April 19, 2009
Refiguring Spain: Cinema/Media/Representation edited by Marsha Kinder
Composed of three sections, Historical Recuperation, Sexual Reinscription, and Marketing Transfiguration: Money/Politics/Regionalism, Refiguring Spain: Cinema/Media/Representation is a collection of essays that examine the ways in which Spanish cinema has both defined and constructed a national identity in the latter half of the twentieth century under a transformative climate of repression, democratization, social liberation, and globalism.
In the essay, Reading Hollywood in/and Spanish Cinema: From Trade Wars to Transculturation, Kathleen M. Vernon proposes that the inscription of Hollywood films in Spanish cinema - the use of excerpted scenes and placement of iconic American images in such films as Luis García Berlanga's Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall (that emulate Hollywood western and film noir aesthetics) and Victor Erice's Spirit of the Beehive (James Whale's Frankenstein), goes beyond simple pop culture reference and instead, conveys oppositional subtext that allude to the isolationism and xenophobia that marked Franco-era Spain, as well as the US government's enabling political climate against a shared Communist threat that reinforced the dysfunction. Vernon further examines the role of these inscriptions within Pedro Almodóvar's cinema that function, not only as tongue in cheek homage, but also reinforce the idea of illusive history as the country was undergoing a radical transformation to democracy (which culminated in the election of the socialist party, PSOE, that would remain in power until 1996). To this end, Vernon argues that What Have I Done to Deserve This? represents Almodóvar's most politically referential work, framing Bud Stamper's (Warren Beatty) dream of returning to a simpler life in Elia Kazan's Splendor in the Grass within the context of Franco's parochial policies:
Finally, in an ultimate irony, the character's flight from the city at the end of ¿Qué hecho yo? though it marks the apparent fulfillment of their shared dream, reenacts the conclusion of the founding film of Spanish neorealism, José Antonio Nieves Conde's Surcos (Furrows, 1950). Hailed as the 'first glance at reality in a cinema of paper-maché', for its treatment of the problem of the rural exodus to the cities, in the hands of Falangist Nieves Conde, it also served as a cautionary tale regarding the moral corruption and destruction of family structures that awaited new immigrants to the city.
...Far from the instance of the postmodern denial of history through pastiche, as in Fredric Jameson's account of the mode, through its juxtaposition in filmic intertexts, the ironic American pastoral Splendor with the Spanish cautionary tale Surcos, ¿Qué hecho yo? casts suspicion on the workings of the cinematic imaginary. The longing for return is revealed as a return to the past of Francoism, a past Almodóvar's films disavow even as they actively re-evaluate its hold over the present.
The idea of a post-Franco reframing of official history also serves as a basis for Marsha Kinder's examination of Spanish documentary filmmaking, Documenting the National and Its Subversion in a Democratic Spain. Tracing the origins of what Kinder characterizes as the distinctive "Spanish inflection" of contemporary documentaries, Kinder cites Luis Buñuel's Land Without Bread and Carlos Saura's Cuenca as early examples of subverted documentaries that sought to create historical record even as they underscore the inexactness and malleability of such representation. The complex nature of historical reconstruction is also illustrated in two Civil War-themed documentaries, Jaime Camino's La vieja memoria and Gonzalo Herralde's Raza, el espíritu de Franco, which, as Kinder proposes, "not only provide an archival record of popular memory, ...but they also perform a historical and ideological analysis of this material."
Kinder further examines two noteworthy, 1990s transition-era documentaries, José Luis Guerín's Innisfree and Víctor Erice's El sol de membrillo as examples of highly regionalized documentaries that, nevertheless, reflect the impossibility of mediated representation:
Erice's film is preoccupied with the serial performance of self-representation, which (no matter how narcissistic) must inevitably be historicized. The film demonstrates that no matter what subject you are documenting (on canvas or on celluloid, on paper or video), you are still representing yourself and your medium and bearing witness to the historical and cultural moment that shaped your subjectivity. Like Innisfree, both López's painting and Erice's filmmaking capture the traces of what is perceived and remembered.
Roland B. Tolentino's essay, Nations, Nationalisms, and Los últimos de Filipinas: An Imperialist Desire for Colonialist Nostalgia, in some ways, expounds on Kinder's thesis on cultural inscription - in particular, the systematic refiguring of cultural identity under Franco. By placing Antonio Román's film in the context of Franco's nationalist agenda, Tolentino proposes that the film's revisionism reflects Spain's campaign to rehabilitate its postwar isolation by invoking the shared colonial history of allied Europe, reframing the handover of the Philippines to the US as a geopolitical strategy rather than a defeat that marked the end of the Spanish empire. Moreover, by examining the integral role of religion in colonialism (in its moral rationalization of enlightened mandate) as reflected in the film, Tolentino presents an insightful parallel to Franco's regime, which drew support from the Catholic church.
The troop's isolation in the Philippines is analogous to the isolation of the Francoist regime from other nations. The value of defending the empire to death is the latent hegemonic nationalist call. In the construction of the national ego ideal, the film narrative glorifies the 'conversion of the historical massacre into a religious sacrifice, one that is focused on the 'fetishization of virility and sacrifice.' Catholic orthodoxy is entwined with militaristic adventurism.
It is interesting to note that while Tolentino discusses Spanish colonial influence through its increasingly marginalized role in contemporary Filipino culture (which has been increasingly supplanted by American imperialism), the ideology behind the colonialist nostalgia of Los últimos de Filipinas with respect to Spanish society - the film's intended audience - is only indirectly broached in the essay, alluded in a comment on Catalan speakers and Basque nationalists' (apparently) tempered response to the film. Indeed, inasmuch as cultural erasure reflects the legacy of colonialism, it also represents a motivation for Franco's social policy, where the assertion of regional identity is seen as a threat to national unity.
The role of regional identity in the national discourse is further explored in Jaume Martí-Olivella's Regendering Spain's Political Bodies: Nationality and Gender in the Films of Pilar Miró and Arantxa Lazcano. Examining the parallels between Pilar Miró's El pájaro de felicidad) and Arantxa Lazcano's Urte ilunak, Martí-Olivella proposes that both films redefine the notion of center and margin through their non-dominant, alternative points of view. This occupation of shared space is illustrated in the use of interchanging language in both films (enabled by the standardized use of subtitles in the original language), creating an environment where multilingual dialogue is part of the cultural norm:
What is the reality that these two films try to 'normalize'? It is the reality of a shared political space, Spain, that still resists being reimagined and thus represented as a plurinational, multicultural, and heteroglossic community... They underline a common goal to reimagine the different languages and cultures of Spain as an essential richness rather than a constant source of national struggle.