This short conclusion sums up the arguments of the book: that a shift from a theoretical model to a phenomenological model allows for a change in dramaturgical attitudes, and also reveals that the dominance of the semantic paradigm of radio dramaturgy is waning, with resonant dramaturgy becoming more possible, and also more suitable, in the new context of practice.
Poststructuralism and naturalism in literature, television and film in the 1980s
The concluding chapter offers a reconsideration of the literary canon of the 1980s, assessing the political and social concerns of literature about the Cambridge spies in relation to both mainstream and experimental theatre and film in the decade (a time when cuts in arts funding threatened to eliminate avant garde theatre), but also in relation to the generation of postmodern novelists that emerged in the 1980s. This situation created a fruitful context in which to rethink the merits of social realism or “naturalist” drama in an era when magical realism gained ascendancy. Critical estimations of 1980s literature show an inordinate valuation of the new generation of writers emerging in the 1980s, those hyped in Granta’s “best novelists under forty” in 1983. This divergence in literary practice was largely generational. The authors who responded to the Blunt Affair and the late Cold War were typically born in the 1930s. They came of age during the first Cold War and were subject to the National Service Act, which meant a suspension of life, a postponement of university careers, and in some cases marriage and sexual initiation, arguably leading to resentment against this imposition of servitude. They worked in theatre, film and television, and were subject to different commercial demands and aesthetic pressures that ultimately ran counter to the poststructuralist tendencies of the novel. The works related to the Cambridge spies aimed to meet this urgent need to communicate clearly and to use drama as a means of questioning and challenging the prevailing political climate.
This chapter argues that although Los amantes pasajeros and Julieta are formally and generically different, they are still completely within the Almodóvar spectrum. The return to comedy closely followed by drama is a very Almodovarian response to the deep financial and institutional crisis that Spain has been immersed in for more than a decade. Both films fall within a Spanish tradition of ‘crisis cinema’ either by using satire and comedy to link characters’ experiences to communal ones in Los amantes or by using physical vulnerability allegorically to ponder vulnerability on a larger scale. Los amantes not only satirises different social classes and institutions, it also parodies a current Spanish trend in literature and television of re-creating Spain’s recent past, using a nostalgic gaze to look back to the Transition and movida years in order to critique the narrative of the perfect Transition based on censorship of the past and the inertia of contemporary Spaniards. Julieta, based on Alice Munro’s stories, is a fragmented narrative with elisions at its heart, showing how censoring the past wreaks havoc in the present for two generations.
Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón and Laberinto de pasiones
Ana María Sánchez-Arce
This chapter explores how Almodóvar’s early underground films were seen as examples of an emerging modern Spain after the dictatorship and highlights how these can be seen as rehearsals of what later would become recognisable traits in Almodóvar’s style. These films jolt viewers out of the illusion of reality. At the same time, they have been interpreted through realist lenses to study the Transition and the Madrid movida. This chapter analyses how the film’s metacinematic aspects undermine these analyses. Furthermore, it offers a reassessment of la movida as not apolitical as commonly thought but as politics by the back door.
La flor de mi secreto is neither an aesthetic break from previous work nor the end of Almodóvar’s exploration of taboos and social boundaries. The film’s aesthetic and dramatic tone departs from the films preceding it, but it is not as dramatic a change in direction as many critics believe. In fact, in this tragicomedy there are as many satirical targets as in previous and later work: a couple trying to perform traditional gender roles, the military’s new image as protecting human rights, and the ruling socialist government, which was then eroding workers’ rights. La flor is a subtle poisoned dart satirising contemporary Spain’s over-confident self-image in the 1990s. Other important issues discussed in this chapter include the role of the countryside, gender performativity, and Spanish identity as shaped by Romantic orientalist folklore.
This chapter argues that the poetic or aesthetic is the dominant function in La mala educación, a film that is structured around ellipses, employing metonymy to great effect, characteristics typical of literature of the Spanish Transition. In Almodóvar’s first historical film, temporal complexity and mise-en-abyme pull viewers in different directions at plot level and in relation to issues such as the film’s autobiographical nature, its use of history and public memory, and the representation of LGBTQ+ identities and desire. The film encourages a distrust of representations of the past and uses postmodern techniques with an ethical intent, but prosthetic memories are shown to be seductive even when surrounded by signs of their artificiality. La mala educación draws attention to the role played by Spanish culture (including Almodóvar himself) in the elision of discordant memories about the past and the creation of a collective memory whereby the strictures of the dictatorship are something that the country has left behind, something that is questioned here. In-depth analysis of the film’s metacinematic features and its mirroring of the Transition’s silencing of alternative histories highlights how filmmaking is perceived as archaeological or detective work.
This chapter analyses Pedro Almodóvar’s attack on complacent attitudes towards democratic Spain in the 1980s and his ambivalent use of cinematic and other Spanish cultural traditions such as bullfighting, with particular focus on his most symbolic film, Matador, inspired by Ôshima’s Ai no korïda. Analysing how two equally constructed versions of Spanishness are placed in dialogue (the traditional, Catholic, conservative Spain fostered during the dictatorship and the ‘modern’ Spain of the Transition symbolised by the fashion world), it argues that Almodóvar is parodying both by denaturalising the españolada. Matador’s use of local colour has obscured its satire of typically Spanish symbols and traditions, particularly outside Spain where reception has been steeped in the orientalism that produced these stereotypes in the first place. The chapter includes a section on the film’s failure to deconstruct gender roles via its use of Gothic and noir intertexts such as Bride of Frankenstein and tropes such as the femme fatale.
Scandal, the Profumo Affair, and the end of the Cold War
Aided by Richard Davenport-Hines’s recent study of The Profumo Affair, An English Affair: Sex, Class, and Power in the Age of Profumo, Joe Boyd’s memoir, White Bicycles, interviews with Ian McKellen, and a personal interview with screenwriter, Michael Thomas, this chapter reads the film, Scandal, as a critique of the Conservative government and its reactionary views of human sexuality, patterns of resistance to sexual liberation that persisted from the Profumo Affair, to the homophobia of the Blunt Affair, the AIDs crises of the 1980s, and Clause 28 (the anti-gay legislation that prompted Ian McKellen to play Profumo in the film). In ways that are consonant with earlier chapters on Stoppard, Whitemore and the Official Secrets Act, this chapter argues that Scandal exposes how the secret backchannels and coordinated efforts of the House of Commons, the Special Branch and British intelligence conspired to prevent or minimize political embarrassment in the Profumo Affair. In this manner, the film illustrates how damaging revelations about the Minister of War conducting an affair with a woman who was also sleeping with a Soviet spy could be minimized by scapegoating an unwitting London socialite, Stephen Ward, whose suicide, much like that of Alan Turing, was the result of police and intelligence abuses. The political impact of this drama is suggested by the likelihood that BBC executives, in the interests of protecting the reputation of the Conservative government, sought to suppress the film project when they first viewed the script in 1985.
This chapter explores an early Almodóvar feature film and a short film, Tráiler para amantes de lo prohibido, both of which are understudied due to their departure from the established narrative about 1980s Spain and because the filmmaker was seen as a frivolous member of la movida. A parody of 1960s family films containing black comedy and drawing on Italian and Spanish neo-realism, ¿Qué he hecho yo?’s attention to detail of 1980s working-class social reality without being realist, overtly postmodern, or pop makes this a difficult film to classify. At the centre of this parody is the sending up of the return to the country narrative typical of films of the dictatorship and also present in Hollywood melodrama. Almodóvar combines these with postmodern distancing techniques, blatant artificiality undercutting the serious themes central to the film such as a critique of patriarchy and capitalism.
The semantic paradigm of British radio dramaturgy and its problems
This chapter examines two major attitudes in radio dramaturgy: one, labelled ‘semantic dramaturgy’, in which the production process is organised around the key objective of making the world of the drama intelligible to the listener, and one, here named ‘resonant dramaturgy’, that aims to create a sonic and musical affect for the listener. An exploration of the conventions of British radio practice reveals the dominance of the former. This is then problematised: in semantic dramaturgy, the listener is a mind, analysing and understanding the world through sound, and in the other, the listener is an embodied being, immersed in the auditory world. A philosophical shift towards the latter, then, is always followed by a change in dramaturgical practices.