The Carlos Saura Challenge: 1962-1979

When I first decided to set myself the challenge of watching all of Carlos Saura’s films (back in 2013), the project had two purposes: to fill in a large gap in my knowledge of Spanish cinema (I had only seen a handful of his films); to occupy myself while I was stuck in part-time employment (a situation I’d been in since graduating with my PhD in 2010). The idea had formed months earlier but it took me some time to track down access to the films (some are only available as VOD but I’m watching the majority on unsubtitled DVDs), and to work out whether I could get hold of enough of them as to make the challenge worthwhile. For a long time a lot of ‘classic’ Spanish films were unavailable in any kind of home viewing format (the label Divisa has been addressing this in the past few years); at this point Saura had 37 feature films to his name (that figure is now currently 39), some of which have never had a DVD release and many of those that had seemed to be OOP. After 6 months I had found/acquired 30 of the films, and so I started the initial run of the challenge in February 2013.

My initial intention of short posts on each film interspersed with longer pieces about groups of the films never really materialised, although I covered 6 of the films in the first couple of months. In May 2013 I finally managed to get a full-time job and I didn’t sustain any momentum with the challenge after that point – the gaps between posts got bigger and bigger, until I stopped altogether. This was partly to do with lack of time (and energy) but also a resistance to having the challenge turn into a chore (e.g. I would have had to watch 2 or 3 Saura films each month in order to stay on my original schedule, which was fine when I was part-time, but now that left very little time for watching anything else) – the enjoyment disappeared. The last time I wrote about a Saura film for the challenge (on the old blog) was in January 2015…and then I ground to a complete halt. But I don’t like leaving things unfinished, and obviously I now own almost all of the films (I have access to 38 of the 39 films – there is only one that I’ve been completely unable to track down).

But I wasn’t particularly motivated to re-start last year because – as I detailed in my end-of-year post – my interest in cinema generally plummeted, as did my enthusiasm for writing about films. I decided to take a break from blogging for the first half of this year. I can’t say that my enthusiasm has reignited but I don’t want to get completely out of the habit of writing (I did so in the aftermath of completing my PhD and it took me a long time to regain any feeling of dexterity with language or confidence in my own voice – a situation I have no wish to repeat). So I started thinking about the Carlos Saura Challenge again – could this be a way of getting back into writing more regularly? I started rewriting the original posts, rewatching some of the films when my memory wasn’t clear enough – rewriting seemed like a good way to ease myself back into writing without being confronted by a completely blank page. Posting as and when I’d watched and written about a film didn’t work the first time around, so my intention was to get everything written and then post all of it together over the course of 4-6 weeks, maybe towards the end of the year (the writing is more important than the publishing). Then doubt set in – am I just setting myself up for a fall given that I’ve always struggled with momentum on this project, and I’ve still only watched a third of the films?

The size of Saura’s filmography is slightly overwhelming – he has been working consistently for more than 50 years. Looking at a list of his films, I started to consider where I could draw possible lines of division to break them into smaller groups. The director has said that his films can be roughly divided into three categories: the ‘musical’ films (although, as he points out, music is important in all of his films); the fictional films; and films that he describes as ‘personal essays’ about figures who have inspired him (e.g. Buñuel and Goya). But I don’t want to divide them along thematic lines (and I’ll say now – as I did during the original run – that I’m not sure exactly how I will approach the musical/dance films because I lack both the technical expertise and vocabulary for those art forms). So rather than theme, or ‘phases’, I’ve gone with decades as the dividing lines: 1962-1979; 1980-1999; 2000-2017. The films don’t divide equally between those time periods (13, 17, and 9 respectively) but this was the simplest way to do it. I am sticking with my plan of writing everything for a given collection and then publishing it as a sequence over a number of weeks, but completing the whole thing this year is unrealistic; given the number of films in the 1980-1999 collection, that set will likely not appear on the blog until early 2018 (with 2000-2017 to probably follow by that summer).

But for the next fortnight, the 1962-1979 schedule is as follows:

  1. Los golfos / The Delinquents (1962) [Mon 3rd]
  2. Llanto por un bandido / Lament for a Bandit (1964) [Tues 4th]
  3. La caza / The Hunt (1966) [Wed 5th]
  4. Peppermint frappé (1967) [Thurs 6th]
  5. Stress es tres, tres / Stress is Three (1968) [Fri 7th]
  6. La madriguera / Honeycomb (1969) [Sat 8th]
  7. El jardín de las delicias / The Garden of Delights (1970) [Sun 9th]
  8. Ana y los lobos / Ana and the Wolves (1973) [Mon 10th]
  9. La prima Angélica / Cousin Angelica (1974) [Tues 11th]
  10. Cría cuervos / Raise Ravens (1976) [Wed 12th]
  11. Elisa, vida mía / Elisa, My Love (1977) [Thurs 13th]
  12. Los ojos vendados / Blindfolded Eyes (1978) [Fri 14th]
  13. Mamá cumple 100 años / Mama Turns 100 (1979) [Sat 15th]

I will add links within the titles as the posts are published.

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Intermission

intermission

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m taking a break from blogging at the start of 2017. This is partly because there are some courses I’d like to do (and beyond my job I only seem to be able to concentrate on one thing at a time) – the courses are self-paced and involve subjects that are completely new to me, so I’m not sure how long they will take to complete.

But I’ve also lost interest in writing about films. I’ve just written about the personal and political ups and downs of the past year – and I have no doubt that those things have impacted on my general mood – but during 2016 I also packed away (or binned) a lot of research materials, notes, magazines and books relating to my older research interests because I felt that I had definitely come to the end of something in that regard. I need to put the blog to one side for a while in order to think about / do other things and reorient myself.

Setting a time scale only ever creates a rod for my own back, but it’s unlikely that I’ll be back on here before the summer. As I also mentioned in my end of year round-up, I will be reducing the amount of time I spend on Twitter, but I’m not intending to leave the platform altogether (I am also contactable via the details in the sidebar). Hasta luego…

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.

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…