Paul Julian Smith: 'Almodovar's films offer a national narrative for Spain'

From a lecture by the Professor of Spanish at Cambridge University, as part of Humanities and Social Sciences Week at Queen Mary, University of London
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The Independent Online

Although [Pedro] Almodovar presents TV as a radical alternative to film - as a fate worse than death - his first 15 films are framed through TV. Out of his first 13 features there is only one in which the characters don't watch TV. Television is central to Almodovar's work: "It is an eye on everyone's life."

Post-Franco there has been a great reform of Spanish TV with the emergence of regional and commercial channels and an explosion of locally produced quality fiction. Almodovar gives us a hidden history of Spanish TV through his films.

Almodovar shows a range of TV genres through his films: an advert in Pepi, Luci, Bom; slasher footage in Matador; CCTV in The Flower of My Secret; a newsreader's confession to the murder of her husband on live TV in High Heels; and reality TV in Kika. Almodovar covers the range of modes of perception of TV: solitary viewing; family viewing; the hermetic loop of CCTV; public screenings; and shows both the conditions of production and reception.

In High Heels he shows a heightened interest in the apparatus and industry of Spanish television. He explores the relationship between TV and the audience, cutting between the studio and the viewer as the newsreader confesses to murdering her husband live on air. The viewer is a powerless witness, emotionally engaged in the unfolding events but unable to act. When the newsreader shows the audience personal photos, it highlights the falseness of TV emotion.

Almodovar's creative universe is as identifiable to the Spanish as TV is. He works through social issues in his films - a feature of TV. Bad Education worries away at paedophilia in the Church and homophobia but draws no conclusions just as TV does- it just goes on and on.

TV can be viewed as socialisation - teaching you what it is to be Spanish. And Almodovar's work is the closest thing the Spanish have to a national narrative. His work has the best properties of cinema but is also like TV. It is not to diminish Almodovar's achievement to say his films reflect the best of television.