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CARMEN MIRANDA: BANANAS IS MY BUSINESS

USA / Brazil, 1995 (MIFF 1995, Documentaries)

Director: Helena Solberg

Of all the Hollywood glamour girls to be res­urrected, the reappraisal of Carmen Miran­da has been a long time coming. Helena Solberg, known for her streetwise documen­taries about Latin American women, grabs hold of the Miranda story as a personal project about the wholesale buy up of a talented 'foreigner' by a voracious wartime dream factory hungry for technicolour third world exotica. With an inspired get-up of six inch heels and a costume lifted straight from the back streets of black Bahia, Carmen was a star from day one and the film contains remarkable archive footage and interviews with relatives on how Carman single-handedly made popular to a white audience the song and dance style of the slums-carnival and its samba rhythms—despite being an immigrant herself from Portugal.

A one in a million performer, her sultry rapid-fire vocal style and mastery of spectacle revolu­tionised the night club format and earned Twentieth Century Fox (via Busby Berkley) big bucks with flashy forties musicals like Down Argentine Way and The Gang's All Here. Studio bosses like Daryl Zanuck never allowed her to evolve beyond a zany comic book sex symbol with a natural accent gimmick. Her fellow Brazil­ians trashing her as Americanised, she became a public relations coup for the Vargas regime's dealings with Roosevelt, yet her funeral in Rio was attended by thousands. Bananas is My Busi­ness is a moving tribute to the bravado and magic of the girl who had "two eyes like the headlights of a car".

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