A Man in the City (ii)

7 May

Carlos Saura’s use of ‘Um Homem na Cidade’ in his film Fados (2007) is rather more postmodern but maintains the idea of a tour through the city. Saura’s visualization of the song opens with Carmo standing in front of three musicians (guitarra, viola, viola baixo), who in turn are sat in front of a screen showing filmed footage of Lisbon street life. As the song progresses, Carmo walks forward until he is flanked by two large screens with photographs of Lisbon on them. He walks between these screens, advancing towards the camera, between further pairs of screens all depicting the city until he comes to a halt during the closing of the song in front of what is now a collage of images made up of the photographs he has passed. In a sense he is touring through the city but it is a city of mostly static images and the focus remains on the singer throughout, zooming in on him as he delivers the final line of the song.

Saura has arguably missed something in the song by singling out Carmo and superimposing him on both the musicians and the city. To see what he is missing, let us return to Certeau’s rousing dedication:

The floodlights have moved away from the actors who possess proper names and social blazons, turning first toward the chorus of secondary characters, then settling on the mass of the audience… Slowly the representatives that formerly symbolized families, groups, and orders disappear from the stage they dominated during the epoch of the name. We witness the advent of the number.

(Certeau, p. v)

Saura, then, has returned the floodlight to the individual, as have I. There is a seeming paradox here. How do we reconcile an insistence on the number, the everyday, the move away from the proper name, with an account such as that presented in Fado and the Place of Longing, which emphasizes biographies and recordings of prominent fado stars? Would it not be more apposite to Certeau’s vision to take the route more usually frequented by the ethnomusicologist and attend to the everyday practice of fado by less well-known amateurs (‘users’, in Lefebvre’s and Certeau’s formulation)?

The key is in Certeau’s mention of metonymy, the part taken for the whole. It is time, he says, for the floodlights to move from the actors representing the people to the people themselves. But what this does not take into consideration is the audience’s desire, the fact that they came to the theatre in the first place wishing to see themselves represented by those privileged, highlighted and floodlit actors. The same is true for the godlike view of the city, a view that is actively desired. People want to get out of the city and look back or down on it, to look back, as it were, on ‘themselves’ in the place where they normally are. It should be remembered that the request for representation of the community – be it visual, sonic, theoretical, or academic – comes from within the community itself. There is no privileged ‘theorist’ forever in a position on the ‘outside’. Which is not to say that there is not power, and abuse of power and misrepresentation and non-reflexive categorization. All this exists but it cannot all be laid at the feet of those with proper names. Celebrity culture is something that feeds on a desire that emerges from the everyday. This paradox is also encountered in those artists who are simultaneously feted as ‘one of the people’ and as celebrities. Even the celebrant of anonymity and the practice of everyday life still attaches to his celebration a proper name: Michel de Certeau.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: