Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

All about Pedro: The Legendary Queer Director Is Getting the Auteur Treatment in a New Boxed Set of His Films. Stephen Rebello Takes a Look at His Life and Work

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

All about Pedro: The Legendary Queer Director Is Getting the Auteur Treatment in a New Boxed Set of His Films. Stephen Rebello Takes a Look at His Life and Work

Article excerpt

Pedro Almodovar is a natural-born moviemaker. At least that was my impression when I first saw the writer-director's frenetic, candy-colored, irresistible screwball farce Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown nearly 20 years age.

Now thanks to the release of the eight-film DVD boxed set Viva Pedro The Almodovar Collection (Sony Home Video). we can all relive our first time.

In addition to favorites like Women on the Verge, Talk to Her, and Bad Education. the DVD contains a bonus disc featuring interviews with frequent Almodovar players Carmen Maura, Penelope Cruz, and Javier Camara as well as composer Alberto Iglesias and executive producer Agustin Almodovar, the director's brother.

In watching Viva Pedro it becomes clear that in film "after film Almodovar uses the renegades and the marginalized to create something that's both tragedy and farce. Whether his characters are transvestites, nymphomaniacs, transsexual junkie fathers, or lesbian stage divas with coke-addicted girlfriends, they're all wayward souls pushed to the extreme in the quest for connectivity.

In the two decades between Almodovar's chaotic campy debut. Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Morn, in which the wife of a masochistic cop falls for a guy who urinates on her face. and his acclaimed current opus. Volver. where farts lead the heroine to suspect that her dead mother has risen from the grave. Almodovar has planted his flag as international cinema's bad-boy humanist.

Almodovar was already a superstar in Madrid before be conquered Hollywood. His first big attention-getters, Labyrinth of Passion, Dark Habits (set in a convent of drug-dealing lesbian nuns), and the pan-sexual thriller Law of Desire, focus with documentarian precision on the cultural explosion in Madrid during the decade known as La Movida, a sexually freewheeling, druggy, political uprising that rocked Spain after the death of fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. The films are jazzed up with the city's drag, bisexual. and party-hard subcultures, of course.

With his flair for outre Day-Glo production design, towering hairdos, false eyelashes, and outlandish costumes inspired by drag queens, Almodovar transcended the identity of a regional filmmaker. Once described as a Spanish John Waters, Almodovar has never tried to suppress his inner cha-cha queen though his work has now become so rich, layered, and masterful that Almodovar is more likely to draw comparisons to Hitchcock. Fellini, and Sirk. It was clear that he had a deep understanding of Hollywood glam divas of the '40s and '50s like Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth, Joan Crawford, and Marilyn Monroe. Still, he can merrily hurl cine marie Melotovs at intolerance, bigotry, and macho posturing and could also shoot up his movies with heady doses of Cocteau and Garcia Lorca.

At 57. Almodovar continues to make highly personal, idiosyncratic outlaw movies. His queer, bi, and transgender characters are uncommonly complex, brave, resilient, funny, and surprising. They refuse to be categorized by whom they choose to love and to bed. Time and again he beautifully and movingly redefines the postmodern notion of family.

His early films Matador. from 1986, and Law of Desire, which was released the following year, feature Antonio Banderas, who made his Almodovar debut in 1982 in Labyrinth of Passion. Matador finds the writer-director in stylish Hitchcock-meets-telenovela mode as he spins a disturbing tale of obsession with death. Our protagonists are a retired bullfighter (Banderas) who masturbate while watching gory Italian horror movies and a terminally chic, homicidal lawyer (Assumpta Serna) who can achieve orgasm only by killing her sex partners. …

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