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The Story of the Jubilee Singers.

Andrew Ward is the author of “Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers, Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America” (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux). The Jubilee singers were nine former slaves who who set off from Nashville in 1871 to raise money to rescue their school, Fisk University, from bankruptcy. They toured the U.S., Britain, and Europe introducing audiences to African-American spirituals. The Jubilee singers are also the subject of an upcoming American Experience documentary on PBS. (Monday, May 1, 2000 at 9:00)

21:50

Other segments from the episode on April 25, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 25, 2000: Interview with Andrew Ward; Interview with Bruna Barreto.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 25, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042501np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Andrew Ward Discusses the Story of the Jubilee Singers
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

RENEE MONTAGNE, GUEST HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, this is FRESH AIR.

I'm Renee Montagne, filling in for Terry Gross.

As the United States was still reeling from the Civil War, nine former slaves set out to raise money for the failing university by singing. They sang in America and in Europe, before Ulysses S. Grant and Queen Victoria. Their presence and their music, African-American spirituals, was a revelation to audiences.

On today's FRESH AIR, we talk with Andrew Ward about the Jubilee Singers. He's written a new book about them.

Also, we meet Brazilian film director Bruno Barreto. His new film, "Bossa Nova," is inspired by the Hollywood screwball comedies of the 1930s and '40s. Barreto's other films are "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" and "Four Days in September."

That's coming up on today's FRESH AIR.

First, the news.

(BREAK)

MONTAGNE: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Renee Montagne.

Gospel runs deep in American culture. My guest today is Andrew Ward, whose new book tells the story of the young, newly freed slaves who first introduced African-American spirituals to white audiences. They were known as the Jubilee Singers. The Civil War had just ended when they embarked on a singing tour to raise money for their school in Nashville, now Fisk University.

The music the Jubilee Singers brought to concert halls throughout the North turned out to be an eye-opening introduction to black culture, and it helped transform American music.

Andrew Ward's book is called "Dark Midnight When I Rise," and a documentary based on the book will be aired next Monday night on PBS.

The school treasurer at Fisk was a white missionary from Ohio by the name of George White. He was an amateur musician who had organized the school's choir and decided to take it on tour. The Jubilee Singers refused to perform for segregated audiences, so they headed north, following the route of the old Underground Railroad.

ANDREW WARD, "DARK MIDNIGHT WHEN I RISE": Northern whites really -- about the only exposure they'd had, aside from some of the soldiers who'd had encounters with blacks during the campaigns in the South, was with minstrel shows and a sort of Darktown cartoon image of African America that you'd get from the old Currier and Ives prints and that sort of thing. So they were really setting off on -- it was an enormous gamble. The American Missionary Association, which was the sponsor of Fisk University, opposed the tour. So did practically all of the faculty members at Fisk.

They were all afraid that they would fall into this caricature of minstrelsy and that they would just bring embarrassment upon this very serious attempt to educate the freedmen.

And when they encountered their first crowds in Cincinnati, Ohio, there were sort of titters and giggles from the audience, even audiences in churches, and many of the people who had subscribed to abolitionist missions during the war. It was astonishing and startling for them to see soberly dressed young men and women, although at first they were dressed really in pretty ragtag fashion, standing up on a -- at a -- on a stage, and instead of rolling their eyes and playing the banjo and telling jokes, giving very sober renditions, at first of mostly European and popular music.

But George White was just totally charmed by the slave songs, the slave hymns that his singer sort of shyly introduced him to. Ella Shepherd (ph), who was the African-American matriarch of the Jubilees, she said that these spirituals at first were something they were sort of ashamed of. These were relics of slavery, which was something they wanted to forget. And it was also music that was sacred to their fathers and grandfathers, and that they would shout over these songs.

And so they never dreamed of performing them in public. But gradually White persuaded them to sing them and to continue to collect them along the road. They eventually collected about 100 of these songs. Many of them are songs that we recognize now. There was "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," I suppose is the classic Negro spiritual, and that was one that Ella Shepherd's mother had taught her. Another was "Go Down, Moses." Their signature song was an extremely simple and really just breathtakingly beautiful hymn called "Steal Away."

But White gradually convinced them to sing at least a few of these songs. And they began to see that where the audiences were restless, squirming around in their seats or even laughing at the sight of -- and sound of African-Americans singing European songs, suddenly they were riveted by these sacred secret hymns of their ancestors.

And suddenly grown men who seemed hostile were -- tears were rolling into their whiskers. And gradually the European repertoire shrunk down almost to nothing, and they sang almost exclusively spirituals. And it was really on the spirituals that they won their fame.

MONTAGNE: The current Jubilee Singers have a CD that's just out, I gather, am I right?

WARD: Yes, that's right.

MONTAGNE: Maybe we should play one of those songs that you've just mentioned, "Steal Away," maybe, to give a sense...

WARD: Yes, that was their signature song, and they always sang -- began their concerts with it. And it was one of their most effective numbers. I think that'd be great.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "STEAL AWAY," THE JUBILEE SINGERS)

MONTAGNE: Well, as the Jubilee Singers toured and their repertoire became transformed, became -- as the audiences responded so well, became more spirituals in the main body of the songs that they were singing, at what point did things change for them? Because initially, it was quite a hard tour as you describe it in the book.

WARD: Oh, it was a very dismal tour. They had very little money. George White had taken just about all of the money out of Fisk's treasury, so it was do or die. For the first two months, they were in rags. There were unseasonable, unseasonable winter storms plucking at them all the way along the way. They were thrown out of hotels or forced to sleep in the outbuildings of sort of fleabag hotels...

MONTAGNE: And that was because, obviously, of segregation, even in the North.

WARD: Yes, there -- absolutely. It was sort of a random segregation that they were running into. They never quite knew where they stood when they stepped off the train at each town. They then stumbled up to Oberlin College, which had a strong abolitionist tradition. And they were a great success. They performed before a convention of Congregational ministers who would then sort of relay the Jubilees north and east until they ended up in New York City.

And in New York, they were taken under the wing of the most popular preacher of the day, Henry Ward Beecher, at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. And in -- around Christmas time of 1871, they performed before his very prosperous and influential congregation. And they were an immediate smash. Suddenly every church wanted them to perform. They began to raise thousands of dollars a week, and they were really a phenomenon. They were mobbed in the streets. It's difficult to imagine the sort of impact they had. But they were front page news all over the Northeast. They sang in New England, they went up to Boston, eventually made their way down to D.C., sang for Ulysses S. Grant.

But that was the -- that was really the springboard.

MONTAGNE: They ended up performing before Queen Victoria.

WARD: Yes, Queen Victoria turned up just a day after their debut in London at the Duke of Argyle's (ph) house. Her patronage really opened every door in the kingdom, and they went on to sing for you name it, I mean, just about every prominent Brit of the time attended their concerts, Prince Albert, and Prime Minister Gladstone just had accepted them with just boyish glee, had them over to his house several times for breakfast and did them the great honor of serving tea from his own hand.

And all of that was used by the singers when they returned to the United States. You would think that maybe that kind of attention would make them more conservative or make them more cautious in the way they comported themselves. But in fact, they used that fame and that acceptance on the part of the most powerful statesmen in the world as a weapon against discrimination in the United States.

MONTAGNE: My guest is Andrew Ward, the author of "Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers." We'll be back after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

MONTAGNE: I'm speaking with Andrew Ward, the author of a new book on the Jubilee Singers. He has also co-written a documentary that will be shown on PBS's The American Experience next Monday.

Tell me the story of the Pullman train, the Pullman car.

WARD: Well, that's one of the great stories. And this is where I really began to realize the impact that they were having. They sang at Louisville, Kentucky. And it was one of their first forays into the South, or at least the upper South. And they insisted on singing in front of, as I said, integrated audiences. And they sang before the first integrated audience in Louisville's Library Hall. And they managed to get this rather uneasily integrated audience that consisted of secessionist whites as well as unionists and black people from the Louisville freedmen community.

They protested the fact that though they had bought first-class tickets for their -- the next leg of their trip down to Nashville, the railway line had told them they would not be allowed to ride in first-class cars and would have to ride in the smoking cars, which was regarded as very -- sort of a disgraceful way to travel back then.

They stood up on the stage, and they denounced this. And they then sang "Get on Board, Little Children," a song that I've sung innocuously as a little boy in school, not understanding its significance. But it's -- it was really a song about integrating trains, at least the way they wielded it. And they managed to get this audience of mostly Southerners, many of them secessionists, to rise up their feet and shout in support of this -- of the Jubilee Singers.

And as a result of this, there -- it made such a splash that George Pullman announced that from that day forward, he would integrate his Pullman cars, very elegant Pullman cars. And he assigned a Pullman car to them, and they rolled down to Nashville in a Pullman car.

MONTAGNE: But did that last? I mean, I think not. I think they couldn't -- you -- they were segregated in the South, right up until (inaudible)...

WARD: Well, there -- for 25 years, they were integrated officially. And whether in practice they ended up being integrated, I don't know, because you had to get past the stationmasters, who were often very tough racist thugs, basically, who enforced railroad policy. They continued to encounter segregation on railways and in hotels all the way through their careers, well into the 20th century.

But these were significant symbolic gains. That they didn't always translate into lasting benefits to the run of African-Americans was certainly not their fault but the nation's. But I just don't think any other troupe ever appealed more inspiringly to the better angels of America's nature than the Jubilees.

MONTAGNE: Let's just back up again just momentary for that song, "Get on Board, Little Children." I mean, the song is about the next life, heading for the next life.

WARD: Yes, it is, right. And I think it's...

MONTAGNE: Essential -- its essential message is about that. But the words in the song are what?

WARD: "The fare is cheap and all can go. The rich and poor are there. No second class on board the train, no difference in the fare. Get on board, children, for there's room for many a more." It was true...

MONTAGNE: Now, that's heaven, that's heaven in the song.

WARD: Yes, that would be heaven in the song. But it's -- it was true of the spirituals, though, that they contained many meanings. And it was -- Frederick Douglass was inspired to run away by the lyrics of a song, and Booker T. Washington remembered that when, as emancipation approached, as the end of the war approached, slaves became much more forward about -- or made it much more clear that when they were talking about heaven and deliverance, they were talking about freedom in this world and emancipation.

So that spirituals really carried many, many messages simultaneously.

MONTAGNE: So how did it happen that the spirituals that they sang came to be seen at some point as potentially celebrating helplessness, or celebrating weakness, you know, respected but sort of enabling white audiences to see the people singing them, and thus, you know, black people, as not threatening?

WARD: Yes, well, I think the concert tradition, which Jubilees began, seemed to some musicians to have been muddled by -- I think musically speaking, in the first place, to have been muddled by the intercessions of whites like George White and another director named Theodore Seward (ph), who also directed the Jubilees. And a lot of people looked for purer forms of black music after the craze for spirituals sort of died down.

And also, these were the songs of slavery, and expressed in some cases a kind of resignation, or at least could be interpreted as expressing a kind of resignation that didn't sit well with later generations of African-Americans.

MONTAGNE: And -- and -- and...

WARD: Some were embarrassed by these songs, suspected them of perpetuating, as you say, these sort of comforting stereotypes about black people and about slavery. And I think the singing of spirituals still takes more trust on the part of black performers and more understanding on the part of white audiences than we're sometimes able to muster.

Nevertheless, if you give the current Jubilee Singers, the present student choir, a chance to sing before an audience of almost any description -- and I've seen them perform several times -- you see something still mysterious happen, tears flow and heads nod and feet stamp. And it's 135 years since the end of slavery, and perhaps because it'll be another 111 years at least before we will have been free of slavery for as long as we had it, there's still something mysteriously and irresistibly moving about these songs.

MONTAGNE: Just a quick thing, because we don't actually have too much time, but just quickly, in terms of the missionaries, the white teachers and missionaries who organized the troupe starting with George White, (inaudible) -- there was a kind of a dark side to that. I mean, starting with George White, they -- he, for one, and right through to the point when they were young adults, anyway, into their 20s, called them his children, there was a condescending level to some of the ways...

WARD: Yes, absolutely. There was, and I think the -- there -- you know, the missionaries' motives were certainly not entirely pure. But I really think it's best to approach George White and the other northern whites who came South with a certain humility from our perspective. Because the ones featured in my story did really a great deal more good than most of the rest of us ever have, and at far greater cost than the rest of us would be willing to pay. They don't come off as well as they'd probably like to in my book.

But it's important, I think, to recognize these characters not as archetypes of paternalism and patriarchy but as individual human beings. And they arrived full of idealistic notions born of reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and that idealism collided hard with the reality of slavery's legacy, the suffering that they saw. And I won't deny that they were sometimes slow to recognize and respect the autonomy and capacity of the men and women they taught, but they were also generous and empathetic and dedicated and brave.

MONTAGNE: Well, after having immersed yourself in this music for -- I'm guessing several years now, right?

WARD: Yes.

MONTAGNE: I'm wondering what if we were to go out on a particular one of these spirituals, which one you would have us go out on.

WARD: Well, there's one number on the new CD that I think is wonderful, and it's -- actually it's the same song, although not the same rendition -- I wish it were the same rendition -- that we end the documentary with, and it's "Been Too Busy Prayin' to My Jesus, Ain't Got Time to Die."

MONTAGNE: Andrew Ward, thank you very much.

WARD: Thank you very much, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Andrew Ward is the author of "Dark Midnight When I Rise." A documentary about the Jubilee Singers will air on PBS next Monday.

This is the current Jubilee Singers Choir at Fisk University performing "Ain't Got Time to Die."

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "AIN'T GOT TIME TO DIE," JUBILEE SINGERS)

MONTAGNE: That's the Jubilee Singers.

I'm Renee Montagne, and this is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Renee Montagne, Philadelphia
Guest: Andrew Ward
High: Andrew Ward is the author of "Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers, Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America." The Jubilee Singers were nine former slaves who who set off from Nashville in 1871 to raise money to rescue their school, Fisk University, from bankruptcy. They toured the U.S., Britain, and Europe, introducing audiences to African-American spirituals. The Jubilee Singers are also the subject of an upcoming American Experience documentary on PBS.
Spec: Minorities; Art; Education; Race Relations

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Andrew Ward Discusses the Story of the Jubilee Singers

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 25, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042502NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Bruno Barreto Discusses `Bossa Nova'
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST: Coming up, we talk about love, the bossa nova, and movie making with Brazilian director Bruno Barreto. His new film "Bossa Nova" is a romantic comedy. Barreto also directed "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" and "Four Days in September."

(BREAK)

MONTAGNE: This is FRESH AIR.

I'm Renee Montagne, here with you this week while Terry Gross is away.

My guest today is director Bruno Barreto. He comes from Brazil's best-known family of filmmakers, but he's best known in America for his 1978 film "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands." "Dona Flor" offered a window onto a sensual and magically real Rio de Janeiro. Bruno Barreto's latest movie is called "Bossa Nova," inspired, he says, by the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, and it has more in common with the Hollywood screwball romantic, madcap comedies that Howard Hawks and Preston Sturgess made in the 1940s and '50s, full of missed opportunities, double entendres, exquisite outfits, and the occasional musical number.

The movie "Bossa Nova" is a merry-go-round of eight characters caught up in trying to find love or each other. For example, there's Mary Anne, a widowed former stewardess turned English teacher, played by Amy Irving. She's being pursued by Pedro Paolo, a divorcing divorce lawyer, played by Antonio Fagundes, who's a kind of Brazilian Cary Grant. In order to win Mary Anne over, Pedro's enrolled in one of her classes.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "BOSSA NOVA")

AMY IRVING, ACTRESS: (inaudible), why don't you open to page 35 and read.

ANTONIO FAGUNDES, ACTOR: Do you prefer on the top or below?

IRVING: I beg your pardon?

FAGUNDES: The reading, I should read on the top?

IRVING: Oh, you mean, should you stand up?

FAGUNDES: I'm sorry, yes, stand up. Do you prefer?

IRVING: No, you're fine.

FAGUNDES: "Marjorie and Jojo (ph) love romantic evenings and romance. New York always starts on Broadway."

SINGER (singing): If you let me, our life would be a Broadway song and dance...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MONTAGNE: Twenty-five years after "Dona Flor," Bruno Barreto is living in New York. Among his most recent films was the Oscar-nominated thriller "Four Days in September."

"Bossa Nova" is partly in Portuguese, partly in English, and Barreto told me he thinks "Bossa Nova," ironically, is his most American film.

BRUNO BARRETO, "BOSSA NOVA": It's a film that I made, it's a Valentine to Rio de Janeiro, where I was born. But yet, because of the genre, because of the humor in it and the pace and the farcical side, the madcap, as you said. it's very American. And I think it makes sense, because I've been living here for 10 years -- 11 years now.

And I was talking to Milos Forman about this. It's like when you are an immigrant, you never become -- I will never become American, but I could never go back and live in Brazil. He was saying the same thing, that he could never go back and live in Czechoslovakia. At the same time, he will never be completely American. So you -- if you're, like, somehow in between.

But I think the United States is the only country, really, where you can live like that, you can have a family and make that country -- this country your home, at the same time you're not really American, because the American culture is made from so many different cultures.

So I think "Bossa Nova" is very much about all of that, and the whole thing, English, Portuguese, the difference between "amor," which is "love" in Portuguese, and "love." There's a big difference between "amor" and "love."

MONTAGNE: Tell me the difference between "amor" and "love."

BARRETO: You know, I would be a little reluctant to tell you, because then people wouldn't go see the movie.

MONTAGNE: (laughs)

BARRETO: You should go see the movie in order to find out. I could, you know, go around it a little bit, but there is a lot more to it.

For instance, just to give you a hint, and that's in the movie, it was a shock for me as a Latin man to see how often and how casually you Americans use the expression "I love you." It's like you wrap up a phone call with, "I love you, goodbye. I love you, bye." And that's -- you know, for a Latin man to say "I love you," it's so -- it's so epic, it's really -- you know, it's scary. So maybe we American -- we Latin men say "I love you" like no more than 10 times in your whole life. So that's just a hint of it.

So when I first came to the United States, and I met Amy Irving, my wife, and she became my wife, and I was a little -- she said "I love you" a lot, and it made me think of Shakespeare, you know, "The lady protests too much, methinks." So I didn't really believe in what she was saying. It took me a while to believe her. So that's just a hint. There are a lot -- there's a lot more about the difference between "amor" and "love."

MONTAGNE: Well, your character, Mary Anne, who's played by Amy Irving, is -- she warned a Brazilian -- one of the Brazilian characters, a Brazilian young woman, that when the man of her dreams, who she's met only on the Internet, signs off "Love," that Americans use that expression a lot.

BARRETO: Yes.

MONTAGNE: And suggests that she shouldn't take it too seriously.

BARRETO: True.

MONTAGNE: And that's one of four different stories going on. And it's all love, in a sense, but not.

BARRETO: Yes, you know, I'm -- that's why the film is dedicated to Francois Truffaut also, besides Antonio Carlos Jobim. It's dedicated to both of them. Because in my opinion, Truffaut was really the last great romantic filmmaker. And as a very -- as an intelligent romantic, and he was -- and -- but truly romantic, he didn't really trust romance all the way. He always had a sort of -- he always suspected romance a little bit.

And I wanted to make a film about how difficult it is to function, to live in a place like Rio de Janeiro if you're not in love, or if you don't have a relationship, if you -- even if you have a relationship, you've got to be in love. In New York, you go shopping, in Paris you go to good restaurants. But, you know, in L.A. you try to get an agent and make films, whatever, and get into show business.

But in Rio, it's really imperative that somehow you fall in love, or you're in love. It's very hard to be alone in Rio.

MONTAGNE: In the movie "Bossa Nova," the father is a tailor, and his son, Pedro Paolo, is a lawyer, but as a gesture of love for Mary Anne, the character played by Amy Irving, Pedro makes her a blouse. I mean, he returns, as it were, to his roots. He goes back to what his father does to express his love. Why?

BARRETO: Why? I mean, could you think of anything -- I think he's very sophisticated and very romantic, because I think he wants to dress her first in order to undress her later.

MONTAGNE: (laughs)

BARRETO: You know, it's quite irresistible. Amy says to me, Oh, you know, I'm so thankful that you made this film for me, because this film is also a Valentine to Amy, my wife. And I say, I wish I could have made you a blouse, because I think it's so intimate and so -- so irresistible.

MONTAGNE: In your first movie, or the first movie that brought you into prominence as a director, you -- it was also about love. In fact, it was famously about love. It was about a -- this is "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands." It was about the love of a woman for a passionate and sort of crazy and sort of difficult first husband, and then a very mature and careful and responsible second husband.

And you made that movie when you were 20 years old?

BARRETO: Yes. You know, there are things that happen in your life that you look back and you say, How could I have done it? I mean, I must have been insane to direct that film when I was 20 years old. All I can say is that there were -- I'm a very intuitive person. I -- and that film was all intuition, literally. I was alone, and I -- of course I started -- the film is based on a very good book by Jorge Amado, and then I worked with the screenwriters on that. That was my third feature film, by the way. It was the first one that came to the United States.

So I had some experience. I directed my first feature film when I was 17. Don't ask me, it's just too insane.

So what I think, you know, happened there was that, you know, it's like when your unconscious bypasses your conscious and goes straight to the screen. And I think that when that happens, it's great, it's -- magic ends up on screen. It's not that often that that happens. And I would like to think that that also happened when I did "Bossa Nova," because of -- I wasn't really aware of how personal "Bossa Nova," the film, was until I started to edit, which is to say when -- until I started to look at it and I started to see segments of it put together, and say, God, this is a very intimate film, this is a very personal film. It's very much about how I miss Rio, and, you know...

So "Bossa"...

MONTAGNE: You know, (inaudible)...

BARRETO: Yes, go ahead.

MONTAGNE: I was just going to say, I'm also wondering if it's about your father.

BARRETO: It's also about my father, that's very well pointed. It's a very good point.

MONTAGNE: Now, your father was a photojournalist, a cinematographer. What did -- do you recall a particular moment or a time when, you know, you looked up and your father was standing there, like this father is in this movie, and he was showing you something that told you something very important about life?

BARRETO: Yes, many times, many times. I recall a moment when I was 10 years old. I went to visit the set of a film directed by Glauber Racha (ph). Glauber Racha was a famous director from the '60s from the movement that was called "cinema novo," new cinema. It was like the "nouvelle vague," the new wave, in France. It was a Brazilian version of the new wave, the French new wave.

And Scorsese, Martin Scorsese's a big fan of Glauber Racha, and sort of has made homages to Glauber Racha in several of his movies.

And anyway, I was on the set, and there was an actor that was stumbling on a piece of dialogue every take, exactly on the same moment. And they were just rehearsing. And so Glauber said, So let's shoot it, let's -- maybe actually shooting it, it's going to be fine, he's going to get through it.

And he stumbled again. And when he stumbled, I said, Cut. And my father was so shocked, I'm 10 years old, I wasn't supposed to be on a set and say Cut. And the -- I was -- I said Cut just one second before the director said Cut. And -- (laughs)

MONTAGNE: (laughs)

BARRETO: But he was upset and proud at the same time. And I could -- I will never forget that.

MONTAGNE: What did the director say?

BARRETO: The director laughed, he laughed. He laughed, and he wasn't upset at all. He turned out to be like a father figure for me, Glauber. He took me to see the first John Ford film I saw, he took me to see, "My Darling Clementine." So no, it was a beautiful relationship that started that day. I had never met him, and I met him that day. (laughs)

MONTAGNE: Being -- given that you were making movies before you were even a teenager, what kind of a teenager were you?

BARRETO: I was a very unhappy teenager. I think it's easy to figure that out, because I was making movies when I should be dating and going out. And I was a very lonely, very sort of neurotic teenager. I didn't have a lot of friends. And I think that's why I ended up making movies, because I wasn't happy, and I tried to find happiness, you know, through -- on the screen, through the films I -- I used to go a lot to the movies. I used to live, I used to watch, like, two or three films a day.

And so that was my...

MONTAGNE: Did you have someone, though, at that time that you were in love with? I mean, would there have been a Sonya Braga from "Dona Flor" living down the street?

BARRETO: Yes, Jacqueline Bisset.

(LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Down the street in the movie theater.

BARRETO: Oh, oh, in the movie theater, that's what I meant, yes. I mean, that was the -- no, no, not down the street. There was a girl in school, actually. Her name was Sandra. And I was very much in love with her. But very much like the character in "Bossa Nova," the character of the brother, I was too shy and too afraid to make the first move.

So, you know, I shouldn't have been like that. Maybe I would have, you know, had her, I would have won her.

MONTAGNE: And now instead you go out and make a movie like "Dona Flor," where -- which is an amazingly passionate movie.

BARRETO: Yes, that passion was all, you know, bottled up. (laughs) I think that's where it came from, it came from me not being able to live it. So I lived it in the movie.

MONTAGNE: My guest is director Bruno Barreto. We'll be back after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

MONTAGNE: I'm Renee Montagne. My guest, Bruno Barreto, has a new movie called "Bossa Nova." Two years ago, his film "Four Days in September" was nominated for an Academy Award. It was set in his home country of Brazil in 1969, when Brazil was under a dictatorship. It's about a group of young, inexperienced revolutionaries who wanted to free political prisoners then being tortured in jail, some of whom who had been put there just for speaking out against the regime.

BARRETO: It was paranoia city in Brazil. So they decide to do something in order to catch the world's attention about, you know, what's going on in Brazil. And they have this -- it's just a sort of off-the-wall idea. They didn't really think about it. They said, What could we do in order to make the world know what's going on in Brazil? Because needless to say, the whole press was under very heavy censorship, so the world didn't really know what was going on in Brazil.

So they decide, Why don't we kidnap the American ambassador? And it started like a crazy idea which made a lot of sense. And they did it, they carried it out, and it was a very successful operation, because they did catch the world's attention. So once this happened, the -- Charles Burke (ph) Elbrick was kidnapped, that's what -- So the film is very much about that. But the film is very much about the relationship between these kidnappers and the ambassador, because they bond.

So the film is not about really the politics in it, but about the relationship between the character.

MONTAGNE: Where were you during those four days back in 1969?

BARRETO: I was 14 years old, and I was, you know, going to school in Rio, and there was actually a guy who sat right beside me in school, high school, and he -- one day he -- you know, he didn't come to school, and we thought he was sick or something. Then a week went by, and two weeks went by, and then we saw his picture on the newspaper. And he had been caught with a bunch -- a group of the kids robbing a bank for some revolutionary movement.

And he had been killed. So it got very close. It was scary, it was a very scary moment.

MONTAGNE: You know, during -- you made films in Brazil, you began your career in Brazil in the first 10 years of that 20-year, you know, dictatorship. It lasted from the end of the '60s to the end of the '80s. Could you have made "Four Days in September," say, 15, 20 years ago?

BARRETO: Never, never, ever. The films I made, including "Dona Flor," were -- had a lot of cuts. There was, you know, censorship was very, very big in Brazil.

MONTAGNE: Where in "Dona Flor" would they have cut? Since that is not obviously a political movie at all.

BARRETO: Oh, they made cuts, you know, about all the sexuality in the movie. They thought that...

MONTAGNE: (laughs)

BARRETO: ... anything that dealt with sexuality was very anarchist, and it was very subversive.

MONTAGNE: I'm only laughing because they left a lot in. That movie was so sensual.

BARRETO: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. They made cuts in Brazil.

MONTAGNE: Oh, so the movie that we saw in America is not the movie that (inaudible).

BARRETO: Oh, yes. No, no, no, no. For the foreign market, it wasn't -- it was the full length, I mean, the whole -- the original version. It was in Brazil that they made it -- the censorship is in Brazil.

But I must say, there's a different kind of censorship in this country. It shocks me that "Bossa Nova" got an R. It's R-rated, you know, just because of some cursing that are really very organic to a certain scene, to a specific scene in the movie. And, you know, it's a different kind, it's not -- it's a very sort of white censorship, it's not so blatant. But it is some kind of censorship.

And it's a new version of censorship, but it's very much about -- you know, it shocks me that, you know, we couldn't see "Eyes Wide Shut" by Stanley Kubrick in its original version here, that they did some special effects to conceal some nudity. It's pretty shocking for a foreigner how much in the -- you know, in the United States they prefer carnage instead of carnality.

MONTAGNE: My guest is director Bruno Barreto. We'll take a break and be right back.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

MONTAGNE: We're back with Bruno Barreto, whose newest movie is "Bossa Nova," about love lost and found in his home town of Rio.

When you came to the United States to make movies, why did you come?

BARRETO: I came because I couldn't make movies in Brazil any more. The first elected president after the 20 years of dictatorship closed down the government agency that financed feature film production in Brazil. So people had to look for other jobs, fellow filmmakers went on to become, you know, TV directors, commercial directors, or journalists. But they couldn't make feature films in Brazil any more. So I came to the States to find work.

MONTAGNE: So the dictatorship was good for film -- the film industry?

BARRETO: Yes, that's another irony, but yes, it was during the last five years of the dictatorship that Brazilian film production really soared, and we were producing over 100 feature films a year.

MONTAGNE: And -- but why? I mean, why did they care? Why did they give money?

BARRETO: They really valued, they thought that a strong nation needed a -- you know, a strong film industry. In which they were right. There were a lot of interesting thing about this dictatorship in Brazil. It's -- that's a long story, we would need about an hour to talk about that. But that was one of the good things.

And censorship gradually, in the past five years, was, you know, winding down. And actually in the last three years, there was no censorship at all any more.

MONTAGNE: Of the dictatorship.

BARRETO: Of the dictatorship, yes. So there were some very good aspects.

MONTAGNE: Yes. You said once of Brazil that it's a country or a culture that's afraid of success.

BARRETO: It's not afraid of success. As a good Catholic country, Brazil -- they don't respect success as much as they do here. It's -- they sort of -- they always look at success and they go, like -- oh, you know, they don't really trust success completely. They have a lot more -- they're a lot more lenient with people that are not successful. I think it's -- I think it's sort of a very Catholic trait to Brazilian culture that, you know, you patronize and you take care of people, but if you're successful, you don't need anybody to take care of you. You go on your own.

And so they're sort of cold towards you if you're successful. It's changing, it's changing. When I was growing up, it was more like that. But it's like Antonio Carlos Jobim used to say, you know, to be successful in Brazil, it's like to insult someone's mother.

MONTAGNE: (laughs) Now, this film is dedicated to him, but his music and, you know, not just bossa nova music, but -- your films are filled with music. And I'm wondering if that's a lot about Brazil.

BARRETO: Yes, I -- sometimes I think I make films just to put music on. I -- music is very, very important for me when I'm starting to make a film. I mean, when the film is just in my head, and I'm just in my office, and nobody's there, not even -- I'm just alone. And I close my eyes and I'm just imagining -- you know, creating the -- imagining, creating the images also of the film, that -- I use a lot of music then to sort of help me to see the images that I want to shoot later.

That's -- that kind of precedes the screenplay, even. Sometimes I only have sort of the outline for the screenplay, and I start to do that kind of work. Because for me, films are visual story telling, so -- and I think visual story telling sometimes needs the help of music. And sometimes I do use music in those scenes, and I -- sometimes I don't, later. But when I first imagine, sort of envision a film, it has music from beginning to end.

MONTAGNE: Bruno Barreto, thank you very much.

BARRETO: You're welcome, it was a pleasure to be here with you today.

MONTAGNE: Bruno Barreto's film "Bossa Nova" opens this weekend.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer is Audrey Bentham. Dorothy Ferebee is our administrative assistant. Roberta Shorrock directs the show.

For Terry Gross, I'm Renee Montagne.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Renee Montagne, Philadelphia
Guest: Bruno Barreto
High: Brazilian film director Bruno Barreto's new film, "Bossa Nova," is a romantic comedy starring his wife, American actress Amy Irving. Barreto's other films are the critically acclaimed "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" and "Four Days in September," which was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film.
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Brazil

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Bruno Barreto Discusses `Bossa Nova'
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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