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Review Essay: Recent books on Spanish cinema in the 1990s: a global perspective.

Benavent, Francisco Maria. Cine espanol de los noventa.

Bilbao: Mensajero, 2000. 3,800 pesetas

Evans, Peter William, ed. Spanish Cinema: The Auteurist Tradition.

Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. [pounds sterling]15.99 (paper).

Heredero, Carlos F. Espejo de miradas: Entrevistas con nuevos directores del cine espanol de los anos noventa. Alcala de Henares: Festival de Cine de Alcala de Henares, 1997. 4,000 pesetas.

Jordan, Barry, and Rikki Morgan-Tamosunas, eds. Contemporary Spanish Cinema. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1998. [pounds sterling]9.99 (paper).

Kinder, Marsha, ed. Refiguring Spain: Cinema/Media/Representation. Durham: Duke UP, 1997. $19.95 (paper).

Martin-Marques, Susan. Feminist Discourse and Spanish Cinema: Sight Unseen. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. [pounds sterling]42.00.

Zunzunegui, Santos. El extra no viaje. El celuloide atrapado por la cola, o la critica norteamericana ante el cine espanol. Valencia: Episteme, 1999. 1,250 pesetas.

It might well be argued that a critical survey of recent books on Spanish cinema in/of the 1990s published in Spain, Great Britain, and the US does not constitute a global perspective. Though the charge is undoubtedly true, this selection does lead us to confront the convergence (as well as conflict) of interests, institutions, and critical discourses that have produced these volumes. Changes in academic, university-based Hispanism in the US and Britain, in the form of a turn toward cultural studies (including media and popular culture), have favored the incorporation of Spanish-language film into both under-graduate and graduate curriculums. This uptic in academic interest has coincided with a relative boom in the commercial release and distribution of Spanish features in the US and British markets, spearheaded by Almodovar in the 1980s and followed in the 1990s by Trueba, Bigas Luna, Medem, Amenabar and others. On the home front in Spain, recurring predictions of doom and gloom for the Spanish film industry of the early to mid 1990s gave way in the latter half of the decade to celebrations of a new creative viability and recaptured domestic audience thanks to a "relevo generacional," the emergence of a new crop of directors, actors, and technicians for whom personal artistry is not at odds with commercial success.

From the outset we should note that fundamental dissymmetries exist between these Spanish and English language studies of Spanish cinema. The books by Peter Evans, Barry Jordan and Rikki Morgan-Tamosunas, Susan Martin-Marquez, and Marsha Kinder, published by university presses (all but one in the UK), are directed toward an academic audience of students and specialists--presumably in the US and Britain--in Hispanism, cinema, cultural studies, feminist theory and/or all of the above. (1) The books by Carlos Heredero and Francisco Maria Benavent--the first a group of interviews with Spanish directors of the 1990s, the second a dictionary of Spanish films from the 1990s--each accompanied by an introductory essay, address a more general audience, primarily within Spain. Santos Zunzunegui's study is the exception among the Spanish publications, for its proposed meta-critical focus as an analysis of earlier US studies of Spanish cinema.

Despite these significant differences, what is remarkable at first glance is the overlap in many of the underlying critical assumptions and frameworks. For example, the four books (Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas, Kinder, Heredero and Benavent) that most directly propose to account for the nature of "contemporary" cinema in Spain, and to delimit a cinema of the 1990s as distinct from the 1980s or from filmmaking in general since the death of Franco, devote more or less extended treatments to the changing financing structure of the Spanish film industry. The old opposition between cinema as art and as industry, what Peter Besas in Kinder's Refiguring ring Spain has termed "the agelong and perhaps a trifle puerile controversy about whether film should be 'art' or 'commerce'" (247), that once also marked the distance between the majority of academic-oriented cinema analyses and the economic/statistical concerns of empiricist historians and professional film publications no longer applies. While none of the studies cited argues for a determining role for changes in the government subsidy policies and financing schemes, all point to their impact in shaping the identity, content, and number of films made during the period.

Besas's ironically pessimistic account of Socialist era filmmaking depicts a film industry at odds with its public due in large part to the continuation of government financing practices that rewarded producers for the completion of subsidized film projects but set up de facto economic disincentives to distribution that left many films unreleased. Although the 1996 Socialist defeat at the hands of the conservative Partido Popular (PP) marked an obvious break with past policies, as several writers note, the shift toward a neoliberal philosophy and policies for national film production had already begun in 1990 when the "Semprun Decree" (developed under then Minister of Culture Jorge Semprun) replaced the "Miro Law" (named after 1983-85 Director General of Cinematography Pilar Miro). Championing the role of the market over public subsidies, these new measures proposed a shift away from selective pre-production subsidies awarded to "quality" projects towards a system of automatic reimbursements based on box off ice receipts. Subsequent Socialist policy under Culture Minister Carmen Alborch codified these reforms into statutes. Despite the war of words triggered by PP Under-Secretary of Culture Miguel Cortes following the conservative victory in which he condemned the films of the 13 year Socialist period as "the worst in Spanish history," as well as very real threats to abolish various forms of protection for Spanish films, conservative party policies have remained consistent with those of the first half of the 1990s. All films (other than S-rated sex films) are currently eligible for a 33% return based on total budget once a threshold of 30 million pesetas in box office receipts has been reached (Heredereo 44, Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas 2-3, Benavent 17-18).

Nevertheless, as Benavent and Kinder point out, public subsidies and government protection represent only part of the puzzle (Benavent 14-16, Kinder 8-12). In 1999, according to statistics cited by Benavent, 45% of cinema financing came from television, and a majority of that from the new private channels that arrived starting in 1990--including Tele 5, Antena 3, and Canal Plus--in addition to national and regional televisions. Public sector support declined during the period from 30% of the total in 1990 to 16% in 1999. Rounding out the figures, box office revenues brought in 18%, producers 9%, foreign sales 7%, and video 5% (Benavent 14-19). Other significant new sources include EU loans and subsidies for script development and exhibition created as part of joint European audio-visual policies undertaken in an attempt to stave off Hollywood's domination (Kinder 8-10, Benavent 18).

Dramatic changes on the production side have also taken place, spurred by the consolidation of the industry through the formation of a handful of would-be Spanish media empires. While independent producers such as Andres Vicente Gomez, Enrique Cerezo, Elias Querejeta, and the Almodovar brothers' El Deseo, S.A., as well as fellow filmmaker-producers Fernando Colomo and Fernando Trueba continue to play an important role, they and other independents have recognized the need to form often shifting alliances with larger conglomerates. Two of the most powerful Spanish media groups have coalesced around PRISA, the owner of El Pais, and major shareholder in TV channels Canal Plus and Canal Satelite Digital, working through their film production and distribution arms Sogetel and Sogepaq, on the one hand, and the group made up of Via Digital and Telefonica, the privatized company formed out of the old government-run telephone company and principal owners of TV network Antena 3 and radio station Onda Cero, on the other (Benavent 14-15). A further advantage sought by these alliances and mergers lies in the possibility of competing with multinational "majors" in cinema production and distribution in order to counteract the built-in conflict of interest that occurs when Spanish films are distributed by American companies, setting them effectively in competition for screen time and advertising dollars with Hollywood releases (Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas 5-6). This decision to attempt to compete head-to head with the American majors has directed a new flow of money into promotional campaigns "a la americana" that according to Benavent have resulted in impressive box office gains for certain pictures (16).

Finally, Heredero and Benavent point to the contributing role of other institutions and activities in bringing about the "maturing" of Spanish film industry: the Academia de Cine and its annual Goya awards, international film festivals, and the new "national" film schools, the ESCAC (Escuela Superior de Cine y Audiovisuales de Cataluna) which opened in Barcelona in 1994 and the ECAM (Escuela de Cinematografia y de Audiovisual de la Comunidad de Madrid) that began in 1995 (Heredero 48-57, Benavent 19).

Against this rapidly shifting panorama of financing, production, and distribution, the authors identify further changes more clearly positive for Spanish cinema in the 1990s, beginning with an increase in numbers of films made, from a low of 41 (or 44) in 1994 to an average of 80-90 in recent years. (2) Another development, noted by Jordan/Morgan-Tamosunas, and treated at length by Heredero and Benavent, regards the unprecedented number of new directors making their debuts during the decade. According to Heredero, between 1990 and the first half of 1997, 140 new directors made feature films (24). While pointing to the support of financing schemes that favored new directors (currently defined as filmmakers preparing a first, second or third feature) via pre-production subsidies of up to a total of 50 million pesetas or alternatively through an automatic subsidy on box office at a reduced threshold of 20 million, he is nevertheless adamant on the point that these measures didn't create the phenomenon but instea d buoyed a process of renewal already under way (44). Favorable subsidy policies may work to increase the number of new directors, he observes, but they have no effect on the quality of the films made. The Miro era support for first time directors may have allowed for the production of 62 films by first time directors made between 1984 and 1989, but "[t]he new directors of the 1980s did not contribute substantially to leaving their indelible stamp on the national cinema of the period either with the personality (personalidad) of their works or by stimulating a process of generational or professional renovation" (26) (3). Another differential stressed by Heredero is the relative success among this 90s group in making second and third films, thus reversing a long-term problem in Spanish cinema industry since the 1960s. According to Heredero, of those who made first films between 1990 and 1995, 60.6% had made at minimum a second film by July 1997 (30).

In fact, despite the increased attention devoted to material and financial determinants and a partial recognition of potential effects on the creative process (Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas predict a shift in "the balance of power away from directors (who had previously been custodians of government subsidies) to producers..." (3), where Benavent foresees "the traditional figure of the producer personally involved with the film in question ceding to a American model of a mere financial manager" (16), several studies continue to argue implicitly or explicitly for the central role of the director--the auteur--as creative protagonist. Heredero justifies his book's focus on directors as a reflection of the "minifundista" nature of the Spanish film industry throughout most of its history, where directors have born the primary burden of pushing a film through the various stages from project to completion. For Heredero it is the new directors who are responsible for the "lavado de imagen," the total change of image, t hat took place in Spanish cinema during the 1990s, (24). What is nevertheless novel about these approaches is that the auteur is no longer conceived as a figure in real or imagined opposition to the system and to the demands of commercial return vs. artistic integrity. On the contrary, the views expressed by Spanish director, producer, and former president of the National Film Academy Jose Luis Borau, and editor Peter Evans in the prologue and introduction to the critical anthology Spanish Cinema: The Auteurist Tradition, while arguing, consistent with the book's focus, for the central role exercised by the director, also give evidence of a striking, though unacknowledged, evolution in the conception of the auteur.

Although quick to admit the potential problems involved in the embrace of the term auteur to the exclusion of other "origins" of the cinematic image, Borau speaks to its appropriateness in a study addressed to audiences beyond Spain, including "historians and scholars in universities and centres of audiovisual and cultural studies throughout the world" whose knowledge of Spanish cinema often remains confined to the films of a few "outstanding directors such as Saura, Almodovar, Bigas Luna, de la Iglesia or Amenabar" (xvii). In that respect, notes Borau, the reception of Spanish cinema abroad is similar to that of other "exotic" national industries. Such, as many commentators have observed, are the distortions of auteurism as a critical framework that facilitates the dissemination of "foreign" films and at that same time restricts knowledge to a few fetishized examples. After placing Spain with neighboring countries in the category of less-known national cinemas vis-a-vis a global Hollywood industry, Borau goe s on to argue for a significant Spanish difference: Spain's film industry is not an exotic minor industry, its yearly production totals have seldom fallen below 50 films and nowadays average some 80-90 features, "a figure that places Spain at the forefront of film production in the EU" (xviii). Furthermore, unlike in France or Hollywood, the auteur is not the exception within Spanish cinema: "[i]n Spain it was precisely the auteurs who, above all after the first screening of Bienvenido Mr Marshall/Welcome Mr. Marshall in the spring of 1953, accepted responsibility for guiding and refining the film industry to which they belonged" (xviii).

While stressing the centrality of the auteur, Borau's brief essay recapitulates an ongoing debate on the "long march of Spanish cinema towards itself" (xxii). His view of Spanish film history reconfigures the auteur / art cinema vs. commercial, popular cinema dichotomy. Indeed, his heterogeneous list of contemporary auteurs (the above cited Saura, Almodovar, Bigas Luna, de la Iglesia, Amenabar) hardly corresponds to the more homogeneous paradigm of 1960s model Spanish auteurism, embodied in figures like Saura from the New Spanish Cinema generation, inspired by precursors Berlanga and Bardem, and educated in the Escuela Oficial de Cine (Official Film School). Borau's vision projects the ideal of an authentic Spanish cinema as one that liberates the auteur from the merely national in order to create a thoroughly independent cinema, not just in political terms (his essay almost totally elides the discussion of political pressures and financing schemes whether under Franco or since the dictator's death), but one freed from all manner of non-cinematic constraints, be they social, political, or cultural--the weight of Spanish literary and dramatic traditions, folklore, costumbrismo, and popular culture (xviii-xvix, xxii).

For Borau, such qualitative ideals are not seen as incompatible with quantitative measures of success. Echoing the judgments of other writers, he finds that one of the major achievements of 1990s cinema, vis-a-vis the previous "auteurist tradition," lies in its recapture of Spanish audiences. Both Heredero and Benavent also cite the recent rise in the percentage of audience and box office returns for Spanish films domestically, following a pair of particularly dismal years in the early 1990s, but Borau's account is more nuanced: "Almost 70% of the spectators are under 30 years old, coming mainly from the more educated levels of society. In view of the deep-seated indifference, if not outright hostility, with which those same social groups or their equivalents had received our home-based films, this is an almost revolutionary development" (xxi). Finally, the old art vs. commerce arguments are turned on their head as an auteur "label" is adduced as a contributing factor if not a necessary requirement in a film' s commercial success: "So much is this so that even at the risk of exaggeration it can be claimed nowadays that an auteur film in principle almost guarantees success. And conversely, success is harder to achieve if a film is considered merely commercial" (xxi).

Elsewhere among the books under review, however, a greater uncertainty over whether and when to draw the line between auteur / art film and commercial products shadows the discussion. Heredero alludes to his subjects' rejection of the term auteur, for its association both with earlier generations of filmmakers and with the government subsidized "quality" films disdained by Spanish audiences. Nevertheless, he, for his part, questions their self-designation as anti-auteurs when they seemingly meet every criterion for the art film director: they work on personal projects, write their own scripts, tend to work with regular "repertory companies" of actors and technical crews, and are the driving force in seeing their projects through to realization (70-71). Besas, on the other hand, evokes the distinction between a continuing tradition of commercial boulevard comedy (in which he situates 1990s director Manuel Gomez Pereira) and government subsidized art films, some of them "quirky" enough to succeed in festivals a nd even at home (the model presumably being Almodovar), others doomed to sink beneath the weight of their artistic pretensions (Kinder 242-45). But Heredero's generation-based grouping, like Borau's, with its conception of the commercially successful auteur, is a capacious big tent. (4)

In his introductory essay following Borau's prologue, Evans cannot avoid references to a division between a commercial or "popular" strain and art cinema traditions. In the context of recent cultural studies approaches that have validated the study of the Gramscian "national popular," Evans appears caught between two disciplinary paradigms, arguing along with Borau, for example, that over the last 20 years "despite sporadic box office successes" like the Isabel Pantoja, neo-folkloric musical Yo soy esa/I'm The Girl, "the real successes in terms both of quality and quantity [in Spanish cinema] have been auteur-based" (2). For Evans, the auteurist, art film "tradition" has come to dominate in Spain, transcending its earlier minority status and limited domestic commercial success "by educating its audiences into developing a taste for mature treatment of sophisticated material" (3). The decision to study art films and the auteurist tradition rather than say the "popular" films of the CIFESA Studio of the thirtie s and forties, or later star vehicles for Sara Montiel or Marisol, however, does not deny that "these topics are in their own way fascinating areas of enquiry and no value judgement is implied in their exclusion here" (4). It is likely that continuing anxieties over questions of high vs. low culture, aesthetic norms, and disciplinary shifts are also behind the editor's reservations regarding the place of films from the 1990s in the "auteurist tradition." Although studies of four films from the 1990s are included in the volume, a number consistent with the book's goal of covering the last 40 years of cinema history in Spain, special attention is given to the treatment of the last decade, described as:" ... leading up to but not venturing too far into the 1990s because, for all their undisputed qualities, the films of the last few years have not had to endure the test of time, their long-term significance still enduring a process of bedding down" (5).

In the books by Benavent and Heredero, in contrast, issues of commercial vs. art cinema as well as questions of film style and content are subordinated to that pervasive Spanish historiographic category of the generation, this despite the fact that the age range among first time directors in the 1990s spans some 20 years, from 24 to 45. The unifying factor behind this generational identity is held to be their very lack of uniformity. Unlike the members of the New Spanish Cinema of the 1960s, the filmmakers of the 1990s do not constitute a movement; they share no common theories or theses beyond their rejection of the modes and methods associated with earlier groups, be they social realism, formalism or notions of "literary" quality (Heredero 60-61, 66). Their heterogeneous backgrounds, whether in terms of socio-economic origins, education, or film training stand as another distinguishing factor. Educated or self-educated in private film academies, short seminars and cursillos in California, New York, Cuba, or London, in the advertising industry, as apprentices on film sets, or through the making of shorts, this is a group whose professional coming of age occurred in a perceived void, in the absence of a National Film School, between the closing of the EOC in the early 1970s and the creation of the ESCAC and the ECAM in the mid-1990s. Heredero stresses their further generational commonality, as filmmakers "formados en el reino de la promiscuidad audiovisual" and evidenced in their assimilation and deployment of the codes of comics, advertising video-clips, fashion, fanzines, TV movies, and rock music in unselfconscious and nonhierarchical relation with a cinema culture that is often more the product of TV and video viewings than big screen experience (66.). (5)

Another hallmark of 1990s cinema in Spain, signaled by Heredero, Benavent and Jordan/Morgan-Tamosunas alike, consists of the incorporation of relatively large numbers of first time women directors into the industry. Between 1990 and 1996, 21 women made their feature film debut, more than double the number from the previous 90 years of Spanish cinema history. While Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas devote a sub-chapter to a discussion of these directors and to the depiction of themes of women in society and female sexuality in general, the works by Benavent and Heredero, with their empirical/sociological framework, are generally unable to account for this development beyond its indexical value as evidence of a general evolution and modernization of Spanish society and a consequence of the "greater participation of women in all aspects of the public and cultural life of the nation (Heredero 61).

Susan Martin-Marquez's book, Feminist Discourse and Spanish Cinema: Sight Unseen, represents the first full-length study of the nature and scope of women's participation in cinematic institutions in Spain. Martin-Marquez's ambitious and thoroughly researched study provides an effective "counter-history" of Spanish cinema from a feminist perspective. Examining, for example, the multi-faceted career of actress turned director Ana Mariscal in the 1940s through the 1960s, Martin-Marquez points to the inadequacies of dominant critical and ideological frameworks for understanding and evaluating the former's work. Heterogeneous in their subject matter, style, and modes of production, Mariscal's eleven films as director straddle a no-man's land, alternating between auteur/art cinema and low budget commercial efforts. Judged from the perspective of (anti-)Francoist historiography, Mariscal's films as both actress and director fall outside the oppositional cannon and are thus deemed complicit with Francoism.

Martin-Marquez treats the women-authored cinema of the 1990s in an after-word in which she explores the diverse career paths that have led individual directors to their feature debut. Later readings focus on a series of films that broaden the concern with representations of difference to questions beyond gender, including issues of race and nation, sexual orientation, and the experiences of Spain's growing immigrant population. In contrast to several of the other studies, her book avoids the "presentism" that conceives the history of the Spanish film industry as a progression ever forward, culminating in the 1990s with a "Spanish cinema going through its best period, at least from a creative point of view (Borau, in Evans xxi). The book's opening analysis of the rape scenes in Jaime Chavrri's Yo soy el que tu buscas/ I'm the One You're looking For (1988) and Almodovar's Kika (1993) lays challenge to the notion of film as a mirror of social progress and modernizing roles for women. Martin-Marquez's exploration of the broader historical and social context of Spanish filmmaking from the 1930s to the present, reveals a much more complex and contradictory picture.

In their introduction to a recent critical anthology devoted to Cinema and Nation, Mette Hjort and Scott MacKenzie have identified the categories of auteur and national cinema as the two dominant critical frameworks that served to ground the practice of film studies as an academic discipline beginning in the US in the late 1960s (2). In subsequent years both concepts have been subject to challenge and revision from various critical quarters. The studies reviewed here give evidence of the factors behind the continued use and usefulness of the notion of the auteur--as well as its limits--for studies of Spanish cinema.

Not surprisingly, the concept of the national, and of a Spanish national cinema, varies widely among the works under review, often according to the nationality of the authors and presumed audiences. For Heredero and Benavent, the Spanishness of the films and filmmakers they consider is a given; the complex identities involved in referring to Julio Medem or Juanma Bajo Ulloa as successful Basque directors, for example, are not explored in the introduction (although they do arise in Heredero's interviews with the directors in question). Nevertheless, a functional understanding of the nation as an administrative, legal, and economic entity (and an implicit valuation of a cinematic national culture on political, cultural and economic grounds) underlies the development and operation of the various financing apparatuses treated in some detail by the authors. More explicit is the consideration of the success of Spanish films abroad and prizes won. Heredero includes a list of films of the 1990s at festivals in Spain and on the continent---annes, Venice, Berlin--although, curiously, there is no reference to festivals in New York, London or elsewhere in the US or UK (4850).

Issues of nation and national identity form a central concern for Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas and Kinder, while somewhat less so for Evans and Martin-Marquez. For the authors of Contemporary Spanish Cinema the national identity of films made and seen in Spain cannot be simply assumed but stands as a problem, one that shapes the contents and structure of their book. Is a film's nationality determined by geography, language, content, and/or financing, they ask. Is national identity a function of production or reception? Answering such questions provides the focal point of their work: "Our study focuses crucially on Spanish cinema as a cultural product and explores the ways in which its representation of class, gender, race and sexuality, regional and national identity both implicitly and explicitly question and revise various concepts of 'Spanishness'" (9). Targeting a primary audience of university students of Hispanism, they stress the "highly problematic" nation-nationalism of Spain as a distinguishing feat ure, given its composition of "four linguistic identities (Castilian, Catalan, Basque, Galician), three "historic nationalisms (Catalonia, The Basque Country, Galicia) and [since the establishment of the 1978 constitution] seventeen autonomous communities" (9). Not surprisingly, this multi-layered complexity is on display in what they term the unifying theme of the book, "one unifying characteristic within the remarkably wide range of films that have been produced during the post-Franco period, . .. the preoccupation with questions of identity" (10). For Kinder, in contrast, this complicated national scenario is not a marker of Spanish exceptionalism but of its interest and value to a broader readership beyond Hispanism, for whom "Spain is an ideal case study for exploring the process of redefining national, regional, and cultural identity over the past twenty years" in view of both its peaceful transition to democracy as well as its ongoing renegotiation of issues of regional/national/supranational authority (1-2).

In an essay included in Cinema and Nation titled "Contemporary Cinema: Between Cultural Globalization and National Interpretation," Danish film scholar Ulf Hodetoft has documented the function of journalistic critics, whom he terms "national mediatic gatekeepers," in shaping the reception of "foreign," in his case Hollywood, films within their home countries. He argues that while the modes of production, dissemination and sometimes contents of cinema are transnational, its modes of reception, decoding and interpretation are "routinely national...based on national identities, cultural history and aesthetic traditions, as well as particular readings of the world informed by a given national habitus and certain foreign stereotypes" (278-79). Far from affirming the fixity of the national, Hodetoft contends that when audiences watch a "foreign" film, "two national cinemas meet within the public communicative space of the movie theater." The new "national" text thus produced is framed by a more universalized "tran snational imaginary" that is itself a composite of spectators' previous film viewings (282).

Hodetoft's study is primarily concerned with the role of newspaper journalists in nationalizing the response to globalized Hollywood film. But what might his approach suggest about the role of academic critics and scholars in mediating the reception of more nationally "marked," cinemas such as Spain's? Two contrasting positions are discernable in the works under review. Described by its authors as the "complement... [and] update" to the first English-language surveys of Spanish cinema by Peter Besas, Virginia Higginbotham and John Hopewell published in the mid-1980s, Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas's book shares with those earlier studies a fundamentally pedagogical approach that sees its function as that of performing a series of "re-nationalizing" readings of Spanish cinema made possible through their recovery and reconstruction of an originating Spanish social, historical and cultural context: "The meanings of films and what they represent are never immanent or already contained in the film. Meaning and repres entation need to be considered in relation to the specific conditions of production and consumption pertaining to the particular historical moments. Our analyses will have to take into account therefore not only when films were made but when they were set and how they might have been read by different audiences" (10).

Other studies, in contrast, openly acknowledge the existence and effects of multiple horizons of reception, products of the real contingency of viewing practices and spectator positions as modeled in a recent article by Ella Shohat and Robert Stain cited by Hodetoft. In that view, "the culturally variegated nature of spectatorship derives from the diverse locations in which films are received, from the temporal gaps of seeing films in different moments to the conflictual subject-positionings and community affiliations of the spectators" (278). Thus, Wendy Rolph in Evans's volume signals the impact of new technologies and new modes of dissemination in effecting a recontextualization of national film texts. As she observes, "Video [is] potentially a much more nomadic medium than film, opportunities to see [Spanish films] are more randomly available than in the past, since exhibition is now neither exclusively dependent on theatrical release nor programmatically locked in to film cycles and retrospectives" (16). In the same volume, Marsha Kinder's rereading of Vicente Aranda's 1977 film Cambio de sexol Sex Change is prompted by a 1997 sold-out screening of the film at the American Cinemateque in Los Angeles before a mainly gay male audience (128-29). Susan Martin-Marquez in her book signals the critic's own active role in producing what some viewers of Spanish Cinema might consider "deconstructive, 'against the grain' analyses or even 'unauthorized' appropriations of uniformly hegemonic texts." Enlisting the work of Tania Modeleski, she critiques the assumption that the meaning of a work already exists somewhere and that the critic's job is to locate it, affirming instead the performative nature of feminist interpretation as "bringing into being new meanings and new subjectivities" (17).

Santos Zunzunegui, in his "anthropological" survey of four English-language studies of Spanish cinema published in the US between 1985 and 1993, El extrano viaje. El celuloide atrapado por la cola, a la critica norteamericana ante el cine espanol (The Strange Journey': Celluloid Caught by the Tail, or U.S. Criticism Confronts Spanish Cinema), comes down squarely on the side of the need to anchor a film in its national, historical and cultural context of origin. (6) Although his method shares with Hodetoft's a concern with the reception of national cinemas in a transnational context, his guiding theoretical framework and assumptions are diametrically opposed. While he would no doubt agree with the Danish scholar that these North American authors interpret Spanish cinema through a "nationalizing" filter "informed by certain foreign stereotypes," in this case American notions of Spanishness, Zunzunegui does not quarrel in principle with the attempt to fix definitions of the national within a film, or a series of film texts. The problem lies instead in US critics' inability to locate Spanish specificity at any level beyond the superficial ones of stereotypical themes and concepts ("Francoist esthetic, Cainsimo, Blood Cinema") or merely political and administrative definitions of the national (11-14). In that light, the approaches by Heredero and Benavent would presumably also be judged wanting.

The alternatives he proposes straddle two epistemologically distinct but metaphorically related options. The first entails a kind of formalist essentialism that would seek an identification of the national at the "deeper" levels of film form, style, and genre (12, 99), although later he notes the impossibility of assigning national meanings to purely formal and / or technical features such as frame composition, shot selection, or editing style (56-57). However, the primary effort to establish a corrective approach to the national lies in an exhaustive culturalism that situates Spanish cinema within a deep archeological bedrock, "at the heart of traditions" (112). This is not simply a matter of studying cinema, for example, as Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas propose, as a "cultural object" by definition embedded in its historical, social, and cultural context. In Zunzunegui's view, cinema is held to be inseparable from "the complex of artistic and social expressions of all kinds that make up the culture of a natio n" (13).

The circularity of his formulation is striking: "Films can only be evaluated as cultural works to the extent to which the relevant cultural features that appear in them have previously [emphasis in the original] been identified as characteristic of the culture in question" (13). Andrew Higson has called our attention to the tautological nature of definitions of national cinema with their tendency toward "fetishizing the national rather than merely describing it" (Hjort and MacKenzie 64). In his zeal to signal the shortcomings of extra-national interpretations of Spanish cinema, Zunzunegui proposes a claustrophobic closing of the hermeneutic circle that restricts the focus to an exclusively Spanish cultural patrimony. Thus, reacting to Kinder's analyses in Blood Cinema of "transcultural reinscription" (primarily of the conventions of Hollywood melodrama and film noir and Italian neo-realism) in Spanish cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, he counters that "the first and most important kind of 'transcultural reinscri ption' in our cinema is that which takes place when a whole series of its own [domestic] cultural forms (in many cases that stemming directly from popular tradition or the marginal elements of official culture) are placed in new contexts of signification" (99-100).

Zunzunegui ends his short book with proposals for future studies of Spanish cinema that call for a welcome reconsideration of films and periods--the 1940s and 1950s--largely neglected by previous studies both in Spain and beyond its borders. With his sights trained squarely on the historical past, Zunzunegui finds "[t]he richest, most original and creative aspect of Spanish cinema" that "has to do precisely with the way in which certain filmmakers and films inherit, assimilate, transform and revitalize a whole series of domestic esthetic forms through which the Spanish community has historically expressed itself" (100-101). His vision of an authentic Spanish cinema could not be farther from the views of Jose Luis Borau whose own forward-looking history imagines the present and future prosperity of Spanish filmmaking liberated from the weight of national tradition in a global cinematic village.


(1.) The collection of essays edited by Marsha Kinder, published in 1997 and treating a broader area of Spanish media and visual culture beyond the scope of this review essay, has already been reviewed in a wide variety of journals. Thus I will be referring here only to Kinder's introductory essay which specifically treats 1990s cinema and the article by Peter Besas on the financing structure of the Spanish film industry in the 1980s and 1990s.

(2.) There is a certain variablity among the figures cited by different authors: Jordan, Kinder, Evans, Benavent.

(3.) All translations from Spanish are my own.

(4.) For further discussion of the mobilization of the concept of the auteur as a conscious commercial strategy within a globalized postmodern film industry, see Corrigan. I develop some of these issues in relation to the films and authorial persona of Pedro Almodovar in "Pedro Almodovar: Postmodern Auteur," the introduction to Post-Franco, Postmodern: The Films of Pedro Almodovar. See especially pp. 13-18.

(5.) An article by Miguel Juan Payan appearing in the magazine published by the Academia de las Artes y las Ciencias Cinematograficas de Espana offers a survey of the creative methods and marketing savvy involved in the preparation, production, and release of 10 recent successful Spanish films, success being defined as a box office returns of more than 500 million pesetas. The list of ten films, all released sometime between December 1997 and March 1999, offers an indication of the inclusiveness of the notions Spanish cinema of the 90s, and 90s generation. The ten films in question, in alphabetical order, are as follows: Abre los ojos (Alejandro Almenabar, 1997), Barrio (Fernando leon de Aranoa, 1998), Cha, cha, cha (Antonio del Real, 1998), El abuelo (Jose Luis Garci, 1997), El milagro del P. Tin to (Javier Fesser, 1998), Entre las piernas (Manuel Gomez Pereira, 1998), La nina de tus ojos (Fernando Trueba, 1998), Los amantes del circulo polar (Julio Medem, 1998), Muertos de nsa (Alex de Ia Iglesia, 1999), To rrente, el brazo tonto de la ley (Santiago Segura, 1998). All but three of the directors included in the list made their feature debut during the 1990s.

(6.) Zunzunegui studies the first cluster of books on Spanish cinema appearing in the US, those by Besas and Higginbotham, as well as two books published in the early 90s, Cain on Screen, by Thomas Deveney, and Blood Cinema, by Marsha Kinder. Books published in the UK during the same period are not included since they are said to merit separate consideration (9).

Works Cited

Besas, Peter. Behind the Spanish Lens: Spanish Cinema from Dictatorship to Democracy Denver: Arden Press, 1985,

Corrigan, Timothy. A Cinema Without Walls. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1991

Deveney, Thomas. Cain on Screen. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1993.

Higginbotham, Virginia. Spanish Cinema under Franco. Austin: U of Texas P, 1987.

Hopewell, John. Out of the Past: Spanish Cinema after Franco. London: BFI, 1986.

Hjort, Mette, and Scott MacKenzie, eds. Cinema and Nation. London: Routledge, 2000.

Juan Payan, Miguel. "El proceso creativo del ultimo cine espanol," Academia, 26 (Summer 1999), 6-69.

Kinder, Marsha. Blood Cinema. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.

Vernon, Kathleen M., and Barbara Morris, eds. Post-Franco, Postmodern: The Films of Pedro Almodovar. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

KATHLEEN M. VERNON 15 associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Hispanic Studies at SUNY/Stony Brook. She has published widely on Spanish film topics and is completing a book, The Persistence of Memory: Cinema, Music, Popular Memory in Post War Spanish Culture.
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Title Annotation:seven books
Author:Vernon, Kathleen M.
Publication:Post Script
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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