Those who know me personally are very much aware of the fact that I rarely go to the movies, and it is extremely difficult to persuade me to see a film I have either not read about or have no interest in seeing. This is not to say that I do not enjoy watching films – quite the contrary – but rather there is so much garbage foisted upon our screens, and so little in the way of accomplished art, that I prefer to wait until a film gathers a significant amount of well-written reviews, and then rent it so that I can enjoy and study it in the privacy of my own home. And with my interest and extended family in Spain, the reader could be forgiven for thinking that I prefer films from that country.
Unfortunately, many of the Spanish films that have made it to these shores over the past few decades have been rubbish. With a few notable exceptions, they mainly feature celebrations of moral relativism and depravity, or weave revisionist tales of the Spanish Civil War, where everyone on the left is some sort of martyr and everyone on the right – and particularly the Church – is evil incarnate. Of course, how an atheist/relativist can make a logical determination as to what is good and what is evil is another question entirely, but we will leave that incongruity as it stands.
So I was rather surprised today to learn from an interview with the elderly, leftist Spanish film director Vicente Aranda that the reason contemporary Spanish cinema is so repulsively bad is because of Spanish conservatives. Yes, you read that correctly. Despite the fact that virtually every major film coming out of Spain since the 1970’s has featured themes such as explicit sex and violence, mocking of the Church and traditional values, and the like, Aranda believes that “the Spanish right refuses to see Spanish cinema”, that there are no Spanish intellectuals on the right, and therefore “the most important historical issue in the country, the Civil War, cannot be touched because the right thinks that a film about this issue is always leftist.”
Before we turn to these assertions, let us start with a bit of background on Aranda himself, who is what old-school conservative Catalans would call a “xarnego”. Despite living in Barcelona for most of his life, Aranda himself is not a Catalan, but a non-Catalan peasant from another part of Spain. As you might expect, his family supported the left during the Spanish Civil War, and he briefly emigrated to Venezuela for several years due to the climate under the Franco regime that followed.
Aranda’s first film was, tellingly, about a young man from small-town Spain, who moves to Barcelona to try to enter the urban haute-bourgeoisie. He ultimately fails, and moves to Paris, where supposedly he will be happier than with the stuck-up well-to-do in Barcelona. As my grandfather would say, “¿No quieres? No puedes.”
Although Aranda had a late start as a film director, he soon found his niche in the 1970’s as a purveyor of smut for the leftist intelligentsia, including “Clara es el Precio”, about a middle-class housewife who becomes a porn actress, “Cambio de Sexo”, about a boy who wants to have a sex change, and “La Muchacha de las Bragas de Oro”, about a right-wing writer who is seduced by his niece into committing incest. He continued to gain in notoriety through the 1980’s and 90’s, but his more recent films, including 2007’s “Canciones de Amor en Lolita’s Club”, about twins having trysts with the same prostitute, and 2009’s “Luna Caliente”, about a man who rapes the daughter of his friend in the period of the late Franco regime, have been flops at the box office.
Aranda’s assertion that there are no intellectuals on the right in Spain is hardly worth consideration, for I doubt he could tell an intellectual from a dilettante if one bit him on the posterior. What is truly laughable is his assertion that it is impossible to make films about the Spanish Civil War, because Spanish conservatives will not go see them. No doubt they will not, but that is only because there is a complete lack of balance to treatment of the subject in contemporary Spanish cinema.
I am not sure what sort of cave Aranda lives in, but there have been many, many Spanish films about the Spanish Civil War made by Spanish directors in the post-Franco period, which I personally have seen over the past 20 years or so. And in every single example I have seen to date, the film in question has a leftist point of view, from “¡Ay Carmela!” and “Libertarias”, to “Las 13 Rosas” and “Los Girasoles Ciegos”. There is, in fact, a surfeit of films about what happened to Spain before, during, and after the Civil War, and all of them favor, either explicitly or implicitly, the left’s side of the story. Aranda’s assertion that it is impossible to make films about this period is ludicrous, and not borne out by the facts.
While Aranda is no doubt correct in stating that your average, conservative, church-going Spaniard does not want to see films such as the ones he himself tends to make, this is probably because such a person does not want to have to wash out their brain with bleach and a scrub brush after seeing the filth which Aranda typically puts on the screen. However, the fact that Aranda himself is increasingly proving to be a failure as a director cannot be laid at the feet of conservatives who do not want to see his films. If the new, moral relativist Spain, which Aranda and those of his ilk helped to bring about does not want to patronize his work, perhaps it is because, like most men of his age, Aranda has lost his powers.
Unlike many conservatives, I do not necessarily eschew seeing a film that has a point of view very different from my own. However, I do feel that I am perhaps a bit more intellectually prepared for what I am to be shown, even if I am still shocked by the depravity that often passes for art in the present climate. Yet what I absolutely cannot stand is the assertion that if such art is not attracting an audience, that the problem is the audience, rather than the artist himself. It seems to me that if Aranda is dissatisfied with the state of Spanish cinema, that he has only himself to blame for turning it into the unwatchable, sideshow freak of an art form that it is today – and perhaps it is high time for him to pack up and head off to the retirement home, where he belongs.