Taking part in the documentary on Paulinho da Viola, living with him during almost a year of preparation and shootings, to accompany the composer in his daily life, getting to know him at home, with his family, chatting with him, listening to him singing in the joinery, drinking a cup of Brazilian white rum with him once in a while, following him while he strolls downtown, all that was an extraordinary experience, which enriched me professionally, intellectually and existentially. I’m talking for myself, but I know that I could also talk for Isabel Jaguaribe, the director.
Paulinho up close and personal is everything that you might think he is from a distance: unpretentious, sweet, sensitive, intelligent, and elegant. Whoever has had the opportunity of working in a documentary knows that there are moments when people get upset, stressed and anxious. Paulinho had several moments like these. Well then, in none of them we could witness him neither having any fits or making scenes, nor making any particular demands due to being a star.
The conceptual starting point of the documentary was born from a statement by the composer himself – “Não sinto Saudades” (I don’t miss anything) - and of his interpretation by João Moreira Salles, based on a text by Jorge Luis Borges about Kafka, explaining how somebody from the present can create harmony between his predecessors. “Every writer creates his precursors”, Borges says. “His work modifies our conception of the past, as it must modify the future”. To say that Paulinho doesn’t miss anything may seem contradictory, for someone who cultivates the past so much. Actually, he has a unique way of rejoining the pieces of this puzzle. He recovers and revitalizes the past. He doesn’t want to cancel him and revoke History, this is not his intention, this post-modern fashion of abolishing the present perfect and past tenses on behalf of the present. He wants something else.
His vision is not the prophetic “missing the future” so strong in Fernando Pessoa, nor the Proust-like nostalgia, that uses the present as an alibi, as starting point to arrive at the past. Our composer uses the past as something that is present.
Paulinho is actually a bridge, not a rupture. He is an expert (like a Vasco soccer fan) who connects the traditional to the new, here and there, hill and urban samba, roots and aerials. Paulinho created his influences and his precursors. His work modified our conception of what it was done before, in terms of samba. He discovered the “Velha Guarda” (the senior samba composers), and the “Velha Guarda” started resembling Paulinho, a little, and Paulinho began resembling the “Velha Guarda” also.
As the samba “De Paulo da Portela a Paulinho da Viola”, by Monarco, of Portela’s Velha Guarda, and Chico Santana:
There was Paulo da Portela
There is Paulinho da Viola
Paulo da Portela
Paulinho da Viola
That precursor and successor relationship is an “unreading” and “expropriation” process. In Arthur Nestrovski’s amazing synthesis, speaking about Borges, it is the “appropriation of the oldest poet, the return of the precursor as if it were, himself, the newest poet’s work”. Maybe for that, “the anguish of the influence” and “the anteriority burden” do not generate in him “the mere repetition”. The past does not work in him as an Oedipian “blocking agent”.
Joiner Paulinho loves to restore, to give new form and life to things, as when the composer worries about retrieving old sounds, and as when he, as a person, has fun keeping alive some habits that are becoming extinct, such as playing billiards, or attending a jongo match (another kind of Brazilian dance of African origin), not to mention chatting, drinking white rum, the love for Portela and Vasco, the choro ring, Tia Vicentina’s beans before, and now the fish meal at Surica’s home.
Taking part of that documentary was in short living a unique experience, it was undertaking an extraordinary journey on a river of sorts, flowing through Paulinho da Viola’s life and work.