Nº6 2020 (3)

Familiar Fatales

Erin K. Hogan (University of Maryland Baltimore County)

This video essay contemplates filmic and familiar genealogies between stars Lucia (1931-2020) and Miguel Bosé (1956-) from the vantage point of Death of a Cyclist (Juan Antonio Bardem 1955) and High Heels (Pedro Almodóvar 1991). Director Juan Antonio Bardem, in his own right, is part of a Spanish film dynasty that includes his sister Pilar Bardem and nephew Javier. The Javier Bardem-Penélope Cruz family album would offer more opportunity to explore national and transnational filmmaking as a telescoping constellation of relative star-texts, or public images and biographies (Dyer 2004: 7). Cinema is also a family affair for Pedro Almodóvar, who works closely with his brother Agustín in their El Deseo production company. Mother and brother Almodóvar have made cameo appearances in Pedro’s films. According to this director: “La familia nunca falla […] supone siempre un material dramático de primer orden” (Strauss 2001: 67). This video essay will contemplate how the on-screen and on-stage resonances between performing mother and son Bosé embrace influence.

Both actors play femme fatale characters, whom I designate “familiar fatales” to call attention to their family resemblance in similarly seductive film roles. Femme Letal (Miguel Bosé) honors, as she says, the singing career of Becky del Páramo (Marisa Paredes) while Miguel Bosé’s performance recalls his mother’s femme fatale part (Evans 2007). The Bosé star-texts invite reflection on the inheritance of filmic and familiar resonances. My montage embeds Miguel in Lucia’s feature to establish a dialogue between the two. The editing of the source sequence from Bardem’s noir film, assembled with cross cutting, matches on action, and continuity, emphasizes the presence of María José’s (Lucia Bosé) lover Juan, who does not appear in this piece, in her marriage (Kinder 1993: 78). I have replaced Juan (Alberto Closas) with Femme Letal in this love triangle which I further juxtapose with similar amorous configurations. Becky appears in the video essay with her on-and-off ex-partner Manuel (Féodor Atkine), who is the soon-to-be ex-husband of her daughter played by Victoria Abril. In spite of these romances, this “cinefilic” video essay explores other loves: cinephilia through the filial. 

Ce ci n’est pas une femme fatale? It is commonplace in Pedro Almodóvar’s cinema for his male characters and actors, cisgender or not, to play femmes fatales or trans characters (Abeel 2004; Davies 2004; Marcatonio 2019; Pastor 2013). Eliding the implications of these creative decisions, Almodóvar asserted that homages to women by characters in drag are parodic rather than mimetic (Smith 1994: 126). Parody distinguishes, in Michel Foucault’s view (1982: 44), between similitude and resemblance. These images in black and white highlight the uncanny resemblance between Lucia Bosé and her son Miguel as transgressive femmes. The “amante bandido,” Miguel Bosé’s 1984 hit song that he rebelliously performed in a skirt, is a queer signifier although the star had preferred not to make declarations with regards to his sexuality (Scarlett 2017: 144). It celebrates transgression in a country emerging from the repressive gender politics of Franco’s military dictatorship (1939-75). Miguel Bosé’s gender fluidity cast him suitably for the Femme Letal role; Almodóvar in fact admired the credibility of Miguel’s “transformista” quality (Strauss 2001: 104). Death of a Cyclist is, at the same time, a critique of the moral corruption of the dictatorship (demonstrated in diegetic infidelity, blackmail, and business deals) and an example of the aims of national art cinema. Bardem’s constructive criticism of Spanish filmmaking in the famous Salamanca Conversations of the same year (1955) is another form of cinephilia artistically expressed in Death of a Cyclist (Pavlović et al 2009: 85). The performances of these familiar fatales embody a number of social, political, and artistic rebellions against Francoist ideology. 

Although High Heels centers on the mother-daughter relationship, this audiovisual essay re-orients the family romance to mother and son. According to Foucault, genealogy, by contrast to history, does not search for origins but rather relates similarities and differences (Prado 2000: 33-35). Likewise, the dialogue of the films underscores comparative elements: reminiscences (“Recordarás”), similarities and redundancies (“siempre las mismas caras”), gestures (“los gestos son míos”) and change (“Sigues igual […] Me alegro que ninguno de los dos haya cambiado”). Almodóvar’s cinema and Femme Letal herself in the source sequence, like Foucault’s concept (Foucault 1984; Prado 2000: 36), reject essences, and most notably here gender as a singular, immutable quality (Kinder 1992: 42, 44; Shaw 2000: 55). Miguel-Femme Letal is and is not Lucia-Becky. Their femme fatale roles are not identical. There is a family resemblance, with a difference; Becky remains “única” and mother-son Bosé like the cinephilic works of Bardem and Almodóvar are likewise unique. This video essay breathes in the noir-inspired smoke motif that permeates even hard cuts in Bardem’s work to suggest a certain intangibility and fluidity across the resonances of these femmes and their films. Orbiting Bosé star-texts and inspired by Bardem’s montage, this videographic work situates these familiar fatales within national film genealogy.

Bibliography

  • Davies, Ann (2004) “The Spanish Femme Fatale and the Cinematic Negotiation of Spanishness,” Studies in Hispanic Cinemas (new title: Studies in Spanish & Latin American Cinemas) 1.1, 5-16. 
  • Dyer, Richard (1998) “Post Script: Queers and Women in Film Noir” in E. Ann Kaplan (ed.), Women in Film Noir, London: British Film Institute, 123–129.
  • ___ (2004) Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society Second ed New York: Routledge.
  • Evans, Jo (2007) “Sex and the Censors: The Femme Fatale in Juan Antonio Bardem’s Muerte de un ciclista,” Screen 48.3, 327-44.
  • Foucault, Michel (1981) Esto no es una pipa: ensayo sobre Magritte, translated by Francisco Monge and Jordà Joaquín, Barcelona: Anagrama.
  • ___ (1982) This is Not a Pipe, translated by James Harkness, Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  • ___ (1984) “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” in The Foucault Reader, translated by Paul Rabinow, New York: Pantheon Books, 76-100.
  • Kinder, Marsha (1992) “High Heels by Pedro Almodóvar and Agustín Almodóvar,” Film Quarterly 45.2, 39-44.
  • ___ (1993) Blood Cinema: The Reconstruction of National Identity in Spain Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  • Marcantonio, Carla (2019) “The Transvestite Figure and Film Noir Pedro Almodóvar’s Transnational Imaginary” in Vicente Rodríguez Ortega and Jay Beck (eds.), Contemporary Spanish Cinema and Genre, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 157 – 178. 
  • Pastor, Brígida M. (2013) “Queering Gender: The New Femme Fatale in Almodóvar’s La mala educación (2004),” Culture & History Digital Journal 2.1, 1-7.
  • Pavlović, Tatjana, et al (2009) 100 Years of Spanish Cinema West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons. 
  • Prado, C.G. (2000) “Genealogical Analytics” in Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy, Boulder: Westview Press, 33-52. 
  • Scarlett E. (2017) “Transatlantic Musical Crossover: Miguel Bosé in the U.S.A. and Bruce Springsteen in Spain” in Tania Gentic and Francisco LaRubia-Prado (eds.), Imperialism and the Wider Atlantic. The New Urban Atlantic, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 135-156. 
  • Shaw, Deborah (2000) “Men in High Heels: The Feminine Man and Performances of Femininity in Tacones lejanos by Pedro Almodóvar,” Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies 6.1, 55-62.
  • Smith, Paul Julian (1994) “Chapter 9 Tacones lejanos: Imitations of Life” in Desire Unlimited: The Cinema of Pedro Almodóvar, London: Verso, 121-35.
  • Strauss, Frédéric (2001) Conversaciones con Pedro Almodóvar Madrid: Akal Ediciones.

Final thanks
The author would like to thank the UMBC Dresher Center for the Humanities Scholarly Development Fund, Liz Heppding, and Tecmerin’s peer reviewers.

How to cite this article: Hogan, E.K. (2020). Familiar FatalesTecmerin. Revista de Ensayos Audiovisuales, 6(3). ISSN: 2659-4269

Other videoessays in this issue: