I read two pieces today that resonated with each other. Firstly, this article from The Atlantic, “The Key Things Missing from Narcos” by Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez in which, amongst other issues, he challenges the use of the word ‘Magical Realism’ to describe the Colombia of Pablo Escobar. I agree with his assessment. The second is a chapter by B. Ruby Rich, “An/Other View of New Latin American Cinema”, which I am re-reading. Originally published in 1995, by her own assessment she is carrying out a revisionist history of New Latin American Cinema, which lasted from the 1960s to the late 1990s. It is a largely optimistic survey of a range of films from the popular to the experimental that ends on a pessimistic note on the “less salutary effects of a certain kind of individualism at the level of auteur” (1995, 188). The example she gives of the auteur is Gabriel García Márquez, whose project Amores difíciles (1987) was a Spanish and Latin American co-produced TV series that she treats with a negative foreboding,
“The threat of such packaging [of the series as originating from García Márquez] under the sign of a single personality is that, should its success and the concomitant lack of financial alternatives lead to a proliferation, the New Latin American Cinema could enter a baroque phase: historical subjects would no longer be chosen for their particular ideological implications for a particular country at this juncture, contemporary fictional themes would no longer arise out of the specificity of an identifiable set of national circumstances, documentary would be decisively marginalized and no longer inhabit any place at all, and the very real heterogeneity that has always made ‘Latin America’ itself such a near-fictional construct would vanish under the homogeneity of brand-name magic realism flying a multinational banner” (1995, 189).
To describe it as Baroque is hardly accidental when referencing Magical Realism. The Cuban writer and ethnomusicologist, Alejo Carpentier made links between the European Baroque and what he called ‘lo real maravilloso’ [the marvellous real] – his label for Magical Realism. Maybe the full force of the baroque phase that Rich predicts has not come to pass, but the brand elision with magic realism was realised in Narcos and rendered a signifier emptied of meaning except as an exoticising label of otherness.
Rich, B. Ruby (1995) “An/Other View of New Latin American Cinema” in Laura Pietropaolo and Ada Testaferri, eds., Feminisms in the Cinema, Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana U.P.