November 27, 2013

Spanish Cinema History Through 100 Films:
A Self-Taught Introductory Class

Lesson #1 of Spanish Cinema: There is a lot more to it
than Almodóvar. A lot more!
If you've followed my blog for a while, you've probably picked up that I'm a cinema buff. I love movies! Every year, my wife and I follow the Oscar nominees and the Academy Awards ceremony the way most people follow the Spanish football Clásico or American football Super Bowl. I made a point of stopping for a day in San Sebastian just to catch the famous Film Festival there, and I'm a huge fan of the Sitges Cinema Fantàstic Festival of horror and fantasy movies. Periodically I've stopped to write a few entries on Spanish movies that I felt were not only excellent films, but also conveyed something significant about Spanish culture or society. Movies are an excellent way to get to know another culture, and watching them historically, as they evolve over time, is a wonderful way to see how a society or culture has itself evolved over time.

But the truth is that I've never really made a point of studying Spanish cinema the way I've studied American, or even French cinema. (I've actually taken university courses on the latter two!) So this last weekend I sat down to compile what I imagine to be a list of the "must see" films in Spanish history if you want to understand the film industry, its history, and (to a lesser extent) those classic cinematic moments that all Spaniards would recognize as part of their heritage. My plan is to take advantage of the Christmas holidays and try and solidify my schooling on this subject... read some books, watch those Berlanga, Almodóvar, or odds and ends movie classics that I've been meaning to see for a while. And to get to know Spanish cinema history the way I know American cinema history. I'm blogging about it because I thought many of you might also be interested in such a self-taught course AND/OR might have strong opinions about what you think are the "must see" movies of Spanish cinema.

Before I get to the list, I want to give a big thanks to a close friend and fellow Valencian blogger, La Cuchara Curiosa, who is quite knowledgeable on this subject, loaned me books about it, and served as an informal consultant to me while I was reading up on it. I also want to point you to this webpage, "Las mejores películas españolas de la historia" on Cine-ad-hoc, which is a very nice list and helpful additional guide to adding or dropping movies from my list. (Many thanks to those of you who tweeted back to me or posted on my Facebook page in reply to my inquiry about good Spanish movies!) If you're looking for a (free) chronology of events loosely related to Spain's cinema history, this book's appendix is a helpful reference.

This movie is the definition of a screwball comedy
and yet one never finds it on Spanish Studies
syllabi. I wonder why?
A quick word on my criteria. First, the truth is I started off with 104 movies, and cut a few to get to the more eye-catching round number of 100. This means that OBVIOUSLY this list is not comprehensive. Heck, even some movies I've reviewed as excellent Spanish films somehow didn't make the cut. Oops! Second, not every movie on the list is a high calibre, Goya-winning film. A few I included to fill out and represent the diversity and breadth of Spanish film (zarzuela musicals, innovative horror films, slapstick comedies). For example, in my opinion, Amanece, que no es poco (1989), which is hardly Almodóvar-level art, has a cult following on par with Animal House (1978) in America, and I've known people to quote it with equal enthusiasm and vigor. In short, pop culture can elevate a slapstick candidate to the list, in just the same way that Spanish Civil War or post-war sappy melodrama can eliminate some "serious" movies. (Sorry, Pa negre (2010), I know you're good, but, _really_... _another_ movie about the post-war!?!)

I've organized the movies chronologically, broken into very broad eras. (Please don't nitpick with me about the arbitrary line between "La transición" and the present-day "La democracia". I chose 1982 as the dividing line randomly, wearing a blindfold and throwing a dart.) Bolded movies are the ones I haven't seen yet. The bracketed comments after movies indicate either important details about why they're there (genre, style, historical controversies) or whether they are by one of my 'important directors' listed below. Two movies sit awkwardly on the list, but are not officially counted. These are Raza (1941) and Torrente (1998). (Yes, strange bedfellows!) This is because the former is bad, pathetically pro-Franco drivel (allegedly Franco wrote the script!), which means it's a time capsule, but also perhaps not a "must torture oneself see". And the latter is a hit franchise, but let's face it, beyond being incredibly entertaining, it's not really transformative Spanish cinema... but it is worth a watch, for a good laugh (at Marbella corruption, among other things), if maybe not for a course on cinema.

Maybe not high art, the Torrente franchise was hugely successful.
There are not many Spanish movies which 
manage to have three sequels.

Go ahead and read the list and tell me below how many of them you've seen. (Naturally I welcome your comments about other 'must see' movies. Let's make this a class debate!) Afterwards, I've added a postscript about important Spanish directors and actors, to people this course on Spanish cinema history. 


Silent Spanish Cinema (1906-1930):

All I can say about this period is what little I know from my global histories of cinema, that in the silent era of film, Hollywood didn't necessarily dominate. European producers in many countries also managed to compete for audiences. Initially, Barcelona was the seat of most film productions, but over the mid-1920s it moved to Madrid.

1) Un perro andaluz (1929) [surrealism] [Buñuel]

This scene, with a crosscut between a person's eye and a cow eye,
from Buñuel's Un chien Andalou, is easily an iconic cinema moment
world cinema history, not just Spanish cinema. 

The Talkie Era in the Second Republic (1930-1936):

Much more could be said about this early period of sound films, but I'd have to read up on it first. One curious footnote on this period, which I know about because my wife wrote a Masters thesis on it, was that Hollywood produced a fair number of Spanish-language films, starring many Spanish actors of the period.

2) Las Hurdes, tierra sin pan (1933) [documentary] [Buñuel]
3) La verbena de la Paloma (1935) [zarzuela]

Concha Velasco! Singing in the classic zarzuela La verbena de la Paloma.

[Interregnum (1936-1939): The Spanish Civil War seriously curtailed the production of entertainment movies, though an entire class could be dedicated to propaganda films produced by both sides, or foreign documentaries about the conflict.]

Post-war Franco era (1940-1951):

"Yikes!" My summary of the very idea of having
to watch this movie "based on a novel by Franco"!!!
The more I look at this movie poster,
the more I think, let's skip watching the
movie and just read the Cliff's Notes.
Think of this period as the darkest days of the Franco regime, in terms of liberty of expression. Movies were merely another form of propaganda, i.e. heavily censored or even written for the purposes of furthering cultural agendas, e.g. Raza (1941). Perhaps this is why most popular movies during this period were comedies, usually featuring some studio star. Surcos was a bit of an outlier, a predecessor of the "neorrealismo" movement discussed in the next period.

Raza (1941) [Franco-approved]
4) La torre de los siete jorobados (1944)
5) Surcos (1951)

Easing up in Franco Spain (1952-1960):

What makes watching movies during this period fascinating is reading between the lines... the Franco censorship was alive and well, but directors, above all Berlanga, seemed to find creative, hilarious ways to dance around them. There are movies that are clearly critical of the dictatorship and its broken promises, without ever crossing that mysterious, poorly defined line that would upset some bureaucrat. I confess, the two movies I've seen on this list are easily in my top ten Spanish movies of all time. Timeless, brilliant, and fun! 

Oh! But it's worth mentioning that more serious movies during this period picked up on the Italian movement of "neorrealismo", focusing on social problems and rough street life. An often mentioned turning point key event in Spanish cinema history are the Conversaciones de Salamanca in May 1955, where industry leaders discussed the need to move past the feel-good themes of the post-war period and take on significant social issues onscreen. Despite these calls, folkloric or spiritual movies with feel-good or non-controversial plots, such as Marcelino pan y vino (1954), continued to populate the big screen throughout the decade.

6) ¡Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall! (1952) [Berlanga]
7) Esa pareja feliz (1953)
8) Muerte de un ciclista (1955)
9) Marcelino pan y vino (1954)
10) Historias de la radio (1955)
11) Los peces rojos (1955)
12) Calabuch (1956) [Berlanga]
13) Calle Mayor (1956)
14) Los jueves, milagro (1957) [Berlanga]
15) El último cuplé (1957)
16) La venganza (1958)
17) El pisito (1959)
18) El cochecito (1960)

What do you make of that nuclear cloud? Try Calabuch out for a taste
of Cold War cinema in Spain. Kudos to Valencian-born Berlanga
for making fireworks the protagonist of the Peñíscola Calabuch pueblo.

The New Spanish Cinema (1961-1974):

Comedies would dominate the list of big hits of this period. For example, Paco Martínez Soria starred in several movies not listed here (e.g. La ciudad no es para mi (1965) or El turismo es un gran invento (1968)) that were box office hits, albeit far from critically acclaimed. These are the classic movies one still finds on public broadcast TV on those lazy Saturday afternoons when nothing else is on. Everyone knows them, even if nobody wants to admit to liking them. The 1970s also gave rise to "landismo", a kind of repressed erotic comedy featuring the "macho ibérico", named for actor Alfredo Landa, a regular protagonist of such movies during this period.

Alfredo Landa in Los novios de mi mujer (1972), a typical landismo
scene from a typical landismo film from this period.

Still, this is a period when one also finds Berlanga and Saura films of superb cinematic quality and lasting importance. (El verdugo is up there on my must-see-next list of Spanish films!) And notice that Buñuel once again tackles some Spanish productions, though Viridiana was initially rejected by Spanish censor, and a second ending had to be written and produced for its release in Spain. (Notes to self: read up on "la escuela de Barcelona" and the "Cine de la Tercera Vía".)

Luis Buñuel, as painted by Salvador Dalí
19) Viridiana (1961) [Buñuel]
20) Plácido (1961) [Berlanga]
21) Atraco a las tres (1962)
22) El verdugo (1963) [Berlanga]
23) El mundo sigue (1963)
24) Los tarantos (1963)
25) El extraño viaje (1964)
26) La tía Tula (1964)
27) La caza (1965) [Saura]
28) Tristana (1970) [Buñuel]
29) La cabina (1972)
30) El espíritu de la colmena (1973)

Cinema of the Spanish Transition (1974-1980):

"¡Franco ha muerto!" in 1975 and with him so did the dictatorship and any lingering doubts about what subject might be fair game... during the Spanish Transition to a constitutional democracy directors tackled previously touchy subjects... The big Spanish question in these filmic recollections was the usual one: revisionist battles over how to recall and remember the repressed violent events of the war and dictatorship. It's also a moment when nudity, particularly gratuitous naked breasts, seemed to find their way into scripts whether or not it made sense. (Though something similar happened in the U.S. To prove my point, watch the opening sequence of Carrie (1976)... you will be shocked by how much untrimmed nudity it shows.)

Probably the first movie I intend to watch for my course will be La escopeta nacional, a movie it feels like everyone in Spain has seen (at least of a certain age), and is kind of like Berlanga meets National Lampoon's in wild, screwball comedy style.

31) La prima Angélica (1974)
32) Furtivos (1975)
33) Cría cuervos (1975) [Saura]
34) Canciones para después de una guerra (1976)
35) Quién puede matar a un niño (1976)
36) El desencanto (1976)
37) Tigres de papel (1977)
38) Ese oscuro objeto de deseo (1977) [Buñuel]
39) La escopeta nacional (1978) [Berlanga]
40) El crimen de Cuenca (1979)
41) El nido (1980)
42) Arrebato (1980)
43) Ópera prima (1980) [Trueba]

La escopeta nacional plot: Catalan manufacturer takes his lover with him 
on a hunting expedition in Madrid, members of Opus Dei and the
Falange in attendance. What could go wrong?

Cinema of the Spanish Democracy, up to present:

Belle Epoque (1992) managed to take the still
touchy subject of Spain's Civil War, and turn it
into a light comedy with plenty of sexual fun.
Go figure.
There's no easy way to characterize the variety of films that have been produced in contemporary Spain, other than to say that the industry has been prolific. Movies in the 1980s on this list, particularly those by Almodóvar, were marked by la Movida Madrileña, a frenetic, zany, drug-induced cultural upheaval best explained as a post-repression moment of total liberation, which eventually gave way to a more low-key, conventional 1990s-to-present style. 

As the generation that experienced the Spanish Civil War directly aged, and many of the most polemical figures of the Franco dictatorship have passed away, the subject of the Civil War and post-war repression have come to figure prominently in plots and scripts for Spanish movies. Certainly it has featured prominently in those Spanish films that have won Academy Awards, Volver a empezar (1982) being the first, and Belle Epoque (1992) being a second that helped launch Spanish cinema into the American spotlight. One can also find those "Hemingway paradigm" stereotypes —bullfighting, flamenco singing and dancing, etc.—featured prominently in Saura movies like El Amor Brujo (1986) or Almodóvar films like Volver (2006). Though they generally take a back seat to more compelling, contemporary social issues like corruption, gender violence, or complicate ménage à trois love triangles.

Still, what I personally like about Spanish cinema are those comedies with their dark, off-kilter humor, e.g. La comunidad (2000), or the horror or thrillers flicks that teach Hollywood a thing or two about how to turn a plot twist or reboot a genre, e.g. Los cronocrímenes (2007) or [Rec] (2007). Which is to say that there is something for everyone, and all of quite excellent quality (perhaps the reason Hollywood has taken to poaching Spanish movie plots to remake for English-language, big budget audiences.)

44) Bodas de sangre (1981) [Saura, flamenco trilogy]
45) La colmena (1982)
46) Volver a empezar (1982) [won an Oscar]
47) Carmen (1983) [Saura, flamenco trilogy]
48) El sur (1983)
49) Entre tinieblas (1983) [Almodóvar]
50) Los santos inocentes (1984)

Believe it or not, not every Spanish movie plot bursts into flamenco dancing,
though you'll get plenty of that in Saura's Amor Brujo, the third of his flamenco dance trilogy.

51) La vaquilla (1985) [Berlanga]
52) El Amor Brujo (1986) [Saura, flamenco trilogy]
53) El viaje a ninguna parte (1986)
54) El bosque animado (1987)
55) Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (1988) [Almodóvar, la Movida Madrileña]
56) Amanece, que no es poco (1989) [cult classic]
57) ¡Ay, Carmela! (1990) [Saura]
58) Átame (1990) [Almodóvar]
59) Tacones lejanos (1991) [Almodóvar]
60) Jamón, Jamón (1992)
61) Belle Époque (1992) [Trueba] [won an Oscar, Spanish Civil War]
62) Acción mutante (1992) [de la Iglesia]
63) Vacas (1992) [Médem]
64) La ardilla roja (1993) [Médem]
65) Todos a la cárcel (1993) [filmed in Valencia jail!] [Berlanga]
66) El día de la bestia (1995) [de la Iglesia]
67) Libertarias (1996)
68) Tesis (1996) [Amenábar]
69) Tierra (1996) [Médem]
70) Abre los ojos (1997) [Amenábar]
71) Carne Trémula (1997) [Almodóvar]
72) Tren de sombras (1997)
• Torrente, el brazo tonto de la ley (1998) [popular franchise, with three sequels in 2001, 2005, 2011]
73) Los amantes del círculo polar (1998) [Médem]
74) El milagro de Petinto (1998)
75) Todo sobre mi madre (1999) [won an Oscar] [Almodóvar]

Paz Vega as Lucía in Lucía y el sexo, filmed on one of Spain's most beautiful islands.

Alejandro Amenábar,
receiving his Oscar
for Mar adentro.
76) La lengua de las mariposas (1999)
77) La comunidad (2000) [de la Iglesia]
78) Lucía y el sexo (2000) [Médem]
79) Los Otros (2001) [English language] [Amenábar]
80) Lázaro de Tormes (2001)
81) Los lunes al sol (2002)
82) El otro lado de la cama (2002)
83) El viaje de Carol (2002)
84) Hable con ella (2002) [won an Oscar] [Almodóvar]
85) Mar adentro (2004) [won an Oscar] [Amenábar]
86) La mala educación (2004) [Almodóvar]
87) Volver (2006) [Almodóvar]
88) Alatriste (2006)
89) El laberinto del fauno (2006) [won two Oscars]
90) La noche de los girasoles (2006)
91) Los cronocrímenes (2007)
92) [Rec] (2007) [innovative horror film, following style of Dogma film]
93) El orfanato (2007) [English language]
94) Los abrazos rotos (2009) [Almodóvar]
95) Celda 211 (2009)
96) Balada triste de trompeta (2010) [de la Iglesia]
97) Biutiful (2010)
98) Arrugas (2011) [animation]
99) Chico & Rita (2011) [animation] [Trueba]
100) Lo imposible (2012) [English language]

Dramatic and expensive elaborate scene in The Impossible, Spain's most commercially
successful film, and signs that the Spanish cinema industry is evolving into a global player.
The movie was English language and a hit around the globe (except possibly in the U.S.).

—> I’ve seen 37 out of the 100 films listed here. (I’ve got a lot of homework ahead of me!) What about you?

 - - - - - - Cineautóres – Important Spanish directors - - - - - - -

Berlanga photographed with the castle of Peñíscola
in the background, location were Calabuch was filmed.
If one has to single out a handful of directors who have raised the Spanish film industry to the next level, I'd point you to the following eight directors, from different eras and with very different styles. The most critically acclaimed is easily Almodóvar, but I think of him as kind of like the Woody Allen of Spanish cinema: quirky, unique, plots that are humorous yet with clear social commentary... and not at all representative of Spanish cinema. (Imagine somebody asked you to pick one American director to represent the industry, would you pick Woody Allen? I think not.) If you were going to take a film course, the director from Spain most likely to appear on the syllabus would probably be Buñuel, one of the fathers of surrealism. Note, however, that I only included those movies by Buñuel that I could justifiably call "Spanish", since many of his best works were done in France. (Come to think of it, I had to "study" Buñuel's films because they were on the syllabus of my French Cinema course ages ago.)

Carlos Saura, another one of the early Spanish director "greats".

Julio Médem, the man behind the camera. 

But if I had to nominate one director for the candidacy of most Spanish, Spanish director, my personal favorite hands down is Berlanga. I would have put all of his movies on this list, but then that wouldn't have been fair to the spirit of providing a cross-section. But really you could make a separate film course focused on all of these "cineautores" – high calibre, quality directors whose works provide a nice sample of the dynamism and diversity of Spain's culture. It's evidence of their quality that on a list of 100 films, almost half [46] are by them:

• Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) [5 movies]
• Luis García Berlanga (1921-2010) [8 movies]
• Carlos Saura (1932-) [6 movies]
• Pedro Almodóvar (1949-) [10 movies]
• Fernando Trueba (1955-) [3 movies]
• Julio Médem (1958-) [6 movies]
Álex de la Iglesia (1965-) [4 movies]
• Alejandro Amenábar (1972-) [4 movies]

Fernando Trueba, another talented director, has a face you won't forget,
which is probably why he also regularly appears as a cameo in other directors' films.

 - - - - - - Important Spanish actors - - - - - - - -

Pepe Isbert, classic comic actor, in "¡Bienvenido Mr. Marshall!
It is hard to make a movie without actors and Spain is flush with talented amazing actors, many of whom move back and forth between the big and small screens of cinema and TV, or even the stages of Madrid's theatres. I first started thinking about Spain's treasure-trove of actors with Antonio Banderas and the myth of the dark-haired, dark-eyed Latin lover in American cinema. More recently, a few of Spain's cinema greats have passed away, principally Sara Montiel and Alfredo Landa, and were featured on the news. I didn't really know who they were, but everyone around me here in Spain seemed to comment on it, acknowledging their roles as national icons... which led me to think about those actors and actresses who don't quite make the global stage, the way Penelope Cruz has, but who nationally are central and important to understanding a country's cinema history and its many famous fictional figures. 

Fernando Fernán Gómez, one of the important faces of Spanish cinema.

Here is a list of Spain's most prominent actors, divided into those who are no longer with us, the living legends, and the ones around today who are established in the industry and appear in numerous films...

Legends in Spain cinema history:
Pepe Isbert (1886-1966)
Paco Martínez Soria (1902-1982) [popular comedian]
José Nieto (1903-1982)
Fernando Rey (1917-1994)
Fernando Fernán Gómez (1921-2007)
José Luis López Vázquez (1922-2009)
Paco Rabal (1926-2001)
Sara Montiel (1928-2013) [made “Bésame mucho” famous]
Agustín González (1930-2005)
Alfredo Landa (1933-2013) [namesake of “landismo”]
… and many, many other supporting actors of high caliber. Really, the list is too long … 

Sara Montiel recently passed away, and it was then that I learned 
she was important in popularizing the classic song, "Bésame mucho".

Living legends:
Terele Pávez (1939-)
Concha Velasco (1939-)

Concha Velasco, as seen on the small screen in the television hit Gran Hotel.

Important today:
Carmen Maura (1945-)
Antonio Resines (1954-)
Ángela Molina (1955-)
José Coronado (1957-)
Victoria Abril (1959-)
Antonio Banderas (1960-) [US-Spain relations, married to Melanie Griffith]
Juan Echanove (1961-)
Santiago Segura (1965-) [cult classic comedian]
Sergi López (1965-)
Jordi Mollà (1968-)
Luis Tosar (1971-)
Elena Anaya (1975-)
Leonor Watling (1975-)
Paz Vega (1976-)

One of Spain's talented women on the verge of a nervous breakdown,
Carmen Maura, a brilliant and very active Spanish actress.

One of the curious features of Spanish theatre and cinema are the clans of actors, the family dynasties whose shared surnames appear all over the film credits and stages. (Although maybe it's not unique to Spain.) Here are four important film families with grandfathers/mothers, uncles, sisters, and sons of significant film industry people:

Three members of the Bardem
Clan: Javier, Carlos, and Pilar.
Los Bardem:
Rafael Bardem (1889-1972)
Matilde Muñoz (1900-1969)
Juan Antonio Bardem (1922-2002) [director]
Pilar Bardem (1939-)
Carlos Bardem (1963-)
Miguel Bardem (1964-) [director]
Javier Bardem (1969-) [US-Spain relations]
Penelope Cruz [through marriage] [US-Spain relations]

Los Guillén Cuervo:
Fernando Guillén (1932-2013)
Gemma Cuervo (1936-)
Fernando Guillén Cuervo (1963-)
Cayetana Guillén Cuervo (1969-)

From the Guillén-Cuervo family: Gemma, Fernando, Cayetana, and Fernando.

Los Merlo:
María Fernanda Ladrón de Guevara (1897-1974)
Rafael Rivelles (1897-1971)
Ismael Merlo (1918-1984)
Carlos Larrañaga (1937-2012)
Amparo Rivelles (1925-2013)
Amparo Larrañaga Merlo (1963-)
Luis Merlo (1966-)
Maribel Verdú (1970-) [through marriage]

Members of la familia Larrañaga-Merlo.

Los Gutiérrez Caba:
Irene Alba (1873-1930) [theatre actress]
Leocadia Alba (1866-1952) [zarzuela actress]
Irene Caba Alba (1899-1957)
Julia Caba Alba (1902-1988)
Irene Gutiérrez Caba (1930-1995)
Julia Gutiérrez Caba (1932-)
Emilio Gutiérrez Caba (1942-)
Irene Escolar (1988-)

Three members of the Clan Gutiérrez-Caba: Julia and Emilio,
and their up-and-coming star and niece Irene.

 - - - - - - The "Course" Bibliography - - - - - - - -

Of course, any good class needs a syllabus ("temario"), so here are some books that people have recommended as quality reads on the subject. (Note: Román Gubern has been described to me by various people as a particularly important and prolific author in this field.)

• José Luis CASTRO DE PAZ, Jaime PENA, Cine español, otro trayecto histórico: nuevos puntos de vista, una aproximación sintética. IVAC-La Filmoteca, Valencia, 2005
• José Luis CASTRO DE PAZ, La nueva memoria: historia(s) del cine español. Vía láctea, A Coruña, 2005.
• Román GUBERN, El cine sonoro durante la II República: 1929-1936. Lumen, Barcelona. 1977
• Román GUBERN, El cine español durante la Guerra civil. Lumen, Barcelona, 1977
• Román GUBERN, Cine español en el exilio (1936-1939). Lumen. Barcelona. 1976
• Román GUBERN, La censura. Función política y ordenamiento jurídico bajo el franquismo (1936-1975). Península. Barcelona. 1981

This is hardly an exhaustive list of books... indeed, I want to thank an Instagram follower for sharing her cinema history course syllabus with me (this is one of the perks of blogging with my public, they teach you so much), which has dozens of books on specific periods of Spanish cinema. I welcome any of your recommendations on books you've read which you think are great references for learning about and better understanding Spanish films.

Apparently Román Gubern is a good author to read on Spanish cinema history.
A friend also loaned me these books and some issues from a special,
old Planeta series on the "Historia universal del cine". 

Class dismissed!

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