Speech by Pere Portabella for the event at which he is awarded an Honorary Doctoral Degree by the Universidad Autónoma of Barcelona
In order to conceive a film, I must always place a blank sheet of paper in front of me. This is the quickest way to envisage a blank and empty screen under the best of conditions. In a certain way, it is like working directly on the screen itself.
Then all I need to do is to allow a situation fall down onto the paper in black on white, a fortuitous event, a starting point... a stain. A core around which the story is woven.
The original ideas must be translated into images. They must be visualized. When you see them, you can distinguish between the ones that are right for you and the ones that are not. Feeling the silence and sounds, inseparable from the images as they take their place in the empty space of the screen, figuring out what can be seen most sharply amid everything you are looking at. It is like entering and exiting places as you delve further into them. Everything that takes place gradually materializes during the process prior to filming: the process of ideas. The space which they occupy in the imaginary landscape surrounding them forms an intimate relationship. Its own dialectic indicates what we can or cannot do and limits decision-making abilities, impeding dispersal and channeling the imagination, which strengthens the ability to create. Otherwise, it would be like working in a vacuum. When the time comes to film, with both text and agenda well-structured, each shot ties off the preceding shot and prepares for the next. It is these and none others which must be filmed. In each shot, you must be able to recognize the pace and tone of the whole film, and there is no room for filming alternative or back-up shots. The pre-conceived story has already been visualized before you start filming. The space of the imaginable is to lighting what optics is to a look of the eye. And in this way, the narrative structure finds its logic by questioning the language which can adapt that space to your own demands.
Without performing this process prior to filming, there is no hope of achieving them from a natural setting or a stage. Spaces and stages are always expectant and dependent upon the intruder's ability to have an abstract viewpoint. When you reach the editing room, the continuity, pace and tone have all been put in place already. You need only be careful when optimizing the filmed material, to adjust the shots in just the right time and place to which they are assigned. It is that simple.
I have ended up writing about the how and the why of using a screen design sheet as a stimulating and suggestive way to work on conceiving a new project, though a few clarifications should be given on my part:
- I have never spent any time at a cinema school.
- I am not a cinephile, and I do not regularly go to cinematheques.
- Nor did I have any contact or relationship with the world of film until I decided to produce my first movie.
- I have not collaborated with screenwriters, including those that have and have not graduated from some school. I have a compulsive and fickle tendency towards choosing collaborators from trades other than my own.
- I have paid special attention to the trade and achieving excellence in the use of instrumental tools, and to ethics in controlling the techniques which are used to materialize the proper look.
- You must never place models before you. You should turn your back on them. At most, you should feel their breath, though you should never speak directly to them. Otherwise, they will eat you up. You have to place yourself in an empty and silent space, and from that place their breath will push you forward...
- In fact, art history is no longer a field of study in which each artistic medium, including film, is examined on a linear basis until achieving full and proper knowledge, until conquering its specific essence. Quite to the contrary, they face the idea of impurity, and the urgent need to stand out clashes with the creation of any difference.
- Being able to see in another way means learning to look at things you did not expect and understanding what you see and hear in a different way. Freeing yourself from the snapshots that take the place of experiences and keep them locked away. A cross-cutting viewpoint spurred on by curiosity is the best way to counteract the tendencies of a society obsessed with educating its members about useful and profitable skills and preparing them for a class of virtuosity and unidirectional excellence.
Pilar Parcerisas, a Doctor of Art History, refers to my presence on the pre-conceptual stage during the politicized era as the catalyzing figure who led to a clash amongst disciplines: "the Brossa/Portabella/Santos combination led us to verify, yet again, that the advancement of the language of art and poetics owes a great deal to the clash amongst disciplines, to the chance meetings of people and to the desire to take a new look at reality."
Fortunately, though by chance, Antoni Tàpies, Joan Brossa, Joan Ponç, Modest Cuixart and I all lived on the same street. On Calle Balmes, between Plaza Molina and Travessera de Gràcia, which was beneficial to us all: it was a stimulus to live under pressure but without suffering due to our contradictions, concerns and doubts, which stirred up my curiosity and interest in delving into a world which appeared just as complex as it was exciting to me. Losing a fear of the unknown and discovering adventure as a way of living inseparably from risk: the price of freedom. Joan Brossa expressed it by using a saying from the Far East: "If you want to reach an unknown place, you have to start walking down unknown paths." Soon during the dictatorship, these paths became clandestine, and the paths for film passed through areas of marginalization. It involved a mixture of the artistic avant-garde, the practice of filmmaking and political activity.
From then on, as of the publication of Dau al Set (Brossa-Tàpies), just one step was left before creating the El Paso group of Antonio Saura and Manolo Millares. Eduardo Chillida did as he liked, and Jorge Oteiza, creator of Equipo 57, was the most radical: for non-representation and against artistic individualism. There was the impact of the publication of El Jarama, the novel by Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, and Tiempo de Silencio, by Luis Martín Santos. And that of Catalan poets such as Joan Brossa, Joan Vinyoli, Jaime Gil de Biedma and Gabriel Ferrater. The screenings time and again of 8 mm films which Antoni Tàpies showed in his home when he returned from Paris: Murnau, Fritz Lang, Eisenstein, Dreyer..., and those specially selected for Brossa's pleasure and satisfaction: The Thief of Baghdad and Nosferatu, as well as those by Mack Sennett, along with movies about cross-dressers for which he expressed spontaneous enthusiasm and a childish liking. And, of course, there was the presence of musicians like Robert Gerhard, Josep Cercós, Carles Santos, Josep Maria Mestres Quadreny, etc. Living in the middle of this mixture of art forms was a decisive experience while finding my place in the political and cultural space, when in the year of 1959 I decided to enter the world of film as a producer, then becoming a director in 1966.
What was the underlying factor that caused this understanding amongst us all to occur, which fed the determined will to take a new critical look at reality? The imperious need to intervene in a hostile, mediocre, gray and repressive environment in the hands of the reactionary powers of the dictatorship. Situationism as a method for analyzing historical moments shows us that the political, social and cultural conditions of an authoritarian regime always lead to a greater level of politicization and a radicalization of the proposals and responses of artistic production in the world of culture, different from what occurs in countries under conditions of democratic freedom. At the same time, and above all, there was our connection to and attunement with the avant-garde movements that had come before us, thanks to Joan Brossa.
Having reached this point, we found that we had an immediate need to redefine the roles of both subjects and agents in the world of artistic production:
One chapter of the book Six Years, (1966-1973) by Lucy Lippard, reflects upon the object of art under the long shadow cast by Marcel Duchamp and the awesome physical presence of his readymades, the trademark of the Dadaist movement which most dazzled the media. Lucy Lippard found that there was a loss of interest in physically creating works of art, with an ever more evident interest in ideas. Indifference towards objects of art changed the meaning of contemplating works of art and their visual perception. His most radical statement was the need for "de-materialization of the art object". Conceptualization took over, compared with the informalism in our country with the Work Group, under the obvious effects of the dictatorship due to a high degree of politicization.
In his essay The Author as Producer (1934), Walter Benjamin introduced a new concept of the creator and Roland Barthes, in his text The Death of the Author (1964), proposed replacing the term "viewer" with terms like "readers", "audience", "public" and "consumer", lending essential protagonism and importance to them, because, as announced by Duchamp in 1957, the viewpoint of others is what completes an artist's unfinished work. Viewers are attributed the same role as the author. In our field, informalism, though it came later, was open to a mixture of many disciplines, accepting all forms of expression, categories of art and the widest range of materials, thereby greatly disconcerting the world of galleries and contemporary art museums. The fact that the visual factor was not longer essential to creating a work of art led to a crisis in the discourse of theretofore hegemonic criticism and forged the way for the breakdown between modernism and post-modernism.
Benjamin (1933) placed an emphasis on a broader perspective within the general framework of art production, the relations between the art work and its political and ideological orientation, pointing out that studying a work cannot be done in an isolated way, with no connection between it and the social context which it forms part of: unlike the stubborn and self-interested separation of form and content in canonical rules, Benjamin upheld that it makes no sense for the political content of an art work to be found only at the level of arguments or the contents of the work's "theme", because, most precisely, the relationship between film and politics is present in any movie, regardless of its "plot". However, not only was this true in terms of theme, but also form: there was language and there were the filming techniques through which it was materialized. The difference between political genre film or modern politicized film. Without this critical viewpoint of the medium and questions about the languages used, reactionary films could be made with progressive plots: without adapting a language that deconstructs the canonical norm through a new narrative logic, no matter how good one's intentions are, there is a split between the meaning of the content and the meaning of the form. Guy Debord speaks of a foreign language occupying the place of the dominant language. And we always speak of languages in the plural: alongside conceptual language, one finds emotional language, as well as the languages of logic or science, co-existing with the language of the poetic imagination.
In order to ask ourselves how it comes to be that, in most films, viewers see almost exactly the same story, a new term must be introduced, a nuance in relation with the story itself: the plot.
What we understand to be the plot, the compositional technique which properly links together situations and occurrences, coincides with the concepts delimited by Aristotle in his treatise on poetics: the plot-fable or "the perfect tool" for a composition of the facts: the what, how and when for building a specific story at a specific moment; sufficient information and the degree of credibility or pertinence which we can attribute to that information. Whereas the story is created by those who perceive (viewers/readers) narrations, the story as such is not effectively present in the screenplay or on screen. The narrative and, as a result, what is also referred to as narrative film, narrates or refers to a certain occurrence or real event. The story is always a representation through fiction, an imaginary construction which springs forth logically in accordance with the actions, in a certain space and time, all related through the cause-effect principle and with the ending of the tale. The story which is inferred from this is the result interpreted by the viewer, who is steered through by a series of deductive guidelines: simply deciphering the key points so that the story arises as if by magic.
Aristotle's synthesis offers a logic and rational order for building the story. Closed, pre-determined stories which foment the existence of viewers reduced to the status of mere voyeurs, with a greater or lesser interest in what is happening to third parties. Outside of this formula, it appears that there is no other option for film narrative.
One of the most widespread trends in film since its advent continues to be its servility and dependence to theater and literature: the novel, short stories or theatrical texts are turned into plots, with all the difficulties and constraints created due to their literary origin. This, in fact, occurs in response to a powerful demand by the market and the interests of publishing companies and producers. This adaptation requires a two-part process, the passage from literature to cinema. There is an undoing for the sake of re-doing, from the strength of our literary tradition to the weakness of our film, then becoming trapped most times within the most academic and conservative formulas of literature. Surging forth from this convoluted and complicated process come plots, which in general are a mere simplification of a complex story. Some even intend to write original plots with literary pretensions, so as to transcribe them in the language of film in the end. I do not think that the result has ever caused any harm to literature, though it has done a great deal of damage to the world of film.
This leads to the need, in order to keep a hold of audiences, to have a plot, first and foremost, which serves as the common theme ensuring that viewers reach the end without getting lost along the way. Though the use of a plot is legitimized by its huge power to get viewers to watch films, it should not make us lose sight of all the other potential forms of expression that exist in film to take part as protagonists entering into the narration with our interpretive freedom as adult film viewers.
In any case, though, there is a real sensation of security provided by recognizing a setting and identifying a situation which suffice for understanding the story, and this does not occur when narrative proposals deny this need.
For me, screenplays cannot be regarded as or written like literary stories. They must simply provide information on the film which the screenwriter intends to create, with an inventory of ordered sequences, a route map of locations, an agenda for continuity, a list of dialogues, if there are any... and little more: a document.
Eisenstein concluded that the story is located amid the images, amongst the visual representations and representations of sound, between one shot and the next. The story lies between the film and the viewer. He lucidly proposes searching for the unity in the meaning of the story invoked by the polyphonic nature of its images (noises, dialogues, music, lighting, duration, framing, etc.), which are detected through the viewers' intuition and sensitivity, freeing them from imposition and the rational nature of plots, without ceasing to be a form of intelligibility, which is a fundamental affair: this allows for a new and more open narrative, placing an emphasis on the text's undetermined nature, open to suggestions, leaving the sum of perception and own experiences in the hands of the reader-viewer.
Nullification of the hierarchicalization of sequences and disappearance of transitional sequences because they lack meaning. All in all: whereas a plot need only be "explained", a story is constructed on the basis of one's own imaginary and must be capable of drawing people's attention because of its sensorial and emotional content. It offers one or more conflicts that have to be interpreted by their readers/viewers. The viewpoint must be focused on the basis of a prior project of an imaginary. Each shot has a bearing on all of the others. Each sequence has its own tension and meaning, and gathers all of the film's potential in relation with the others. The order of the sequences is set in stone, and these sequences take the place of the plot. It is useless to search for the characters' psychology or attempt to reconstruct the anecdote or dramatic progression of the film. The Informalists and conceptualism already did away with a set of preconceptions that fit in with a viewpoint and a set of codes that have been left behind because they are obsolete.
Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, the fiction and essay writer, defines "lyrical poetry as that which does not strictly have any "recipients", because it does not communicate any semantic content at all; instead it has just "users", and their "use" consists precisely of taking the place of the "id" in the poem. Not that of the poet, but rather of sort of set of pigeonholes from which they can express their feelings and emotions".The readers/viewers live their own experience while reading or watching a film, and they complete them and round them off from their own viewpoint.
And what is fundamental is that the reader/viewer and user access it as an active, participating subject, as a protagonist. Nowadays, the viewer's role as a protagonist who takes part in the film without intermediaries is an ever more widespread demand.
Definitively, the idea is to re-examine or do away with the epitome of the Aristotelian narrative formula, which is valid, but not the only way. However, not the narrative itself as a creative criterion. We must not forget that all viewers, the uncritical and users/readers, when a film is screened, know that what they are seeing is not actually taking place, and they always move into the semantic realm of the cinema, with a significant presence of film myths existing in their imaginary.
Luis Buñuel deserves special mention.
Anyone who attempts to approach the contemporary art history of the twentieth century must not leave out or set aside Luis Buñuel. Suffice it to remind you of three of his films, Un Chien Andalou, L'Âge d'Or and Las Hurdes. With these three films alone, Luis Buñuel entered history as a filmmaker with full rights, as well as becoming a noteworthy member of one of the most emblematic movements of the early decades of the twentieth century, Surrealism and the Dadaism movement. Even if Luis Buñuel had done nothing more and had not filmed another other movies, he would still be found amongst those who farm part of the inner core of avant-garde art movements in the period between wars, an essential period for us.
Luis Buñuel set off on the search for a free form of narrative on the basis of the poetic and metaphoric resonances of language. He steers through hidden assumptions more than declared intentions: free, evocative, suggestive associations, all outside of what was just barely acceptable in accordance with pre-established rules for regular production, which was tied down to traditional ways of telling stories, star-struck by the huge potential held by cinema to draw viewers in and become the most popular show of the twentieth century, under the effects of reality and its ability to inspire awe and perplexity in movie-goers before this new and wonderful moving spectacle, thanks to a formula that was as well-tested as it was effective.
Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí broke away from this institutional continuity and built a story without any sort of relationship between sequences, obsessed with ensuring there was not the slightest possibility of creating any narrative link amongst them in any way.
L'Âge d'Or was considered to be a truly surrealist film by André Breton. However, after just a few days, the cinema where it premiered was attacked by reactionary groups, with threats and a great deal of unrest. The film was prohibited.
Along the lines of Marcel Duchamp: Anti-art. Or along those later proposed by Roland Barthes: the work of art as an object/artifact. The most extreme radicalism went beyond the limits of what could be tolerated by the system, which often meant the destruction of the story for the those involved.
Exile came, and Luis Buñuel leapt from a scenario of subversion and the deciphering of dominant codes to the stages of the movie studios in Mexico, as just another employee on the payroll. Luis Buñuel prepared to forge a path for himself, on the basis of this Copernican inversion of his proposals for transgressing the system, turning to the real and unquestionable possibility offered to him by the standard production system. And he did so successfully. At this point, we could repeat the same as before, but the other way around: if Luis Buñuel had never made any films before arriving in Mexico, because of what he did afterwards he would still hold an honorable position in the history of film, though in this case as one of the classics.
In 1960, during the Cannes Film Festival, which we competed at with Los Golfos (The Delinquents), the first film directed by Carlos Saura, we all but physically ran into Luis Buñuel in the elevator of the hotel where we were staying. It was an unforgettable encounter. Luis Buñuel attended the screening of Los Golfos and hugged us as if giving us his blessing. In the cinema, the ovation was amazing. I proposed to Buñuel that he come to Madrid, which he did for the summer. Luis Buñuel's return took place during some difficult years of shameful silences and very notable absences, with a memory that had been broken or severely battered.
But the story does not end here.
This encounter with Luis Buñuel, as with so many other exiles, was of enormous importance, and to more than just people in film: to get an idea of what things were like during the dictatorship, one need only remember José Bergamín, a writer, poet, essayist and playwright, another emblematic personage with whom Luis Buñuel coincided in Madrid, and who was forced to go back into exile. Bergamín was subjected to ceaseless persecution by then Minister of Information and Tourism, Manuel Fraga lribarne, until forcing him to leave the country. One of the things which unleashed his fury was a document in which the torture to which many detainees were subjected during strikes and demonstrations in Asturias were denounced (1962). Bergamín was the first person to sign the document. One of the humiliations suffered by the detainees consisted of cutting their hair off, and a group of female protestors even had their heads shaved. Given the denunciation of these events, the minister responded with disdain: "It's no big deal. Their hair will grow back anyway, and they'll be able to comb it however they wish". Meanwhile, the government had time to sign the "approval" of the sentence and execute Julián Grimau, a Communist, and anarchists Granados and Delgado in 1963.
It was in this atmosphere that I proposed to Luis Buñuel that he make a movie to be filmed in Madrid, and in the month of October he wrote to me to tell me about Viridiana. All of us who work in film know that movies are not just made, already a great task in and of itself, but they must also be put together and prepared, and to do that sometimes you have to join forces with others. I would expressly like to mention Domingo Dominguín, a bullfighter, Communist and movie producer. I know that today he is completely unknown to most people, but Buñuel felt special affection for him. Those difficult years were made easier, more light-hearted and more bearable in the company of Domingo. His fine-tuned intuition and sense of humor could only compete with Luis Buñuel's. Domingo holds a place in this history, and I would like these lines to serve to make a record of it. I suppose that at this stage of history, proposing a film to Luis Buñuel in that atmosphere stifled by systematic repression, unstoppable censorship and an untrusting government was not only difficult. Its beginning was the story of a nearly impossible attempt. The truth is that it moved forward and ended where everything had first started, in Cannes, with a resounding success in the literal sense of the word, with the Palme d'Or having been awarded to Viridiana. "The work of art", the film, converted into "the object-artifact" that set off the dictatorship's and the Vatican's alarm bells, thanks to the spectacular media repercussion of the prize.
When we found out that the prize was going to Viridiana, we went to rescue the government's Director General of Film, José Muñoz Fontán, who, after seeing the film for the first time on the night of its screening, and the enthusiastic reaction of viewers, ran out of the Palais du Cinéma and took refuge in his hotel room. The next morning, we went to see him to propose that, bearing in mind Luis Buñuel was in Paris, it was his responsibility to accept the Palme d'Or, as the highest representative of the Spanish film world. That is how we proposed it to him, in those words, and he accepted without us having to insist. As was verified just a few hours before going to get the prize, it was truly a poisoned gift. If the regime accepted the prize, then our backs would be covered; if not, what came later would be the result. And what came later did not take long to occur.
The Vatican, through an editorial in the Osservatore Romano, really tore into us. Still today, I do not know whether they were threatening us or directly considering us excommunicated. The Vatican was furious. When our man presented himself before the Minister of Information and Tourism in Madrid, with Palme d'Or in hand and the Vatican's breath down his neck, he crumbled. The Director General was immediately fired and underwent a spectacular fall from the sixth floor of the Ministry to the basement, from which he never again emerged. A short time later, General Franco dismissed Minister Arias Salgado, who was replaced by Manuel Fraga Iribarne. For those who had the good fortune not to live through the dictatorship, a dismissal due to what is nowadays referred to as "collateral damage" was unimaginable, and even less so as the result of a film.
Upon writing these lines, I cannot avoid a certain sensation of slight complicity with the dismissed Director General. The truth is that, without intending to do so, he contributed to improving the end of Viridiana. As a rule, we producers and directors were required to appear before the Director General after screenplays passed through the filter of censors. The reason was quite simple. You could film the movie, but once it was finished, the nightmare started over again. The Censorship Commission could mutilate or prohibit its screening if you failed to listen to reason. When we appeared to see him with Luis Buñuel, everything seemed to be going as planned until the Director General unexpectedly said, "Don Luis, there is a problem". And in the midst of an expectant silence, he went on, "You can't deny that when, in the final scene of the movie, the young nun in the nightgown heads for her handsome cousin's bedroom, she knocks on the door, he invites her in, and the door closes behind her, and the words The End appear, people might think quite badly of what might happen behind that door".Buñuel remained silent. It was obvious that the person who was already thinking the worst was the Director General. However, a few seconds later, that very same Director General found the solution to remedy the situation and said, "Of course, if there were another person in the bedroom when the young nun walks in, since there would be three people, there wouldn't be any problem". You have to admit it was a brilliant idea. Buñuel was awe-stricken. A bashful Luis Buñuel was receiving this suggestion to replace a relationship between a couple with a splendid ménage à trois from a dignified representative of the regime's most reactionary institution. And that is the way it was filmed: with the nun (Silvia Pinal), the cousin (Paco Rabal) and the maid (Margarita Lozano).
The Ministry made the film vanish. Every trace of the movie reel, the censorship report, etc., all of the documentation was voided. Viridiana had disappeared. The paradox is that, according to them, we had not made the film, because it did not even exist. They did not prohibit it, they erased it into oblivion. In the yearly record which the Directorate General of Film published each year with a list of all the films made, Viridiana was not there. When I said before that everything vanished, I did not do so in a figurative sense, as you can verify. It was spectacular. It was something very serious but -why not say so?- also quite funny. After eight years went by, the Film Censorship Commission of the Ministry of Information, at a meeting held on January 30, 1969, prohibited the screening of the film Viridiana, then considered to be of Mexican nationality. It was literally described as: "Blasphemous, anti-religious. Cruelty and disdain for the poor. Morbid and brutal, as well. A venomous, corrosive movie in terms of its filmmaking craftiness in combining images, reference and musical background". We also lived this as a victory of the entire opposition to the Regime.
Buñuel had already proclaimed back in the twenties, "I'm an atheist, thank God".
A short time after the Viridiana scandal, strolling along La Concha beach in San Sebastián with Javier Pradera, a publisher, and Luis Martín Santos, a psychiatrist, writer and Socialist Party director detained and jailed many times, I realized that, I was the only one of the three who had not yet been arrested and interrogated, so I asked Martín Santos, as a professional, what the best attitude was to display during an interrogation. "The first time, you should deny the evidence, no matter how obvious it seems: you aren't the one they say you are, and you don't know any of the people they say are your friends or accomplices. They'll get the message and you'll find out how much you can take, depending on the treatment you get and the time that goes by during the interrogation. Only when you find yourself in this situation will you know".Throughout the course of the conversation, Luis Martín Santos warned that "our political sensitivities are very vulnerable at times like these. It is humiliating to be caught trying to escape through a window in your home. Words and silence are the only tools to use in your defense".
Ten years later, with Manolo Sacristán, a Philosophy professor at the School of Economics who was fired by the university in 1965 because of his stance against Franco, but who was re-hired at the University of Barcelona after Franco's death, then as a tenured professor of Social Science Methodology, we were returning from a demonstration and walking down the Diagonal, entertained by one of our usual lengthy controversies, when all of a sudden we crossed paths with a large group of people who had been broken up from the demonstration and were running away from a police raid. Manolo said to me, "You and I will not run in front of this riffraff, out of dignity", referring to the police as they ran in the opposite direction from us. The conversation, which had been interrupted, more or less revolved around the topics which concerned us conceptualists and Marxists, regarding the value of change or that of the use of cultural production, regarding the entertainment appeal of aesthetic transgression and the devaluation of the object of art and the dissociation of intuition and materialist, anti-idealistic rigor. Manolo, undaunted, returned to our dialogue to say to me, "We people who have a materialistic viewpoint have made a serious mistake, which was eliminating the right to contemplate. Listening to Mozart for pleasure, or looking at a landscape for enjoyment: contemplation also sets us free..." As we crossed paths with the police, after a delightful moment of silence, and given the circumstances of the moment, we resumed our conversation, with even greater interest in the most appropriate tactics for fighting against the dictatorship.
In the early eighties, a significant about-face took place, especially in the European Union and the United States. All of the avant-garde movements' residual ideas, or those protected under that name, were driven out, as the need for a unique form of politically correct, artistically appropriate thought was ushered in, and anything that smacked of "deconstruction" was swept away. In this sense, and within a more general context, we witnessed a swift and far-reaching process to dismantle critical thought structures that had been put in place most notably during the preceding decades. A status quo was consolidated which was determined by the laws of fashion and the market, which seems to confirm the prominence of "the dictatorship of the spectacle market", identified by Guy Debord.
It is in this very spot for the event at which he was awarded an Honorary Doctoral Degree that Manolo Vázquez Montalbán read a speech titled "On the global communication society's lack of communication", in the year of 1997, in which he declared: "My right as a citizen, even as a citizen who is an Honorary Doctor, to examine the role played by the media in attempting to steer my conscience towards the so-called general interest, which is usually a disguise for the interests of the global and local establishment".
It is a system of solid, high-capacity, high-availability structures that gradually assimilates anything which can be digested and sold, coupled with the proper severity when it comes to putting to death everything which does not enter into or fit in with its sophisticated mechanisms of assimilation and rejection.
The limitations of the creative factor are therefore set by the needs and stimuli of the market. This is the toll which is paid for the right to access the great highway through which cultural production passes, once duly filtered in the sieve of the official certification process: clean, crisp descriptions of the facts, recognizable settings and identification of the main characters without too many difficulties, and, of course, with impeccable performances, bright lights, some mischievous verbiage and an exquisite sensitivity which provides backing and verification for the quality. At the cost of impoverishing cinema, it places the least value on what makes the medium most unique and sets it aside for the most routine and repetitive workaday usage. Everything else which falls outside of this norm can only circulate through alternative channels to this network, on a single lane with no rest areas. This is the marginal space intended for more interesting, risky and demanding forms of production, in which the plot, actors and actresses of the mainstream media are considered a nuisance.
There is a search for an ethical and culturally rooted language of film open to the constant mutation of new expressive needs.
Cinema has survived up to the digital era with undisputed successes more than one hundred years after it came into being. The digital revolution is contributing advancements with an equal or greater impact than those of the Industrial Revolution.
Multimedia is an interactive world with participating, multi-faceted users who take part through a computer that receives and transmits digitalized messages which are more real than reality itself. This will transform and alter ways of working, language and perception. The advent and usage of computers makes it possible to develop many projects with interests and goals which are as wide-ranging as they are contradictory.
We are witnesses to a process that is creating a new individual and collective identity. Television shows us images of real, existing things; on the contrary, the cybernetic computer shows us imaginary images (G. Sartori). This virtual reality is a lack of reality which has been created, and which is only reality on screen. The virtual and simulations have excessively expanded the possibilities of what is real without being real.
The effects of the structural changes which were already required back in those years the globalization of the economy, favored by the advent of computers, are producing devastating effects.
Computer engineers started to be hired alongside the usual analysts, with a preference for the former's technical prestige and special sophistication for operating in accordance with the new criteria of the political and financial powers to maintain dynamic and sustained annual growth: a new space for financial transactions outside of the productive economic, but based on it, unregulated, with the complicity of governments' bodies of control over the world economy. Not belonging to everyone, but to enough.
So-called virtual finance is a non-reality which is only real on computer screens: imaginary finance. The effects of these simulations have excessively expanded the possibilities of the real productive economy to unbearable limits. When the bubble broke, there was no rain at all, and still today nobody knows whether or not we have hit rock-bottom. I do not even mention the destruction and collective or individual dramas created as a result of the excesses, the abuses and a lack of global ethics, because they are already in everybody's minds.
The people are developing a digital viewpoint of both aesthetics and contents, with an unstoppable desire to take part in everything being done. This is being organized in a different way in each of their acts as consumers: individuals are becoming more and more convinced that they are immersed in a process which can be summarized as the globalization of exchanges, the universality of values and the uniqueness of forms (languages, cultures). Debate today and in the upcoming years will focus on shifting from linear communication to cross-cutting communication in which users are the ones who control the time of narration to such an extent that they form a part of it until it becomes never-ending.
Globalization means turning any content into a product for reproduction and consumption in all formats. If "the work" is not conceived in the understanding that it is a "product", no communication will take place, because it will never reach the people for whom it was hypothetically intended.
It is obvious that the Europe of the European Union is a product of diversity and not of cultural specificity. The trend towards globality is that of homogenizing culture with "products" that encompass the greatest possible number of sensitivities within the market. The audiovisual and film sectors are the best-prepared and most fertile territory. The effects of these dynamics lead to great confusion. However, things are not the way some people try to make them seem, as if there were a triumph of free choice. Instead, the victory has been that of a task distribution system: what has been reduced is not consumption, but rather creation; there are societies meant for consumption and others for production, and the most ominous factor is not the product's homogenization, but rather the standardization of its production process. This is the most perverse part.
In fact, we have gone from "culture above and at the margins of the market" (A. Malraux) to "what's good for the economy is good for culture" (J. Lang). From a policy aimed at creators, we have moved towards cultural companies behind the subterfuge that the policy aimed at creators ends up dictating and intervening, which led governments' policies in the realm of culture to be limited to providing enablement for the industrial factor in culture, defending identity, consolidating the language, preserving the people's symbolic and architectural heritage, leaving creativity to the periphery and outcast. Definitively, aid is given to get results, when what the investment should be made in is the process. Nowadays, the process is the result.
A few months ago in Madrid, a congress was held with the title "The Post-media Condition Within the Spanish Context". It examined whether the post-media condition would delimit the state of the art within a new context characterized by the disappearance of traditional art media and the uprise of a new global hyper-medium or super-medium: computing, a computational language through which all of the old forms of media would be channeled: painting, sculpture, photography, film, all becoming ever more dependent upon a binary system supporting the entire realm of information systems. If we were coherent with this idea of the post-media condition, perhaps from now on we should speak, as do certain critics and artists, about post-painting, post-sculpture, post-photography and post-film.
The post-media status would confer upon art (which therefore is also understood to include painting, film, photography, sculpture, music, etc.), the mission, armed with the powers granted by the current technological process coupled with the world of computing and the new social context created by mass communication media, of turning the practice of art into a new democratic, global space in which viewers are converted into active users and consumers, and in which art, through the supposed globalization of cybernetic space, becomes a mechanism of illusionary emancipation not within reach for all individuals. This relationship is offered as a framework for creation in real time, consumption in real time and a shift from desire to the object desired in real time.
It has been said that this new post-cinema environment, which stretches from new screens and viewing devices to the immensity of the Internet, is contributing to more widespread access to creation and reception of works of fiction and documentaries; everywhere people are discussing the cybernetic democratization of resources and information, including all types of film and video materials...; despite this, sometimes people too easily forget that the fight to control broadcasters and to get licenses granted gave way to the fight for controlling production and distributing contents. Audiences have been overtaken by "users", and the fight is no longer for getting a larger audience, but rather for being consumed by more users, who choose one's programs and spaces. In addition to those who produce the same contents as always, there is a multitude of offerings whose reliability ranges from none to little, with no validated verification system.
Viewers are moving farther away from traditional communication. Power is still basically on the side of those who create, disseminate and market these devices and program listings, imposing both ideological and practical restrictions on their use, with many still heavily linked to their origins.
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Parallel to all of this, American movie critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has directed and coordinated the project Mutations of Contemporary Cinema. Rosenbaum wished to create a sort of network that would make it possible to exchange ideas and fluent discussion regarding the ways in which contemporary cinema has been renewed, amongst films critics and creators around the world. The result is a set of texts and exchanges on the current paths being taken by cinema in a definitively global era.
In the early twenty-first century, corporativism, the maximization of profits and well-known narrative formulas seem to rule the world's movie market, along with the declaration of its decadence and the end of film.
Reality seems to demonstrate that contemporary film is richer and more diverse than ever. With the turn of the new century, the existence of new narrative resources, new frontiers for traditional genres, new techniques for creating film images, new geographic production spaces and new contexts and ways of viewing films have all been made apparent.
Critics and filmmakers make a stand for these mutations in contemporary cinema as obvious proof of cinema's good health, while at the same time they support the creation of new critical communities that are able to think about the present and future of film beyond all geographic or generational frontiers.
Through this compendium of texts and theoretical exchanges, they offer us a tool which allows us to take a closer look at the changing, completely diversified outlook for today's film production all over the planet: the new viewing systems created through DVD and home cinema devices, the role of the Internet in the future of cinema, and the worldwide proliferation of university departments dedicated to film studies and the creation of new theoretical and academic strategies, as well as contemporary art museums, cultural centers and other circuits which provide an alternative to movie theaters.
One prime example is that of Nicole Brenez, one of the authors, when she says that "writing the history of contemporary cinema is becoming more and more difficult, as well as urgent, because, thanks to the development of new technologies and their extraordinary dissemination, to the current diversity of strategic models and to the incessant demand for images in our society, production has skyrocketed".
In Catalonia, there is a tradition of producing films in search of new spaces liberated from institutional conventionalisms which backs this Nicole Brenez's claim.
And finally, bringing my speech to an end, I will use a very common device in film, the flashback:
Autor:Pere Portabella. 2009
After Viridiana, when I was out of work, producer Enzo Rizzoli hired me as a screenwriter/dialogue writer for Il momento della veritá (The Moment of Truth), directed by Francesco Rosi. Francesco, aware that I knew Orson Welles, asked me to set up a meeting with him. Welles invited us out to dinner at a classic Madrid restaurant. During the dinner, Rosi expressed his admiration for the "master" and, during the conversation, Welles, half-smiling as he attentively looked at the fine sirloin sitting on his plate, would answer his questions humorously, but also in a very cordial and professional manner. Then, Francesco, in ecstasy and delirious given the usual hubris and irony displayed by Orson Welles, suddenly asked what, in the "master"s' opinion, was the most important quality a person needed to have in order to become a great director like himself. Orson Welles looked up at him and responded, "Being in good physical shape, caro Francesco", then burst into laughter worthy of the character of Falstaff in the movie Chimes at Midnight.
Thank you for your attention.
Pere Portabella, March 17, 2009