Update: Carlos Saura Challenge

Carlos Saura Challenge

I am changing my tactics in relation to working my way through Carlos Saura’s filmography. I ground to a halt more than a year ago having originally started in 2013 but only having watched 10 of his films (around 25% of his entire career). I have since watched a couple more but haven’t written about them – I think I need to have a time constraint involved in order to keep going but not one so rigid that it becomes a routine chore. I also think that what I’ve done to date has been written over such an elongated period of time that I would be better to start again from the beginning with a different format. What I have in mind is similar to the Almodóvarthon I had on the old blog in August 2011 with something published on each of the films in a concentrated time frame – but, given that Saura has made almost twice as many films as Almodóvar, realistically it will need to be spread over longer than one month (maybe 5 – 6 weeks). It will take me several months to watch all of the films and write something about each of them so that they can be posted sequentially within the designated weeks. Longtime readers will know that my place of employment goes through some sort of managerial disruption virtually every summer, so – taking that into consideration – November seems like a reasonable month to aim for (all other non-blog circumstances permitting). [UPDATE: events referred to in this post mean that November will not be possible – so it will likely be in early 2017 instead]

UPDATE (May 2017): It’s looking increasingly unlikely that I’ll continue the challenge in the manner I intended – i.e. to write something about each film, and then post everything sequentially over a number of weeks. The challenge came about because I wanted to address what felt like a big gap in my knowledge of Spanish cinema, given the length and variety of Saura’s career. I am continuing to work my way through the films – and have already rewritten the original 9 posts, plus 1 completely new one – but I think that I have to accept that watching and writing are two separate things, and that watching the 39 films may have to stand as the fulfilment of the challenge (rather than writing an individual analysis of each of them). I had thought that I could use the framework of the challenge to get myself back into the habit of writing but now think that re-starting a (large) project with which I previously didn’t manage to maintain momentum is probably not an advisable tactic. I may end up writing something about clusters of the films – because there are definite groupings within Saura’s filmography – but for the time being I’m going to draw a line under my original aim, and just continue watching as an end in itself.

Five Years

An image from the finale of Nadie conoce a nadie / Nobody Knows Anybody (Mateo Gil, 1999)
Image from the finale of Nadie conoce a nadie / Nobody Knows Anybody (Mateo Gil, 1999)

It is exactly five years since I first started writing on my original Nobody Knows Anybody blog (the picture above was the first header image). I have been unsure of how to mark the occasion given that I stopped writing there (and started this new incarnation) last August when I discovered that the full contents of the site had been ‘scraped’ by a third party. I’ve ended up writing a brief goodbye post there today (it is contained within an image so that it cannot be overwritten). For the past five months I’ve only posted on the original blog when I’ve written about Spanish cinema (the original site focused exclusively on Spanish cinema) for another place – e.g. reviewed a Spanish film or written a festival report that included Spanish works – and in those instances I have simply posted the link with minimal details. I don’t think that there’s much point continuing with that, so now it’s best to just draw a line under it and move on.

That said, while I initially stated that I wouldn’t be reposting old writing on here, I now find myself in two minds on that issue. I had considered choosing a piece of writing from each year and reposting it here (possibly updating certain things) as a way of marking the five years. However, when I went back through the longer pieces, I found that they were a bit like time capsules – you (or I, at least) can see my writing develop from my initial struggles to get away from a more academic mindset (something that I acknowledged or referred to within a lot of the earlier pieces because I was also using the blog to reflect on my writing processes), to becoming more comfortable with expressing my own opinion without recourse to half a dozen other writers to support my argument / point of view. I don’t really want to go backwards. I don’t agree with everything that I’ve written in the past but I also don’t feel the need to rewrite it – it is what it is and reflects where I was at the time. I also think that some of the writing would seem odd in isolation, taken out of its original context (where you can see what else I was writing about in the same period). So that idea bit the dust.

On the other hand, there are certain posts that I would like to ‘take with me’ – either because they’re part of something that I haven’t finished yet, or things that I’d like to revisit (here I’m thinking specifically of the two ‘anatomy of a scene’ posts [on La madre muerta and Los lunes al sol] where I used multiple still images to try and convey either gesture or camera movement – I’m wondering whether I could redo them with gifs?), or a few about films that I really connected with. All of these posts were original pieces written specifically for the blog – i.e. I am not talking about the posts that I adapted from my PhD thesis. I think initially this would not involve more than half a dozen posts, plus the Carlos Saura ones (although that challenge has dragged on for so long that those posts are a sequence where you can see a definite change in my writing over time – I may rewrite some of the earlier ones). If I actually find the time to get properly back into my ‘el otro cine español’ / Spanish documentary project, then there are possibly a few more pieces that I would revisit and rewrite rather than just reposting – but I’ll only do that if I feel that I’m going to have the time to invest in that project.

The ‘blog birthday’ posts are also usually where I outline plans for the coming year in terms of what I want to write about. My year has got off to a slow start because I haven’t been very well but I’m hoping that the worst is over with and I can start organising myself again. The AV Festival takes place in my home city between 27th February – 27th March. For that reason, my February and March will mainly be taken up with that (I have a lot of the films involved on DVD, so I’ll be watching some of them before the festival begins). With that in mind – and so as not to annoy people by posting all of the stuff from the old blog within the space of a week – I think I’ll start by posting one older piece each week, to spread it out. The ‘anatomy of a scene’ ones may have to wait a bit longer because I don’t know that I’ll have enough free time to sort out the images within that timescale. But given that I won’t be attempting to restart the Carlos Saura Challenge until after the AV Festival, the reposting/rewriting of those posts could also present a lead in to that. My AV Festival coverage will begin soon.

Last year I managed to attend two film festivals abroad and two in the UK. Travelling abroad is unlikely to be financially viable for me this year (unless I find another opportunity like the one that took me to Gijón) but I’ve been looking at a broader range of possible UK festivals. For example, the ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival in Manchester is returning to its normal format this year (it was divided into three weekends at different times of the year in 2015), which may mean that a trip to Manchester is a) feasible and b) worthwhile (that is obviously also dependent on what they programme). Beyond that I should manage Edinburgh and Berwick again…..and I’ve noted down some other possibilities for the second half of the year as well. Other writing plans? I want to write something about the Spanish documentaries (mentioned here – and the Edificio España piece that I refer to within that post is one of the ones that I want to relocate here), I’m intending to write about two films – África 815 and La sombra – from the last two Márgenes online festivals that I think have interesting parallels, I’m mulling over an idea in relation to Life May Be but need a decent stretch of free time to properly explore it, oh and a certain man from La Mancha has a new film out this year (scheduled for release in the UK at the end of August) – I don’t think I’ll be able to do something as full on as the Almodóvarthon that I did in 2011 (I was only working PT then), but I would hope to do something about Pedro at that point. That seems like a decent schedule to be getting on with for the time being.

Further Adventures in the Carlos Saura Challenge

Carlos Saura Challenge_notebook

The Carlos Saura Challenge began in February 2013 as a way of addressing a gap in my knowledge of Spanish cinema; I was familiar with Cría cuervos and the dance films, but I hadn’t seen any of the other films from Saura’s substantial career. I have made intermittent progress – my initial aim of watching all 37 of his films in the space of a year proved to be wildly unrealistic, but my viewings ground to a halt for months at a time on several occasions. Attempting to watch them chronologically was possibly a mistake – although you can see themes developing by considering them in that order – and in fact I have ended up looping back a couple of times because earlier films that were unavailable suddenly appeared on VOD or another format (his directorial debut – Los golfos / The Delinquents – was shown on 35mm as part of the Viva! film festival in Manchester in early 2014).
I have been surprised by how much I like his early films. Through necessity (to avoid the censor during the dictatorship) many of the early films are metaphorical – which can be something that I find irritating – but whereas I had been under the impression that Saura made very dry and dour films in that period, I found a mischievous sense of humour and someone who (along with producer Elías Querejeta, with whom he made a run of 13 films starting with La caza / The Hunt in 1966) had clearly done his damnedest to foil those who were restricting what could be put on Spanish screens. Censors often failed to appreciate that suggestion can be more powerful and more resonant than a direct depiction. There are also some great performances from José Luis López Vázquez (who I had previously only seen in comedic roles) and Geraldine Chaplin (a revelation) in those early films, most of them probably little known outside of Spain because they haven’t been commercially available in subtitled form (most of the DVDs that I have tracked down do not have subtitles).
I restarted again in January this year with Cría cuervos (the status of which had been putting me off writing about it) and then went backwards to watch La madriguera / Honeycomb. And then I stopped again. So basically I’ve reached the 1970s, I am 10 films into his career (barely a quarter of the way through his total filmography) and currently in a run of films where Geraldine Chaplin gets put through the mill (I’ve got 3 more films to go before they romantically and professionally parted company from what is an actor-director partnership – they made 8 films together – that merits greater critical attention). Next up will be Elisa, vida mía / Elisa, My Life with Chaplin and Fernando Rey – I’m going to aim to cover that at some point during September.

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I’m going to recap the films I’ve written about so far (and link to where I’ve written about them) and list the ones still to come. I usually list things Spanish title / English title the first time I refer to them – if the English title is in square brackets, it’s a literal translation as there is no official English language title. If a title in the list below has ‘VOD’ next to it that means that VOD is currently the only way to view it (click on ‘VOD’ to be taken to where it’s available – Filmin subscriptions can only be purchased within Spain but Filmotech allows you to pay 7€ for a month and watch almost anything on the site), ‘+VOD’ signifies that means that it is also in circulation on DVD, and nothing next to the title means DVD only (many of them are OOP but I’ve indicated if a film is completely unavailable – i.e. no DVD that I’m aware of). Cría cuervos, Blood Wedding, Carmen, El amor brujo, and Tango all have UK DVDs available. The majority of the other films were OOP but Enrique Cerezo’s current crusade to make Spanish cinema classics more readily available (Spanish DVDs always seem to have very limited runs and some disappear very quickly – I acquired most of my Saura DVDs secondhand) means that a few of the Saura/Querejeta collaborations (and some of the director’s later films including El Dorado and ¡Ay, Carmela!) are now available on DVD and Bluray in restored, no-frills editions (no English subtitles as far as I know) through the Divisa label.
01. Los golfos / The Delinquents (1962) [French DVD only] +VOD. Saura’s directorial debut but one that I saw out of sequence because it had long been unavailable in any format. A French DVD (with French subs only) was released in 2013 but I had the chance to see the film on 35mm at Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival in Manchester in 2014 – to date it is the only one of Saura’s films that I have seen on the big screen.
02. Llanto por un bandido / Lament for a Bandit (1964). Heavily censored at the time of its original release, the version I’ve seen suffers from the censor’s interventions. A lesser film in Saura’s filmography although – as with Los golfos – there are already certain elements that will recur throughout his career. It also contains Francisco (Paco) Rabal on scenery-chewing form, Lino Ventura, and a cameo by Luis Buñuel.
03. La caza / The Hunt (1966) +VOD (VOD includes an English subtitle option). Saura’s first masterpiece.
04. Peppermint frappé (1967) +VOD. The most Almodóvarian of Saura’s films (predating the man from La Mancha by several decades) and the first of his collaborations with Geraldine Chaplin (who here plays three women) and José Luis López Vázquez.
05. Stress-es tres-tres / Stress is Three (1968) [unavailable]
06. La madriguera / Honeycomb (1969) VOD. Chaplin again takes on multiple personalities in this blurring of performance, role play, dreams, and reality.
07. El jardin de las delicias / The Garden of Delights (1970). The blurring of dream and reality seen in La madriguera is kicked up a notch in this darkly funny (with a brilliant performance by López Vázquez) and structurally complicated film – the complex intricacy of the structure acted as a smokescreen to distract the censor from some of the more political elements.
08. Ana y los lobos / Ana and the Wolves (1973) +VOD. Chaplin stars alongside Fernando Fernán Gómez in a film where a sense of uneasy foreboding builds to a dark and horrific payoff.
09. La prima Angélica / Cousin Angelica (1974) +VOD. This is probably López Vázquez’s best performance for Saura (although he is never less than great across all of their collaborations) and it is my favourite of the films I’ve watched so far – it deserves to be better known outside of Spain.
10. Cría cuervos / Raise Ravens (1976) +VOD. Probably the director’s best-known film in the UK. Fiona Noble also wrote a guest post about it for the old site.
Still to come…
11. Elisa, vida mía / Elisa, My Life (1977) +VOD (VOD includes an English subtitle option).
12. Los ojos vendados / Blindfolded Eyes (1978) VOD.
13. Mamá cumple 100 años / [Mama Turns 100] (1979).
14. Deprisa, deprisa / Faster, Faster (1981) +VOD.
15. Bodas de sangre / Blood Wedding (1981).
16. Dulces horas / [Sweet Hours] (1982) [unavailable].
17. Antonieta (1982) [French DVD only].
18. Carmen (1983).
19. Los zancos / [The Stilts] (1984).
20. El amor brujo (1986).
21. El Dorado (1988) +VOD.
22. La noche oscura / [The Dark Night] (1989).
23. ¡Ay, Carmela! (1990) +VOD.
24. Sevillanas (1992).
25. ¡Dispara! / Outrage (1993).
26. Flamenco (1995).
27. Taxi (1996).
28. Pajarico / [Little Bird] (1997).
29. Tango (1998) +VOD.
30. Goya en Burdeos / Goya in Bordeaux (1999) +VOD.
31. Buñuel y la mesa del rey Salomón / Buñuel and King Solomon’s Table (2001).
32. Salomé (2002).
33. El séptimo día / The Seventh Day (2004) +VOD.
34. Iberia (2005) +VOD.
35. Fados (2007).
36. Io, Don Giovanni / I, Don Giovanni (2010).
37. Flamenco, Flamenco (2010) +VOD.
38. Argentina (2015) [due to premiere at the Venice Film Festival].

El otro cine español

Costa da Morte_2

Back in early 2014 I started what could loosely be termed a ‘project’ to explore the phenomenon that was being labelled el otro cine español [the other Spanish cinema] by certain quarters of the specialist Spanish press. My starting point was this list of 52 filmmakers published by Caimán Cuadernos de Cine in August 2013. From the outset I said that I had some issues with how the list had been compiled, and as I started watching the films I found it to be an increasingly nebulous term that was attempting to corral an unwieldy and disparate group of people. By July 2014 I had decided that the documentaries would be the best place to start – and so I set off, in quite a haphazard way, mainly watching (rather than writing about) those recent(ish) Spanish documentaries that could be said to fall into this otro cine español category (everything I’ve written so far on the topic can be found here).
To be honest, in the second half of 2014 / start of 2015 I got distracted by documentaries and essay films more generally (irrespective of nationality) – this coincided with increased attention being paid to documentaries in the film press (or was it just that my attention had increased and therefore I noticed more writing on the subject?) including Sight & Sound‘s documentary poll, so there was a lot to be distracted by – which is why there is a ‘documentary’ category in the menu of this new site. I wandered off track and lost focus (or redirected my focus because I knew I was going to the D’A Festival in April and therefore I wanted to look at how they had ‘promoted’ the idea of el otro cine español as a kind of movement through a strand of the 2014 festival programme called ‘Un impulso colectivo‘).
EdificioEspana_posterIn relation to the Spanish documentaries, so far the only substantial piece I’ve written was the standalone post on Edificio España (Víctor Moreno, 2013). I have an idea for something I want to write about a particular group of Spanish documentaries (specifically those that have sought to address the financial crisis and its social impact in Spain), but there are a couple more films that I want to watch first – Pablo Llorca’s recent diptych El gran salto adelante / The Great Leap Forward (2014) and País de todo a 100 / The Palace Without Stairs (2014) (the first is fiction, the latter a documentary) and ReMine: El último movimiento obrero / ReMine: The Last Working Class Movement (Marcos M. Merino, 2014). I have all three films – I just need to actually watch them and then work out how / if they fit with ones I’ve already seen. I had planned to write this in August but the combination of things going on at work and moving online sites has scuppered that, so it will have to continue fluttering around my mind for the time being.

So, anyway, I had lost my focus. But in addition to that, what I observed in Barcelona also made me question whether this otro cine español was a real movement or simply a convenient tag to apply to filmmakers who are working outside of the industrial norm in Spain. Branding of a sort – which has its own uses for the filmmakers in question if they can travel as a group – but a very loose wrapper to bind together some filmmakers who are actually quite distinct from each other in terms of the films they are making. Interestingly, the people I interviewed in Barcelona seemed just as uncertain as to whether they were part of an actual phenomenon or if it is only the latest incarnation of an ongoing occurrence that had (for a range of reasons) gained more press attention in the past couple of years. While I was pondering that, I also interviewed Xurxo Chirro in relation to Iberodocs’s ‘Focus on Galicia’ and his description of el otro cine español as being like an archipelago where filmmakers either work alone or in small clusters (rather than a larger, coherent movement) made a lot of sense to me – because some of those clusters (the filmmakers included in (Im)Possible Futures at the D’A Festival, those who form the Novo Cinema Galego [New Galician Cinema], and arguably some groups associated with certain film schools) are clearly apparent within the more unwieldy mass.
That’s where I’d got up to in May – then I went to EIFF, the annual upheaval kicked off at work (note to self: your name is on here now), and so on. I’ve not got much further than considering the concept from that angle. I said in May that I wanted to write the documentary piece first before changing my approach to el otro cine español (documentaries will still be part of that mix, but I think that approaching individual clusters of filmmakers will be a more fruitful way of tackling the topic). I’m now intending to watch the three remaining films mentioned above (and give more thought to drawing those documentaries together for something) but I’m also just going to get started on looking at the archipelago. I will start with the Novo Cinema Galego because I have already seen almost all of the key films by that group of filmmakers. I’ll give my usual caveat – it won’t appear instantaneously because I tend to mull things over until I reach some undefined magical point of enlightenment, but also because there are potentially 2-3 film festivals in September and October that I’m interested in (depending on their programmes) so they will have to be factored in to my schedule. But I’m happy to have a new trail to start down.

Metamorphosis (everything old is new again)

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Well, here we are again.
This is the new Nobody Knows Anybody – still a work-in-progress in terms of appearance at the moment while I familiarise myself with the ways of WordPress (I’ve not got the hang of image functionality on here yet – which is why the header banner is currently out of focus). I’ve started with a fairly basic ‘theme’ (layout) because that seemed a sensible thing to do, not least because some of the bells and whistles on the fancier set-ups are currently beyond my comprehension.
For an explanation as to why I have restarted on a different platform, please read these two posts on the old site: Echoes and Copyright. I am no more protected on this platform (if anything – according to what I’ve read in the past couple of weeks – WordPress actually seems to be even more susceptible to the practice) but…well, I didn’t really know what else to do. I wasn’t prepared to continue writing original material on that site knowing that it was instantly replicated elsewhere unattributed (for whatever purpose). The old site will be staying where it is – expect me to link to it a fair amount, especially in relation to ongoing projects – and I’ve decided that I will continue to put up the kind of links posts that I habitually post when I’ve written about Spanish cinema somewhere else (i.e. if I review a Spanish film over at Eye for Film). But there will be no more longform writing over there.
I chose to hang on to the name. First of all because I’ve spent 4.5 years blogging under that title and I like it. But also because I want some continuity and for there to be a logical connection to the original site, I want people to be able to find me, and I guess I would like (“‘I want’ doesn’t get”, as my Mum says) to assert a sense of ownership. So I’ve brought that name with me…and I’ve brought my own name with me too.
The thing that has most irked me about what happened with the blog is my name being removed from my writing…and yet I did not have my full name on the site. I explained in Copyright why I originally decided to put my identity at one remove from the blog, but those reasons are no longer valid. While I still have to stretch for the word or phrase that I’m grasping for, that is (for me) part of the process of writing, and I no longer feel embarrassed by my writing (clunky though it still sometimes is). Plus, as I’ve been writing for other sites under my own name for more than a year – and then linking to those pieces from the blog and twitter – regular readers (hey, I know you exist!) already know my name. So, I’ve decided to ‘own’ my writing and put my name on it.
I haven’t put the ‘a Spanish cinema blog’ subtitle on here because I saw the opportunity to broaden my scope slightly and to create a space where I could write about any film I wanted. However Spanish cinema remains my main focus and it will most likely be the dominant strand on this new site, but it won’t be the only strand (as indicated by the categories I’ve put in the menu).
My initial plan is to write a post for each of my ongoing projects, summarising where I am with them (as I’ve said, expect me to link back to the old site because I’m not going to repost old writing on here), which will be a useful exercise for me as much as anything else. I’ve got a couple of ideas for new recurring features but I also have (as ever) a backlog of DVDs to watch, so there will be some standalone pieces on unconnected individual films as well. There are also some possible film festival trips coming up, so I’m sure that I’ll have plenty to do. To be continued…