1951-1960ArgentinaDocumentaryFernando BirriShort Film

Fernando Birri – Tire dié AKA Throw Me a Dime (1958)

Fernando Birri’s Tire dié (Throw Me a Dime, 1958) begins with an aerial shot of the provincial city of Santa Fe, Argentina. The association of voice-of-God narration with perspective-of-God images only reveals the full extent of its parodic intent as the narration progresses and conventional descriptive data (such as geographical location, founding dates, population) give way to less conventional statistics (the number of streetlamps and hairdressers, loaves of bread consumed monthly, cows slaughtered daily, and erasers purchased yearly for government offices). As the houses give way to shanties, the narrator declares, “Upon reaching the edge of the city proper (la ciudad organizada) statistics become uncertain…. This is where, between four and five in the afternoon…during 1956, 1957 and 1958, the following social survey film was shot.”

The railroad bridge surveyed by the aerial camera just prior to the credits is the site of the first postcredit sequence. From God’s vantage point, the camera has descended to the eye level of the children who congregate there every afternoon. In the first postcredit shot, a little boy in close-up stares directly at the camera, then turns and runs out of frame. Other children appear in close-up, looking and speaking in direct address. Their barely audible voices are overlaid with the studied dramatic diction of two unseen adult narrators, male and female, who repeat what the children are saying, adding identifying tags like “…one of the boys told us,” or “…said another.” This initial sequence ends as the camera follows one of the boys home and “introduces” his mother in direct visual and verbal address, followed by her voice-over (soon compounded by the overlay of the mediating narrators) and images of observation and illustration. This “chain” sequence, whereby one social actor (usually a child) provides a visual link with another (usually an adult) continues throughout the film.

The primary expectation deferred and eventually fulfilled by the film’s intricate structuration is the appearance of the long and anxiously awaited train to Buenos Aires. The interviews in which local residents discuss their economic plight are repeatedly intercut with shots back to the tracks and the growing number of children keeping their restless vigil there. The eventual climax of expectation (the subjects’ and the viewers’) has the bravest and fleetest of the children running alongside the passing train. As they balance precariously on the narrow, elevated bridge, their hands straining upward to catch any coin the passengers might toss in their direction, children’s voices on the sound track chant hoarsely, “Tire dié! Tire dié!” (Throw me a dime!”).

The first product of the first Latin American documentary film school (The Escuela Documental de Santa Fe, founded by Birri in 1956 upon his return from Rome’s Centro Sperimentale), Tire dié was a collaborative effort whose evolution and ethos suggest a more observational than expository motivation. After selecting this particular theme and locale from preliminary photo-reportages, Birri divided his fifty nine students into various groups, each of which was to concentrate on a particular personage from the community under study: “We went there every afternoon for two years, to get to know these people, to exchange ideas, to spend time with them; but we ended up sharing their lives. We never concealed the fact that we were making a film, but neither did we emphasize it. The film was clearly secondary to the human relationships that we established.

Despite severe financial and technical limitations, the group sought the synchronous self-presentation of social actors. Interventions by the authoritarian narrator cease after the initial precredit sequence. The filmmakers deleted their own presence from the interviews with riverbed residents, neither appearing on screen nor retaining their questions on the sound track. Generally, though not always, the film introduces social actors in direct visual and verbal address, followed by a montage of images of illustration and observation that are unified by the social actors’ voiceover commentary.

Given this apparent commitment to direct verbal address, the persistent intervention of the anonymous male and female mediator-narrators, speaking over the voice of the social actors, is unexpected and disconcerting. Investigation into the film’s mode of production reveals that this expedient derives not from prior design but from deficiencies in the original sound recording. Faced with the inadequate technical quality of the recordings made during the filming, Birri and his students had to compromise their original conception: “We approached two well-known actors…and asked them to re-record the original soundtrack, not dubbing the film but rather serving as intermediaries between the protagonists and the public. This re-recording is what appears in the ‘foreground’ of the soundtrack, but beneath it we retained the original track….Even though at first glance this voiced-over ‘professional’ sound track seems contradictory to our approach, it was an unavoidable necessity.” This overdubbing technique is quite common today in foreign-language documentaries when the filmmakers wish to retain the “flavor” of the actual social actor’s speech, but here it plays quite an opposite role, signaling the locus of contradiction and branding this early and influential attempt to democratize documentary discourse with the unwanted stamp of residual authoritarian anonymity.

An SD encode of the new restoration. Beautiful film.

498MB | 32m 28s | 670×480 | mkv


Subtitles:English hard subs

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