Monday, 30 June 2008

'La leyenda del beso', or 'The Legend of the Kiss'

El lugar sin límites (Place Without Limits, Arturo Ripstein, Mexico 1977)

Roberto Cobo as 'La Manuela’ dances to the intermedio from the Spanish zarzuela (operetta) La leyenda del beso (The Legend of the Kiss, Soutullo/Vert, 1924), as Pancho (Gonzalo Vega) watches. Then they dance together to the pasodoble 'El relicario'

Apologies for the lack of subtitles, but I still thought it worth posting this clip of the most wonderful sequence from El lugar sin límites. The very beginning of the 7 minute long dance segment is missing from this clip, but below I've given a synopsis of this section of the film, from the sequence before the one posted here up to several sequences later with the tragic ending of the film as a whole. So, many spoilers follow:

Octavio and a scared Pancho go to Don Alejo’s ranch to settle Pancho's debt and to establish the young man’s independence once and for all from his former patron. Invigorated by the experience, Pancho and Octavio ignore Don Alejo’s prohibition on visiting the brothel. When they arrive, Pancho (the younger, dark haired man) asks for La Manuela (in the red flamenco dress), but s/he hides. Japonesita (the youngest of the women, and La Manuela's daughter) entertains the men, while Manuela spies through the window. When Octavio goes off with another prostitute, Pancho and Japonesita continue their earlier sexual encounter. Pancho becomes violent, however, and again demands Manuela’s presence. Finally (the section in the clip posted here), s/he makes a dramatic appearance in her red flamenco dress, dancing for him and acting out a story set to music.

The story La Manuela tells in his/her dance (his/her own invented ‘legend of the kiss,’ only very tangentially connected to the original zarzuela plot) involves dramatic action: s/he attempts to makes Pancho perform the role of the man in the legend who is kissed by a mysterious woman in a bewitched wood, against his will at first; Pancho's will is worn down in inverse proportion to his physical and affective involvement in the spectacle.

As Octavio, Pancho's macho friend, returns, Manuela and Pancho dance together, amid much laughter. But then they kiss on the lips. Octavio sees the kiss and confronts Pancho, who denies everything, and turns his humiliation into rage against Manuela. S/he runs away from the brothel, hampered by tight clothes, poor roads, and sheer terror. The two men follow him/her in Pancho’s truck to the outskirts of the town, just past Don Alejo’s ranch. He and his foreman are alerted by the noise and follow the truck to where Pancho and Octavio finally catch up with Manuela. Don Alejo decides not to go to Manuela’s aid, and watches as Pancho beats him/her to death and then flees in his truck with Octavio. Don Alejo approaches Manuela’s corpse and promises that the two men will be brought to justice, and that they won’t defy him again. As the truck passes by the brothel on its way out of the small town of El Olivo, Japonesita muses that her father will return, battered and bruised by his/her exploits as always. She goes to the bed they shared and puts out the oil lamp.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

The 'Author Function' in Transnational Film Adaptation

I am resurfacing after a bit of a break; it's been the examination and grading season in recent weeks, though it's also true that my other blog has been a little more active...

Anyway, I wanted to post a link to a newly online, English-language version of an article of mine previously only published in Spanish: 'La función de "los autores": la adaptación cinematográfica transnacional de El lugar sin límites', Revista Iberoamericana, Vol. LXVIII, Núm, 199, Abril-Junio 2002, pp. 253-268. The new version is entitled 'The "Author Function" in Transnational Film Adaptation: The case of El lugar sin límites / Place Without Limits / Hell Has No Limits (Arturo Ripstein, Manuel Puig, José Donoso)' and is available as an .html download HERE.

Here's the first paragraph as an inducement:

Despite being the most distinctive film auteur in Latin America since the late 1960s, Mexican director Arturo Ripstein has almost exclusively chosen to adapt existing, and usually well-known, literary works by writers from that continent and beyond.[[2]] Before he teamed up with his current scriptwriter Paz Alicia Garciadiego in 1986 for an adaptation of Juan Rulfo's El imperio de la fortuna, he also frequently co-authored his scripts with a number of highly distinguished Latin American writers. In 1978, Ripstein released his film adaptation of Chilean writer José Donoso's 1966 short novel El lugar sin límites (‘The Place without Limits’, aka ‘Hell Has No Limits’ ’). Set in a decrepit bordello cum nightclub, this queer family melodrama, which culminates in the homophobic murder of its drag-artist protagonist, had an extraordinary international impact.[[3]] The film eclipsed the success of Donoso’s novella, at the same time as reawakening an interest in his text that had earlier circulated internationally as part of the Latin American literary ‘Boom.’[[4]] While Ripstein took the only screenwriting credit for El lugar sin límites, he worked on the script with Donoso (whose novel is, of course, credited as the film’s ‘source’), with the Argentine novelist, playwright and screenwriter Manuel Puig, as well as with a number of other, uncredited Mexican writers including José Emilio Pacheco, Cristina Pacheco and Carlos Castañón. Puig and Ripstein famously fell out over Puig’s contribution and his name does not appear in the credits. While each of Ripstein’s films prompts interesting questions about collaborative authorship, few of them do so as compellingly as El lugar sin límites.

The article is on 1970s auteurist filmmaking, so not exactly 'contemporary world cinema, which is supposed to be the main focus of 'Directing Cinema'. I will return to that focus very soon, I promise. 'The "Author Function" in Transnational Film Adaptation' does, however, deal, in detail, with an aspect of auteurism which has always interested me, and about which I have written before: namely issues of collaboration and 'multiple authorship' in so-called auteurist cinema.

It also looks in great detail at a very much under-explored aspect of Arturo Ripstein's filmmaking, notably the use in his films of popular, and popular-classical, Latin-American and Spanish music, so if you like boleros, mambos; ranchera culture and norteña music, and also zarzuela (all the later terrain of some of Almodóvar's aesthetic choices), you should check it out.

Note: My other relevant work on collaboration and multiple authorship is as follows:

  • Recognizing Billy Budd in Beau Travail: Epistemology and Hermeneutics of an Auteurist "Free" Adaptation', Screen Vol. 43, No. 1, 2002, pp. 57-73 - available online HERE;
  • 'Home Movies: The Curious Cinematic Collaboration of Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard', in For Ever Godard (eds) Michael Temple, James S. Williams, and Michael Witt (London: Black Dog Press, 2004), pp. 100-117. For Ever Godard is a wonderful collection that all cinephiles should explore.