Film Noir

Film Noir
   If we accept David Thomson's veredicto that noir is something that "happened to American cinema in the 1940s," it is easy to understand why the style could not catch on in Spain at the time. Noir reflected a certain moral ambiguity during the 1940s that could not possibly find expression in a country where a dogmatic view of Catholicism and its certainties was imposed by the state. Even in an atmosphere of censorship, femmes fatales like Gilda or Double Indemnity's Phyllis were allowed to appear on American screens, but the Spanish regime was too watchful of feminine virtue and frowned on any suggestion of promiscuity and limited noir imports: when Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1947) reached Spain, there were political demonstrations in front of the cinemas where it was exhibited, with outraged pro-Franco citizens claiming it was an affront to Spanish decency.
   The one element of noir that found some kind of echo in Spanish cinema was the notion of the big city as a dark and dangerous background, as featured prominently, for instance in Out of the Past (Jacques Tournerur, 1947) or The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950). This idea is articulated in non-noir films like Surcos (Burrows, Jose Antonio Nieves Conde, 1951), which actually has an interesting cast of characters that seems to have been inspired by noir, as well as in thrillers like Brigada criminal (Criminal Brigade, Ignacio F. Iquino, 1950), Apartado de correos 1001 (P.O. Box 1001, Julio Salvador, 1950), and Distrito quinto (Fifth District, Julio Coll, 1958). In these instances, the idea of a corrupting city was very much in tune with ideologies of early Francoism that defended rural values, but for obvious reasons the police had to be honest and representative of essential national virtues.
   In the 1960s, some key Escuela de Barcelona films, like Fata morgana (Vicente Aranda, 1965) and Ditirambo (Gonzalo Suárez, 1969) recycled noir conventions as part of their intertextual project. The revival of noir in the 1970s coincided with the Transition, as there was a new generation of cinephile directors who wanted to emulate their classic masters. One of the earliest manifestations of hard-boiled noir in Spanish cinema was José Luis Borau's Hay que matar a B. (B. Must Be Killed, 1975), which was followed by José Luis Garci's El crack (The Best, 1981) and its sequel, El crack 2 (1983). After that, noir (or neo noir) has become a solid tradition in Spanish cinema, which became increasingly more inventive in the 1990s. One strand uses noir characters, moods, and conventions to engage with the post-Civil War period. The most important examples are Si te dicen que caí (If They Tell You I Fell, Vicente Aranda, 1989), Beltenebros (Prince of Shadows, Pilar Miró, 1991), and Madregilda (Mother-Gilda, Francisco Regueiro, 1993), the two latter films quote Gilda and its cultural impact on the 1940s. Updated instances of noir that translate the feeling of ethical ambiguity and gloomy aesthetics into more contemporary settings include Vicente Aranda's Asesinato en el comité central (Murder at the Central Committee, 1982) and Fanny Pelopaja (Fanny Straw Hair, 1984), Enrique Urbizu's Todo por la pasta (All for the Dough, 1991), Marcelo Piñeyro's excellent Plata quemada (Burnt Money, 2000), and Daniel Calparsoro's early films, including Pasajes (1996), A ciegas (Blindly, 1997), and Asfalto (Asphalt, 2000).

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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