Short Ends and Leader

'Araya': Of the Earth

People, salt and art.


Araya

Director: Margot Benacerraf
Cast: Various
Distributor: Milestone
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1959
US DVD release date: 2011-05-17

Want more salt on your fries? This movie shows how the salt got in your shaker, or at least how it used to get there. It's not a pretty picture and yet, paradoxically, it's a beautiful picture.

Margot Benacerraf's Araya epitomizes a contradiction between social protest and lyricism in the field of ethnographic documentary. In 1957, Benacerraf was amazed to discover a remote corner of Venezuela where indigenous communities carried on as they had for centuries since the Spanish landing, harvesting salt from the beaches in order to maintain their tenuous balance of carefully exploited poverty. As her film follows three families over the course of a day (including a grandmother and grandchild who are actually unrelated), every frame stands as a cry and condemnation that this terrible way of life must change. At the same time, Giuseppe Nisoli's ravishingly sharp black and white photography aestheticizes and idealizes the dignity and nobility of the people and their lifestyle that none of us would want. Some traditions don't deserve to be preserved.

Benacerraf's film includes the first abrupt arrival of industrialization, which is going to change this way of life forever, and asks tentatively if it will be a good thing. In the bonus interviews, she seems to think it wasn't and she's right in a way, since the area didn't become rich, salt mining actually dropped, and most of the villagers moved elsewhere in search of jobs now that they weren't needed to devote their lives to this harsh routine. One function of capitalism is that the poor tend to stay poor. But as she revisits a few people who were in her movie 50 years ago, I wanted to ask if they now at least have electricity or running water, if their children go to school, if they have a more comfortable life than their ancestors, and if those who went away are perhaps better off than if industrialization never came. Nobody asks these questions.

In the tradition of Robert Flaherty, Araya takes poetic liberties for narrative. It made an impression at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival (the year of The 400 Blows), picking up a well-deserved prize for photography and another for the sound (including a carefully layered soundtrack by composer Guy Bernard) , and sharing the Critics' Prize with Hiroshima Mon Amour. Since then it's been obscure until this restoration played at the 2009 Berlin Festival. The extras do a good job of explaining Benacerraf's impact on Venezuelan film; although she didn't make more features, she was active in founding and developing resources. She is interviewed on the commentary track and there are other profiles. Also included is her short documentary on the painter Reveron. This is an exemplary release from Milestone, which devotes itself to putting together Criterion-worthy packages that amount to labors of love.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image