Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Art of Self-Advertising

Adam of Club Silencio here. In full anticipation for Broken Embraces (and full disgust with a US dramedy of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), let's play Six Degrees of Pedro Almodóvar! One rule: you can only use Pedro Almodóvar movies...

Upon re-watching his brilliant film-noir tribute Bad Education, I couldn't help but notice how many times Pedro actually pays tribute to himself and even gives advanced previews to his own films. Simple enough I suppose when one of the lead characters is based on Pedro himself (in)directly: a queer filmmaker drawn to offbeat character pieces and an explosive exposé on Catholic priests exposing themselves.

Decked out in alter-ego Pedro's production office are posters accentuating these close ties. The two worth special notice are for a film titled La Abuela Fantasma, which translates roughly to "Ghost Grandma." I can only assume this means Almodóvar was tinkering with Volver at the time - his sensational saga of a mother seeking closure beyond her supposed death. Or at the very least he was interested in making a Spanish variation on Ghost Dad.

"She's old, she's bold, and she's back from the beyond!
She also has candy in her purse."

Of course Almodóvar already gave us early glimmers of Volver way back in 1995 with The Flower of My Secret, in which he (in)directly tells of a Pedro-like author veiling her potent plotlines behind fake names. The film has our alter-ego author criticized by the angriest of agents for delivering stories that seem too absurd, without any discernible love behind them. One dissed idea is Volver down to a tee:
"A novel about a mother who discovers her daughter's killed her father who had tried to rape her? And so that no one finds out hides the body in a cold-storage room of the neighbor's restaurant?

Glad she's not Pedro's actual agent! Volver would have never seen the light of day. But by that description alone, one can barely imagine Volver's eventual richness and stunning ode to a mother's devotion.

Pedro also taps into his back-catalogue with a second dissed plotline:
"Who'll dream of people living in a seedy slum like the living dead? Who'll identify with a protagonist who works emptying shit out of hospital bedpans, who's got a junkie mother-in-law and faggot son who's into black men?"

Well, pissy agent woman, perhaps fans of What Have I Done to Deserve This? would identify with that... only replace "black men" with "creepy pedophile dentists."

Plus, even if it goes unspoken, a film like Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! certainly takes a knowing thematic leap from Law of Desire, with its "stalkers make the best soulmates" conceit. (A clingy Antonio Banderas is still Antonio Banderas.) Almodóvar's one of the few auteurs whose ideas we've seen visually and vocally gestate throughout his career. The inspired streams of consciousness for his characters eventually become the inspirational threads for his finest films. It's this kind of self-influence that leads to such personal, passionate and effortless touches on his part. It's also I'm sure what leads to his mammoth collection of devoted followers. You know the type: bloggers who make the most of insignificant details in his films.



um. this is awesome. i've never noticed these details so "the type" you refer to -- these bloggers who obsess over details? I salute them!

Iggy said...

So true, if there was an award for self-advertising Almodóvar would be a perennial nominee. I think self-reference reaches its highest peak in Broken Embraces, but I won't spoil anything ;).

He recognised in a recent interview that when he went back to his own past for material, he got two very different results. On the one hand, when going back to dark places, the result was Bad Education and when trying to get back to the happiest part of his childhood, he had memories of himself surrounded by women telling stories as the women in Volver. It's an interesting point of view to read (some of)his movies.

javi said...

Fantastic, fantastic post.

Pablete said...

I saw "Broken Embraces" on Sunday. The bets of it all are the performances by Lluis Homar, Blanca Portillo and Tamar Novas. Penélope Cruz and the many-splendored romantic embracing sequences are a delight for the senses!

Wayne B said...

ADAM - Awesome post! Almodovar is starting to have a special place in my cinephile heart.