Forty years ago Chilean folk singer Violeta Parra struck me as old. She was also dead, which probably made her seem older still to a teenager. I listened to more of her songs sung by others, than to her own soundtracks. I found her voice a little scary at the time, whereas in the biographical film Violeta se fue a los cielos, it was the woman Violeta who scared me more.
She had a hard life, which makes her most famous song Gracias a la vida all the more surprising. She committed suicide at the age of 49, and in the film it seemed as if she was falling out with everyone around her. She acted crazy, and I’d guess people close to her never knew whether she was going to be nice, or scold them.
But she wrote fantastic songs and her legacy to the world is a powerful one. Hearing Arriba quemando el sol in the film gave me the goosebumps. Violeta was very determined, even from a young age. The film jumps back and forth a little too much, and it’s not always easy to know if we get the child Violeta or the woman, or what age adult she is.
Àngel Parra is someone I do remember from back then, but I had managed to forget about him in the intervening years. Here he was as the young son tramping the Chilean countryside with his half crazed mother. She travelled around to learn traditional songs from other singers. Then she wrote her own.
She was a worthy heroine to have, back when we still believed in the possibility that a revolution might be successful. We thought it could be done with music. Violeta must have hoped so, too. And then perhaps she realised it was not to be.
I don’t know.
Powerful, and heart-wrenching, film. It’s worth it for the music, though.
(On at Cornerhouse on Sunday as well.)