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Post-Colonial Texts: Book vs. Film

Before we leave third cinema for semiology, I just wanted to make a quick comment on something I never realized.  I’ve studied post-colonial literature before, but never had much chance to look at post-colonial cinema.  I guess I knew the two disciplines would be a little different, but it wasn’t until last week that I realized how fundamentally different the two media are when it comes to how they handle post-colonial texts.  One thing that is a large concern among post-colonial writers is something so basic, attention sometimes needs to be deliberately brought to it or it could be missed (at least for numbskulls like me): the choice of language used in the work.  Writers like Chinua Achebe had (and have) to, in sense, justify why they chose to write works in English or other languages of colonizers.  For some writers, like Achebe, writing in the colonizer’s tongue became (becomes) a subversive political act.  Others felt that the real need was to write in native languages in order to construct a new identity free from colonization.

I can’t say I’m qualified to say which side is more right, but I realized, in class as we were watching The Hour of the Furnaces (or, more accurately, La hora de los hornos), that the choice of language used is not nearly as important for filmmakers as it is for novelists.  While (as Metz was saying in this week’s reading) some of the meaning of a film image is constructed through the lens of the specific culture it is viewed in, because film is primarily a visual medium, a lot of a film’s message will carry it across language barriers.  On the one hand, subtitles are pretty cheap to create and slap on the bottom of the screen, and on the other, its difficult to imagine a culture that would prevent a viewer from seeing the parallels Getino and Solanas were making between the colonized Argentinians and the slaughtered cows, even if there were no translation on screen to guide him or her.

Maybe film is a better medium for tackling questions of post-colonial identity.  Or maybe the lessened importance of questions about language causes film to miss an important aspect of colonial subjugation and identities of resistance.  I don’t know, but I thought I’d share.

Also: the cow slaughter didn’t bug my vegetarian self nearly as much as the runaway chicken in City of God.  I mean, the filmmakers of Furnaces were, I suppose,  just documenting slaughter that would happen anyway, but Meirelles and Lund would have been throwing a chicken (or, more probably, multiple chickens) in front of a moving car to film it as it runs between its tires.  How many of those poor little bastards were run over before they got the shot they wanted?  Bleh.

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2 Comments

  1.   elliotzahler wrote:

    Hey,
    You are right about subtitles “watering down” a film. As I wrote in my blog, I think our imagination is the most powerful medium of creativity and meaning than some words at the bottom of the screen that are hard to make out or understand. In Furnaces, the killing of animals (particularly cows) sent a powerful language and meaning to its viewer and PETA that this is what we (the producer) feel like sending to the consumer (us, the viewer).

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink
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    Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

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