April 17, 2014
Saturday, December 14, 2013

Motoring pioneers: on the road in 1928

From Arroyo Corto to New York on a 1928 Chevrolet.
By Julio Nakamurakare
Herald Staff
Asked the vexing question of what constitutes the hallmark of a memorable movie year, many a film critic will come up with the answer that it need have, at least, one very good “road movie.”

Although this line of reasoning is not based on anything palpable, the concept probably passes muster because road movies embody, in one single piece of work, a lengthy process of traversing distant places, getting to know different people and cultures, and arriving at a point of destination which, of course, is never a finish line per se but rather a symbolical yet powerful answer to humankind’s existential preoccupations.

Although it remains a hallmark of Argentine filmmaking, Expedición Argentina Stoessel (Raid Arroyo Corto - Nueva York - 1928), reportedly the country’s first ever road movie, has hardly been seen by several generations of Argentine movie buffs. A filmed testimony of brothers Adán and Andrés Stoessel, Expedición Argentina... is unique in more than one sense. To begin with, the brothers — two staunch lovers of fast cars, as fast as those moving contraptions could move in those days — achieved an unprecedented feat: embarking on a road trip from their home town of Arroyo Corto (Buenos Aires Province) to New York on their Chevrolet 1928, fitted with a 40HP, 4-cylinder engine.

It was a gruesome but enlightening and enjoyable experience: the Stoessel brothers, accompanied by car mechanics Ernesto Tontini and Carlos Díaz, travelled 32,000 kilometres, with stopovers in 14 countries through the jungle, over mountains, suffering the unavoidable problems faced by wayfarers, such as illness, lack of water, extreme weather conditions and every sort of imaginable challenge.

Two years and fifteen days after leaving Arroyo Corto, the foursome arrived at New York, where they received heroes’ welcome. From there, they continued their trip to Washington, where they became guests of honour at the White House.

The Stoessel family held on to the negatives and a 35mm nitrate print. Apart from the film, the trip was also narrated in book format as 32.000 kilómetros de aventuras, published in 1930.

Eventually, family member Clyde Stoessel donated the film to the Fundación Cinemateca Argentina (Argentine Film Library). In 2003, through an agreement with The Library of Congress — Motion Pictures, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (Washington) and MPCC Nitrate Motion Pictures Vaults (Dayton, Ohio), Expedición Argentina... was restored to produce as good a print, whenever possible, as the one processed at the legendary Federico Valle Laboratory (Buenos Aires).

Expedición Argentina... will be shown on a 35mm print, set to live music by Rimas de alto calibre, a band made up of musicians from the Universidad Nacional de San Martín and a group of prison inmates and former convicts from San Martín Penitentiary.

THUS SANG GARDEL. Rounding out the Teatro San Martín’s year-end film celebration, two legendary Argentine movies (Así cantaba Gardel, 1935; and the 1958 film maudit Dos basuras) will be shown on Sunday 15.

Así cantaba Gardel is an invaluable documentary compiling 10 out of 15 tangos sung by Gardel and filmed by pioneer director Eduardo Morera. Although this remains a contended fact, Así cantaba Gardel is said to be the first Argentine talkie — and the first musical, to boot. In the film, Adding to the film’s documentary value, Gardel is seen along with tango greats Celedonio Flores, Arturo de Navas, Francisco Canaro and Enrique Santos Discépolo.

LOWLIFERS. Film maudits are normally regarded as trash, but the passing of time proves otherwise. Film maudits, in other words, were unjustly passed off or relegated. A remarkable case is Kurt Land’s Dos basuras (Lowlifers), billed in its day as “Argentina’s first neorrealist movie.” Starring Amelia Bence, Jacques Arndt and Vicente Buono, Dos basuras was mercilessly panned by critics, but in later years the film’s unavailability turned it into something of a cult movie.

It was perhaps as much the subject as the film’s technical flaws that raised film critics’ ire: Dos basu-ras follows the travails of a prostitute (Bence) and a man working in BA’s sewage system. The two outcasts meet and hit it off, but the man’s former wife comes back to ruin the couple’s prospect of a new life.

Where & When

Expedición Argentina Stoessel (Raid Arroyo Corto - Nueva York - 1928): today, Saturday 14 at 5pm. Dos basuras: Sunday at 2.30pm and 7pm. Así cantaba Gardel: Sunday at 5pm and 10pm. At Sala Leopoldo Lugones / Teatro San Martín, Av. Corrientes 1530.

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