposal of artifacts and documents, in this case the censorship archive that has been censored yet again through an aggressive and violent act. This act produced the disappearance of a wealth of information during the neoliberal years of the Menem presidency when perhaps this repository was representing, to those who destroyed it, “not the best of us,” but a failure indeed that has limited our own ability to reconstruct not only our past but our future. And yet despite this obstacle we will continue to ? and
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