Skin Temperature: Orfeu Negro, Psychological Realism, and the Aesthetics of Cool

  • Friday, November 1, 2019 • 4:00 pm
  • Umrath Hall, Room 1 40

This paper investigates the effects of air conditioning on the aesthetic response of audiences in mid-twentieth-century theatres.  With a focus on French director Marcel Camus’s film Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus, 1959) and its basis in Brazilian poet Vinícius de Moraes’s play Orfeu da Conceição (1956), Julia Walker demonstrates how these works made complicated aesthetic appeals to audiences who were beginning to experience what it meant to “be in one’s own skin” in a new way.  Noting that theatres were among the first public buildings to feature air conditioning, she argues that this new technology paradoxically facilitated cross-racial identification by inviting white-identified audiences to project a subjective sense of self into a racialized “other” on stage or screen, while securing an ontological sense of self within the boundaries of their own air-cooled skin.  Such an experience, Walker suggests, helped them rehearse the possibility of responding as an intersubjective “thou” to the “I” of Black liberationists throughout the postcolonial world.

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