Academic journal article Framework

Desire Ltd: Romanies, Women, and Other Smugglers in Carmen

Academic journal article Framework

Desire Ltd: Romanies, Women, and Other Smugglers in Carmen

Article excerpt

A fetish masks the absence but not hermetically or permanently.

Hamid Nancy (1993, 97)

'She was lying, señor, as she always lied. I wonder whether that girl ever spoke one word of truth in her life' (1963 [1845, 24]). With these words, Antonio (Antonio Gades) who plays the director in Carlos Saura's 1983 film Carmen, presents Carmen-one of the most famous Romani figures in the world-to his dance troupe. By quoting Don José's words from Mérimée, Antonio also creates an analogy between the old story and the new. Time has passed and yet Carmen the Gypsy is still depicted by a man, in this case one man quoting another.

In this version, Carmen, the dancer, chosen to be Carmen in the show, and Antonio, who will be Don José, play the lead roles both on stage and off. Step by step, Antonio examines the myth, but as he tries to change it, he is, in fact, repeating it. The confluence of repetition and difference is a strategy used in Saura's version, as in numerous other filmic variations of Carmen, to mobilize an old story for a new configuration. However, it is the dialectic between the 'old' and the 'new' that keeps producing additional versions. In this sense, the re-signification of Carmen is part of a cultural process of assimilation, appropriation and transformation, which also includes the act of reading itself.1 Thus, from the present (and limited) point of view of this specific historical-cultural moment, we may identify Carmen as an emblematic cultural object that reflects the need to redefine the T and the Other' vis-à-vis law and desire.

Ever since the publication of Prosper Mérimée's novella in 1845, and the production of Georges Bizet's opera in 1875, Carmen has had a lasting presence in opera, theater, dance, in dozens of films, and recently even in computer games.2 By repeating the story again and again-either à la Mérimée or à la Bizet or, as in most versions, as a combination of the two, with interpolations and extrapolations-culture has kept the myth circulating in society's bloodstream, signaling its continued relevance.

Over forty film versions of the story have been produced to date, including films by Cecil B. De Mille (Carmen, U.S., 1915), Charlie Chaplin (Burlesque of Carmen, U.S., 1916), Ernst Lubitsch (Carmen/Gypsy Blood, Germany, 1918), Maurits H. Binger and Hans Nesna (Een Carmen Van Het Noorden/A Carmen of the North, Netherlands, 1919), Jacques Feyder (Carmen, France, 1926), Raoul Walsh (Carmen, U.S., 1915; The Loves of Carmen, U.S., 1927), Cecil Lewis (Carmen, U.K., 1931), Lotte Reiniger (Carmen, Germany, 1933), Victor Janson (Die Blonde Carmen/ The Blonde Carmen, Germany,1935), Anson Dyer (Carmen, U.K., 1936), Christianjaque (Carmen, France, 1942), Luis Cesar Amadori (Carmen, Spain, 1943), Charles Vidor (The Loves of Carmen, U.S., 1948), Keiske Kinoshita (Karumen Kokyo Ni kaeru/ Carmen Comes Home, Japan, 1951), Otto Preminger (Carmen Jones, U.S., 1954), Tulio Demaicheli (La Carmen de Ronda /Carmen from Granade, Spain, 1959), Carlos Saura (Carmen, Spain, 1983), Jean-Luc Godard (Prénom Carmen/First Name: Carmen, France, 1983), Peter Brook (La Tragédie de Carmen/ Carmen's Tragedy, U.K./France, 1984), Francesco Rosi (Carmen, Italy, 1984), Makoto Sato and Akira Sugiura (Carmen, Japan, 1989), and, most recently, Joseph Gaï Ramaka (Karmen Get/ Carmen, 2001, Senegal & France) and Robert Townsend's MTV Carmen: A Hip-Hopera (U.S., 2001).3

In this paper I will discuss the textual procedures that enable the cinematic institution to 'eternalize' Carmen. Like the socio-cultural systems of literature and opera before it, cinema uses a number of devices to deliver, persistently, a highly selective representation of Carmen, of the Gypsies, and of Romani culture. Among them are a borrowed, 'objective' discourse, a preference for indirect characterization, the 'fluid' ethnic identity of the 'other,' and the production of a dialectic movement between legal and illegal space. …

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