Why is it so difficult to find scenes from the old samba school parades?
Have you every watched a ‘travelog’? That’s a genre of documentary, usually a short film, depicting the culture and touristic attractions of places around the world designed to give people travel ideas. It was very common until the first half of last century. There were production companies and professionals entirely devoted to them like Andre La Varre, American director of Carnival in Rio.
Film was released by Warner Bros. in 1954, according to the Internet Movie Database, and captured some precious takes of Rio de Janeiro at its best. City still was the District of Guanabara and capital of Brazil. Even president Getulio Vargas made a fast appearence. He would commit suicide in August of 1954.
La Varre’s footages show the dance on the streets, the blocks, some folkloric groups, the indoors balls and also very rare scenes of parades, probably of Carnival 1953. But those were not samba schools, rather another sort of carnival clubs known as “grandes sociedades”, the top attraction then.
There were other groups in costumes but none resembling a samba school. In 1953 they paraded in a regular downtown avenue and the public watched from the sidewalks, since no temporary grandstands were built for the occasion. Although the City Hall organized the samba schools competition since 1935, they didn’t have the same mediatic appeal even already attracting huge crowds.
That’s probably the main reason for which it is so hard to find consistent scenes in film, video or pictures of the parades before 1960. That year marked the first broadcast of the samba schools presentations on TV. At some point of the documentary the narrator says that Carnival was a three-day party. On Sunday, samba schools, Monday, another sort of group named “ranchos” and finally the “grandes sociedades” on Fat Tuesday peak of the celebrations. Not for long, though. By the end of the 50s the samba schools gained in importance.
The samba schools structure is a mix of elements from the other two kinds of groups (ranchos and grandes sociedades) with some innovations of their own, especially in the percussion section. The great visual appeal started to evolve after professionals from the School of Fine Arts arrived at Salgueiro samba school and a revolution began. But that’s another story.