The germ of the idea for this website came to me a couple of years back when I was presenting a showing of the excellent Spanish film Night of the Sunflowers at a local film club. The audience was small but could be described as cine-literate. “How many Spanish directors,” I asked, “can you name?” Silence. After a few moments a hand went up. “Pedro Almodovar?” “Very good, any others?” In short, despite having as thriving and productive a film history as almost any other country in Europe and despite producing many of the most interesting and effective films to be made in recent years; for most people Spanish cinema is a blank.
Things aren’t much better in cult cinema circles. Nowadays the names of Paul Naschy and Jesus Franco are familiar to most horror aficionados, but dig beyond that and there are vast gaps in knowledge. Some of the more extensive examinations of European Westerns – Kevin Grant’s excellent Any Gun Can Play, for instance – deal with Spanish variations of the genre, but dedicated or detailed examinations of the type are few and far between. What’s more, there is a whole swathe of Spanish filmmakers (Eugenio Martin, Jose Maria Forque, Eloy de la Iglesia and many, many more) whose work remains criminally under-appreciated by both the mainstream and the alternative press. Even those who were critically lauded in the past (Saura, Berlanga) receive only a fraction of the attention of their peers from France (Godard, Truffaut), Germany (Fassbender, Wenders, Herzog) or Italy (Bertolucci, Fellini, Pasolini).
Why is this? To be blunt – I’m not sure. Is it because historically Spanish film didn’t have the same level of exposure on the international arthouse circuit? Or maybe because there wasn’t a domestic film festival to concentrate press attention on the local industry as there was for instance in Venice or Cannes? Certainly today it seems absurd that, although films like The Body and The Hidden Face may gain an international DVD release, they don’t get promoted beyond the cineaste market: these are good films with mass appeal which are easily the equal or better of most of the rubbish that gets shown at the multiplexes.
Let me clarify: I am not starting out from a position of expertise. I personally became interested in Spanish films from a rather sideways direction, namely a fascination with the cinema of Italy. As a huge fan of Spaghetti Westerns – many of which were filmed in Spain by Italian directors – I started following the work of local Spanish filmmakers who turned their hand to the genre. When writing The Eurospy Guide (almost fifteen years ago now!) I also covered a lot of Spanish films as well. In the meantime I started coming across a steady stream of excellent modern Spanish features – The Nameless, El Lobo, Timecrimes, The Secret in their Eyes – and I began to seek out other, more obscure productions. In other words, spanishcultcinema.com is an excuse to explore the world of Spanish cinema further, giving my tentative investigations a focus and sense of order; and hopefully in doing so it will also shed light on and act as a valuable resource for a whole world of film which has been woefully neglected to date.
As with all such projects, collaboration is the best approach – so if you would like to contribute (and any contributions would be gratefully received) please let me know by filling in the comment box below.
Note: of course, one of the key problems with talking about Spanish cinema is identifying whether a film is Spanish or not. This is especially tricky when international co-productions are born in mind, some of which even have accredited Spanish directors even though they were actually made by Italian or American film makers. It’s enough to make your head hurt. For my purposes and in need of some kind of boundaries, my definition here is that in order to be Spanish a film needs to be made in Spain, partially co-produced by a Spanish company and have a Spanish (or adopted Spanish) director. So… The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (made in Spain by an Italian director) isn’t Spanish, it’s Italian. A Bullet for Sandoval (an Italo-Spanish co-production made in Spain by a Spanish director) is Spanish. Rattler Kid (an Italo-Spanish co-production made in Spain by an Argentine director who spent most of his later career in Spain) is Spanish. A Few Dollars for Django (an Italo-Spanish co-production made in Spain by an Italian director but accredited to an Argentine director who spent most of his later career in Spain)… well, that’s anyone’s guess!