Academic journal article Post Script

Diferente: Queering Spanish Masculinity

Academic journal article Post Script

Diferente: Queering Spanish Masculinity

Article excerpt

Luis Maria Delgado's Diferente (1961), an infrequently seen cult classic of Spanish cinema, had its premiere fifty years ago, at the height of General Franco's dictatorship. Little known outside of Spain, Diferente has occupied a similarly marginal position in the history of Spain's cinema. On the one hand, Delgado's film has little in common with the auteurist cinema developed in the 1950s by the likes of Juan Antonio Bardem and Luis Garcia Berlanga and continued in the 1960s by the directors of the Nuevo Cine Espanol. On the other, given its strong reliance on the conventions of Hollywood classic cinema, Diferente is equally at odds with the main trends of Spanish popular cinema. And yet, despite this marginality, or rather precisely because of its ex-centric status, Diferente has resurfaced in various recent historical surveys of Spain's cinema (Heredero, Torres, Gubern). Pedro Almodovar, too, has been a big admirer of this long-forgotten film (Aronica 64-5). (1)

While critics are divided as to Diferente's artistic merits, there is greater consensus in regards to its important contribution to the history of the Spanish film musical as well as to its groundbreaking depiction of a non-normative masculinity. On this account, Diferente is widely accepted as a landmark film because its protagonist, Alfredo (Alfredo Alaria), is, as film historian Augusto Martinez Torres puts it, "el primer homosexual declarado del cine espanol" [the first self-proclaimed homosexual in the history of Spanish cinema] (208). Yet even this characterization is in dispute. Alberto Mira, for instance, questions whether Alfredo can be properly described as a homosexual, since his sexual orientation remains purposefully ambiguous throughout the entire film. According to Mira, only by deciphering the many coded signs strewn throughout the film could a viewer make any inference about the character's potential homosexuality (79-80). And, in truth, there is something "different" about Alfredo, but the nature of this otherness is revealed indirectly, through physical gestures, sartorial choices, the exhibition of cultural tastes, and a generalized anxiety about all things sexual. The film's mise-en-scene, music, and deployment of light, color, and editing further contribute to the representation of a troubled, nonconformist masculinity.

Given then Alfredo's fluid sexual identity, perhaps the unorthodox masculinity emerging from Diferente's interstices might more appropriately be described as queer. As Alexander Doty and others have deployed it, the term queer encompasses any kind of sexuality which resists and destabilizes existing categories by alluding to something non-straight or non-normatively straight. It will be my contention in this essay that Diferente's queer vision is articulated through the film's affiliation to two cinematic genres which have historically problematized the representation of masculinity: melodrama and the musical. As we shall see, this generic hybridity in turn gives rise to a rhetorical instability, whereby Diferente's tone oscillates between the joyous exaltation and utopian positivity of the musical, on the one hand, and the pathos of melodrama on the other; in my view, this vacillation in the film's textual discourses may stem from a conflict between the desire to embrace Alfredo's difference and a recognition of that desire's ultimate impossibility.

Diferente is somewhat unique in the history of Francoist cinema in that it is a lavish cinematic star vehicle for a performer who had never before, and would never again, appear in a Spanish film. The descendant of a former president of Argentina, Alfredo Alaria--born Oscar Alfredo Alaria de Paula in Buenos Aires in 1930--arrived in Spain in the early 1960s at the head of his own ballet troupe after garnering applause on the stages of Latin America, Europe, and the U.S. His modern style of dancing and innovative choreographies equally met with success on the Spanish stage. …

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