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Alejandro Amenábar has made only five main features over a 15-year period from
1995 to 2009. In 1995 he abandoned his Film Studies degree at Madrid's
Complutense University in order to shoot
Alejandro Amenabar has made only five main features over a 15- year period Bazin's coolness towards authorial hero worship and his acute understanding of the logics of commercial filmmaking arguably offer a useful perspective and corrective when analysing Amenabar as an aspiring popular, auteur filmmaker. By the beginning of 1998, and on the strength of only two feature films, many professional film critics and large sections of the Spanish media were heralding a new, star director and seriously promoting a 25-year-old Amenábar as an emerging auteur. This chapter also presents the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book combines important aspects of contextual information (historical, social, industrial) with detailed production and reception notes. The main focus is to explore the ways in which Amenabar appears to conduct experiments in generic hybridity in order to create a personal, auteur cinema which satisfies his cinephilia.
Alejandro Fernando Amenábar Cantos was born in 1972, during the government of the Marxist president Salvador Allende. He arrived in Spain at the tail end of another dictatorship; his childhood and adolescence developed within a context of relative political stability. Amenábar's experience as a film studies undergraduate in Spain in the early 1990s was not a happy one. La cabeza probably began as an experiment with the new Sanyo video camera bought by Amenábar for his first term at university, which he was desperate to use. The Others introduced a number of basic elements, many of which would be recycled in later shorts and features, including a fascination for horror and the ghost story In 1991 the film was entered for a competition sponsored by Spain's Independent Association of Amateur Filmmakers. Amenábar emphasises the purposes of his cinema as entertainment and escape, not as coded stories of repressed gay identity.
It seems clear that, sooner or later, Alejandro Amenábar's evident commitment to developing film narrative would find an outlet in a feature film. This chapter provides a plot synopsis and seeks to outline the film's contexts of production and reception. The production of Tesis gave José Luis Cuerda the opportunity to create a new, co-operative-style, production company, called Las Producciones del Escorpion (Scorpion Productions), ostensibly to make films by newcomers, beginning with Amenábar's first full-length feature. The chapter explores the kinds of film narration employed in Tesis, the ways in which Amenábar establishes his modes of audience address and the extent to which the film follows the basic rules of Hollywood storytelling. In its reworking of the suspense thriller format and its exploration of voyeurism and the gaze, Tesis bears the imprint of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window and Psycho and also Michael Powell's Peeping Tom.
Abre los ojos is without question an ambitious project, even audacious, in its striking timescale and generic remixing. Amenábar claims that it was while recovering from a bad dose of flu and persistent nightmares in early 1996 that he first came up with the idea for what was initially entitled El contrato (The Contract), which only later would become Abre los ojos (Open your eyes). This chapter offers a three-part analysis of the film's main and contrasting intertexts, which offer much food for thought in terms of its meanings and implications. It proposes to locate Abre los ojos within the context of so-called 'yuppie horror'. The chapter intends to analyse Abre los ojos in relation to its principal, acknowledged intertext, Hitchcock's widely cited Vertigo. Finally, it provides a brief commentary on and comparison between Abre los ojos and its American remake, Vanilla Sky.
The Others began as a small-scale, art film project for the European market. The intended setting was Chile, Amenábar's birthplace. For Amenábar the original impulse to write La casa arose in early 1998 during the marketing campaign for Abre los ojos. Panicked by the complexity of his second film and fearing the worst from the national box-office and his fans, he began developing an idea with a much simpler, more restrained, linear narrative. This chapter considers briefly the issue of deal making between the Spanish and American co-pro partners. It looks at aspects of performance and film technique, including mise-en-scene and sound, particularly Amenabar's score for the film. And after a brief comment on narrative and the 'surprise ending', the chapter discusses the film in relation to some of its main intertexts and also as a product which benefits from the late-1990s counter-trend in DIY, minimalist 'quiet horror'.
Amenábar has never seriously thought of himself as a political filmmaker, in the manner of a Costa Gavras or a Ken Loach. This chapter begins by supplying as far as possible a straightforward, non-partisan account of Sampedro's life and death. It looks at the development of the film project and the role of Gené Gordó in providing Amenábar with a suitable dramatic focus. The chapter then considers various generic issues which modulate Amenábar's version of the story. It explores key aspects of casting and performance, a crucial area in a film whose real-life case was still sub judice when it was made. The chapter compares Amenábar's big-screen version with a Spanish television movie version made three years earlier, and explore several aspects of the media construction and reception of Amenábar's pro-euthanasia film, by looking at the arguments for the opposition via a specific case study.
This chapter describes the origins of Ágora, including some background on the historical underpinnings of its subject matter and its modern inspiration in the work of a world-famous planetary scientist. It considers the production, distribution and exhibition phases, given the film's unprecedented scale and cost and the serious difficulties it faced in finding a distributor for the American market. The chapter explores Ágora's relationship to genre, to the historical epic tradition in filmmaking and argues that in many ways it presents itself as a 'counter-epic', in its subject matter, scripting, narrative outline, character design and film style. It compares the film briefly to other examples of mainstream Hollywood epic filmmaking, in particular to Ridley Scott's Gladiator and Wolfgang Petersen's Troy. The chapter suggests that weaknesses in scripting and character design compromise spectator engagement and thus weaken the film's appeal to mainstream audiences.
Over a period of roughly two decades (1991-2011) Amenábar has made a small though hugely influential and impressive group of films, comprising five features and fours shorts. Of course his filmmaking activity also includes a wide range of collaborations as well as several projects as film producer. Amenábar has also played a key role in developing the careers of a growing number of fine actors and actresses. Also, while his style might be strongly Anglo-American, his films seek to exploit, as well as to update and refashion, traditional genre formats. Paradoxically, while Amenábar's films are predominantly characterand dialogue-driven pieces, set mainly in claustrophobic, oppressive interiors, his character creations remain relatively spare, thinly drawn and poorly motivated. In one way or another most of these male characters experience various forms of enforced passivity, immobility or entrapment.