Tropicália: the documentary, sounds like music to my ears. From the very start of director Marcelo Marchado’s film, we’re promised a vast exploration of the Brazilian anti-establishmentarian music movement from the sixties, known as Tropicália. It’s an intriguing enough prospect to whet the appetite of even a novice world music muso. After ninety minutes of pointless exposition and laborious over-editing, the credits roll and I am still none the wiser.
If you don’t think you know any Tropicália music, then you’re not thinking hard enough. Whilst The Beatles were shaking up European pop culture, Brazilian virtuoso artists like Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Os Mutantes were pushing politically charged groove into the South American ether. With it’s mixture of folklore lyricism, jaunty time patterns and lavishly orchestrated musicianship, Tropicália was the sound of a positive, hedonistic uprising against the military regime, and still sounds just as fresh today.
It should have made for a great documentary subject, but Marchado seems too busy trying to out-artiste the fascinating people which he is documenting. Most annoyingly, the filmmaker’s tampering of archive black and white archive footage looks like a toddler going nuts with a Sharpie. With such a focus on these repetitive montages, Marchado barely ever gives us the chance to to see the faces behind the talking heads interviews which, over ninety minutes, distances you from the subject and the insightful things these orators have to say. Worse still, if you remove the laboured stylisation of the movie, I doubt you’d even be able to make up a ten minute short of original footage. Considering that the movement’s disciples – Os Mutantes, Tom Ze, Gal Costa, and Gilberto Gil are all still touring the world, it’s a hugely wasted opportunity for Marchado to show how the movement and it’s legacy has progressed forty five years since its inception.
At its’ best, Marchado steps away from the editing suite and let’s the exuberant music play. Working better as a sonic piece, rather than a documentary film, I’d suggest that you cut out the middle man and go straight for this classic Tropicália compilation album/music manifesto instead. It’s rather sublime.