Musicalized Version of Nostalgia

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By 2017-03-19

By Indeewara Thilakarathne

This week, I explore how traditional music has been skillfully integrated into movies in order to render it another dimension associated with nostalgia.

In an academic article titled "Aural Identity, Genealogies of Sound Technologies, and Hispanic Trans nationality on Screen", Marvind D'lugo, observes this aspect citing the phenomenal success of a Latin American singer as," Gardel's first four films, though arguably of negligible artistic merit, were popular commercial successes". Owing to the singer's own growing popularity, even in the United States, marked by his broadcast on NBC radio in 1933, they were followed by five more films shot at Paramount's New York sound studio during 1934 and 1935.

A sign of Gardel's commercial growing attractiveness may be noted in Paramount's willingness, even after the company's bankruptcy in late 1933, to renegotiate his contract in order to involve his own recently-established production company, Éxito's Spanish Pictures, partly financed by Western Electric, with the agreement for Paramount to distribute his films. Under this new arrangement, Gardel appeared in Cuesta Abajo (Down Hill, 1934), El Tango en Broadway (The Tango on Broadway, 1934), El Día Que me Quiera (The Day You Love Me, 1935), Tango Bar (1935), and Cazadores de Estrellas (Star Hunters, 1934–35). The last of these, perhaps the least well known of the series, may ultimately be the most significant in that it reveals the special status of Gardel in the constellation of Paramount's production-marketing plans. It is a film more commonly identified by its English distribution title The Big Broadcast of 1936, but actually shot in 1935 for distribution the next year. Gardel appears in a cameo musical number for the Latin American distribution copy and is billed along with Bing Crosby, Jack Oakie, and Ethel Merman.

Clearly, the Argentine singer had achieved a transcendence that is perhaps best understood by comparing his trans national status with that of the other Paramount international singer, Maurice Chevalier, whom Gardel personally considered to be his professional model"

Commercial success of the movies is linked to a making of a super star similar to that of Hollywood movies. He further observes, "Cazadores clearly demonstrated that in Gardel, both Paramount and the trans national genre of the film Hispano had at last found a superstar of the stature of Hollywood's constellation. To be sure, other Hispanic stars of national note had been involved in the film hispano projects: the Spaniards Catalina Bárcena and Rosita Díaz Jimeno, the Argentines Mona Maris and Imperio Argentina, and the Mexican Rosita Moreno. What was different in Gardel's case and that of his potential rival, the Mexican José Mojica, was that these were singers, not actors. It was song and music, not the spoken language that bridged the national and regional gap.

Given the commercial logic of the film hispano form, Gardel's characters and songs, many of which were written by the singer in collaboration with lyricist Alfredo La Pera, negotiated the local and a wider appeal, unrivaled even by the tango films being shot in Buenos Aires during the early 1930s. The characters embodied some of Gardel's persona and the lyrics used a measure of lunfardo, the Buenos Aires argot, but were still comprehensible to a larger Spanish-speaking audience both in Latin America and Spain. The tango repertory Gardel developed worked through a thematic core with a broader appeal. The most striking feature of the Gardel films for tango history was the singer's development of a series of lyrics that appeared to modify the previous lines of development of tango music and verse.

Unlike the earlier conventions of the tango, these new songs had a plot and exploited the popular trope of nostalgia ballad: it told a story of loneliness, misfortune, and nostalgia for people and times past, topics that would become staples of the tango lyrical repertory. This quality is perhaps never more in evidence than in one of the Gardelian classics, 'Volver,' from El Día Que me Quieras, arguably his most accomplished film. The lyrics speak to sentiments that must have seemed to many a symbolic expression of economic realities of migration, the disaffection from the city and lost loves that formed the back story of the intensified urbanization of Latin American society of the period.

The 'return' of the lyrics' refrain underscored the urban audience's sense of separation from home culture and a simpler pre-urban past, and the heartfelt desire to 'go back.' Built on a viable non-imposter star system, the Gardel films successfully combined a highly legible local culture as embodied in the tango tradition that, paradoxically, becomes the locus of aural identification for an increasingly de territorialized Hispanic world community.

The Gardel musical formula had proven a far more successful market model for the maintenance of Hollywood's Spanish-speaking market than had been the multiple-language versions. Historians have often noted how that formula hybridized into a variety of popular Latin American musical film genres within a period of only a few years in the mid-1930s. Besides Argentine tango films, the Brazilian chanchada, which combined popular music— especially sambas—dance and parodic comedy, and the Mexican ranchera film were products of the same period. Of these regionally inflected variants of the Hollywood movie musical, perhaps no single film proved more successful internationally during the decade than Fernando de Fuentes's Allá en el Rancho Grande (Over at the Big Ranch, 1936), a Mexican work that attained a spectacular commercial success throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

In all ways, Rancho was unlike the look and sound of Gardel's tango films, for this was a shamelessly folkloric musical that built on the Mexican tradition of rural comedy and song. Yet, it paralleled the broad acceptance of the Gardel films throughout Latin America, Spain, and even in the United States, by the way it proposed a musicalized version of nostalgia for recognizable cultural stereotypes. Indeed, Rancho's plot, characters, and themes tapped into the anxiety in the face of an ever-increasing urbanization of culture which, like Gardel's songs, recirculated across national borders through radio."

A significantly a unique music formula based on indigenous music traditions proved to be a mantra of success which virtually established an affinity to the largely de territorialised Latin American Community.

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