The Depiction of Disability in Almodóvar’s Live Flesh (Parts Three and Four)

Click here to read part one: https://theartistworks.wordpress.com/2022/03/05/the-depiction-of-disability-in-almodovars-live-flesh/

Click here to read part two: https://theartistworks.wordpress.com/2022/04/09/the-depiction-of-disability-in-almodovars-live-flesh-part-two/

Part Three: Reflection

“Like all my other films, Live Flesh is not easy to classify in terms of genre. All I know is that it is the most disquieting film I have made up to now, and the one that has caused the most unease. It is not a thriller, not a cop film, though there are policemen and gunshot and guilty men who are innocent. It is not a twilight western, although I would like to shoot one someday. It isn’t an erotic film either, although there are various explicit sex scenes, natural and didactic, and the story takes place in the field of bare carnal desire. Live Flesh is an intense drama, baroque and sensual that partakes both of the thriller and classic tragedies.” Pedro Almodóvar on Carne trémula(Live Flesh) (Duncan 2017)

Portrayals of the Body by Almodóvar

Almodóvar, throughout his long career, has encouraged audiences to reconsider perfection and in fact, more often portrays the imperfect, going against the Hollywood standards of beauty. However, the actor playing Victor certainly conforms while the film embraces a typical storytelling troupe seen on stage and on film of the ordinary man whose life is turned around after encountering a femme fatale (think of the opera, Carmen). Almodóvar has also portrayed the human body in varied appearances that include the abused, the ill, the dead, and the disabled. He has explored disability in several films since Carne trémula(Live Flesh). Hable con ella (Talk to Her) follows two men who form an extraordinary friendship as they care for the two women they love who are both in comas which resulted from accidents. In Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces), we have a film director who loses his sight in a car accident. In Dolor y gloria (Pain and Glory), Almodóvar’s most biographical film, we have an ageing film director who is suffering from dysphagia and is rapidly declining physically and emotionally (interestingly, Almodóvar recently revealed that he is losing his hearing). While all the plots vary greatly for these films, the one thing they all have in common is that the characters became disabled. This is consistent with Franco’s mindset for the Jurisdiction of Labor legislation where safety regulations were aimed at preventing and addressing disability via workplace accidents, with no laws helping those born disabled. When I first saw the film in 1998, I found it to be a positive portrayal of a former police officer who is now an independent paraplegic and navigates the world with specially equipped cars and sexual inventiveness. My experienced eyes see it differently now because in the end Almodóvar falls into the same worn-out stereotypes of the disabled as incomplete human beings, especially when it comes to sexuality. Almodóvar notes: “When Elena spends the night screwing with Victor, at the end she caresses his legs, not his genitals, because what she misses most with her paralytic husband are his legs, full of life.” (Duncan 2017)

Catholic Guilt

Most of the Spanish population is Catholic. The Catholic Church’s close alliance with Franco caused many Catholics to be skeptical of the clergy and Almodóvar most notably explores this in La mala educación (Bad Education). The presence of Catholicism in Spain is culturally pervasive, and you see it in Almodóvar’s work. Guilt, particularly around sexuality, is a concept commonly associated with Catholics. (McMahon 2006) Some of Almodóvar’s portrayals of disability almost act like a religious reparation for sexual transgressions—the reverse of cure narratives and congruent with the religious model of disability, which views disability as a punishment inflicted upon an individual or family by God because of sin. In Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces), the film director who loses his sight in a car accident was committing an infidelity not unlike David and Clara in Carne trémula(Live Flesh). Was David punished for his sins? Was Elena atoning for her part in David’s disability? Is her devotion to charity part of this? Did Sancho and Clara die to atone for their respective sins? Why wasn’t Victor punished for sleeping with a married woman? Was it because he paid it forward via the time served in prison for a crime he didn’t commit? And while the film ends with Victor and Elena together, could she be repeating a cycle of atonement?

Part four: Disability in Spain today

Spain, in 2007, ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which requires governments to ensure that the physical environment, public services and most notably housing, are equally accessible to people with disabilities. (United Nations 2019) Spain passed a law in 2013 based on the premise that universal accessibility helps guarantee equal opportunities and treatment for people with disabilities. This legislation made homeowner associations responsible for ensuring their buildings are accessible to all people and set December 2017 as the deadline to eliminate architectural barriers. (Juridicas 2013) However, a March 2018 report by the UNESCO Chair on Housing and the Fundación Mutua de Propietarios found that only 0.6 percent of Spain’s 9.8 million residential buildings meet accessibility standards for those with physical disabilities. (UNESCO 2018)

The Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y Orgánica (Spanish Confederation of People with Physical and Organic Disabilities) reported in 2019 that 100,000 people with physical disabilities in Spain remain trapped in their homes: of the 2.5 million people with physical disabilities living in Spain more than 1.8 million of them need help to be able to leave their homes. (Orgánica 2019) That same year the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (https://bit.ly/3o1UBe2) similarly criticized Spain noting that “measures taken to ensure universal accessibility, particularly for private buildings, have been insufficient or ineffective.” It recommended the government take “all legislative and budgetary measures” necessary to fix the problem. This same report also noted that women with disabilities face multiple forms of discrimination due to their gender and disabilities and may also be at risk of gender-based violence and that public policies on disability and gender equality do not include measures to combat multiple and intersectional discrimination against women with disabilities. (United Nations 2019)

iHuman, a blog from the University of Sheffield that explores Covid, noted in 2020 two cases that looked at discrimination against the disabled in Spain (“Dis/ableism and the COVID-19 crisis: A partial view from Spain”). The first looked at barber shops, which were initially treated as essential services at the beginning of the lockdown and that this was received with some rage among many non-disabled people. The government explained that some people need assistance to maintain their basic hygiene. One politician (Isabel Díaz Ayuso, President of the Madrid region) declared, “I must protect them above all (…) I would rather they have dirty hair, and they stay healthy.” As the blog noted these people demonstrated, “…an incapacity to see beyond the independent, able-bodied…” The complaints were so laced with vitriol that the government switched gears and allowed hairdressing as an in-home service at the discretion of the provider. Worse than the haircuts, are some of the comments that autistic people and their parents have been hearing from balconies and windows in their neighborhoods, even after the Spanish government legally recognized their right to be in the street during the Covid lockdown: “Irresponsible! You put all of us in danger! Shame on you! Die!” The number of reported cases of harassment have driven Autismo España to create a platform to report discrimination. Some families have taken to wearing blue armbands to avoid being booed and insulted by neighbors for being outside. However, some organizations have accurately noted that the armband is a label that might also cause stigmatization. As iHuman notes:

“The demonisation of disabled people, the criminalisation of dependence and disability hate speech constitute serious dangers during the pandemic. Disabled people’s rights could be threatened by reactionary attitudes towards the basic practices they need to live liveable lives, including therapeutic walks among others. Being discriminated during the pandemic might represent a double nightmare to disabled people. We must do better.”

Indeed. We must do better.

Works Cited

Antonio, Sánchez Cazorla. 2010. “The Politics of Fear.” In Fear and Progress Ordinary Lives in Franco’s Spain, 1939-1975, by Sánchez Cazorla Antonio, 18-49. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bogdan, Robert, and Taylor, Steven. 1987. “Toward a Sociology of Acceptance: The Other Side of the Study of Deviance.” Social Policy 34-39.

Del Cura, Mercedes, and José Martínez-Pérez. 2021. ““Childhood, Disability and Vocational Training in Franco’s Spain during the 1950s and Early 1960s.”.” History of Education Review 50 (2): 241–57.

Duncan, Paul. 2017. The Pedro Almodóvar Archives. Köln: Taschen.

I Wanna Grow Blog. 2018. Cuantas plantas de maría puedo tener legalmente en España. July 5. https://www.iwannagrowshop.com/blog/cuantas-plantas-de-maria-puedo-tener-legalmente-en-espana/.

Juridicas, Noticias. 2013. Real Decreto Legislativo 1/2013, de 29 de noviembre, por el que se aprueba el Texto Refundido de la Ley General de derechos de las personas con discapacidad y de su inclusión social. November 29. https://noticias.juridicas.com/base_datos/Privado/517635-rdleg-1-2013-de-29-nov-se-aprueba-el-texto-refundido-de-la-ley-general-de.html#t3c1s1.

Malaga, Sociedad Federada Personas de. n.d. Nuestra Historia. https://sfsm.es/nuestra-historia/.

Martínez-Pérez, José. 2017. “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” 28 (4): 805-24.

McMahon, Christopher. 2006. “Fecundity and Almodóvar? Sexual Ethics and the Specter of Catholicism Catholicism.” Journal of Religion & Film 10 (2).

Newtral. 2019. Esto con Franco no pasaba: bulos sobre la dictadura. November 20. https://www.newtral.es/esto-con-franco-no-pasaba-bulos-sobre-la-dictadura/20191120/.

Orgánica, Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y. 2019. Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y Orgánica. June 12. https://www.cocemfe.es/informate/noticias/18-millones-de-personas-con-movilidad-reducida-dependen-de-la-ayuda-de-terceros-para-salir-de-su-casa-y-100-000-no-salen-nunca/.

Reverte, Jorge M. 2010. “La Lista De Franco Para El Holocausto.” El País, June 20.

Seguin, Christopher Blow & Denis. 2019. The Dictator’s Playbook: Francisco Franco. Directed by Mark Stevenson. Produced by David, Kate Harrison, Michael Rosenfeld, and Matt Boo Brady.

Sotinel, Thomas. 2010. Masters of Cinema: Pedro Almodóvar. Paris: Phaidon Press.

UNESCO, Fundación Mutua de Propietarios. 2018. La accesibilidad de las viviendas en España. Madrid: Fundación Mutua de Propietarios / UNESCO.

United Nations. 2019. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. New York: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Depiction of Disability in Almodóvar’s Live Flesh (Part Two)

Click here to read part one: https://theartistworks.wordpress.com/2022/03/05/the-depiction-of-disability-in-almodovars-live-flesh/

Part Two: Carne trémula (Live Flesh)

“I have never evoked Franco’s Spain before. I wrote the prologue for narrative and dramatic reasons but, really, there was also ‘something’ I needed to tell. Twenty years ago, I took my revenge on Franco by not acknowledging his existence, as if he never existed. Today I think I can’t forget that period, which is still relatively recent. That’s why there are two births in the film: the first is a city besieged by fear, and the second in a city full of people and happiness, that has forgotten fear. This optimistic ending in a story that has an obvious air of tragedy is like a breath of fresh air. – Pedro Almodóvar on Carne trémula (Live Flesh) (Duncan 2017)

The Shooting

The opening shot of the film is text declaring a state of emergency in Franco Spain and freedoms of speech, residence, and gathering have been suspended.

We next see text that reads, “Madrid, January of 1970.” A young prostitute named Isabel (Penelope Cruz, in her first collaboration with Almodóvar) gives birth on a public bus to a son she names Victor. Mother and son become minor celebrities, Victor is named an honorary citizen by the mayor of Madrid, and both are granted free lifetime bus passes by the transit company. The day Victor is born, Madrid is like an eerie ghost town, and it is pure chance (Almodóvar explores the motif of chance heavily in this film) that Isabel’s madame (Pilar Bardem, real life mother of Javier Bardem), was able to stop the bus when there was no other traffic or activity on the street.

The film jumps twenty years to 1990 and we see Victor (Liberto Rabal) working as a delivery person for Pizza Hut. Victor has fallen for a woman, Elena (Francesca Neri), with whom he had sex with a week ago in the bathroom stall of a nightclub. Elena conveys to him on the telephone that he has confused sex with love (odd since his mother is a prostitute and he will later reflect on how many “tricks she had to turn” to earn the inheritance she leaves him). Elena, who is hooked on drugs (addiction is an often-recurring motif in Almodóvar’s films), wants nothing to do with Victor, and when he shows up at her apartment, she carelessly waves a gun to scare him away. They get in into a scuffle and a shot is fired, and a neighbor calls the police. No one is affected by this gunshot.

The two police officers who respond, David (Javier Bardem) and Sancho (Jose Sancho), are friends and colleagues who are in the middle of their own crisis. Sancho is an abusive drunk and believes that his wife, Clara (Angela Molina, who will later play Cruz’s mother in Almodóvar’s 2009 film, Broken Embraces), is having an affair and suspects David of being her lover. When they arrive at Elena’s building, Sancho wants to storm the apartment while David is more sensible insisting that they follow procedure and call for back up. Sancho, the senior officer, refuses to do this. As Victor is peacefully leaving Elena’s apartment, Sancho storms the door and Victor, in a panic, impulsively picks up the gun and holds Elena hostage.

David tries to calmly defuse the situation and get Victor to drop his gun. Sancho repeatedly exacerbates the situation by threating Victor. David shockingly points his gun towards Sancho’s head and eventually gets Sancho and Victor to put down their guns. Victor lets Elena go free and David instructs her to flee. As Elena passes David, the film goes into slow motion: their eyes meet, and they have an intense moment of mutual attraction. Because David is momentarily distracted by Elena, Sancho lunges for Victor, and as they wrestle for the gun, it fires off.

Prison and Paralympics

The film jumps two years to 1992. Victor is in jail and while in the rec room watches a wheelchair basketball game featuring David who is now paralyzed from the gunshot. David is a star player in the 1992 Paralympics[1] and Elena, who is now his wife, watches, and cheers from the sidelines.

Victor is bitter watching this on television but has made the most of his time in prison, earning a degree via correspondence and exercising body and mind[2]. While Victor is in prison, his mother dies of cancer, but leaves him a house, (in a neighborhood amid what looks like an American style 1950s “slum” clearance program) and a small inheritance.

The film then jumps four years to 1996 and Victor is released from jail. As Victor is walking and relishing in his freedom, he sees a billboard for Champion athletic wear with David soaring in his wheelchair while playing basketball. Victor, under his breath, bitterly says, “Even when you lose, you win.” Two days later Victor visits his mother’s grave. By chance, David and Sancho are there for the funeral of Elena’s father. Victor boldly walks up to Elena and offers his condolences leaving her stunned. Before leaving the cemetery, Victor meets Sancho’s wife Clara (who looks a lot like a 1990’s version of Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate), also by chance, who has arrived late for the funeral. They leave together and she gives him a ride home. Victor and Clara establish a cautious relationship that will later evolve into an affair.  

“Even when you lose, you win.”

Money and Virility

Elena, who comes from a wealthy family, is now off drugs and running an orphanage that houses several children with Down Syndrome. The orphanage is friendly and inviting, but humble. We also see Elena and David in their expansive and expensive apartment equipped with its own basketball court and wheelchair lifts. This stands in stark contrast to the orphanage where we see a scene depicting one of the workers asking for her salary (“I have not been paid in two months”) and her supervisor conveying that they still have not gotten funds from the government. The message here is crystal clear: money makes disability easier.

We next see Elena helping David with a bath. It turns into a sexual encounter, and we see that David is paralyzed from the waist down as he is only able to perform oral sex on Elena. Curiously, just after she climaxes, she chooses that very moment to tell David that Victor was at the cemetery. Was she sexually stimulated by virile Victor?

While David may not be able to sexually perform completely in bed, he is not about to be bested by Victor. After Elena’s revelation, he later barges into Victor’s house and warns him not to go near his wife. Victor challenges him, but David punches him below the belt (in the area where he cannot perform). Before they could get into a real brawl, they momentarily put their differences aside when they both happen to catch and comment on a key moment in a soccer match on television and briefly share a chuckle silently conveying that they could have been friends under different circumstances. David then composes himself and sternly warns Victor to stay away from Elena. Victor then taunts him by dropping to the floor and doing clapping pushups, showing off his sculpted physique.

A visual motif that is seen often in Almodóvar’s films is macro photography, where he focuses the lens very closely on details. For example, in Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios(Women on the Verge), we see the inner workings of a film projector; in Todo sobre mi madre(All About My Mother), there is an EKG machine and macro shots of the paper feed; in Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces), we see the leading man using a computer that reads to the blind. In Carne trémula(Live Flesh), we see David, after leaving Victor’s house, go to his car, which is specially equipped to be completely driven with his hands (again, money makes disability easier as he does not have to rely on public transportation), and go through the motions of getting into the car and then dismantling his wheelchair. It is a lot of work and a lot of details and Almodóvar makes certain that the audience knows it. David will later convey how he now must constantly look down to make sure that he does not get any dog feces on wheels. After David goes through the ritual of getting into his car, he sees Clara arriving and watches them from a distance. We later see Clara talking with Victor agreeing to teach him how to make love while concurrently showering him with gifts and affection. David begins to regularly spy on them and secretly photographs their rendezvous (a detail Almodóvar missed here was having David use a telephoto lens—instead his lens looks like a wide angle).

Revelations and Truths

Victor starts to volunteer at the orphanage Elena runs. He applies when she is out of the office and the credentials he earned in prison, qualify him for the position. He works well with the children and the staff appreciate this as well as his many other technical skills, such as basic plumbing. When Elena discovers that he is there, she objects but cannot give a sound argument against Victor working there. David continues to follow Victor (both are deft stalkers) and discovers that he works at the orphanage. He confronts Victor again, and Victor denies responsibility for firing the shot that disabled him. Victor then demonstrates how Sancho made him squeeze the trigger because Sancho knew David was having an affair with Clara (Victor found this out during a rendezvous with Clara).

David later conveys to Elena, while they are smoking marijuana[3], what Victor said, admitting that he was indeed having an affair with Clara. Elena is appalled, but still plans to leave the orphanage to get away from Victor. The following day, Victor tells Elena that his original plan of revenge was to become the world’s greatest lover, make passionate love to Elena, and then abandon her. But he changes his mind because he now loves her too much. After this, Victor breaks up with Clara. Distraught, she nearly sets Victor’s home on fire while cooking a meal. The image is quite powerful: Clara is in hell: no more Victor and she is stuck with the abusive Sancho.

Later, while Victor is working the overnight shift at the orphanage, Elena arrives to remove her belongings from the office and offers Victor a night of passion on the condition he never contact her again. Their night of love making is lengthy and in blunt contrast to the earlier hasty scene with Elena and David in the bathtub. As dawn breaks in Madrid, Elena cries realizing she is in love with Victor.

David returns from a trip in Seville that morning and Elena then tells him about her infidelity. She also conveys that she will remain his wife because he needs her more than Victor does. Bogdan and Taylor note that an accepting relationship is one between a person with a deviant attribute and another person, which is of long duration and characterized by closeness and affection and in which the deviant attribute does not have a stigmatizing, or morally discrediting, character. (Bogdan 1987) Elena’s motives for wanting to stay with David are curious. In fact, I wish the film had explored how they came together. We see that moment of intense attraction the night that David was shot, but I have always wondered how their relationship evolved. Does Elena really love David? Or was she with him out of guilt because what happened was a result of her drug use? Bogdan and Taylor noted that typical people who are in caring relationships with people who are different de-emphasize the negative aspects of the person and stress the positive. Elena seemed to be doing this until she learned the truth about David and Clara.

The Fatal Shots

Even though Elena has conveyed that she will stay with David, he is still hell bent on avenging himself against Victor. Meanwhile, Clara has decided to leave Sancho. He confronts her, but she shoots him with his own gun and escapes. David later arrives and helps Sancho clean his bullet wound before showing him the photographs he had been taking of Victor and Clara. We then cut to Clara writing a passionate farewell letter to Victor. As she is writing it, Sancho and David arrive. As Sancho pounds on the door, she details the play by play in the letter she is writing. She finishes and gets up to meet Sancho at the door and they have one final confrontation at gunpoint and fire at each other. Clara is killed and Sancho is wounded. Sancho unable to live without her, kills himself. Here Almodóvar brilliantly recreates the suicide scene in Hitchcock’s Spellbound[4].

The film jumps several months to the Christmas season and in a voiceover, David reads a letter written to Elena from Miami, where he is spending Christmas with friends: he apologizes for the way everything turned out. At the orphanage, we see Victor working on an elaborate Christmas decoration when he is suddenly interrupted by a pregnant Elena who is going into labor. On the way to the hospital, she and Victor get stuck in a traffic jam. Victor reflects on the circumstances of his own birth 26 years earlier and tells his unborn child that the Spanish people no longer live with fear as they did on the day he was born. The film comes full circle and concurrently celebrates Spain’s journey from the repression of Franco to the open society of today (though lately, in 2021, I have seen that as in the United States and Brazil, extreme conservatism in Spain is trying to make a comeback).

Next month we will conclude with parts three and four.

www.edwinroman.com

Works Cited

Antonio, Sánchez Cazorla. 2010. “The Politics of Fear.” In Fear and Progress Ordinary Lives in Franco’s Spain, 1939-1975, by Sánchez Cazorla Antonio, 18-49. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bogdan, Robert, and Taylor, Steven. 1987. “Toward a Sociology of Acceptance: The Other Side of the Study of Deviance.” Social Policy 34-39.

Del Cura, Mercedes, and José Martínez-Pérez. 2021. ““Childhood, Disability and Vocational Training in Franco’s Spain during the 1950s and Early 1960s.”.” History of Education Review 50 (2): 241–57.

Duncan, Paul. 2017. The Pedro Almodóvar Archives. Köln: Taschen.

I Wanna Grow Blog. 2018. Cuantas plantas de maría puedo tener legalmente en España. July 5. https://www.iwannagrowshop.com/blog/cuantas-plantas-de-maria-puedo-tener-legalmente-en-espana/.

Juridicas, Noticias. 2013. Real Decreto Legislativo 1/2013, de 29 de noviembre, por el que se aprueba el Texto Refundido de la Ley General de derechos de las personas con discapacidad y de su inclusión social. November 29. https://noticias.juridicas.com/base_datos/Privado/517635-rdleg-1-2013-de-29-nov-se-aprueba-el-texto-refundido-de-la-ley-general-de.html#t3c1s1.

Malaga, Sociedad Federada Personas de. n.d. Nuestra Historia. https://sfsm.es/nuestra-historia/.

Martínez-Pérez, José. 2017. “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” 28 (4): 805-24.

McMahon, Christopher. 2006. “Fecundity and Almodóvar? Sexual Ethics and the Specter of Catholicism Catholicism.” Journal of Religion & Film 10 (2).

Newtral. 2019. Esto con Franco no pasaba: bulos sobre la dictadura. November 20. https://www.newtral.es/esto-con-franco-no-pasaba-bulos-sobre-la-dictadura/20191120/.

Orgánica, Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y. 2019. Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y Orgánica. June 12. https://www.cocemfe.es/informate/noticias/18-millones-de-personas-con-movilidad-reducida-dependen-de-la-ayuda-de-terceros-para-salir-de-su-casa-y-100-000-no-salen-nunca/.

Reverte, Jorge M. 2010. “La Lista De Franco Para El Holocausto.” El País, June 20.

Seguin, Christopher Blow & Denis. 2019. The Dictator’s Playbook: Francisco Franco. Directed by Mark Stevenson. Produced by David, Kate Harrison, Michael Rosenfeld, and Matt Boo Brady.

Sotinel, Thomas. 2010. Masters of Cinema: Pedro Almodóvar. Paris: Phaidon Press.

UNESCO, Fundación Mutua de Propietarios. 2018. La accesibilidad de las viviendas en España. Madrid: Fundación Mutua de Propietarios / UNESCO.

United Nations. 2019. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. New York: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


[1] Disabled sports in Spain have a long history. In 1917 there were sporting events for the deaf. However, because of the unrest in Spanish society during the 1930’s due to the civil war and Franco’s subsequent terror, matters regarding disabled sports were quiet until the 1950s when the Spanish Red Cross organized disabled sports opportunities in the country, that included the first Olimpiadas de la Esperanza (Olympics of Hope) held in Tarragona. Spain competed at its first Paralympic Games in 1968. ONCE (Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles), in 1986, became the official organization for organizing Spanish representation in international blind sporting competitions. (Malaga n.d.) Here, I considered readings regarding adjustment talk and couldn’t quite get it to jibe because the Spanish language is more straightforward and not as nuanced as English in that the Spanish language has far fewer homonyms than English.

[2] Based on Almodóvar’s depictions of prison, the Spanish penal system appears to embrace humane rehabilitation: one scene in Hable con ella (Talk to Her), a guard notes that they don’t use the word inmate but instead use the word intern.

[3] In Spain, the sale and importation of any quantity of cannabis is a criminal offence, punishable by jail time. The purchase, possession, and consumption of cannabis in a public place constitutes a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and confiscation. Consumption and cultivation by adults in a private space is legal, the latter due to a legal vacuum and provided that it is shown to be for one’s own consumption. (I Wanna Grow Blog 2018)

[4] Almodóvar had previously used musical cues from Psycho and Vertigo in Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón and used other Hitchcock motifs in his film as well as professing in interviews his admiration for Hitchcock.

The Depiction of Disability in Almodóvar’s Live Flesh (Part One)

Part One: Franco Y Almodóvar

“According to Amnesty International, Spain has the highest numbers of mass graves in the world after Cambodia.” Guy Hedgecoe (Seguin 2019)

One cannot explore the films of Pedro Almodóvar without considering how his art was molded by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. It is also necessary to explore Franco to understand contemporary views of disability as well as Almodóvar’s portrayals.

Coup and Dictatorship

During the 1920s there was significant labor unrest, which was exacerbated by the Great Depression in the 1930s, and these things polarized Spanish citizens. The February 1936 election brought the leftist Popular Front government to power. Extreme-right wing fascists responded in July of 1936 with a coup attempt that eventually fostered a civil war. One side had the conservative Nationalists, led by Franco, who were largely made up of devout Roman Catholics, military leaders, landowners, and businessmen; the other side, were the leftist Republicans, who were largely made up of urban workers, agricultural laborers, and the educated middle class. With the help of Hitler and Mussolini, Franco marched across Spain leaving a colossal trail of death, encouraging his army to brutally kill anyone who was leftist. Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica, notably captures the death and destruction on the Basque town of the painting’s namesake. After the civil war ended in 1939, Franco remained in power until he died in 1975. (Seguin 2019)

Franco’s reign was marked by sheer terror. The first two decades of Franco’s rule following the civil war saw continued repression and the killing of an unspecified number of political opponents that is estimated to be between 15,000 and 50,000 individuals. (Antonio 2010) Documents were discovered in 2010 showing that he ordered his provincial governors to compile a list of Jews while he negotiated an alliance with the Axis powers to later facilitate efforts to deport and destroy them. Other atrocities committed by his government included kidnapping the babies of leftist women (known as the lost children of Francoism) and having them raised by Catholic families and monasteries. (Reverte 2010)

Economic Policy and Disability

Franco’s economic policy of autarky, envisioned self-sufficiency through the state control of prices and industrial development within an insulated national economy severed from the international market. Labor, considered a fundamental factor for economic development, was given an important position Franco’s political agenda. Projecting a putative Catholic work ethic provided the means by which the regime could exercise its power. The Fuero del Trabajo (Jurisdiction of Labor), taking cues from FDR’s New Deal, operated in Spain as the fundamental legislation that the Franco regime was going use to address the “problem” of disability. (Del Cura 2021)

Industrialization in Spain was a noticeable phase in the historic development of addressing disability. Franco considered disability to be an obstacle to performance of work and had to be included in the general measures directed at regulating and controlling the performance of productivity. Evidence of this can be seen in the steps adopted regarding health and safety in the factories and the recovery of victims of accidents that had occurred at work. Regulations were largely aimed at preventing and addressing disability via workplace accidents. The regulations fostered occupational medicine which reinforced the idea of disability as being congruent with the medical model (The medical model of disability says people are disabled by their impairments or differences, while the social model says that disability is caused by the way society is ordered). It also fostered the idea that the human factor had an important responsibility in the making of accidents and encouraged an image of the victims as being guilty of their invalidity. (Martínez-Pérez 2017)

Interestingly, the most powerful contemporary disability organization in Spain dedicated to a physical disability was formed during the Franco dictatorship. The Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles (Spanish National Organization of the Blind), or ONCE, was formed after the Spanish Civil War as a way of supporting the wounded and those who became disabled because of the war. Over the years it has become an umbrella-organization for the needs and rights of the physically disabled. (Newtral 2019)

“Jefe del Estado” Franciso Franco

Post Franco Spain and Almodóvar

Spain transitioned to a democracy after Franco’s death in 1975 and the change from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy saw the adoption of a new constitution, reforms, and an influx of younger people into politics and trade unions. Not surprisingly, democracy proved to be a more tolerant for those who had had suffered marginalization and exclusion under the Catholic and machoistic Spanish society of Franco. Censorship was gone and there was a significant increase in the production of literary, musical, and cinematic works. During the 1980s, identities of gender and sexuality that were excluded by Franco, notably women and the LGBTQ community, were celebrated, in the films of Pedro Almodóvar. (Sotinel 2010)

When Almodóvar arrived in Madrid in 1967, Franco was still in power, and, of course, the repression was also cultural. Franco’s rancorous regime had been inimical to the avant-garde movie aesthetics of the 1960’s. However, by the time Almodóvar showed up in Madrid, Franco was in his mid-seventies, and the stranglehold on artistic expression was loosening in the major cities and universities. (Sotinel 2010)

Almodóvar began directing feature films in the late 1970s. He was part of La Movida, a post-Franco counterculture movement, and we can see this time reflected in early films such as Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Average Girls); Laberinto de pasiones (Labyrinth of Passion); and ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto! (What Have I Done to Deserve this?) His early films were transgressive, not unlike John Waters’ early work, and featured transgender people, bondage, rape, and a lot of drug use and sex. They often blurred the lines between funny and repulsive as well as high and low art. As Almodóvar’s career continued to progress, his films continued to blur the lines between comedy and drama as well as LGBTQ and straight. In 1985, Almodóvar and his younger brother set up their production company, El Deseo (The Desire). Almodóvar’s films are produced on very humble budgets and creating his own production company allowed him the freedom to shoot scripts chronologically, which is not a common practice. Almodóvar feels that a chronological approach produces more convincing performances. (Duncan 2017) The first film he produced via El Deseo was Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) which was nominated for the 1988 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Almodóvar would win an Oscar and a Golden Globe a decade later for 1999’s Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother). (Sotinel 2010)

Pedro Almodóvar’s films reflect Spanish culture in passionate amatory and quixotic terms through a filter of studied cinematic philosophy: Hitchcock, Fassbinder, and Sirk are the benchmarks for Almodóvar to convey Spanish identity. This is embodied in Carne trémula (Live Flesh), which was loosely adapted from a Ruth Rendell novel (Almodóvar’s first time adapting material) and released in October of 1997. 

Next month, in part two, we will delve into the film.

www.edwinroman.com

Works Cited

Antonio, Sánchez Cazorla. 2010. “The Politics of Fear.” In Fear and Progress Ordinary Lives in Franco’s Spain, 1939-1975, by Sánchez Cazorla Antonio, 18-49. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bogdan, Robert, and Taylor, Steven. 1987. “Toward a Sociology of Acceptance: The Other Side of the Study of Deviance.” Social Policy 34-39.

Del Cura, Mercedes, and José Martínez-Pérez. 2021. ““Childhood, Disability and Vocational Training in Franco’s Spain during the 1950s and Early 1960s.”.” History of Education Review 50 (2): 241–57.

Duncan, Paul. 2017. The Pedro Almodóvar Archives. Köln: Taschen.

I Wanna Grow Blog. 2018. Cuantas plantas de maría puedo tener legalmente en España. July 5. https://www.iwannagrowshop.com/blog/cuantas-plantas-de-maria-puedo-tener-legalmente-en-espana/.

Juridicas, Noticias. 2013. Real Decreto Legislativo 1/2013, de 29 de noviembre, por el que se aprueba el Texto Refundido de la Ley General de derechos de las personas con discapacidad y de su inclusión social. November 29. https://noticias.juridicas.com/base_datos/Privado/517635-rdleg-1-2013-de-29-nov-se-aprueba-el-texto-refundido-de-la-ley-general-de.html#t3c1s1.

Malaga, Sociedad Federada Personas de. n.d. Nuestra Historia. https://sfsm.es/nuestra-historia/.

Martínez-Pérez, José. 2017. “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” 28 (4): 805-24.

McMahon, Christopher. 2006. “Fecundity and Almodóvar? Sexual Ethics and the Specter of Catholicism Catholicism.” Journal of Religion & Film 10 (2).

Newtral. 2019. Esto con Franco no pasaba: bulos sobre la dictadura. November 20. https://www.newtral.es/esto-con-franco-no-pasaba-bulos-sobre-la-dictadura/20191120/.

Orgánica, Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y. 2019. Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y Orgánica. June 12. https://www.cocemfe.es/informate/noticias/18-millones-de-personas-con-movilidad-reducida-dependen-de-la-ayuda-de-terceros-para-salir-de-su-casa-y-100-000-no-salen-nunca/.

Reverte, Jorge M. 2010. “La Lista De Franco Para El Holocausto.” El País, June 20.

Seguin, Christopher Blow & Denis. 2019. The Dictator’s Playbook: Francisco Franco. Directed by Mark Stevenson. Produced by David, Kate Harrison, Michael Rosenfeld, and Matt Boo Brady.

Sotinel, Thomas. 2010. Masters of Cinema: Pedro Almodóvar. Paris: Phaidon Press.

UNESCO, Fundación Mutua de Propietarios. 2018. La accesibilidad de las viviendas en España. Madrid: Fundación Mutua de Propietarios / UNESCO.

United Nations. 2019. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. New York: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Film Review: Wall Engravings (Au pan coupé)

“Peut-on vivre d’un souvenir?” (“Can we live on a memory?”)

Last month I began a subscription to the streaming service MUBI. I wish I had done it sooner. MUBI, which was founded in 2007, offers an ever-changing collection of selected films from around the world, introducing one new film every day. MUBI also produces and theatrically distributes films by emerging and established filmmakers. This is the third review I have written since subscribing. Recently, I had the absolute joy to watch the 1968 French Film, Wall Engravings.

Wall Engravings (Au pan coupé is the French title) was written and directed by Guy Gilles and tells the story of Jeanne, a young woman reflecting on her relationship with Jean. Jeanne loves Jean deeply, but he only thinks of leaving as he can never truly embrace happiness (the film succinctly explores the couple’s respective psychologies). One day, he leaves and then dies. Jeanne will never know the truth because her father is keeping it a secret because he is worried about her state of mind. In Jean’s absence, she remembers him and confides in her friend Pierre, detailing their stay in Provence. She asks, “Can we live on a memory?” In this film, love is interrupted by departure (death) and explored from an obsessive untangling of the past. The past that is explored is brief and slowly becoming opaque for Jeanne.

The film’s direction and cinematography are nothing short of breathtaking. The scenes shot in black and white are in the present while those in color narrate moments from the past. It embraces still photography and reminds me of a time when we able to contemplate actors and scenery without constant cutting and excessive movement of the camera.

I also want to applaud Macha Méril’s brilliantly understated and restrained performance as Jeanne: she truly comes across as someone deeply hurt trying to keep it together. I found myself later wondering if Jeanne would ever find out about Jean’s death and how she may have reacted to it. I even wondered who Jeanne, an artist, would have become and who she might be in 2022. Did the loss of Jean foster her art? Death, in a way, is an act of living in art (and cinema).

If you have ever had a short, but passionate, love affair that you never got over, you will not want to miss this film.

edwinroman.com

Birth of a Museum

BOOK REVIEW: A FOOL’S ERRAND: CREATING THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE IN THE AGE OF BUSH, OBAMA, AND TRUMP

“One can tell a great deal about a country by what it remembers. By what graces the wall if its museums.” – Lonnie G. Bunch III

The day I finished reading A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump by Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), I learned that a school board in Tennessee banned the teaching of the holocaust graphic novel Maus and a House committee in Florida passed a bill aiming to ban discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Throughout A Fool’s Errand Bunch notes the friendship he formed with Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, and I couldn’t help but to think of the marker outside of Glendora, Mississippi, where Emmett Till’s body was found in 1955. Until 2008, the spot remained unmarked, but when a memorial was erected, it was vandalized four times. The most recent iteration of the memorial, erected in 2019, had to literally be bulletproofed. The parallels to the Till Memorial and the obstacles Bunch faced and the overall history of the museum’s founding are palpable. Bunch notes that efforts to launch this museum started a century prior, and were still being stifled as recent as the 1990s by the likes of Jesse Helms. Silencing the voices of history is bigotry’s fundamental move toward enacting racism.  

A Fool’s Errand is framed by three presidents. First, there was George W. Bush, who wholeheartedly endorsed the project and signed the legislation to get it started. Bunch formed a friendship with George and Laura Bush and portrays them rather positively. While he acknowledges Hurricane Katrina, he does so, in my opinion, with a rather light touch. Second was Barack Obama, who had the honor of officially opening the museum. Bunch compares his philosophy of the museum to the way Obama approached his presidency: the museum is an American museum for all Americans and not just African Americans. The story of African Americans is the story of America. And finally, Trump. Bunch describes giving him a private tour, which he rightfully did not bowdlerize as he had been asked to (because Trump had been in a bad mood that day) and noted that Trump did not acknowledge the Dutch role in the African slave trade but conveyed that the people of the Netherlands “love him.” Right on brand. Bunch describes how during the first months of Trump’s administration a noose had been found in front of an exhibition case that contained artifacts of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. As I read the last two chapters, I couldn’t help but wonder if the museum would have opened when it did had Bunch not been so determined in his vision and execution. He worked hard to make this museum “for the next century and not the last one” happen. The politics surrounding this museum is nearly breathtaking but not unexpected.

The book is indeed a template for creating a museum from nothing, but what makes it so incredibly relatable is its humanity. Bunch is an excellent listener and observer and can easily connect with the elite as well as everyday people. For me, it was his interactions with everyday people that stood out. There was Princy Jenkins who had once lived in a slave cabin with his enslaved grandmother; the people he met during Save Our African American Treasures; and Dr. Charles Blockson who donated previously unknown artifacts that belonged to Harriet Tubman. Blockson lovingly donated those items and like many after him, wanted to contribute to the museum without any monetary gain (“This belongs in a place where the public can enjoy the collections. It is yours.”) Perhaps the most moving story was when Bunch met an elderly woman who had an unknown artifact from his own family.

I recommend you read this touching book with an open mind and a very open heart. If you enjoy storytelling and history, you will find a great deal to enjoy in this book. For me, the book inspired a self-reflection of the last two decades. Could I have done better? Can I still do better? I hope so.

www.edwinroman.com

The Perfect Playlist: Massive Mazzy and Hope Warmly

The modern playlist is the descendant of the mix tape. And like my mix tapes, I make a significant effort to make sure they are right—and by right, I mean that there is a certain cohesion and shared texture that moves me. What I love about digital versus tape is the great flexibility for experimentation (though, sometimes I do miss walking around Manhattan with my old yellow cassette Sports Walkman).

Massive Attack are an English electronic band that was formed in 1988 by Robert “3D” Del Naja, Adrian “Tricky” Thaws, Andrew “Mushroom” Vowles and Grant “Daddy G” Marshall. The band currently consists of Del Naja, Thaws and Marshall. The band first came to my attention in 1991 when I was in Tower Records and I heard their first masterpiece, “Unfinished Sympathy”, playing over the loudspeakers. To date, they have released five studio albums, but don’t seem to be well known in the United States. They should be. They have a superb body of work. Over the last 30 plus years, they have collaborated with various singers including Madonna, David Bowie, Tracey Thorn of Everything but the Girl and Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star.

Mazzy Star are an American alternative rock band that also formed in 1988. Founding member David Roback recruited Hope Sandoval after the group’s original vocalist left the band, which was once called Opal. Mazzy Star came to my attention because of their 1994 hit, the absolutely gorgeous and unforgettable masterpiece, “Fade into You.” Too often, Mazzy Star has been unfairly characterized as a “one hit wonder.” The fact is they too have a superb body of work consisting of four albums and one EP. Sadly, we may never hear more from them again because David Roback passed away in February of 2020. Hope Sandoval, in addition to being the vocalist for Mazzy Star, is also the vocalist for the alternative, dream pop band Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions, which she formed with Colm Ó Cíosóig of My Bloody Valentine. To date, they have released three albums, all of which are nothing short of magnificent.

I loved all three bands individually and while Massive Attack have collaborated with various singers over the years, it never occurred to me that they could or should work with Hope Sandoval. Madonna and David Bowie made sense. Personally, I characterize Mazzy Star’s music as southwestern alternative (some of their songs remind me of New Mexico, don’t ask me to explain but when I play “Fade into You” I imagine driving along US-550), but Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions has a greater connection Massive Attack. Regardless, their collaborations were surprising and inspired. My hope is that one day Massive Attack and Hope Sandoval collaborate for an entire album. This playlist brings together their collaborations as well as what I consider to be the best from their respective catalogs. Of course, the challenge here was achieving that cohesion I noted above—but I think I did it! Let me know what you think!

I have provided YouTube links for my absolutely favorite songs.

“Paradise Circus” – Massive Attack with Hope Sandoval, from the album Heligoland.

Protection” – Massive Attack with Tracey Thorn, from the album Protection.

Unfinished Sympathy” – Massive Attack with Shara Nelson, from the album Blue Lines.

“Blue Light” – Mazzy Star, from the album So Tonight That I Might See.

The Spoils” – Massive Attack with Hope Sandoval

Fade into You” – Mazzy Star, from the album So Tonight That I Might See.

“Five String Serenade” – Mazzy Star, from the album So Tonight That I Might See.

“California” – Mazzy Star, from the album Seasons of Your Day.

“Disappear” – Mazzy Star, from the album Among My Swan.

“Into Dust” – Mazzy Star, from the album So Tonight That I Might See.

Quiet, The Winter Harbor” – Mazzy Star, from the EP Still.

“So Tonight I Might See” – Mazzy Star, from the album So Tonight That I Might See.

“Blue Flower” – Mazzy Star, from the album She Hangs Brightly.

“Future Proof” – Massive Attack, from the album 100th Window.

“Inertia Creeps” – Massive Attack, from the album Mezzanine.

“Nature Boy” – Massive Attack with David Bowie, from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack.

“Karmacoma” – Massive Attack, from the album Protection.

“Teardrop” – Massive Attack, from the album Mezzanine.

“Drop” – Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions, from the album Bavarian Fruit Bread.

“The Peasant” Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions, from the album Until the Hunter.

Into the Trees” Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions, from the album Until the Hunter.

“Butterfly Caught” – Massive Attack, from the album 100th Window.

If you have your playlists so that they play on a constant loop when they end, this one works beautifully in that way.

edwinroman.com

A Public Apology for a Social Media Faux Pas

Media Literacy is the ability to decipher media messages and their points of views as well as the systems in which they exist (e.g., social media). Being literate in the 21st century means being media literate. We are constantly being bombarded with messages everywhere in both straightforward and subliminal ways. I have been paying very close attention to this for the last two decades after learning that children could not distinguish between advertisement and programming. Unfortunately, since the repeal of the fairness doctrine, news has largely become infotainment, more concerned with ratings and profits than reporting. Social media has been a bloody, double-edged sword when it comes to media literacy.

A couple of years ago, a Twitter page mysteriously appeared in my feed called “Explore Credit Unions” (sometime late last year they changed the name to “Reform Credit Unions.”) I have been a member of credit unions in the past and have had very good experiences with them. In case you don’t know, a credit union is a financial institution that is similar to a bank, with similar services, but it is a member-owned cooperative operated on a non-for-profit basis. They largely work with individuals who would often be turned away at banks. For example, feminist credit unions in the 1970s worked to bypass sexist financial institutions by supporting women’s economic decisions and funding women’s businesses (until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, most banks required a woman to present a male cosigner—her father if she was single and her husband if she was married).

I know credit unions are not without their problems, however the twitter feed for “Reform Credit Unions” implies that they are freeloaders avoiding taxes. My heightened media literacy skills tells me that “Reform Credit Unions” is a distraction, notably away from big banks who caused the economic crisis of 2008. I would also like to note that when there are problems at credit unions, there is justice. Not so with the big banks in 2008—virtually no one was arrested or publicly shamed. Therefore, I find what “Reform Credit Unions” is doing vile—if you truly care, why are you not criticizing banks? I constantly reply to their Tweets and all this time they have never replied to anything I have written (which leads me to think that this Twitter page may be automated).

On January 4, 2022, I was responding to posts from “Reform Credit Unions” and stumbled across another feed called “Tax The Credit Union Cartel” and I, just seeing the name, sloppily assumed that it was another “Reform Credit Unions” and wrongly referred to it as crisis actor for big banks. Again, I made this assumption on the basis on of the name of the feed. Also, the feed itself is less than a month old and only has four followers as of yesterday. I would never have made that statement if a real name was used.

The day after, “Tax The Credit Union Cartel” threatened legal action against me. It was then that I took the time to read what Mr. Carlton Roark is working on. I deleted my tweets. Furthermore, they were not liked or re-Tweeted.

I don’t have that much sway on Twitter. Just scroll my feed and see how many “likes” I typically have.  Most of my interaction is with the Film Twitter community and other creative people. Between my little sway on Twitter and Mr. Roark’s new presence and small following I am pretty sure no one saw my Tweets. Regardless, I apologize for rushing to judgment and making wrong statements and generalizations.

Film Review: Cousin Jules

The last time I set foot in a movie theater was in February of 2020 and with Omicron currently raging, it will likely be longer. I just subscribed to Mubi, and it is one of the best things I have ever done. In the week and half since I subscribed, I have seen quite a few interesting films and documentaries. Just last week I reviewed Red Moon Tide. Today, I wanted to share my thoughts on the 1973 documentary Cousin Jules, which was directed by Dominique Benicheti.

Dominique Benicheti (1943-2011) was a French film director and producer known for documentaries as well as innovative work on 3D film and animation. Starting in 1968 and for five years intermittently, he filmed his second cousin, Jules Guiteaux, who was a blacksmith, and his wife Félicie (who died midway through the shoot), on a small farm in the French Burgundy countryside. According to Moving Image Archive News, when it was released at the Locarno Film Festival in 1973, it was awarded a Special Jury Prize and hailed as a milestone in documentary filmmaking. It was later screened at the New Directors/New Films festival in New York, the Los Angeles Film Festival, and the Moscow International Film Festival. And that was it. It wasn’t seen again until a restored version was screened in 2013 at the New York Film Festival at the Film Forum. According to the New York Times, Cousin Jules, unlike most documentary films of the time, was filmed in a larger format (CinemaScope with stereo sound) that was not suitable for most art film houses of the time.

The film opens to the sounds of a rooster. We then see Jules wearing worn out wooden clogs and walking from his house to the large shed that contains his anvil, grindstone, and furnace. We see Jules at work, heating the iron bars that he bends and shapes on the anvil. Benicheti beautifully captures all these details in real time. Worn farming tools and kitchen wares are seen throughout the film, which captures life at the turn of the 20th century—it is a record of pre-industrial domestic and rural artistries. An ode to the handmade. The New York Times review, with a hint of snark, notes that the film “may also resonate among 21st-century devotees of the agrarian and the artisanal.”

Some may find the film a little frustrating in that there is no apparent narrative or dramatic progression (there isn’t even any music). It is just a slice of life. However, it is beautifully photographed, and the sound is nothing short of remarkable. Yes, I had questions about Jules and Félicie, and I wanted to know more about their lives (both were born in 1891 and lived through two world wars) but I was remarkably satisfied with it. It was a welcome break from this modern, mechanical world.

www.edwinroman.com

Film Review: Red Moon Tide

“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical.” – Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

The concept of pure cinema has roots in silent film, when filmmakers had to tell a story visually without spoken dialogue. Red Moon Tide is indeed pure cinema for the 21st century: it was filmed on a digital camera and does have dialogue, sound, and music but employs it parsimoniously. It is a feast for the eyes. My lone regret is that I did not see it in a movie theater, but via the streaming service Mubi (but I am thankful for that).

The film is set in the Galicia region of Spain and revolves around the disappearance of Rubio, a fisherman who believed a sea monster was responsible for diminished fishing (as opposed to overfishing or pollution) and hunts it down. Rubio is a local legend in his own right, known for recovering the corpses of shipwrecked sailors. In his absence, the town literally comes to a standstill. Most people in this film essentially stand still (except for three witches), while life around them goes on: horses run, birds sing, water trickles and crashes. Rubio’s story is recounted poetically in voiceover by the residents of the Galician village.

“The sky at night is a black sea.

The stars, bright fish.

The moon, a monster.”

“The monster is the sea.

It has been sleeping for centuries.

We are its dream.”

The film gives you a lot of consider, exploring the power of mythology, nature, the illusion of nature being tamed and humanity’s place in a world that will go on whether we are here or not. A recurring motif in the film is a whale shark and it forced me to consider all of the sharks fished out of the water each year, their fins cut off, and then cruelly thrown back into the water to die a truly painful and slow death. Perhaps humans are the real monsters?

“That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.” – Martin Scorsese*

Camille Paglia, in Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, noted in the introduction how the modern eye is constantly exposed to flashing images everywhere via mass media (she wrote that even when one is pumping gasoline, there is often a television screen on top of the pump). Paglia states that we must relearn how to see and find focus: “…The only way to teach focus is to present the eye with opportunities for steady perception—best supplied by the contemplation of art.” I want to applaud the director, Lois Patiño, for fostering pure cinema in a digital world ruled via smartphones by embracing and incorporating elements of still photography. In today’s movie market, too many films are made for those with short attention spans using cutting and camera work does not allow one to consider composition, scenery, and the actors. This film allows you to do all that and more. I feel fulfilled and will always remember this film as a masterpiece in my personal history of cinema. I hope that somehow, someway, this film is released in American theaters. We need less smartphones and more slow looking, focus and the grandeur of the movie screen.

edwinroman.com

* P.S. If you have previously read my blog, you know I also love all things comic books and superheroes, but that is not all I consume. I concurrently love popular culture and high art. They can and should co-exist in your world of entertainment and education.

The Art of Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons

“Creativity takes courage.”  – Henri Matisse

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” -Pablo Picasso

Pop culture is exactly that: culture that is popular, easy to understand and entertaining. High culture, on the other hand, is more sophisticated and challenging. I love when pop culture meets high culture. This is exactly what we have in Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons. For those who don’t know, Historia was published via DC comics’ adult imprint, Black Label. DC Black Label is comprised of miniseries that take place outside of the monthly, mainstream story continuity. The books are printed in Prestige Format, which is a square bound comic book with higher quality paper and printing that uses card stock covers.

Phil Jimenez, the lead artist on this title (with colors by Hi-Fi, Arif Prianto, and Romulo Fajardo Jr.), is, along with George Perez, Nicola Scott, and Liam Sharp, one of Wonder Woman’s defining artists. With Historia he and his associates have created something truly groundbreaking in that they beautifully combine various styles of art to tell the early story of the mythical Amazons, which was wonderfully written by Kelly Sue DeConnick.  

Perhaps the most dominant visual aesthetic is that of 1960s counterculture psychedelic art. Elements of psychedelic art includes surrealistic subject matters, intense depth and stylization of detail, contrasting colors and elements of collage. Psychedelic art was primarily informed by Art Nouveau, but in Historia, Jimenez also draws inspiration from High Renaissance Art, which is informed by the art of antiquity. Jimenez draws individuals in a manner that recall the works of Michelangelo and DaVinci surrounded in a brilliant, surrealistic psychedelic universe. If you look at the images below you can see the influences: on the left we have a poster created in 1967 by Bonnie Maclean as well as the 2014 album cover for the band Blue Pills created by Marijke Koger-Dunham. On the left are two panels from Historia.

Check out the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art 2014 installation of “The Peacock Room.”

While a wide range of animals are portrayed (which I love especially that panther with Hellene), Jimenez depicts the peacock rather prominently in Historia. In ancient Greek and early Christian art, the peacock was considered a symbol for immortality. Notably, in Greek mythology, the tail of peacock feathers are considered the eyes of the goddess Hera. Jimenez definitely did some deep research here as sometimes comic book artists depict Wonder Woman’s homeland of Themyscira in a generic ancient Mediterranean motif more informed by Hollywood than art history. Below on the left is a terracotta volute-krater (currently on view at The Met) that depicts the Greeks battling the Amazons. The ancient Greeks shared myths to convey their history. Greek artists painted scenes from myths on walls, vases, jars, and cups. On the right we have a panel from Historia.

Check out this talk from the Penn Museum on “Great Myths and Legends: Warrior Women: Amazons and the Greek Imagination.”

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, in Sense and Sensibilia, notes sight as the most important of the senses because of color. The significance of color as the ultimate manifestation of sight was fostered in Byzantium, where color was associated with both earthly and heavenly powerfulness.  Color in the aesthetics of late antiquity and Byzantium is closely connected to that of light: light and color combine to emphasize brilliance, glitter, and polychromatism. Hi-Fi, Prianto, and Fajardo embrace and execute this brilliance in superb glory. Below are two mosaics from Basilica of San Vitale of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora along with two panels from Historia.

Check out this video showcasing the Basilica of San Vitale.

Wonder Woman Historia: The Amazons is a seminal work for comic books and a must own. In the spirit of the ancient world depicted in Historia, I would like to conclude this blog entry with some quotes from Aristotle on art.

“Art takes nature as its model.”

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”

“Art is a higher type of knowledge than experience.”

www.edwinroman.com