film and cinema

film and cinema
   In 1996 Spain celebrated the centenary of its film industry. During these hundred years, individual directors, actors and films had local and international successes, but the industry as a whole had also more than its fair share of troubles. Closely linked to the political and cultural life of the country and its regions, Spanish filmmaking is very susceptible both to constitutional and policy changes within Spain and to influences from without. The victory of Franco that brought an end to the Civil War ushered in a lengthy period of rigorous censorship that had long-term effects on Spanish cinema. Portraits of an ideal Spain in historical epics, religious dramas and folkloric productions, such as those produced by Cifesa (Compañía Industrial Film Español) in the 1930s and 1940s, were the order of the day. Franco himself scripted and oversaw the making of a notorious film called Raza (Race) (1941), and from 1942 all news and documentary films were produced by the official film company Noticiarios y Documentales Cinematográficos, or NO-DO as it was commonly known. Scripts had to be submitted to the Board of Censors before filming could even begin, and the finished film re-submitted. All foreign films were reviewed and either completely banned, or underwent compulsory dubbing. This procedure was to prove particularly detrimental to local production, since licences to import and dub were granted preferen-tially to production companies whose Spanish films most reflected Francoist orthodoxy. There was therefore a strong financial incentive both to ensure that native-produced films confined themselves to reflecting the prevailing ideology, and to minister to the popular demand for foreign films. From 1952, the rewards for political orthodoxy took the form of a sliding scale of subsidies, which could mean rebates on production costs of as much as 50 percent for films considered "of national interest".
   Among the many artists and intellectuals who went into exile in this period was Buñuel, whose iconoclasm had already got him into trouble. He eventually settled in Mexico and became internationally known in the 1960s and 1970s for films such as The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). It was ironic that Viridiana, a film produced by him in Spain in 1960 in response to an invitation, was not only passed by the Spanish censors but was Spain's official entry at the Cannes Film Festival in 1961, and was immediately banned until 1977, having incurred the wrath of the Roman Catholic Church. But not all dissident voices were silenced, and by dint of various ruses, such as submitting a different version to the censors, many fine films were produced in defiance of the regime, such as Bardem's powerful critiques of contemporary society, Muerte de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist) (1955) and Calle Mayor (Main Street) (1956), Berlanga's black comedy El verdugo (The Executioner) (1963), Erice's acclaimed El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) (1973), Ricardo Franco's Pascual Duarte (1974), and Borau's anti-Franco film Furtivos (Poachers) (1975). Saura in particular was able, through reminiscence, symbolism and other oblique forms of reference, to evoke the tensions of the Civil War and the oppressive nature of the Franco regime in films such as La Caza (The Hunt) (1965), Ana y los labos (Anna and the Wolves) (1972), La prima Angélica (Cousin Angelica) (1973) and Cría cuervos (Raise Ravens) (1975). With the death of Franco and the transition to democracy came a freedom both to explore the past and to set out in new directions. Already in preparation in 1975 was Camino's Las largas varieties del 36 (The Long Holidays of "36) based on reminiscences, from the Republican viewpoint, of the outbreak of the Civil War. The old animosities nevertheless ran deep: the coda to that film, in which a detachment of Moorish cavalry is seen riding menacingly towards the viewer during the final credits, was cut by the censors. Gutiérrez Aragón's Camada negra (Black Brood) (1977), a study of a fascist terrorist family, also proved highly controversial. The atmosphere of the times was frequently recreated through adaptation of literary works, among the best examples being Camus" La colmena (The Hive, 1982, based on Cela's 1951 novel), set in a Madrid café in 1942, and Chávarri's Las bicicletas son para el verano (Bicycles are for Summer, 1984, based on the play by Fernán Gómez), set in Madrid at the outbreak of the Civil War. Garci's Volver a empezar (To Begin Again) (1982) exploited the theme of the returned Republican exile, which was already appearing in films towards the end of the Franco regime, such as Armiñán's El amor del Capitán Brando (Captain Brando's Love) (1974). Documentary films began to make their appearance, including those of Patino made in secret in the 1970s: Canciones para después de una guerra (Songs for After a War) (1971), described as "one of the most evocative films ever made in Spain", and Caudillo (Military Boss) (1976); Camino's La vieja memoria (Old Memories) (1976), Herralde's Raza, el espíritu de Franco (Raza, the Spirit of Franco) (1977) and Pilar Miró"s El crimen de Cuenca (The Cuenca Crime) (1979), released only in 1981, after an attempt at suppression by the military authorities. Then in 1985 Berlanga made La vaquilla (The Little Bull), a comedy set in the Civil War, which had been turned down several times by the censors. The film created a box-office record, and established that, more than forty years after the tragic events of that period, audiences could laugh as well as weep at them. Relaxation in censorship also opened the door to more explicit treatment of sexual matters, and of the social mores both of the older and of the younger, more "liberated" urban Spain. In 1977 Berlanga produced the first and most successful of a trilogy of farces featuring the Spanish aristocracy, La escopeta nacional (The National Shotgun), Aranda's La muchacha de las bragas de oro (The Girl in the Golden Panties) (1980) exploited the contrast between the older and newer Spains, and Almodóvar's early films reflected the Madrid urban lifestyle known as la Movida.
   No sooner were Spanish filmmakers freed from ideological control, however, than they came face to face with the harsh realities of the marketplace, for the easing of censorship also released a flood of foreign films into Spain, especially from America and Italy. Spanish producers" share of local boxoffice receipts, which was almost 30 percent in 1977, declined rapidly to just over 16 percent in 1979, never rose again above 23 percent, and since 1989 has been around 10 to 12 percent, though occasionally dropping to little more than 7 percent. Added to this has been the overall drop in cinema attendance from 255,785,000 in 1975 to 94,600,000 in 1995, due in some measure, as elsewhere, to increased private viewing of videos and television productions.
   The response has been two-fold: protectionist measures against non-Spanish films, and state subsidies to bolster the indigenous film industry. Screen quotas, governing the ratio of Spanish to foreign films shown in cinemas, and control of licences to dub and distribute non-Spanish films had to be speedily reintroduced in 1980 and have continued with modifications since then (see also cinema law). Spain's entry into the European Community in 1986 adversely affected the ratios, since films made in the other member states had to be included in the Spanish quota. A system of state subsidies, in the form of generous advances against potential box-office receipts, devised by Pilar Miró in 1983, favoured "quality" and large-budget films in the 1980s, but thereafter economic pressures led to much tighter government budgets and stricter controls. From the early 1990s, too, financial support deriving from sales to Spanish Television (RTVE) began to fail as the state company lost a large proportion of its audience and advertising revenue to the new private channels. By then, many film directors were minimizing the risks by producing for the small screen and/or making domestic comedies, which have always been the most popular form of cinema entertainment in Spain. Other film professionals such as photographers and set designers were also supplementing their living by working in television.
   From the mid-1990s, however, the industry was strengthened by new alliances between film and television companies. Two major groupings emerged: the consortium including Sogepaq, Iberoamérica, Polygram, Canal + and Warner España; and the conglomerate of Atrium, Antena 3 television, Cartel and Origen. This resulted in a growth in internal commercial investment, and increasing access to external finance especially through co-productions, which have always formed a sizeable part of the industry. Cinema attendance, too, began to rise as older cinemas were converted into multiple units, and new ones were built in suburban shopping centres, especially round Barcelona and Madrid. Not all films produced in the 1980s and 1990s proved successful by any means, and government policy towards the industry was often determined by the desire to discourage what have been described as "forgettable films of minimal audience interest". But beleaguered though the industry was, many films of national and international repute were produced in a wide range of styles and content. The events of the Civil War and the Franco period still inspired films, many of them adaptations of literary works which themselves took a critical stance towards conservative Spain: Saura's ¡Ay, Carmela! (1989), based on a 1986 play by Sanchis Sinisterra; Camus" Los santos inocentes (The Holy Innocents) (1984), derived from a novel by Delibes; his film version of Lorca's La casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba) (1987); Aranda's Tiempo de silencio (Time of Silence) (1986), based on the novel by Martín-Santos; and Miro's Beltenebros (1991). Family relations were explored in Erice's El Sur (The South) (1983), and urban life and social problems in films by the Basque directors La Iglesia, with Navajeros (Knife Fighters) (1980), Colegas (Mates) (1982) and El pico (The Shoot Up) (1983), and Armendáriz, with Las cartas de Alou (Alou's Letters) (1990) and Historias del Kronen (Kronen Stories) (1994). Directly concerned with Basque political matters were Uribe's La muerte de Mikel (Mikel's Murder) (1983) and Dias contados (Running Out of Time) (1994) (see also Medem, Julio; Olea, Pedro), while in a different vein altogether were the bawdy and bizarre films of the Catalan director Bigas Luna, including Jamón, Jamón (Salami) (1992) and Huevos de oro (Golden Balls) (1993) (see also Bellmunt, Francesc). Spain's flamenco tradition inspired a series of musicals by Saura, beginning with Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding) (1980) and including Carmen (1983), and it was also in the early 1980s that the new and very popular genre of Madrid comedies was born. Among the earliest was Trueba's Opera prima (First Effort) (1980), the first of his many successful comedies, in particular Belle Epoque (1993), for which he won an Oscar. Colomo, the producer of Trueba's first film, himself directed La mano negra (The Black Hand) (1980), a tongue-in-cheek spy thriller co-scripted with Trueba, and the box-office winner La vida alegre (A Life of Pleasure) (1987). But the best known director of modern Spanish comedy in the 1980s and 1990s has undoubtedly been Almodóvar, whose Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown) (1988) continues to head the list of Spain's "best sellers", followed closely by his Tacones lejanos (High Heels) (1991), and not far behind by his ¡Atame! (Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down!) (1989). A major contribution to the success of Spanish films has been the talent of producers such as Querejeta (associated especially with Saura and Erice and described as one of the most innovative and imaginative in the history of Spanish cinema), and Vicente Gómez (an extremely active producer for many leading directors) and of actors such as Victoria Abril, Antonio Banderas, Ana Belén, Fernando Fernán Gómez, Alfredo Landa, Carmen Maura, Francisco Rabal, and Fernando Rey.
   Further reading
   - Besas, P. (1985) Behind the Spanish Lens: Spanish Cinema under Fascism and Democracy, Denver, CO: Arden Press (a comprehensive information source).
   - Higginbotham, V. (1988) Spanish Cinema under Franco, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press (one of the most comprehensive surveys of this period).
   - Hopewell, J. (1986) Out of the Past: Spanish Cinema After Franco, London: British Film Institute (a very readable general account of contemporary trends).
   - Kinder, M. (1993) Blood Cinema: The Reconstruction of National Identity in Spain, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press (a psychological approach to the thematic aspects of films).
   - Molina-Foix, V. (1977) New Cinema in Spain, London: British Film Institute (a comprehensive overview of current trends).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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