Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Film Studies

First Advisor

Newman, Kathleen

First Committee Member

Altman, Rick

Second Committee Member

Amad, Paula

Third Committee Member

Choe, Steve

Fourth Committee Member

Creekmur, Corey

Fifth Committee Member

Gollnick, Brian


Latin American film comedies, from the early sound period until the beginnings of the aesthetic and political New Cinemas (1930-1960), mediated modernity in diverse national contexts through affective and aesthetic tactics that shifted the spectator position in the narrative. These film comedies functioned in a mode of "critical realism" that produced historical self-awareness and foregrounded the geopolitical extension and uneven development of modernity. The comedian comedies of Mario "Cantinflas" Moreno (Mexico), Niní Marshall and Luis Sandrini (Argentina), and Oscarito and Grande Otelo (Brazil) demonstrate not only what kind of "peripheral humor" operated within - and traveled beyond - the national context, but also what this kind of humorous social critique reveals about the capacity of film to move viewers, by means of affect, into positions of critical opposition in the public sphere.

By examining the linguistic play of these comedians, this study demonstrates four aspects of Latin American comedy that operate via embodiment and spatio-temporal location. First, Cantinflismo had as its basis not merely word play and non-sense, but misdirection, an evasive spatial practice which positioned the viewer to resist social hierarchies within and beyond the nation. Second, Marshall's multiple radio and film characters and her vocal stardom constituted an auditory map of Buenos Aires that created a different spatial intelligibility for her auditors. Third, Sandrini's stutter produced multiple temporalities that, in turn, positioned the audience itself to do a double take regarding its relation to the film text and its location within the standardized time of modernity. Fourth, the palimpsestic parody of the Brazilian chanchanda by Oscarito and Grande Otelo produced an awareness of historicity in a critically realist vein. Taken together, these four parallel examples of comedic practice demonstrate how Latin American film comedies produced a critically proximate spectator capable of perceiving and organizing space and time differently.

Affirming that the study of popular film genres should be seen neither as derivate of foreign models nor as defensive authentic cultural expression, the thesis argues that articulating Miriam Hansen's concept of vernacular modernism to Angel Rama's concept of transculturation yields an understanding of popular cinema as a cultural practice of embodiment that foregrounds the differentiated responses to modernization. Furthermore, by re-reading the theories of realism of Gyorgy Lukács and Siegfried Kracauer and the theories of mimesis and innervation of Walter Benjamin through the critical lenses of Henri Bergson and debates about realism in the Latin American literary boom, this study demonstrates how the humor is contingent on thinking within a particular historical context and becoming part of a located collective body. These film comedies produce a critically proximate humorous spectator moved in laughter to examine his/her relation to the film text and his/her historical and geopolitical location within a cultural landscape marked by economic dependency.


Affect, Comedy, Latin America, Modernism, Periphery, Realism


vi, 296 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 284-296).


Copyright 2013 Nilo Fernando Couret