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Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business Movie Review

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Carmen Miranda. The name alone conjures up memories of Technicolor Fox musicals of the ‘40s at their zenith. Carmen Miranda was a bundle of energy and mischief, and the first Brazilian entertainer to become an international superstar. She was also to solidify the Latina standard for the silver screen. As Rita Moreno, who won an Academy Award six years after Miranda's death, observed wryly, “We had to be peppy. But I wanted to be an actress.” After West Side Story, the versatile Moreno made no movies for years. But if Carmen Miranda ever chafed at being a high-priced specialty act, she never seemed to show it, at least not onscreen. Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business, Helena Solberg's documentary of her legendary career, is mainly valuable for its rare film clips, dating back to the ‘30s. But the subtext, that Miranda was “Our Carmen,” namely Brazil's own, tends to grate after awhile. Once Miranda left Brazil for first Broadway and then Hollywood, she returned just three times in 16 years, once to be treated with indifference by upper-crust Brazilian audiences, once to recover from exhaustion, and finally for her funeral. It was because little Helena's parents wouldn't let her join the million people lining the streets for the services that she became obsessed with Carmen Miranda's complicated relationship with her homeland. But the evidence she chooses to illustrate her theories is largely supplied by subjective voiceovers and a few interviews with wistful friends, family, colleagues, and employees. Nowhere is it made clear that Miranda wanted any other life than the one she had. True, she died young, on the very night that a television performance left her breathless. (The actual clip is shown in slow motion.) But dying young doesn't necessarily mean living unhappily, and the unsupported gossip that Solberg includes only reveal her own iconographic obsession, not the real Carmen Miranda. If you want to know the real Carmen Miranda, rent one of her many festive movies on video: Down Argentine Way, Weekend in Havana, and Springtime in the Rockies are three of her best Fox vehicles; A Date with Judy and Nancy Goes to Rio are two examples of her years at MGM; Doll Face and Lucky Stiff, which are minor showcases of her work, are fun to watch today; Copacabana co-starring Groucho Marx has been colorized recently to fairly good advantage; and, best of all, The Gang's All Here is a constant cable attraction. (That's the Busby Berkeley confection in which Carmen Miranda immortalized “The Lady with the Tutti Frutti Hat” for posterity.) It's sad that Carmen Miranda probably loved Brazil far more than Brazil ever loved her back. Her legacy of 14 musicals ensures that she will be remembered far longer than the native audiences who scorned her for her success.

1995 92m/C Helena Solberg, Alice Faye, Rita Moreno, Cesar Romero; D: Helena Solberg; W: Helena Solberg; C: Tomasz Magierski. VHS

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