Alberto Cavalcanti is often seen as a dilettante, flitting from country to country without settling or leaving much of a mark. Yet for much of his career he had the happy knack of being in the right place at the right time, and his contribution to British Cinema puts most of his English contemporaries to shame.
He was born in Brazil, the son of a maths teacher. Cavalcanti's school career was disappointing and he was sent to Switzerland in 1913 to study architecture. He lasted there for about a year before moving to Paris to work for an architect. Then back to Brazil and then to Liverpool to work in the Brazilian consulate.
He had struck up an correspondence with Marcel L'Herbier after writing fan letter, and received an invitation from L'Herbier to work for him as a set designer. So he took a year off work and went back over to France. L'Herbier was a leading light in the avant-garde film movement and among the films Cavalcanti worked on was the avant-garde classic L'Inhumaine.
He directed his first film, Le Train Sans Yeux, in 1926 but its release was held up because of financial difficulties. His first release, Rien Que Les Heures established him as an interesting film maker. The problems the industry had with the coming of sound forced him to take a job with paramount's French studios which demanded more commercial films. Cavalcanti was soon bored and headed for England to work with the GPO Film Unit.
The GPO Film Unit was at the heart of the Documentary Film Movement. Cavalcanti preferred to direct but it was his talent as a producer which was most appreciated by his boss John Grierson. As a director he was felt to be too frivolous and the bulk his directorial assignments were co-productions with Switzerland. His production credits were more impressive, and his productions include Night Mail, N or NW, and Spare Time.
He finally got fed up and moved to Ealing. Again it was his production skills that were required, but he did find time to direct such great films as Went the Day Well?, Champagne Charlie and the ventriloquist sequence of Dead of Night. The contraction of the British film industry in the late 40s made Cavalcanti move again: this time back to Brazil.
He produced for a company called Vera Cruz which collapsed spectacularly. He managed to direct three films for other countries before trying his hand in East Germany. After that he flitted around the world with less and less success.
Though Cavalcanti never stopped long enough to get truly rooted in any nation's cinema, many countries have cause to be grateful he dropped by. Certainly British cinema would have been poorer without his input.
|1926||Le Train Sans Yeux (Fr.)|
|1926||Rien Que les Heures (Fr.)|
|1927||En Rade (Fr.)|
|1927||La P'tite Lilie (Fr.)|
|1928||La Jalousie du Barbouille (Fr.)|
|1929||Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Fr.)|
|1929||Vous verrez la semaine prochaine (Fr.)|
|1930||Toute sa vie (Fr.)|
|1930||A Cancao do Berco (Fr.)|
|1930||A Mi-chemin du ciel (Fr.)|
|1930||les Vacance du diable (Fr.)|
|1931||Dans une ile perdue (Fr.)|
|1932||En lisant le journal (Fr.)|
|1932||Le jour du frotteur (Fr.)|
|1932||Revue montmartroise (Fr.)|
|1932||Nous ne ferons jamais du cinema (Fr.)|
|1932||Le Truc du bresilien (Fr.)|
|1933||Le Mari garcon (Fr.)|
|1933||Plaisirs defendus (Fr.)|
|1933||Coralie et Cie (Fr.)|
|1933||Tour de chant (Fr.)|
|1934||Pett and Pott|
|1934||The Glorious Sixth of June: New Rates|
|1936||Line to Tcherva Hut|
|1937||We Live in Two Worlds|
|1937||Who Writes to Switzerland?|
|1937||Message to Geneva|
|1938||Alice in Switzerland|
|1939||Men of the Alps|
|1939||A Midsummer Day's Work|
|1942||Film and Reality|
|1942||Went the Day Well?|
|1945||Dead of Night (co.)|
|1947||The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby|
|1947||They Made Me a Fugitive|
|1947||The First Gentleman|
|1949||For Them That Trespass|
|1952||Simao, O Caolho (Bra.)|
|1954||Mulher de Verdade (Bra.)|
|1955||Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti (DDR)|
|1956||Die Windrose (DDR)|
|1958||La Prima notte (Fr./It.)|
|1960||The Monster of Highgate Ponds|
|1967||Thus Spoke Theodore Herzl (Is.)|
|1969||Les Empailles (Fr.)|
|1970||La Visite de la vieille dame (Fr.)|
|1976||Le Voyageur du silence (Fr.)|
|1976||Um Homem e o cinema (Bra.)|
Alberto Cavalcanti at Amazon UK
Alberto Cavalcanti at Amazon US