Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Hollywood as Imaginary in the Work of Horacio Quiroga and Ramon Gomez De la Serna

Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Hollywood as Imaginary in the Work of Horacio Quiroga and Ramon Gomez De la Serna

Article excerpt

During the Silent Film Era, two important writers initiate a round of filmic narrative: Horacio Quiroga (1878-1937, Uruguay) and Ramon Gomez de la Serna (1888-1963, Spain). Their fiction thematically incorporates the celluloid art, its makers, actors, and spectators, its inherent voyeurism, and its fragmentary structure. Both set their highly stylized movie tales on the studio grounds of Tinseltown itself or within the confines of cinemas around the world. Quiroga's four "Hollywood stories" have generally gone unnoticed, or are considered a frothy departure. They are "'Miss Dorothy Phillips, mi esposa" (1919), "El espectro" (1921), "El puritano" (1926), and "El vampiro" (1927). He also penned more than sixty movie columns, which have been reprinted in Horacio Quiroga: Arte y lenguaje del cine. (Of course, the Uruguayan is better known for his somber jungle fiction that takes place in the untamed upper reaches of the Parana River, near the tripartite border of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, and generally involves death or insanity.) Meanwhile, Gomez de la Serna wrote Cinelandia (1923)--a novel that satirizes and celebrates the industry's most peculiar aspects. The book abounds with allusions to then current stars, their foibles, scandals, and successes. The chapters proceed in choppy, syncopated fashion, an indubitable mimic of film.

In Quiroga's stories, the male spectators sit alone in the dark and enjoy specular access to the starlets on screen. There, they let their imaginations go, although the resulting geek fantasies are self-censored to Disney-like standards. Silent film's popularity relied greatly on the enduring gaze, and the new movie houses of the 1910s and '20s provided the perfect peeping redoubt for spectators to contemplate erotic images with anonymity and impunity. The camera lens took the moviegoer to private places and held images in tantalizing close-ups and freeze shots. In an earlier Gomez de la Serna novel, El incongruente (1922), a movie-viewing protagonist interacts with the characters on screen. Quiroga's filmic narrative likewise delights in such frame breaks, a strategy used later to more heralded effect in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985).

And yet, neither Quiroga nor Gomez de la Serna set eyes on the word's movie Mecca. Cinelandia's first English translator boasts in a prologue: "Ramon has never been in Hollywood. Not even in the U. S. A." (xii), a gleeful confirmation of the imaginary. Instead, the two authors' fictional remake of filmdom draws heavily from the gossip of fan magazines. The ironic, at times zany, aspect of Quiroga and Gomez de la Serna's work affirms the humorous mindset that critic Ortega y Gasset appreciates as emblematic of the age: "... el artista de ahora nos invita a que contcmpleruos un arte que es una broma, que es, esencialmente, la burla de si mismo. Porque en esto radica la comicidad de esta inspiracion" (86-87). These Modernist texts lampoon the world beyond them, but most of all they lampoon themselves. By "Modernist," I refer narrowly to a Western literary movement that reached its creative zenith during the 20s and 30s and characterizes itself with constant technical innovation and a grand interiorization. Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane sum up the period as "The movement toward sophistication and mannerism, towards introversion, technical display, internal self-skepticism" (26). The greatest asset in that self-deprecation is the mix of high and low modes--elite literature with populist film, respectively--a mix that is simultaneously playful and earnest. I will now consider two such texts that derive comic inspiration from film: Quiroga's "Miss Dorothy Phillips, my wife" and Gomez de la Serna's Cinelandia.

"Miss Dorothy Phillips, mi esposa" (1919)

Quiroga's first movie story describes a diva-addled bureaucrat's dreamt perambulation through Hollywood's studios and fast-set parties: a kind of fantasizing aloud. …

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