Victoria Ocampo and the Cinema

By Meyer, Doris | Chasqui, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Victoria Ocampo and the Cinema


Meyer, Doris, Chasqui


Those who had the good fortune to know Victoria Ocampo and witness her involvement in the culture of her time can testify to the enormous enthusiasm she had for the cinema. In the last years of her life, when I spent time with her both in New York and Argentina, our conversations often had to do with movies she had seen, and on various occasions, with movies we saw together. One afternoon in January 1976, she suggested we go see "Seven Beauties," Swiss director Lina Wertmuller's most recent film about a Neopolitan mini-mafioso and his misadventures in Nazi Germany. Victoria had already seen this movie twice during her stay in Manhattan, but when a film intrigued her, she could go as often as five or six times. So we went to the theater and sat down in the second row, as was her custom. When the protagonist Pascualino Settebellezze (played by Gian Carlo Giannini) appeared on the screen and tipped his hat rakishly over one eye, she nudged me and whispered with a chuckle, "igual al compadrito nuestro." After the movie was over, we walked back to the Waldorf deep in discussion about the comparative features of machismo in Italy and Argentina, Wertmuller's use of Wagner's music during scenes in a concentration camp, and especially how this female director had mixed the comic and the grotesque in her film but without any real element of human tenderness. Victoria's thoughts that day would become an essay published in the last volume of her Testimonios ("Pascualino Settebellezze").

A few weeks later she insisted we go see "Ludwig," a film by Luchino Visconti based on the life of the young King Ludwig of Bavaria. Victoria had already seen this film several times and liked ir much more than "Seven Beauties;" in fact she had written a lengthy essay about ir some years earlier in which she had focused on Ludwig's character and bis inordinate passion for Wagner's music, a preference she shared with the King. Ocampo knew that most filmgoers were drawn to the splendor of Visconti's set decorations, but for her and in her words, "a decir verdad, si bien be mirado y admirado con placer esa parte estetica, decorativa, tan diestramente manipulada por el inigualado Luchino, lo otro. la musica y el desarrollo de la vida del protagonista han sido para mi lo esencial" (Ludwig 92). Victoria responded to "Ludwig" and other movies that intrigued her with a particular blend of emotion and intellect that reveals the core of her aesthetic vision--a vision that privileges life more than art. For Victoria, art's raison d'etre was not to invent its own transcendent beauty but rather to reveal the struggle of the human condition in all its variability and its striving for expression. (1) In this regard, Ocampo was a modernist, but not in strictly formalistic terms. She

believed that art could capture what was most central to the experience of life itself, its endless possibility. Time and again, we see in her writing a fascination with the beauty of the transitory, the fleeting moment of intuition or the juxtaposition of diverse perspectives that underscores the mutability of human experience. It isn't surprising that Ocampo often mentioned the photographer and gallery owner, Alfred Stieglitz, whom she met in Manhattan in 1931 when Waldo Frank took her to visit his studio, "An American Place. "After showing Ocampo his photos as well as paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove and other modernists of the same generation, Stieglitz gestured toward the panoramic view of the New York skyline through his studio window and said: "I have seen it growing. Is that beauty? I don't know. I don't care. I don't use the word beauty. It is life" ("Testimonio" 391). (2)

Ocampo's emphasis on the drama of the human condition in her essays is well known, but the importance of music in her aesthetic vision cannot be underestimated both in relationship to literature and to the cinematic process. Motion pictures make it possible to capture the human drama through image and sound in a fluid continuum that can be compared to a musical composition. …

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