Academic journal article Framework

Goyescas: Picturing Defiance and Consent in Early Francoist Cinema

Academic journal article Framework

Goyescas: Picturing Defiance and Consent in Early Francoist Cinema

Article excerpt

In the wake of General Francisco Franco's ascent to power at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Spain's film industry underwent a significant transformation. On the one hand, the state strengthened censorship laws, exerting a greater ideological control over film production than had been the case prior to 1936. A whole regulatory framework was put into place to review screenplays and, later, finished films in order to ensure the suppression of dialogue and images deemed offensive to Catholic morality or contrary to Francoism's right-wing political principles. On the other hand, the state provided for the first time a steady flow of economic support to Spanish film producers.1 Stimulated by a system of subsidies and prizes and by policies that tied the distribution of foreign movies to domestic film production, Spain's cinema experienced a sustained if uneven growth well into the 1960s. This expansion reflected the importance that Franco's administration placed upon the medium of film as both a source of entertainment and a vehicle for indoctrination and persuasion.2

Until fairly recently, whenever critics and historians have approached the study of early Francoist cinema, they have by and large characterized it as a vehicle for undiluted Fascist propaganda or, at best, as banal escapism of little artistic merit.3 This is especially true for those films dating from the 1940s. Yet, notwithstanding the tendentiousness of a score of military and historical films that have been repeatedly invoked as the face of early Francoist cinema, closer inspection reveals that the cinema of the 1940s is primarily comprised of genre films of dubious political significance. As works that were mainly designed for consumption by mass audiences, their reputation over the years has suffered. As Richard Dyer and Ginette Vincendeau noted in their introduction to the book Popular European Cinemas, the study of European national cinemas has traditionally privileged the so-called art cinema, which has often been seen as an extension of a given nation's high culture, at the expense of popular entertainment genres, which are deemed inferior and have thus been rendered invisible.4 The result, as Dimitris Eleftheoritis has pointed out, is that "films extremely popular with national audiences seem to have no place within the formation of a national cinema."5 To this aesthetic bias, other film historians have added their deeply rooted political mistrust of popular cinematic forms, operating from the conviction that mass culture routinely propagates a dominant ideology that upholds the power of the ruling class over its subalterns.

In the case of Francoist cinema, the contempt for popular cinema's alleged lack of artistry that Spanish film historians share with many of their European counterparts is compounded by its association with a hateful totalitarian regime; conversely, the small number of art house films made under Franco's rule often embodied perspectives that were critical of the dictatorship's values and were thus held in high regard. For champions of this auteurist cinema, the musicals, melodramas, romantic comedies, and period films that constituted the core of early Francoist cinema are tainted by the institutional conditions of their production, their patent desire to entertain, their recourse to generic tropes and stereotyped characters and situations, and their alleged refusal to confront the social and political fallout of the Civil War.6 The fact that most of these works are virtually unknown outside of Spain has further contributed to their obscurity. However, a new generation of film scholars has proceeded to challenge and revise this rigid and monolithic view of Francoist cinema, offering up instead more nuanced readings that have revealed the multiplicity and complexity of ideological positions and artistic solutions present in these films.7

My own investigation of early Francoist cinema leads me to agree that we need new interpretative models in order to better comprehend and evaluate this discredited body of work. …

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