The art of motion-picture making within the Kingdom of Spain or by Spanish filmmakers abroad is collectively known as Spanish Cinema.
In recent years, Spanish cinema has achieved high marks of recognition. In the long history of Spanish cinema, the great filmmaker Luis Buñuel was the first to achieve universal recognition, followed by Pedro Almodóvar in the 1980s. Spanish cinema has also seen international success over the years with films by directors like Segundo de Chomón, Florián Rey, Luis García Berlanga, Juan Antonio Bardem, Carlos Saura, Julio Médem and Alejandro Amenábar. Woody Allen, upon receiving the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award in 2002 in Oviedo remarked: “when I left New York, the most exciting film in the city at the time was Spanish, Pedro Almodovar’s one. I hope that Europeans will continue to lead the way in film making because at the moment not much is coming from the United States.”
Non-directors have obtained less international notability like the cinematographer Néstor Almendros, the Art director Gil Parrondo, the screenwriter Rafael Azcona, the actresses Maribel Verdú and, especially, Penélope Cruz and the actors Fernando Rey, Francisco Rabal, Antonio Banderas, Javier Bardem and Fernando Fernán Gómez have obtained significant recognition outside Spain.
Today, 10 to 20% of box office receipts in Spain are generated by domestic films, a situation that repeats itself in many nations of Europe and the Americas. The Spanish government has therefore implemented various measures aimed at supporting local film production and movie theaters, which include the assurance of funding from the main national television stations. The trend is being reversed with the recent screening of productions such as the €30 million film Alatriste (starring Viggo Mortensen), the Academy Award winning Spanish film Pan’s Labyrinth (starring Maribel Verdú), Volver (starring Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura), and Los Borgia (starring Paz Vega), all of them sold-out blockbusters in Spain.
Another aspect of Spanish cinema mostly unknown to the general public is the appearance of English-language Spanish films such as Agora (directed by Alejandro Amenábar and starring Rachel Weisz), Ché (directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Benicio del Toro), The Machinist (starring Christian Bale), The Others (starring Nicole Kidman), and Milos Forman’s Goya’s Ghosts (starring Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman). All of these films were produced by Spanish firms.
The first Spanish film exhibition took place on May 5, 1895 in Barcelona. Exhibitions of Lumière films were screened in Madrid and Barcelona in May and December of 1896, respectively.
The matter of which Spanish film came first is in doubt. The first was either Salida de la misa de doce de la Iglesia del Pilar de Zaragoza (Exit of the Twelve O’Clock Mass from the Church of El Pilar of Zaragoza) by Eduardo Jimeno Peromarta, Plaza del puerto en Barcelona (Plaza of the Port of Barcelona) by Alexandre Promio or the anonymous film Llegada de un tren de Teruel a Segorbe (Arrival of a Train from Teruel in Segorbe). It is also possible that the first film was Riña en un café (Brawl in a Café) by the prolific filmmaker Fructuós Gelabert. These films were all released in 1897.
The first Spanish film director to achieve great success internationally was Segundo de Chomón, who worked in France and Italy but made several famous fantasy films in Spain such as El Hotel eléctrico.
THE HIGHT OF SILENT FILM
In 1914, Barcelona was the center of the nation’s film industry. The españoladas (historical epics of Spain) predominated until the 1960s. Prominent among these were the films of Florián Rey, starring Imperio Argentina, and the first version of Nobleza Baturra (1925). Historical dramas such as Vida de Cristóbal Colón y su Descubrimiento de América (The Life of Christopher Columbus and His Discovery of America) (1917), by the French director Gerald Bourgeois, adaptations of newspaper serials such as Los misterios de Barcelona (The Mysteries of Barcelona) starring Joan Maria Codina (1916), and of stage plays such as Don Juan Tenorio (1922), by Ricardo de Baños, and zarzuelas (comedic operettas), were also produced. Even the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Jacinto Benavente, who said that “in film they pay me the scraps,” would shoot film versions of his theatrical works.
In 1928, Ernesto Giménez Caballero and Luis Buñuel founded the first cine-club (film society), in Madrid. By that point, Madrid was already the primary center of the industry; 44 of the 58 films released up until that point had been produced there.
The rural drama La aldea maldita (The Cursed Village) (Florian Rey, 1929) was a hit in Paris, where, at the same time, Buñuel and Dalí premiered Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog). Un chien andalou has become one of the most well-known avant-garde films of that era.
THE CRISES OF SOUND
By 1931, the introduction of audiophonic foreign productions had hurt the Spanish film industry to the point where only a single title was released that year.
In 1935, Manuel Casanova founded the Compañía Industrial Film Española S.A. (Spanish Industrial Film Company Inc, Cifesa) and introduced sound to Spanish film-making. CIFESA would grow to become the biggest production company to ever exist in Spain. Sometimes criticized as an instrument of the right wing, it nevertheless supported young filmmakers such as Luis Buñuel and his pseudo-documentary Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (Breadless Land). In 1933 it was responsible for filming 17 motion pictures and in 1934, 21. The most notable success was Benito Perojo´s La verbena de la paloma (The Dove’s Verbena).They were also responsible for the 1947 Don Quijote de la Mancha, the most elaborate version of the Cervantes classic up to that time. By 1935 production had risen to 37 films.
THE CIVIL WAR AND ITS AFTERMATH
Around 1936, both sides of the Civil War began to use cinema as a means of propaganda and censorship. A typical example of this is Luis Buñuel’s España 1936, which also contains much rare newsreel footage. The pro-Franco side founded the National Department of Cinematography, causing many actors to go into exile.
The new regime then began to impose obligatory dubbing to highlight directors such as Ignacio F. Iquino, Rafael Gil (Huella de luz (1941)), Juan de Orduña (Locura de amor (1948)), Antonio Román (Los últimos de Filipinas), José Luis Sáenz de Heredia (Raza) (1942)), and Edgar Neville. Cifesa produced Ella, él y sus millones as well as Fedra (1956), by Manuel Mur Oti.
For its part, Marcelino pan y vino (Marcelino, Bread and Wine) (1955) from Ladislao Vajda would trigger a trend of child actors, such as those who would become the protagonists of “Joselito,” “Marisol,” “Rocío Durcal” or “Pili y Mili.”
Finally, in the 1950s, the influence of Neorealism became evident in the works of new directors such as Antonio del Amo, Antonio Nieves Conde’s masterpiece Surcos, Juan Antonio Bardem’s (Muerte de un ciclista and Calle mayor), and Luis García Berlanga (Bienvenido Mister Marshall, Plácido).
Juan de Orduña would later have an enormous commercial hit with El Último Cuplé (The Final Variety Song) (1957), with leading actress Sara Montiel.
Buñuel sporadically returned to Spain to film the shocking Viridiana (1961) and Tristana (1970).
CO-PRODUCTIONS AND FOREIGN PRODUCTIONS
Numerous co-productions with France and, most of all, Italy along the 50s, 60s and 70s invigorated Spanish cinema both industrially and artistically. Actually the just mentioned Buñuel’s movies were co-productions: Viridiana was Spanish-Mexican, and Tristana Spanish-French-Italian. Also, the hundreds of Spaghetti-westerns and sword and sandal films shot in southern Spain by mixed Spanish-Italian teams were co-productions.
On the other hand, several American epic-scale superproductions or blockbusters were shot also in Spain, produced either by Samuel Bronston, King of Kings (1961), El Cid (1961), 55 Days at Peking (1963), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), Circus World (1964)), or by others (The Pride and the Passion (1957), Solomon and Sheba (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965)). These movies employed many Spanish technical professionals, and as a byproduct caused that some filmstars, like Ava Gardner and Orson Welles lived in Spain for years. Actually Welles, with Mr. Arkadin (1955), in fact a French-Spanish-Swiss co-production, was one of the first American filmmakers to devise Spain as location for his shootings, and he did it again for Chimes at Midnight (1966), this time a Spanish-Swiss co-production.
Many international actors played in Spanish films: Italians Vittorio Gassman and Rossano Brazzi with Mexican María Félix in La corona negra; Italian couple Raf Vallone and Elena Varzi in Los ojos dejan huella, Mexican Arturo de Córdova in Los peces rojos, Americans Betsy Blair in Calle mayor; Edmund Gwenn in Calabuch or Richard Basehart in Los jueves, milagro among many others. All the foreign actors were dubbed into Spanish. Mexican actor Gael García Bernal has also recently received international notoriety in films by Spanish directors.
THE NEW SPANISH CINEMA
In 1962, José María García Escudero became the Director General of Cinema, propelling forward state efforts and the Escuela Oficial de Cine (Official Cinema School), from which emerged the majority of new directors, generally from the political left and those opposed to the Franco dictatorship. Among these were Mario Camus, Miguel Picazo, Francisco Regueiro, Manuel Summers, and, above all, Carlos Saura. Apart from this line of directors, Fernando Fernán Gómez made the classic El extraño viaje (The Strange Trip) (1964) and Víctor Erice created the internationally acclaimed El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) (1973). From television came Jaime de Armiñan, author of Mi querida señorita (My Dear Lady) (1971).
From the so-called Escuela de Barcelona, originally more experimentalist and cosmopolitan, come Vicente Aranda, Jaime Camino, and Gonzalo Suárez, who made their master works in the 1980s.
The San Sebastian International Film Festival is a major film festival supervised by the FIAPF. It was started in 1953, and it takes place in San Sebastián every year. Alfred Hitchcock, Audrey Hepburn, Steven Spielberg, Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor are some of the stars that have participated in this festival, the most important in Spain and one of the best cinema festivals in the world.
The Festival de Cine de Sitges, now known as the Festival Internacional de Cinema de Catalunya (International Film Festival of Catalonia), was started in 1967. It is considered one of the best cinematographic contests in Europe, and is the best in the specialty of science fiction film.
THE CINEMA OF THE DEMOCRATIC ERA
With the end of dictatorship, censorship was greatly loosened and cultural works were permitted in other languages spoken in Spain besides Spanish, resulting in the founding of the Catalan Institute of Cinema, among others.
At the beginning, the popular phenomena of striptease and landismo (from Alfredo Landa) triumph. During the democracy, a whole new series of directors base their films either on controversial topics or on revising the country’s history. Jaime Chávarri, Víctor Erice, José Luis Garci, Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón, Eloy de la Iglesia, Pilar Miró and Pedro Olea were some of these who directed great films. Montxo Armendáriz or Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s “new Basque cinema” has also been outstanding; another prominent Basque director is Julio Médem.
The Spanish cinema, however, depends on the great hits of the so-called Madrileño comedy by Fernando Colomo or Fernando Trueba, the sophisticated melodramas by Pedro Almodóvar, Alex de la Iglesia and Santiago Segura’s black humour or Alejandro Amenábar’s works, in such a manner that, according to producer José Antonio Félez, “50% of total box office revenues comes from five titles, and between 8 and 10 films give 80% of the total” during the year 2004.
In 1987, a year after the founding of the Academia de las Artes y las Ciencias Cinematográficas de España, the Goya Awards were created to recognize excellence in many aspects of Spanish motion picture making such as acting, directing and screenwriting. The first ceremony took place on March 16, 1987 at the Teatro Lope de Vega, Madrid. The ceremony continues to take place annually around the end of January, and awards are given to films produced during the previous year. The award itself is a small bronze bust of Francisco de Goya created by the sculptor José Luis Fernández.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE SPANISH FILMS
English-language films produced by Spanish companies include Two Much (directed by Fernando Trueba, 1995), The Others (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001), The Machinist (Brad Anderson, 2004), Basic Instinct 2 (produced by KanZaman Spain, 2006) or Miloš Forman’s Goya’s Ghosts (Xuxa Produciones, 2006).
KanZaman (Spain) and Recorded Picture Company (UK) co-produced Sexy Beast, directed by Jonathan Glazer, in 1999. Films co-produced by this company include The Reckoning (Paul McGuigan, 2003), The Bridge of San Luis Rey, based on the Pulitzer prize winning Thornton Wilder novel of the same name and directed by Mary McGuckian. It featured an ensemble cast consisting of Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Kathy Bates and Spanish actress Pilar López de Ayala. Other films in this category are Mike Barker’s A Good Woman (2004), and Sahara (Breck Eisner, 2005). In 2004, KanZaman co-produced Ridley Scott’s epic film Kingdom of Heaven, making it the biggest production in the history of Spanish cinema.