Friday 20 January 2012

The Master Storyteller

Almodóvar on Almodóvar, by Pedro Almodóvar and Frederic Strauss (Faber and Faber 2006)

On 30 July 2007 the world of cinema lost one of its most ingenious sons – Ingmar Bergman – a filmmaker who transferred the dramatics of the stage to the screen, creating engaging masterpieces that appeal to our imaginations.  With a conscious understanding of aesthetics, akin to that of Renoir or Van Gogh, he illustrated significant stories of life, love and death, resisting the desire to lace his films with irrelevant narratives and ephemeral surprises. Bergman’s prodigious legacy gave the world some of the most outstanding films in European cinema, with an influence that reached far beyond his native Sweden. Just like Bergman, the soaraway Almodóvar is a god on the stage of European cinema, whose experimentations with aesthetics and melodrama delight and enthral. With a boundless enthusiasm for the art of cinema and an eye for colour and dialect, he has written, produced and directed a wealth of films which have become an integral part of popular culture.

A celebration of both the outré and the everyday, exploring themes such as family, desire, and homosexuality etc, Almodóvar has adapted the cinematic language first used by the likes of Fellini, Hitchcock and Fassbinder, to create a style all of his own, rich in colour and sophistication. There is much within Almodóvar’s ebullient oeuvre that echoes the greats of cinemas past, none more so than Ingmar Bergman; for example, as Bergman had a love of theatre and wanted to emulate that unique theatrical expression, in the hope of transforming the moving image into a more respected art form, so to do we see the same process undertaken by Almodóvar. From Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980) onwards, his approach to dialogue, imagery and so on has played a part in enhancing the cinematic experience; to sit through an Almodóvar film is never exhausting, because there are so many facets, his level of concentration and near obsession over his subject makes for a feast of visual intoxication.

Another similarity between Almodóvar and Bergman is the confidence to experiment and not confine himself to one specific audience, in Law of Desire (1986) he dealt with homosexuality and the tentative subject of transvestism, exploring the interplay between love and sexual desire, skip forward to The Flower of My Secret (1996) and we see a much deeper level of thematic exploration, dealing with personal identity and the preservation of falsehoods. In his notes Strauss remarks on Almodóvar’s complete control over his work and how this effects his view of the audience ‘his control does not denote a desire to manipulate an audience,’ he says,

‘an audience which the filmmaker himself says he cannot conceive of except in the abstract, an audience he risked losing with the slow and discursive High Heels and most of all with the fast furious Kika. His goal, through a consciously elaborated mise-en-scène, is intensity: a saturation of colour and passion which releases pure, visual, physical and visceral emotion. Though profoundly crafted, this emotion is, in the final analysis, neither artificial nor intellectual, but delivers itself rawly on to the screen, leaving the audience the choice of either accepting or rejecting it.’

Throughout this collection of interviews, which took place of a series of months, Almodóvar exudes a well balanced streak of eccentricity, coupled with a sense of professionalism that is rooted in formality and devotion to his work. He explains in-depth the many disparate influences which inspired his earliest films, from Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe to the varied iconography of popular culture. Born in a small Spanish village during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco; he was a child of strong character yet of a solitary and observational nature, he explains, ‘children develop great strength in solitude; they can also become very neurotic. Luckily, that wasn’t the case with me. I’m sure of that because I was a very good observer of other people’s lives, and a happy one, pleased with what I saw. But always an observer, never a participant’.

His teenage years as well as his adolescence proved to be a time of self discovery and artistic blossoming; his atavistic love for the arts began to form into a more functional passion, and his goals for a future career as a filmmaker were now firmly set. As the years progressed he feathered his nest of cultural influences, by devouring copious amounts of television, literature, film, music and theatre. Almodóvar’s many years of differing artistic endeavours have proved felicitous, in moulding him into a master story teller, who possesses the ability to touch our deepest emotions. With films that do not drag at a funereal pace, neither surge ahead at break-neck speed, leaving the mind dizzy and anaesthetic, instead steadily unfolding and maturing.

Emblematic of a generation that sought to experiment with cinema, mixing together artistic forms to create something deep and resonant, without the temptation of CGI and other diluting confectionary, Almodóvar is a paragon who, with creativity and humour, continues to surpass expectations. Creating provocative and thought provoking films that unashamedly entertain us; this collection of interviews sheds light on the thoughts and feelings of cinema’s most treasured artisan.


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