Becoming Modern at the Movies: Gender, Class, and Urban Space in Twentieth-Century Brazil Open Access

Suk, Lena Oak (2014)

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This dissertation analyzes the physical expression of modernity through two overlapping narratives: the emergence of women in public spaces of leisure in Brazil, and the history of movie-going in its largest city, São Paulo. In the early and mid-twentieth century, both cinemas and movie-going women were powerful symbols of what was modern in Brazil. Cinemas screened the latest Hollywood films and imported advanced projection technologies. The presence of women in cinemas, streets, and shops signaled Brazil's entry into a cosmopolitan culture that was represented in glamorized images of Paris and New York. The focus on movie-going rather than movie-making reveals how modernity was physically constructed in the built space of cinemas, in the slender bodies of fashionable women, in the "photogenic" gestures of actors, and in the practices of everyday moviegoers. It also emphasizes the transnational dimensions of local film culture as Brazilian movie fans wrote letters to their favorite stars and interpreted the images of Hollywood. The geographic, material, and social accessibility of movie-going offers the opportunity to analyze how people of various class and racial backgrounds came together within cinemas, simultaneously sharing spaces and creating difference. An investigation of class in cinemas reveals the history of middle-class culture in Brazil, and how it was constructed through rituals of dating and images of romance. Through the close analysis of diverse sources such as photographs, blueprints, oral history, and literature, this dissertation examines how modern girls and cinema kings, Catholic women's societies and shopgirls, municipal officials and everyday moviegoers, constructed modernity in Brazil through their interaction with cinema.

Table of Contents



Chapter One: City of Cinemas:

State Regulation and Class Differentiation in "the City that We Want," São Paulo, 1916 to 2012


Chapter 2: The Gallery and the Private Box: Built Space and Movie-Going Practices in São Paulo, 1916 to 2011


Chapter 3: Consuming and Exhibiting Cosmopolitan Modernity: Movie-going Women and Immigrant Film Exhibiters in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in the 1920s


Chapter 4: Hollywood Letters and Bodies: Fotogenia and the Production of Film Culture in 1920s Brazil


Chapter 5: Productive Leisure: The League of Catholic Women and Middle-class Morality




Sources Consulted and Bibliography


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