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The spectacles of real-life crime that unfolded across illustrated journalism, popular theater, and early film in Brazil’s two fastest-growing cities at the turn of the twentieth century, framed real-life acts of violence as thrilling signs of local modernity. As elites sought to transform Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, encouraging European immigration and implementing reforms that pushed poor and working-class residents out of city centers, illustrated journalism charted the spatial and social divides of an urbanizing Brazil. Topical narratives of violence acknowledged the human toll of rapid urbanization, even as they transformed criminality into a public spectacle with a powerful cross-class appeal. Building on this culture of popular sensationalism, film producer-exhibitors in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo adapted real-life crimes to the screen in a series of early experiments with narrative form that sensationalized the present and framed acts of violence in melodramatic and moralistic terms.

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