Monday, September 17, 2007

Consumed by a Fever: The Small-Gauge Cinema of Orizaba's Sergio Tinoco Solar

As a movement, Super 8 filmmaking in Mexico was a largely a counter-cultural affair. Though the format was marketed to the hobbyists of the emerging middle class, as a rule its most impassioned practitioners were not well-appointed families intent on documenting babies' birthdays, vacations at the beach, and so on. It was, in contrast, from the ranks of the anti-establishment youth movements of the 1970s that the format took on another life, and became the vehicle for a movement, with its own film festivals, polemics, manifestos and politics. Although the means of production used by the superocheros (as these small-gauge practitioners of Third World cinema of liberation called themselves) was more amateur than industrial, their ambitions were great. They saw Super 8 as a tool for social struggle, an expressive vehicle for activist filmmaking out of the censor's purview, a forum for playful, irreverent experimentation and radical politics that was at once potent, direct and accessible.
In this broader context, then, the work of Sergio Tinoco, one of the most prolific and tireless practitioners of Super 8 filmmaking in Mexico, must be understood as the exception. In contrast to the hundreds of participants in the competitions for the Luis Buñuel Prize, the filmmakers who produced their Super 8 works collectively as a way of rejecting the "bourgeois idea of authorship," and the bohemians who, along with Buñuel, signed the manifesto called "8 millimeters versus 8 Million," stating that "film ought to be in service of the collective," ["cine debe estar al servicio de la colectividad"], Tinoco saw film as vehicle for home-grown, unpretentious entertainment. Ignored by the archives and historians that define the national film history, isolated from the Aquarian Age experiments that characterized Super 8 as a movement, and viewed as little more than a curiosity by the few media professionals with whom he crossed passed, Tinoco has disappeared from all but the most emphatically regionalist accounts of Mexican filmmaking. What follows outlines his accomplishments in film, and to draws some tentative conclusions about what his admittedly idiosyncratic and atypical film practice might suggest about the nature and significance of amateur filmmaking in Mexico.
In one sense, Sergio Tinoco Solar was a media professional all of his life. From 1942 onwards he made his living as a radio host for XETQ, a local station in Orizaba, Veracruz. Through his work he became well known to most of the people in his hometown, and apparently he had many friends. He made films on his own time, principally on weekends and holidays. Between 1967 and 1988, consumed by what he characterized as a "fever to bring stories to the screen," he directed three productions using regular 8mm stock, an amazing 46 in Super 8, one in 16mm, and three on videotape. To maintain this level of productivity, he often made three films a year. The majority of these were feature-length.
Tinoco's movies were emphatically homegrown affairs. Although he traveled as far as Mexico City and Guanajuato for locations, his cast and crew were comprised of residents of Orizaba, and a good deal of local pride pervades the work. Tinoco positioned himself as heir to a significant (if minor) Orizabeño filmmaking tradition, artistic descendent of Gabriel García Moreno, and Carlos Villatoro, who made films in their home town in the silent era (e.g. El tren fantasma, 1927; El puño de hierro, 1927) and his contemporary José Luis Ibáñez, who left as a youth for Mexico City, where he became a director (e.g. Las dos Elenas, Las cautivas). At times local history would enter into the films, as when he chose to make a fiction film based on the clash of 1907 in nearby Río Blanco, regarded as one of the important precursors, if not the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. A network of Orizaban friends and neighbors provided access to locations, key props, and costumes. His daughter, Silvia Angélica Tinoco, wrote most of the screenplays.
Tinoco's films, domestic in their mode of production and firmly rooted in a sense of a local community, did not reject or ignore the norms of commercial cinema so much as they mimicked them, albeit on a much more modest scale. Though for many years he called his production group "Cine Experimental de Orizaba" ["Experimental Cinema of Orizaba"], this was something of a misnomer, as his films are firmly in a classical narrative tradition. His autobiography makes clear that the models provided by commercial genres were never far from his mind, as he proceeded to replicate these one by one: "We had already filmed many themes," he writes, "but we had not yet touched upon one tradition in cinema, the one which the common folk know as 'cowboy films.' It would be exciting to make one. . . .”
In this manner, over time, Tinoco tried his hand at a wide range of genres: space alien invasion thriller, hospital melodrama, romantic comedy, desert island drama, sci-fi for Children, Gothic horror, a bullfighting drama, a children's musical, a colonial costume drama, a Pre-Columbian "Sword and Sandals" spectacle, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, a parody of the spaghetti Western, historical epics of the Conquest and the Revolution, a religious drama of the life of Jesus, an anthology of shorts, a modern literary adaptation, a work of social protest condemning the mistreatment of Mexico's Indians, and so on. In addition to replicating the diverse genres of the commercial cinema, Tinoco also reproduced their most self-congratulatory ritual, creating his own Veracruzano version of the Oscars or the Ariels (the Mexican film industry's version of the Academy Awards), a gala evening event during which he would give out what he called the "Silver Masks" [Las máscaras de plata]. At the annual awards ceremony, starting early in his filmmaking period (June 2, 1973), Tinoco would typically premiere his most recent production, and then distribute these tokens of recognition to the individuals who had made outstanding contributions to his filmmaking efforts.
Sergio Tinoco's relation to the more commercial film world involved more than simply the replication of the industry's genres and rituals. On one occasion, a professional screen actress, Pilar Pellicer, better known for her work in 35mm films such as Tajimara, appeared in his film entitled La cruz de sorcia [The Cross of Sorcery]. The television comedian Manuel Taméz "Régulo" likewise appeared in one film (Para ti una rosa). Other professional entertainers from Orizaba also participated in the films: musical groups like The Twings and Grupo Cuervos, and Bony the Clown, who appears in two of the movies for children. Others, though certainly not many, moved from working with Tinoco into a more professional milieu. Two of the actors, Miguel Angel Alvarez and Hector Cruz Teista, who appeared in several of his films were later hired as extras by the feature director Ismael Rodriguez to work in the 35mm film Mi niño Tizoc. On rare occasions Tinoco's films circulated outside of Orizaba in a larger exhibition circuit. La Insepulta was broadcast nationally on Televisa. His work was also written up in a national newspaper, El Heraldo de México, and featured on a national news program. But there were real limits to the extent that Tinoco succeeded in converting his filmmaking hobby into something more professional. Tinoco's one experiment with 16mm filmmaking is suggestive of his technical limitations. Tinoco would edit his camera originals and, following the introduction of Super 8 sound in 1968, recorded sound directly onto the magnetically striped film stock. Working in 16mm provided a different sort of a challenge, as he relates in his autobiography.

Making a 16mm film isn't as easy as making a super 8; here one must work like a professional with a negative, and make a copy in the laboratory once the material is edited, and all this cost a lot of money. We went to Mexico City and investigated and a laboratory committed to doing the work though the day of the premiere the public had to put up with out of sync sound.

After this unsatisfactory experience Tinoco returned to working in 8mm.
The exhibition of Tinoco's films was largely through what distributors call "four-walling;" the maker borrowed or rented local venues, some of them movie theaters (e.g. the Teatro Llave), some of them designed for other functions (e.g. the Club 600, a nightclub, or the auditorium at the Railway Workers' Union Hall) for the evening's presentation. Most of the films were not exhibited outside of Orizaba. Though admission was collected at these screenings, Tinoco reports that he was only able to recoup less than 45% of the production expenses.
Although Tinoco shared a passion for small-gauge filmmaking with the countercultural media artists who called themselves superocheros, that was likely the full extent to which their interests coincided. Church and State were two of the superocheros' favorite targets. Tinoco thanks Jesus Christ repeatedly in his autobiography and dedicates the text to -- among others --Miguel Aleman Velasco, governor of Veracruz and the president's son. Tinoco was a not of the generation of the superocheros, but rather was closer in age to their parents. He did not share their politics, their formative experiences in the 1968 student movement, their interest in filmmaking as politicized weapon of the weak. In his autobiography he mentions entering one of the competitions that took place in Mexico City. Que dios los perdone won the PECIME foundation prize for Super 8 filmmaking.
The avant-garde's small-gauge film practice, both in Mexico in other parts of the world, could be thought of having one leg in home movies and the other in fine arts traditions, often linked to other media. This is not the case for Tinoco. Though home movies are certainly a relevant reference here, the ambition is to tell Hollywood-style narratives (or in the case of Tinoco's films of the Conquest, the Aztecs, the Revolution, and other explicitly national themes, Estudios Churubusco-style narratives) using home movie talent, locations, technology and mode of production. Although the roughly-drawn posters advertising the local screenings of each new film conjure up the image of a cinematic naïf, Tinoco was anything but an innocent, untouched by the commercial film industry. His films, on the contrary, affectionately mimic the industrial product, while the impecunious production values constantly announce that they are something altogether different.
Within the context of "orphan films," Tinoco's body of work occupies a peculiar position. A host of factors place him outside, or, at the very best, at the margins of film history: his choice of small gauge film stock, his failure to distribute his work outside Orizaba, his position in the "developing world," and within the provincial margins of that. Yet the films themselves forever strive to be the sort that does enter into film history, the feature-length narratives that have been used to define the medium's past. If Tinoco has every thing to gain from a more inclusive view of cinema history that leaves some place for his unique contributions, then what, one might ask in all fairness, does film history have to gain from, say, a feature-length Super 8 of teenagers in rural Veracruz who make contact with alien beings in flying saucers? Above all, it is a new-found appreciation for the artificiality of narrative film conventions, conventions so often repeated that they come to be mistaken for "realist" or "natural". In Tinoco's appropriation of these conventions, the awkwardness of the technology and the performances, the devices of film narrative gain anew an uncanny quality that is absent from most commercial film. This quality, which highlights industrial cinema's codes, allows the films of Tinoco to surpass the original models that they mimic.

Friday, September 14, 2007


by Jesse Lerner and David Serlin

Weegee (Usher Fellig) is best known for his dystopic urban photographs, principally those images made in New York as a free-lance photojournalist in the years prior to the end of the Second World War. But these photographs represent only a portion of his work, a vast corpus which includes satirical city symphonies like Hollywood: Land of the Zombies, his "collaborations with Picasso," which fragment the maestro into a demented cubist portrait of distorted shards, an obsessive series of clowns, and hundreds of images of chimpanzees acting out a myriad of anthropomorphic scenarios. After the War and the publication of Naked City (1945), Weegee moved away from photojournalism and became increasingly involved in both filmmaking and the use of specialized distortion lenses. With the run-away success of his book, and the rights to the title sold to Hollywood studio, Weegee left New York in 1947 for Los Angeles, a trip which marked a curious turning point in his life. In the critical literature, the evolution away from the street photography most closely associated with his lowbrow modernist aesthetic has been denigrated. Focusing on this latter work, and as a preliminary and tentative step toward a much-needed larger reappraisal of Weegee's life's work, we propose that his films and photography must be understood as meditations on the hyperbolic physical body, fed ultimately by two main influences: iconography of mass urban culture (Coney Island, the dime museums, etc.) and icons emanating from Yiddish culture, including newspapers, political cartoons, and theater.
That Weegee's later work in film and with distortions is marginalized, dismissed, and often critically maligned reflects a larger scholarly misapprehension of his art. If his street photography could be awkwardly incorporated within the canons of modernism as a kind of intuitive primitivism ("a primitive with a camera, like Grandma Moses," as he mockingly describes himself in his autobiography ), his filmmaking efforts fit much less comfortably, and more often found a home as part of special effects sequences in Hollywood films (on which he frequently consulted) than they did in the art museum. For Weegee, motion picture photography was an area for sui generis experimentation:

I'm patenting the Color Box. It's an amazing slide machine that creates colors and designs . . . this machine throws these colors onto the nude or seminude bodies of my girl models, and I photograph the results with a movie or still camera.

Much of this experimentation was poorly received or ignored. The Aperture series entitled "Masters of Photography", aiming to define the canonical compendium of photography as Art, includes a volume on Weegee which restricts itself, perhaps not surprisingly, to his street photography at the expense of these experiments and distortions, leaving out all of the three-breasted women and multiplying toilets. Photographer and critic Louis Stettner writes in his introduction to a monograph on Weegee:

One cannot pour over the vast numbers of kaleidoscopic and distorted nudes without realizing that Weegee was working out his sexual fantasies through photography. While some of them have genuine artistic merit, lending insight into the male concept of female sexuality, the rest of these photographs were of purely therapeutic value to Weegee himself.

Reading through the impoverished critical literature on Weegee, it is apparent that he has been ill-served and misunderstood by the academics and critics. Based on the working-class subject matter, he is lumped together with dissimilar, goyish artists: "Weegee was an abrasive, even abusive, realist in the style made public by Thomas Hart Benton, Paul Cadmus and Margaret Bourke-White." Weegee is consistently deracinated, disconnected from his immigrant Jewish roots in the shtetl and on the Lower East Side, though it is from there that so much of his sensibility originates.


In his comparative study of Polish, Jewish, and Irish
constructions of nationalism at the turn of the 20th century, Special Sorrows, Matthew Frye Jacobson describes how Jews attempted to define the boundaries of a national Jewish culture. For many, Jewish nationalism was often articulated through the celebration of Yiddish types, and, especially in the Yiddish language press, debates on the relative merits of an increasing trend toward "cosmopolitanism." According to Jacobson, the virtues of cosmopolitanism were discussed at length by Jewish religious leaders, secular nationalists, and nomadic intellectuals alike. For some, this term was not a compliment of urbane sophistication, but an insult directed at those who chose to absorb the lifestyle of the assimilated city dweller and eschew the religious integrity and cultural separatism of the immigrant enclave. But for many artists, cosmopolitanism was also a sophisticated method of reconfiguring shtetl archetypes and subject matter within the dense urban milieu, so that nostalgic visions of traditional ghetto life were renewed. In the best spirit of Sholom Aleichem, the familiar topsy turvy world depicted by the shtetl was even further dramatized and exaggerated by the material artifacts of urban life streets and sidewalks, crowds, electric trains, and the heterogeneous tendencies of popular culture. Thus, cosmopolitanism relocates subjectivity from the ethnic enclaves and ghettoes of Eastern Europe to the streets of New York City, transforming the whole island of Manhattan into one megashtetl of village types, exaggerated expressions, and social disparities, themes of which constantly recur in Yiddish literature and iconography of the period.
If the European basis of Modernism, especially in the visual arts, captivated the imaginations of American artists excited by these new challenges to representational art, then can we then think of Jewish--or vulgar--Modernism as an ethnic construction of Modernism? The historical specificity of racial and ethnic identity and community often obscures the institutional and canonical construction of high Modernism. Was it not the accepted stereotypes of Jewish immigrants earthy, hirsute, swarthy, passionate that fomented the associations between Eastern European Jewish artists and a certain kind of vulgar Modernism, which contrasted with the high German and French Modernist contributions to painting, sculpture, illustration, or photography?
For many critics, Jewish Modernism gets folded within the
traditions of social realist (or, in many cases, explicitly proletarian) arts, as in the case of fiction by Michael Gold, Tillie Olsen, or Henry Roth. For these writers, descriptions of immigrant experience follows the aesthetic dictates of what was then called the lyrical Left, the cultural vanguard of the Communist Party USA and other official organs of radical groups. This was an attempt to create an accessible, highly democratic aesthetic tradition that would ideally supplant the classical (and classist) tendencies of high Modernism. This alternative Modernism also included Ash Can painters like Robert Henri and John Sloan, or W.P.A. artists like Ben Shahn. Publications such as the New Masses relied heavily on the iconography of urban chaos and repression bloated capitalists in top hats punishing striking workers or huddling urban masses depicted as refined in order to critique economic and social injustices and to promote political mobilization among its readership. For Jewish artists, this vision of Modernism emerges from these early associations in the formalism of immigrant artists like Jacob Epstein, Abraham Walkowitz, Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, Louis Lozowick, and others.
In this context, Weegee's work can be understood as a organic, class-conscious expression of the immigrant working-class milieu that parallels proletarian contemporaries, though without the sense of moral outrage that appears in Meyer Levin (Weegee was too cynical for that), and without the utopian aspirations of a Party member. Much of Weeegee's humor about how the powerlesss can find a way to express his contempt for the powerful. He recalls in his autobiography: "For toilet paper, we kids tore up Hearst's Journal." His photographs often express contempt for the swells, their affectations, their carryings on and their triumphant skyscrapers. Mayor LaGuardia is framed to look if he is picking his nose, and Joe McWilliams, "professional anti-Semite and Nazi lover," is paired with the rear end of a horse. "Don't make any mistake," Weegee's caption advices us, "that's handsome Joe at the top of the photo." Through these compositions, distortions, and captions, Weegee extracts has the last laugh at the expense of the wealthy and the powerful, to wipe his ass on the bloated rich, as it were.
Weegee's relationship to the street was very different from that of contemporaries who also chronicled the meaner streets of New York. Reginald Marsh, a blueblood, chose proletarian subjects in the belief that "well bred people are no fun to paint." In contrast, Weegee came from the streets, and his aesthetic was always that of the tabloid, the Coney Island funhouse, and the comics. Where the uptowners looked to the street as a source of proletarian vitality, Weegee had this sensibility within him. And if Stieglitz typifies the Modernist aesthete, then Weegee is the consummate vulgar Modernist. Weegee's nontheatrical short film Camera Magic, made for Castle Films, a demonstration of photographic and cinematographic tricks, embodies the carnivalesque sensibility of this lowbrow aesthetic. Many of the techniques in the film echo Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera or surrealist photomontage; optical printing stops and reverses the motion of a horserace, and another sequence demonstrates "the girl who lost her head," a bizarre decapitation worthy of the most misogynist dadaist. But these techniques are not employed here as part of a revolutionary political program, but rather as tricks for the "camera buff" or the "amateur". Significantly, Weegee's photographic practice is frequently linked to amateurs and hobbyists. The 1957 documentary The Naked Eye, seeks to justify his proclivity for trick lenses by telling the viewers: "an amateur at heart, Weegee, like other amateurs, delights in casing the camera stores for new equipment." But what does "amateur" mean here, if Weegee was clearly someone who depended on his cameras for his livelihood? Recent scholarship has reevaluated the importance of amateur film practice, placing it in a central position in the the origins of cinema and the histories of the American avant-garde.

Trauma and pain are inherent in Yiddish literary and iconographic typology, and this, explains Weegee's fascination or at least recurring preoccupation with themes of suffering, torture, shock, and physical humiliation. Among other things, this would suggest ways of understanding the volk aspects of Weegee's subject matter, in which class is either explicitly critiqued ("The Critic", "Metropolitan Opera House", etc.) or implicitly embedded ("The Bowery", "The Vegetable Peddler", "Bagels on Second Ave"). Sander Gilman's study of the Jewish body and its connotations in Europe of disease, depravity, decay, vampirism is one side of this equation. But this assumes that such racial typology only emanates from dominant discourses that socially construct ethnicity and the body, and that Jews did not produce either complicit or alternative versions of their own typology. When we see the kinds of anthropometric or phrenological studies, anthropometric and early medical photographs done throughout the ninteenth century by anthropologists, eugenicists, and criminologists (per Sekula) we must also ask how visual artists from within these communities represented themselves. What, for example, did caricatures of Jews looks like when produced by Jewish artists or through means of mass production as would have been accessible in large metropolitan areas?
The specificity of photography perfectly captures the aesthetic and political tensions that lie between group identification and self representation. Photography is a mass cultural art that relies on notions of technological authenticity (the objectivity of the camera). But what is different about Weegee's exploitation of identifiably ethnic images is that his photographs are not merely about objectification, but rather about self definition. For example, why not use the camera, as Weegee did, to reproduce multiple images of certain ethnic or racial types a Litvakian, a Chelmian, a Galitzian?
Weegee projected the sensuality of the physical body onto the modern cityscape, which are perpetually linked by an implicit relationship between immigrant experience and physical expression. In Weegee's work, we see a convergence of European hyperrealism (in the tradition of Zola or Dostoyevsky) with a kind of vulgar Modernism influenced by the Ash Can School artists, European Dadaism, mass advertisements, and the visual culture the Coney Island and Bowery: side shows, burlesque theaters, and dime museums. Weegee's nascent Modernist aesthetic conceives of city life as naturalistically archetypal. Indeed, we see in Weegee's photographs the repetition of camera angles that focus on certain body parts, certain poses, and certain contortions of the body that noticeably perform somatic variations on ethnic identity or social experience. The best of Weegee's work shows how the social fabric of public space is intimately intertwined with the physical performance of embarrassment and vulnerability.
Characteristic of Weegee's city is a profusion of human bodies in close proximity to each other, and in such corpulent abundance as to suggest a compulsive fascination. This motif is a recurring one in Weegee's films, photographs and writings. The Coney Island sequence of Weegee's New York, with its telephoto shots of oversized butts and bellies bursting out of scanty swimsuits, evoke an immigrant's sense of wonder at the excesses of the American body. Likewise Weegee's fascination with nudist camps and his fixation--most apparent in Naked Hollywood--on asses and on cleavage (the breasts of Marilyn and Zsa Zsa, dubbed by Weegee their "spheres of influence")--reflects both a prurient interest and a good measure of anxiety. To view Weegee's films and photographs is to gaze upon this country's physical surplus made manifest in the flesh, to ogle its size, nakedness, and its overflowing bounty, like a new-arrival strolling down Fourteenth Street on a summer day. "Wardrobe Department" shows a display window of a store whose specialty, "Extra Large Panties," is announced across three mammoth-sized samples. This profusion is multiplied and exaggerated even further in Weegee's distortions, which expand the muscular, shirtless chest of the "villain" to aberrant proportions in Naked Hollywood, add beards and remove torsos from the goyish models in swimsuits who populate Camera Magic. Over and over again, Weegee's aesthetic is dominated by caricature, exaggeration, and hyperbole.
The luscious desirability of these healthy American bodies acts as counterpoint to Weegee's own body, a recurring figure in both his photographs and his remarkable autobiography, Weegee by Weegee. A recent Hollywood film modeled on Weegee's life, The Public Eye, suggestively illustrates how the presence of his Jewish body offends the clientele at a high class nightclub. The waiter apologizes: "He's a poet who recently escaped Mr. Hitler." The miffed client retorts: "It's still no excuse, is it?" Posing next to Tony Curtis in a photograph from his Hollywood years, Weegee's distended paunch obscures most of the movie star's trim body, while Curtis' date towers a full head taller than the squat photographer.
For Yiddish playwrights and visual artists, the hallmarks of Modernism, if not the streamlined forms of the Impressionists, or the fractured distortions of the Dadaists, are the use of subjectivity to grapple with issues of representation directly stemming from questions of national interest. One thinks of, for example, the photomontage experiments of John Heartfield or Hannah Hoch, although nothing in Weegee is as overtly political.
Weegee's wry bawdiness and irreverent appreciation for the human body must emanate, in part, from the commercial (and admittedly secular) delights that exploited the naivete and pocket money of Eastern European immigrants. The delights of mass culture from the carnival rides at Coney Island to the dime museums and freak shows of the Bowery provided a visual playground of widely divergent reference points. Dime museums, with their assortment of stuffed animals and anthropological curiosities, also contained dioramas of male and female bodies wrecked by venereal disease and the seething desires of the flesh. Between these museums and the flophouses, saloons, brothels, and bawdy houses that littered the thoroughfares of New York City in the early 20th century (and which constantly reappear in Weegee's autobiography), the material evidence of male and female sexuality defined an environment in which physicality became itself like a tangible object to be displayed, bartered, and possessed.
Weegee's formal (and, one might argue, formalistic) education by the streets, whorehouses, and mass cultural bombardment of New York City during the early decades of the 20th century was mediated by his immigrant heritage and his Jewish identity. This came not only from the life of immigrant children fraught with discoveries and horrors, as they must have been but also from Jewish cultural forms (newspaper, cartoons, etc.) that brought visual imagery into the home and which circulated throughout the neighborhood. At the level of visual impact, the products of mass culture paralleled certain iconographic images familiarized in the Yiddishe newspapers and magazines of the period. Yiddish periodicals inflected exaggerated approaches to the body often the direct influence of American culture on the psyche of the shtetl through street scenes and caricatures. Yiddish language newspapers like Grosse Kundes, which ran from 1909 until 1927, regularly featured comics and political cartoons in which Jewish archetypes made transitions in language and communication familiar to newly arrived immigrants. The fact that these archetypes what Jacobson calls national types found their way into ethnic language newspapers is not so surprising; what is most remarkable is that the visual culture of immigrants is so unexplored and undertheorized, not only by historians of Jewish culture but by scholars of print culture and visual documentation. If they did not directly emulate, say, the more sober Modernist work of the Educational Alliance and uptown artists, then they reflected the overwhelming influence of mass cultural forms on communities separated by language and faith.
While Weegee moved from job to low paying job, his father quit working and fulfilled his desire to become a rabbi. The Talmudic scholar eschews the American dream of fame and wealth for internal, private, non quantifiable intellectual rewards. In this regard, Weegee's self conscious appellation of "Weegee the Famous" seems paradoxical, both a comment on his unyielding desire for recognition and his tendency toward irony and self ridicule, a situation not unlike that suffered by Al Jolson's character in The Jazz Singer (1928). In fact, Weegee's stint in Hollywood involved more than simply photographing the stars and consulting on studio productions. He hoped to parlay his new-found celebrity status into movie stardom, though he never landed roles more significant than cameos and bit parts. He appeared in films including The Set-Up (1949), Journey into Light (1951), Skid Row (1951), Every Girl Should Get Married (1948) and Joseph Losey's remake of M (1951). With a Warholian flare for self-promotion, Weegee obscured the pain with a smoke-screen of self-deprecation, buffoonery, and bravado.
In this context, photography becomes one of the principal forms for the cosmopolitan artist to render national types of Jewish identity and physical examples of the Jewish body while making use of modern technology and the infinite reproductive capacities of mass culture. This is the flip side of reform/philanthropic photography (Evans, Riis, Hine, Lange), in that it assumes and even celebrates the vicissitudes of human suffering, which one might argue is central to a Yiddishe phenomenology of the spirit. Yet, aesthetically speaking, Weegee's work has more in common with Hine and Riis for precisely this reason. His views of urban life were comprised emphatically of the literal, the colloquial, and pedestrian, not the studied pretense of Alfred Steiglitz's architectural impressions or the cool objectivity of Andreas Feininger's urban landscapes. To reclaim themes of violence, suffering and anger in post diasporic Jewish art is to revise Adorno's pronouncement about the impossibility of art after the Holocaust, and demonstrate how pain and trauma played a significant force in the creative and political work of Jewish artists and intellectuals.