Sunday, January 28, 2007


Having finished up its recent round at your local arthouse, the Viva Pedro retrospective that toured the country has found its way to a dvd boxset (you can buy it cheap at Greencine!) and now is as good a time as any, I guess, to point to the essay Greencine commissioned me to write on the retrospective.

Cross-published at Twitch.


Paul Martin said...

Hi Maya, I'm also doing a study of Almodovar. Inspired by my analysis of Volver, I'm now working my way through all his films chronologically starting with Pepi, Luci, Bom and am currently up to High Heels. I'm also reading Spanish Labyrinth: The Films of Pedro Almodovar in order to get a cultural perspective on his films. I hope to have an article written in a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! I agree with you completely about both All About My Mother and Talk To Her...

Maya said...

Oh good, Andy, then I'm in good company!!

Paul, thank you so much for the link to your analysis of Volver, which I read with keen interest and then sadness upon reading of your son's death. My best wishes to you in this difficult time. I too have been in that painful crucible of bereavement and found writing to be a lifeline. So I encourage your writing to ameliorate your loss. One day at a time. One sentence at a time.

I enjoyed your review. And please do let me know when your article is up and available. I don't quite agree with your viewpoint, of course, and see more that Almodovar is conflating genders rather than pitting them against each other. Bad Education, for example, is an all-male cast that--in effect--accomplishes the same thematic ends as his all female casts. I believe Almodovar is blurring gender divisions by purposely juggling their stereotypical definitions.

Paul Martin said...

Hi Maya, as happens online, I posted my comment and then lost track of your post until now. I'd been thinking about Volver for a couple of weeks and was just about ready to post it when my son passed away. Despite the trauma, it was important to me to get the post up that day so that I could somehow acknowledge my loss and celebrate my son's life in some small way. And yes writing has been a life-line as has going to the cinema.

I'm no closer to my article being posted, because it has turned out to being a larger project than planned. Volver has been a strange catalyst to writing about a subject matter that is quite deep.

I'm currently reading Almodovar on Almodovar - this is a great book as it gives the perspective of the director in his own words. I find it quite revealing. On the one hand I'm getting a deeper perspective; on the other I feel his words confirm my own intuition about his work.

I still think there is something .. I hesitate to use the word 'wrong'... there is something I don't like about his world-view, his view of humanity. I think he is a great artist with a sense of humanity that I don't agree with.

I think there is merit to your suggestion of gender conflation and blurring gender divisions. Almodovar indirectly refers to this in the above-mentioned book. I'll have more to say once I've re-viewed his films and written some more notes.

Maya said...

Paul, thanks for stopping back in to update. I look forward to reading your final thoughts when you're ready to share them.

And I'm glad you can recommend Almodovar on Almodovar. It's been high on my list of books to read and now I feel motivated to go out and buy it; or, better yet, woo the publisher to send me a review copy! That's my favorite hobby lately. Heh.

Paul Martin said...

And I've been following with some interest your postings about Apocolypto (I just finished reading Liza Grandia's critique - thanks for the link).

I haven't seen this film, nor The Passion of the Christ. There's something about both Gibson and his films that bothers me, though I won't explore that now.

Similarly, there's something about Almodovar that bothers me. I love his style, I love his use of colour, I love his depiction of ambiguous sexuality and morality (or blind indifference to it). It's easy to label Gibson - racist, anti-Semitic, etc - because he has made it so. With Almodovar, people in general do not have an awareness of the complexity of gender issues that enables such easy labelling of him or his work.

I find a consistency to Almodovar's work over 26 or more years to conclude there is a similar intolerance. It is hard to find a positive and substantive example of the male gender in any of his films other than: minors, artists and non-heterosexuals. But now I'm simply repeating what I said in my review. Nothing that repeat viewings of his films, or reading books about him or quotes from him seems to repudiate that.

The films I've like most by Almodovar are not his most popular: Matador and Live Flesh. Both these films have more complex treatment of males, and interestingly employed writers other than Almodovar. I get the impression that Almodovar is not particularly capable in writing about heterosexual males.

I think Almodovar is a director whose work I will never be satisfied with, yet will continue to pique my interest.

Maya said...

Paul, is there anything in Almodovar on Almodovar that indicates why it might be so that "Almodovar is not particularly capable in writing about heterosexual males?", which is a challenging proposition, fraught with difficulty.

I agree with you, however, that both Matador and Live Flesh demonstrate masculinity, as it is more consensually perceived, than Almodovar's other films and I'm glad you draw my attention that they were not written by Pedro himself; I hadn't made that connection.

In a perfect universe, I guess, an artist like Almodovar should be able to create full, living characters of any gender, especially if his films are so gender-disruptive. That his well-known and well-advertised strength lies in his treatment of women flies in the face of that perfect world; but, is nonetheless strength and focused praise is well-deserved.

I guess I look at it like this: as a self-identified gay male, I've grown up in a culture that has foisted its social conceptions of gender upon me, whether I liked it or not. I often say that this is a cultural form of child abuse and no less damaging for being so. That I have been able to create despite that damage, that said damage might even be the matrix of my creativity that informs it, inflects is, is nothing less than the curative and miraculous properties of creativity in general.

I don't fault Almodovar for his take on masculinity and his adoration of femininity. Like John Waters or Gregg Araki or George Cukor, they explore and express the range of queer sensibility which abides by its own set of rules and fosters its own canon. And which, realistically, is merely a drop in the bucket compared to all of the films that have been created promoting more consensual expressions of gender. I think as filmmaking goes, Almodovar has more than shown his ability to make a good film, no matter what the topic, no matter how skewered the characterizations. I don't think he can considered a bad filmmaker. If his themes disturb or make viewers uncomfortable, that is just the particular serrated edge of his creativity, its social barb you might say, and--as I mentioned--compared to all the other films that don't achieve this, that don't wish to achieve this, it makes his efforts all the more commendable.

Like yourself, Almodovar doesn't always please me. Talk To Her, which so many people loved, drove me to distraction. So like you, I stage a certain amount of ambivalency (to quote Phillip Lopate) when it comes to Almodovar's ouevre.

Paul Martin said...

I haven't read anything explicit yet that indicates a disinterest in heterosexual males. But there are indirect clues.

He is very intuitive in his work. He does things a certain way without necessarily understanding at the time what his intent is, and gains an understanding of it retrospectively. While I find Almodovar a totally different director to David Lynch, Lynch also seems to work this way, and reportedly only felt many years later that Lost Highway may have been an exploration of OJ Simpson and the alleged murder of his wife.

I found it interesting that Almodovar discounts psychology and I find his attitude consistent with the hedonistic lifestyle he is reported to have enjoyed. I completely disagree with him, and feel this may contribute to a limited sense of humanity.

I haven't been able to find much information yet about Almodovar's childhood and why he grew up without a father in his life. This interests me, because males are often depicted in his films as being dead or absent, often abandoning their families.

As a self-identified heterosexual male, I have undergone much introspective exploration of gender. I ascertained as a teenager that I was 'straight' but at various times have identified more closely to non-heteros for various reasons (mostly due to world view, and the limitations that heterosexual society places on individuals).

I always felt 'different' and was treated differently, perhaps because of my artistic bent and lack of inhibition in self-expression. To this day I come across people who think I must be gay ("only a gay would dress like that", or some other superficial narrow-minded perception).

Matador is considered by Almodovar to be his most abstract work, as it is not about what it superficially appears to be (a Matador and bull-fighting). The script was co-written by Almodovar and Jesus Ferrero. The Live Flesh script was a collaboration with Ray Loriga and Jorge Guerricaechevarria. I picked up these details when reading Mark Allinson's A Spanish Labyrinth: The Films of Pedro Almodovar.

I don't have a problem with so-called queer cinema per se, nor with a celebration of femininity per se. As I say in my original review, some of the things I like about Almodovar's films are his handling of ambiguous gendeer, sexuality and morality. Gregg Araki is a good example of a gay film-maker whose films have a greater sense of wholistic humanity, inclusive humanity that Almodovar's films lack.

When I embarked on my Almodovar project, I watched his first feature film, Pepi Luci Bom, and the first thing that struck me was the common themes in that and Volver. After seeing all his films, I can't see that his work shows any more insight into the human condition than his early films. His films explore creatively some areas of interest but he seems to always hit a humanistic roadblock which he never seems to overcome despite attaining a high level of technical and creative expertise.

So yes, he has achieved a level of expertise, but its so damn frustrating that he doesn't get beyond a certain point and make a truly great film. All his films are good in my opinion, but none have achieved greatness.

Maya said...

What a great comment, Paul, thoroughly presenting your point of view. I feel lucky having you voice your thoughts here on The Evening Class, thank you! said...

Just want to know your opinions on the way the idea is of masculinity is portrayed in Live Flesh. I'm going to be doing it has part of a presentation on the men in the fi;m and Im afraid my knowledge of Almodovar is somewhat limited. My take is that he makes a joke out of the whole idea of gender and sexuality and in particular masculinity as we conventionally know it by making them overtly macho to the extent that it's comical yet at the same time making them emotional and hysterical dependent (on female) figures.
Also he retains the importance of physicality, widely associated with masculinity, and exaggerates it to the extent that it becomes somewhat erotic and seems to have homosexual tendencies with its extensive display of muscles.
We see more of the male body than we do the female body and the male gaze seems more focused on the male than female form..
What do you think about this idea, would love to hear your ideas, as i'm an amateur!