Documentary Shooting and Samba: Technology and Mediation in Leon Hirszman’s Partido alto
Abstract: This article addresses the film Partido alto (Leon Hirszman, 1976–1982), a Brazilian music documentary that showcases two sessions of partido-alto, a traditional, improvisation-based genre. The film highlights a separation between the diegetic music world, which is based on improvisation, and the technical approach to register it. First, it foregrounds the process of recording popular music through the noticeable presence of a microphone that strives to follow each singer’s unpredictable interventions. Then, the young professional singer Paulinho da Viola joins in on the performance with nonprofessional singers, working as a mediator between the official music scene and popular traditions. I suggest that, by using cameras and microphones to approximate a popular, nonrecorded form of art, the film raises some crucial issues in the history of samba. In particular, the ways in which cinematic techniques such as the sequence shot and voiceover are employed in the film allows us to reflect on the dichotomy between improvisation and recording, as well as the role of cultural mediators. Paulinho da Viola lies at the centre of these strategies, for he assumes an expert commentator and interviewer role, while also being a participant in the popular community.