All about Almodóvar, or how to become a Spanish auteur
Ana María Sánchez-Arce
Whereas Pedro Almodóvar fits the main requirements to be considered an auteur, not least because his co-ownership of the production company El Deseo, S.A., gives him substantial autonomy in the production process, this introduction explores how this bias originates in conventional ways of thinking about Spanish cinema. It analyses how the Spanish government’s policies to promote ‘quality cinema’ prompted the Almodóvar brothers to start their own production company and explains how the Almodóvar construct hides a team of collaborators. It further outlines how Almodóvar does not fit the labels of auteur, postmodern, or gay activist filmmaker. Outside of Spain, he is seen as an auteur to the detriment of a more collaborative view of filmmaking and his cinema is generally considered highbrow. In Spain, media coverage of his cinema and emphasis on his biographical legend means his persona is something between an auteur and a celebrity. This has been detrimental to his reputation in Spain since many there think of his work as middlebrow. Similarly, Almodóvar’s relationship with LGBTQ+ activism is complex and grounded in his socio-historical context. Almodóvar’s cinema intervenes at the more fluid level of fantasy, constituting new cinematic subjects in a metamodern way.
This chapter asks the key question of the book: how does radio drama work? It argues that in an ocularcentric world, where vision is considered essential to understanding the world, a sound-only dramatic medium is inherently problematic, and the task of radio dramaturgy is to resolve this problem by making the dramatic world audible through conventions of practice. Should one assume a critical stance toward ocularcentrism – for example, from phenomenological perspective – then these conventions can be questioned and altered, and the toolkit of radio dramaturgy can be expanded to engage with its listener through a more sonic, embodied, and resonant manner. This is the task that the book aims to undertake.
Pedro Almodóvar’s cinema in relation to his ambivalent attitude towards Spanish popular cinema and traditions encouraged under General Franco’s dictatorship. The chapter challenges the film’s sidelining because of its use of Catholic ritual and iconography, identifying it as a lesbian romance that draws on Spanish folkloric religious films, religious baroque paintings, and melodramas such as those of Douglas Sirk rather than a sexploitation or anti-clerical film. Through melodramatic pastiche, the film shows how Almodóvar’s cinema exposes the contradictions of Spanish society at the time. In addition to this, this chapter considers Almodóvar’s appropriation of Latin American music to tell a story of lesbian desire.
John le Carré’s A Perfect Spy and the treachery of Kim Philby
This chapter reads A Perfect Spy as a bildungsroman that blurs the distinctions between le Carré and his longtime nemesis. The chapter argues that A Perfect Spy maps the overlapping contours of le Carré’s and Philby’s formative years—the amoral influence of their respective fathers, an alienating public-school experience, exposure to leftist intelligentsia at university, and the disillusionment that came with the demands of national service—to illustrate how resentments against class and country can metastasize into treachery. This chapter also reads le Carré’s novel as an expression of his growing disenchantment with the monetarist agenda under the Thatcher government in the 1980s, particularly what le Carré viewed as a growing climate of greed and the misguided reverence it showed toward the rich. In reflecting on his own family history, le Carré came to recognize such material ambition and quests for social mobility as integral to the growth of the British middle classes to which he belonged. A Perfect Spy, then, suggests that treason signifies an understandable though desperate reaction against a corrupt and exploitative establishment. In A Perfect Spy, le Carré’s obsession with Philby’s treachery evolves from an intense hatred for Philby from the time of the spy’s defection in the 1960s to strong feelings of identification in the 1980s, with his novel serving not so much as an apology for Philby’s actions but as a means of comprehending them and redressing the flawed institutions and middle-class values that produced traitors like him.
Reviewers of Volver were distracted by its autobiographical dimension and local colour, aspects that mask the film's engagement with the silencing of the past, the ramifications of unaddressed trauma, and the specularisation of girls and women in cinema and society in general. Volver employs mother–daughter relationships to critique the persistence of patriarchal structures in contemporary Spain. This chapter analyses repeated intergenerational sexual violence as symptomatic of the persistence of Franco's ideological regime well into the democratic era, arguing that, as with other comedies by Almodóvar, Volver's genre and pop aesthetic disguise these serious topics. The overt comedy, much of it eschatological, performs an act of amelioration and diffusion of painful events by resorting to abjection. Volver’s deceptively simple narrative structure seems a comic relief of sorts within Almodóvar's latter career, but it is both a (historical and biographical) memory object and a screen memory for trauma that contains as complex a take on the haunting of the present by past events as preceding films with seemingly more complex plots.
This chapter analyses three films, all of which received a mixed critical reception, particularly outside Spain. It argues that the underlying reason for this critical and commercial backlash is Almodóvar’s increased experimental playfulness with genre and tone. The films draw on the thriller, slasher films, and pornography. This blending is employed to satirise the socially accepted links between love and violence. ¡Átame! and Kika in particular were criticised for their representation of violence against women, but criticism of all three films based on distaste of taboo-breaking in regard to gender violence miss the point. These films are indirect satires of contemporary society, sending up the genres they cannibalise. An analysis of the films’ use of distancing techniques such as mise-en-abyme, defamiliarisation, incongruity, and exaggeration leads to a discussion of the influence of European Romantic orientalism and their deconstruction of gender, sexuality, and Spanishness through the use of a high-camp, postmodern aesthetic. Additionally, sexual violence is discussed as allegorical in relation to unresolved past violence and the Spanish dictatorship. These are films about the past as much as the present.
This chapter focuses on El Deseo’s first film, La ley del deseo, arguing that this melodrama-cum-thriller explores LGBTQ+ issues in the context of the AIDS panic before queer trans studies and trans theory emerged in the 1990s. The film highlights how LGBTQ+ issues were taboo. Homosexuality was criminalised in Spain and the situation of LGBTQ+ communities was precarious. The film draws attention to this by making the stereotypes about gay men and trans women crucial in the mistakes police make while investigating a murder and by turning viewers into detectives trying to discover the central characters’ traumatic pasts.
This chapter analyses the film that propelled Almodóvar to international stardom, considering its intertextual relationship to Jean Cocteau’s La voix humaine and Almodóvar’s previous film, La ley del deseo, and the role of its star Carmen Maura in fostering these and other intertextual connections to Hollywood classics. The chapter argues that this comedy hides a depth that has not always been recognised. The chapter focuses on gender politics, explaining that intersectionality (class and gender) is central to characterisation. There is a subtext to Pepa’s desperate search for Iván to be found in Spain’s then legal and social contexts on single mothers and abortion. The discussion of gender leads to a critique of the film’s reception, which has focused on women’s mental health instead of the film’s focus on patriarchy and the behaviour of the male characters. This is apparent in the film’s blending of a comic mise-en-scène and narrative structure with cinematography more associated with melodrama and tragedy. Artificiality draws attention to the problematic nature of gender constraints and construction in a metamodern rather than a postmodern way.
Radio / body draws from the philosophical discipline of phenomenology to question a number of prevalent ideas in radio theory and practice. The intention is to shift the basis for comprehending the experience of radio drama from theoretical systems such as semiotics, and abstract metaphors such as ‘visual imagination’ and ‘theatre of the mind’, towards a model that understands it in terms of perceptual, bodily experience of a holistic, graspable world. It posits that radio drama works because the sonic structure created through its dramaturgy expresses the perceptual experience of encountering the auditory world – a ‘listening to a listening’ – and radio dramaturgy can be understood as a process of structuring sounds that listen to the dramatic world. Using this insight, it is posited that conventional radio dramaturgy generates a mode of listening focused on the referential meaning of the sounds, rather than their affective qualities – this is labelled the semantic paradigm of British radio. The history of this paradigm is explored in depth, revealing its emergence to be the product of contingent cultural and technological factors. Now that these factors have changed radically due to the rise of digital technologies, it is argued that a paradigm shift is taking place, with a move towards a more bodily, more resonant dramaturgy.
A genealogy of the semantic paradigm of radio dramaturgy
This chapter traces the development of semantic radio dramaturgy throughout the history of British radio drama. By tracing assumptions about the ‘correct’ way of making radio drama at various points in the medium’s history, it can be shown that the dominance of the semantic mode arises out of contingent cultural, technological and historical factors, rather than inherent limitations in the medium. Key moments in the history of BBC radio drama are examined: the struggles between the experimental mode proposed by Lance Sieveking and Val Gielgud’s more theatrical model, the ‘golden age’ of 1950s radio, and the technological advances of the 1970s. It is argued that with the advent of the internet age, the semantic paradigm is in crisis.