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  • Thaïs Castralli

WHY CINEMA?

If you allow me, I would like to try to explain why I finally decided to share my writings on movie scenes or film analysis. I have always been fascinated by the golden age of Hollywood and was brought up with cinema as a way to reconnect with the past and communicate with others. Even if filmmaking only became a career option later on to me, I was always marveled by the possibilities of creating through image-making.


As I move back to Los Angeles and aim to go back to creative work, it seems like the right moment to also write again about what I am most passionate about: storytelling through images.


Even before I knew I wanted to work with images, I knew I wanted to live in Los Angeles. I didn’t move to Los Angeles to see movie stars or to become one. Just as people may want to move somewhere else to be connected to nature, or close to the ocean, or to be somewhere that they could experience the evidence of its long culture, I wished to be in a place where it’s recent history was based in great change and which was ignited by the migration of people from different backgrounds, all searching for a dream.


I was introduced to movies very early on. I was born in Brazil and raised by an Italian grandmother that arrived in South America as a teenager fleeing WWII - the strongest woman I have ever met. She presented me to Italian Neorealism as a way to expose me to my roots, and in the attempt to explain to a child what she witnessed. I trust it was a way for her to stay connected with her mother land - I also trust it was very difficult for her to see the destruction that was inflicted in the land she loved and had to abandon.

She not only introduced me to the war experience, though, for she presented me with her own favorites: movies from the golden age of Hollywood! She would usually talk about how hard it was to be a teenager in a new country where she did not speak the language; but considered herself to be lucky for she was able to go back to school. She always pointed how she overcame the depression years that followed her arrival: with movie matinees! That’s where she met like-minded young women who became her life-long friends (coming from all different parts of Europe). She said you did not have to know much of a language to appreciate silent movies, or to be mesmerized by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing down stairs (or to the “Carioca”) without missing a beat, or even to fall in love with Tyrone Power again and again at each new close up.

That had always enchanted me: the idea that visual storytelling was a particular type of language; that it was more effective in connecting viewers to concepts, and people to each other. For my grandmother, in a land where only a (back then) unintelligible Portuguese was spoken, she felt a wall was being put up between her and the community she wanted to be a part of. Whereas cinema was welcoming her to the fold, as it presented its own lexicon.


My grandmother and many of the friends she met at the theater went on to be educated in order to become teachers. According to her, she wanted to help children become a part of their community, not to be ostracized by it because of language. She went on to tutoring many kids and teenagers on language and history. I think she believed both to be intrinsically intertwined. And she taught me as well. I was officially going to school and had learnt to read and write, but since an early age, she offered me what no school could: history knowledge in the most welcoming way, through cinema.

My parents, both immigrants, worked hard to become doctors in Brazil. Their influence led me to always aspire to become one myself. However, my grandmother’s influence was greater. For it was not influence, it was inspiration. She presented me with a tool that had the ability of connecting people to stories they might never had experienced in another form, to worlds that they wouldn’t have discovered elsewhere, and especially, it made people connect to each other. Therefore, to me, storytelling had its own healing power. Ultimately, this led me to drop out of medical school to pursue a career in filmmaking.


In college, I feel in love with photography. Drawing since childhood - and now working as an illustrator and storyboard artist to pay for school - photographing and developing films made me aware of the magic of crafting images through that particular process. I went on to work for Leica Camera for years, in order to learn more. The professionals and artists I met there encouraged me to apply for former education. And Leica gave me the financial means to pursue my biggest dream, the one I have had even before film school, or before wanting to be a cinematographer: to live in Los Angeles.


In 2018, I moved back to my home country, where I spent 15 months. 15 long-filled-with-loneliness-and-loss-months. I remembered my grandmother’s stories - how she walked through her darkest times guided by the light from the silver screen. With a little help from Greta, and Marlene, and Hedy, she saw immigrant women struggling to thrive in a new land. And, ultimately, that motivated her more than any person around her could. I ventured myself in the same therapy - going back to the first decades of Hollywood productions (my favorite period of cinema) to search for that guiding light. More than my grandmother’s muses, I was also inspired by Lois Weber, and Alice Guy-Blaché, and Ida Lupino, and the Dorothys (both Arzner and Davenport). All women who made their voices heard in what was consolidated as a male dominated industry.


In the same manner my grandmother used cinema to keep her memories of home alive, it offered me a way to feel like home when I needed the most. Therefore, what I will try to share weekly in these blog pages are analysis of scenes, mostly excerpts of classic Hollywood movies, that continue to inspire me in the crafting of images and storytelling. More over, these shall be heartfelt notes of appreciation to the art form that has saved me more than once. So, join me if you wish on a weekly journey through movies... and inspiration.


Queen Christina (1933)