Saturday, 8 February 2014

Belated Birthday

My favourite of the Spanish films I've seen in the last twelve months, Atraco a las tres / [Bank Robbery at Three O'Clock] (José María Forqué, 1962)

     An email telling me that the Nobody Knows Anybody twitter account had turned three alerted me to the fact that I had forgotten the blog’s birthday (on Thursday 6th). Caught up in other things, it had passed me by; I have entered the fourth year of this blog’s existence in much the same way as I conducted the third one.
     2013 was not a brilliant year for me. There were some positives: I finally managed to get a full-time job, after years of being stuck in part-time employment; I delivered a paper at an academic conference for the first time in more than five years; I started going to the cinema again, after a couple of years of not really bothering (a combination of it being too expensive to be a regular habit and an increasingly ‘meh’ attitude to life in general and recent cinema in particular – La grande bellezza shook me out of the meh-ness (I saw it three times on the big screen), and full-time hours mean that I can now afford to go more often); and people started writing guest posts for the blog (which is exciting for me and something I really appreciate – so, thank you Fiona Noble, Michael Pattison, and Rowena Santos Aquino). But the negatives were at times overwhelming: three weeks after I started the job, the institution I work for announced a full restructure and I (along with all of my colleagues) had to reapply and be re-interviewed for a reduced number of jobs (I hung on to my job, but the process took a couple of months and the aftermath of redundancies and reassignments, and the general feeling that good people have been messed around, was horrible and still lingers six months later); and a member of my immediate family was in hospital for surgery on three separate occasions (the last just before Christmas), which has been stressful and emotionally draining.

So, bring on 2014!

      Certain things were also clarified for me. I enjoyed the conference, which surprised me because I’ve not had good experiences with academic conferences in the past (in my experience they seem to attract people who need to make others feel small in order to make themselves feel big –a lot of unnecessary point scoring– but on this occasion everyone was lovely) and having listened to so many people researching one of my main areas of interest (but in a variety of different contexts), I left feeling that my spark of enthusiasm had been reignited. However you’ll note that I said ‘listened to’ rather than ‘spoken to’; I find navigating large groups of people I don’t know to be a bit of an anxiety generator, and it sometimes brings out my shyness to an incapacitating degree. I’m fine in small groups, or one-to-one, but I avoid large gatherings if possible. But I felt I had to go, and that I had to submit a paper, if only to prove to myself that I could and that my brain was still capable of functioning in that way. So I went. But I also know that that probably isn’t the forum I would choose to put myself into again anytime soon. What it also clarified is that I don’t think that ‘academia’ is what I’m aiming for; I want to write about films but not necessarily in that way. That’s not to say that I won’t write something up as an article and submit it to an academic journal if I have an idea that suits that setting, but I’m not setting out for an academic publications profile. The purpose of creating and sustaining a list of (academic) publications is usually to acquire an academic position / footing, and I don’t want to be ‘an academic’. But I also think that there are different (and more immediate) ways to share information, ideas, and arguments about films (from my personal perspective, Mediático and Modern Languages Open are interesting developments in that regard). I realise that whatever form you choose to work or publish in, there are hoops to be gone through, but I find that I am quite picky about which hoops I will choose to jump through. At the same time, some ‘requirements’ don’t seem like hoops at all because they’re part-and-parcel of something you enjoy doing and how you view the world. But I'm more interested in textual analysis than theoretical frameworks, and I'm currently trying to find my voice with that focus. 
      I have made a start with considering different forms / arenas of publication, but I won’t mention particulars unless / until I have something concrete. That said, I have ‘signed up’ (and am looking forward) to contributing to Mediático (initial topic still to be decided), a new blog focussing on Latin American, Latino/a, and Iberian media and film studies (find them on twitter @MediaticoMFM). In terms of what I write about, I’ve come to a number of conclusions in the past year: the blog is really helpful for working through ideas because I think by writing, and something larger can be approached piecemeal and without pressure to be ’perfect’, and it can be returned to as and when I'm ready, so that over time I can hone my thinking and can see the shape that the argument or discussion needs to take (a case in point is the Javier Bardem ‘issue’ I kept returning to, which has now turned into something else entirely and which I have submitted for consideration at an online (open access) journal); I should draw a line under some of the topics that were the basis of my PhD and look at other things; I need to be more focussed because the ‘random viewing’ thread, although it does reflect my viewing habits most of the time, does not allow me to be consistent or coherent in thinking things through; I don’t need to write about every Spanish film I watch (this relates to the previous point, but sometimes I just don’t have anything to say about a particular film and at that point I should just move on); in order to improve and expand my writing, I should write about cinema more broadly (i.e. not just that which originates from Spain). 
     So, the blog will continue but with a few changes. One element of my PhD research that I haven’t done much with is the industrial component, which I think is currently an interesting topic because the Spanish film industry has been generally imploding for at least the past 12-18 months. An offshoot of that has been the development of what is being referred to (by Caimán Cuadernos de Cine, at least) as ‘El otro cine español’ and the general trend for ‘cine low cost’ and initiatives and / or platforms such as #littlesecretfilm and Márgenes. I’m intending to mainly focus on these topics (and how they interrelate; not everyone thinks that the low cost development is good for the future of cinema made in Spain) for the next year, initially by watching a lot of films and getting a sense of what this ‘movement’ (if that is what it is) comprises and what it doesn’t; I will be looking for connections but will probably write about the films individually, or by director, to begin with. But from now on I won’t be writing about every film viewed. I’ll probably post a full list at the end of the year or something like that instead. My Carlos Saura Challenge will restart, hopefully soon, but I’m not going to attempt to give a timetable because I always break from it (but my aim has to be for more than another 6 films in the next twelve months, otherwise it'll take me more than six years to work my way through his filmography). I hope that there will be more guest posts – please tweet me or comment below if you have an idea for a post. It can relate to any aspect of Spanish cinema; starting a dialogue with people was one of my original intentions with the blog. Which brings me to my last point: writing about cinema outside of Spain. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do or how I’m going to do it. In relation to Spanish-language cinema (that isn’t technically 'Spanish’), I may still just post that here (as I did with my Pablo Larraín post), but I have also got a couple of ideas for things that in no way relate to this blog, so I will have to have a think about that. If I argue (as I do) that the emergence of specific actors / stars doesn't happen in a vacuum, that there is an industrial as well as a cultural context to their creation, the same is also true of Spanish cinema(s) more broadly; 'it' (cinema in Spain is not singular) exists within a wider network of events and circumstances and my trips to the cinema in the second half of 2013 highlighted for me that I need to pay attention to that wider context as well. So something non-Spanish should start appearing at some point in 2014 (later in the year, if I’m being realistic).
     Ordinarily by this point in the year I have posted ‘my top 5 of [previous year]’ and ’10 films to look out for in [the current year]’ posts. I’ve decided not to do that this year. My top 5 post would relate to Spanish films from 2013 and 2012 (because I mainly see things on DVD the year after their Spanish release) but I didn’t see enough films from those years in the last twelve months (I saw five, so it would be like just putting them in order of preference rather than actual favourites, and there were at least two of them that I didn’t rate) – between Carlos Saura and Alfredo Landa, I watched a lot of older films last year. In terms of the films coming this year, a couple of the ones I highlighted last year have still yet to be released (generally due to funding falling through) and at least one has stalled in pre-production (the Saura one, obviously), so there didn’t seem much point in attempting another full-blown list. Of the ones outstanding from last year, I am still interested in: Murieron por encima de sus posibilidades (dir. Isaki Lacuesta) and Presentimientos (dir. Santiago Tabernero) (the latter has been released in Spain in the past week or so). Of films that are ‘finished’ or well into production (as far as I can tell) and due for release in 2014, I will keep an eye out for: Magical Girl (dir. Carlos Vermut); La novia (dir. Paula Ortiz); Carmina y amén (dir. Paco León); La isla mínima (dir. Alberto Rodríguez); and El niño (dir. Daniel Monzón).