Academic journal article Arthuriana

Daniel Mangrané and Carlos Serrano De Osma's Spanish Parsifal (1951): A Strange Film?

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Daniel Mangrané and Carlos Serrano De Osma's Spanish Parsifal (1951): A Strange Film?

Article excerpt

The Spanish cinematic work entitled Parsifal (1951) has always been termed 'strange' and regarded as an artistic failure. However, reconsideration of the context in which this film was produced suggests it is worthy of greater attention. After considering the difficult history of Spanish cinema, General Franco's Spain, local legends of the Grail, and the Wagnerian cult in Barcelona, we can see that Parsifal is a very interesting interpretation of the story of the Arthurian knight. (JMZ)

The knight Peredur, Perceval/Parzival or Parsifal,1 one of the most enduring mythical characters of the Arthurian tradition, conquered the big screen for the first time in 1904.2 Since then there have been cinematographic adaptations of the hero's fortunes and misfortunes in different languages and national film traditions, mainly in English, Italian, French and German.3 However, Arthurian scholars may not be fully aware of cinematic representations of this figure in other cultures and languages-for example, in Spanish. In 1951 a much-neglected Spanish Parsifal was produced in Barcelona.4 Neither contemporary nor later generations of Spanish critics have devoted much attention to it. This essay intends not only to publicize Parsifal, a minor film version of the legend, but also to vindicate this movie by studying it in the context of its proper time and place, an analysis that reveals the significance of this film's interpretation to the legend and the general difficulty of classifying Cinema Arthuriana as a single cinematographic genre, as Kevin Harty has attempted to do.

parsifal (1951) in the context of spanish cinema

First of all, a brief overview of the history of Spanish cinema is necessary in order to evaluate many of the special characteristics found in this Spanish Parsifal.

Film arrived in Spain very early. Less than a few months after the Lumière brothers presented their revolutionary invention in Paris in 1895, Alexander Promio, a technician working for them, followed suit in Madrid, and the first Spanish movies were shot in 1896. Film soon became a very popular form of entertainment. Hundreds of cinemas were opened all over Spain, and native silent cinema flourished in Spain for a long period.5 That said, Spanish cinema was born with a number of inherent shortcomings that it has never been able to overcome, including a 'lack of investment,' 'poor industrial infrastructure,' 'shortages of distribution,' and 'strong foreign competition.'6

This Golden Age of Spanish silent cinema came to an abrupt end with the release of the first American sound film, The Jazz Singer (1927), which was shown in Spain in 1929. Soon after, in 1933, the Spanish Government passed legislation mandating that all foreign movies be dubbed into Spanish.7 (Further restrictive legislation was approved in 1941.) Although the underlying intention of such measures was to protect the Spanish language and cultural values, such guidelines destroyed the only competitive advantage Spanish films had to conquer their own market: they were in Spanish,8 and since the introduction of this restriction, Spain's national film industry has been in permanent crisis.9 Today, although it is no longer compulsory, almost all foreign films are still dubbed into Spanish. Furthermore, starting in 1938 and continuing through the Spanish Civil War, films were also censored, beginning a practice that would last for many decades, corresponding to the long years of the Franco regime. Foreign films were not only dubbed, but also heavily censored on an ideological basis.10

A third characteristic of the Spanish cinema, especially in the late forties and early fifties, was a clear preference for certain genres-those which had some chance of competing more successfully with foreign films. From those years onwards, a new generation of dissident directors and producers challenged the status quo and initiated a bold quest for artistic freedom. As they were interested mainly in the world surrounding them,11 most films could be labelled as 'comedies of manners,' 'social dramas,' 'black humor films,' and 'films noirs. …

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