Monday, June 7, 2010

Report On The Current State Of Our Cinema

"Report On The Current State Of Our Cinema"

by Juan Antonio Bardem
- Delivered to a film congress at the Univ. of Salamanca, Spain
May 1955

"At the present time, the world is getting ready to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of cinema. At the same time, a group of Spaniards are meeting at one of Europe's most beloved universities to talk about film.

The name of this meeting is highly significant: it is National Conversations on Film. That is to say, we Spaniards are going to discuss cinema. Within this free dialogue, this exchange of ideas and concepts, we will practice, in the most honest and sincere manner, criticism and self-criticism of our attitude toward the cinema of Spain.

A few days ago, in Cannes, celebrating this sixtieth anniversary, I saw some of the first images captured on film. I thought about Salamanca. I thought that what's really important to us Spaniards is to reflect upon our cinema, Spanish cinema. Not out of chauvinism but rather, on the contrary, in the firm belief that we can only reach the universal through the strictly, empatically, and truly national.

Let's talk, then, about or national cinema. The whole world is listening. Let's talk, from right here, from the Salamanca of Fray Luis de León, and Miguel de Unamuno, about Spanish cinema.
After sixty years of filmmaking, Spanish cinema is:

* Politically ineffective

* Socially false

* Intellectually worthless

* Aesthetically nonexistent

* Industrually cripped

* Politically ineffective: Spanish cinema starts for us in 1939. Since then, there hasn't been a single authentic political film. The ones that have attempted to claim that title are just cheap acts of fake patriotism, ending with the waving of a Spanish flag to garner applause. At first sight, Raza (José Luis Sáenz de Heredia/1942) might seem to be that political film. But is not. Raza stands out simply because it was Spain's first formally accomplished film.

This lack of authentic political films is a serious defect in a cinema run by the state. And even those films that escape complete state control are anodyne, out of sync, bizarre.The filmmaker can't believe, doesn't actually believe, in his cinema, and so he escapes. From this point of view, Spanish cinema has a name: escapism. And this is the case with all of our films, even the best of them. Surcos (José Antonio Nieves de Conde/1951) escapes by giving us an unconvincingly bucolic explanation for the rural exodus to the city. If there is an exodus, there has to be a reason for it. But Surcos doesn't even look for that reason. Bienvenido, Mr. Marshall! (Luis García Berlanga, 1953) escapes in another way, into fantasy. There the Americans just drive on by, but in reality they never did.

There does in fact exist and official cinema. But it's a conformist cinema that turns its back on reality. That official cinema has yet to create a worthy film.

* Socially false: So our cinema, turning its back to the realities of Spain, has been incapable of showing us the true nature of Spain's problems, of its land and people. This attemporal portrayal, airless and false, of the so-called Spanish reality could not be further from our extraordinary realist tradition in painting and literature. Today someone who watches a Spanish film can't know, by watching it, how Spaniards live, how thet rejoice or suffer, what problems or conflicts they experience in society. The Spanish spectator is not informed throgh national films of the realities surrounding him. The vision of the world, of this Spanish world, portrayed in Spanish films is false. Nothing is true.

* Intellectually worthless: We are alone. We who love film have had to reinvent all the theories that have already been invented , re-create the style that were already cast off. Our intellectuals have rejected film and have adopted a dangerous and antiquated attitude toward it. They have abandoned us.

Every once in a while, one of those wise, patronizing voice deigns to speak about film. If the intellectual's expertise is derived from other disciplines, those of us who work in film, rightly offended, don't even listen. The fact that our intellectuals have wholly neglected film has long weakened our theoretical position and debilitated our cinema culture.

We've had to be bold to proudly create our fragile journal Objetivo. We watch terrible copies of forgotten films in our uninviting "art houses". Today we are ignorant of 90% of world film criticism, and we haven't seen 95% of the films we should have seen. This is a terrible disadvantage when it comes to building our own cinema. Spanish intellectuals have failed to recognize our films. I take great pleasura in the fact that it is Salamanca the is lending its lecture halls and intellectual prestige for the discussion of Spanish cinema.

* Aesthetically nonexistent: Our films lack form beacuse they lack content. Not even our style is any good. At best it is at times simply correct. On the other hand, I don't believe in style for its own sake. The lack of rigorous and true content produces an absurd aesthetic. Our films lack beauty because we haven't been able to create beauty, because we haven't been able to support beauty with a real and solid structure. Our films lack beauty because we haven't learned how to see this beauty. And so, thanks to this insincerity that blinds us, we haven't been able to grasp beauty.

* Industrially crippled: Our film industry has no market, smothered as it is by a protectionism that at first seems generous but in reality feeds on the blood of Spanish cinema. The equipment in our studios is outdated and scarce. Talent can sometimes be a replacement for the best cameras, but a standard level for a national cinema can only be reached through and adequate provision of material means and professionalism, which we are far from having. Let's not trust all those Americans who fill up our movie studios. They, too, will just be passing through, leaving nothing behind them.

We need new laws for our cinema. We need new forms of protection that don't isolate cinema froms its base, the audience. We need a different attitude from the state toward our cinema. We need the state not to view cinema as an enemy, not to restrict it or suffocate it. We need censorship to openly show its face, to direct us to the exit of its labyrinth, and to explain clearly what's forbidden and what isn't. We need an honest attitude from film professionals. They should see cinema not as a means but as an end, they should love it deeply, and they should not praise their own work to the skies when they clearly don't deserve it.

In the history of film, there are no Spanish names. Now we want to fight for a national cinema, with love, with sincerity, with integrity. Spain is close, at the edge of the heart. Through our cinema we want to be in contact with the people and lands of Spain, with the people and lands of the world. Maybe you think this assessment is too grim. Good.

Let's shake things up a little. We need to provoke a reaction. That way we can salvage something. We can at least salvage our desire to build a national cinema. Yes, we want to build our own cinema, Spanish cinema. Just as was said of a man eight years ago, so we can say now of our cinema:

"God, how fine the vassal. If only his lord were worthy!"