Od žanra koji se spremno trpao u koš s ostalim “femininim”, tj. “sentimentalističkim” i “senzacionalističkim” popkulturnim proizvodima, poput sapunica, iz melodrame je prsnula subverzivna društvena kritika
Mighty (Melo)Dramatic Bunch
“Croatia will be as Catholic as Spain” was one of the signs at the last year’s Zagreb Pride, which referred to the Croatian zoon politicon of unimaginable freedom, not to say equality that the so-called sexual minorities enjoy in that Catholic kingdom by the sea. Pedro Almodóvar’s character and work are probably the best personification of the fascinating ideological and political luxury and creative freedom that the Spanish have offered for the last thirty years since the fall of Franco’s regime. He is the director who, in his playful version of the melodrama style/genre as some sort of a celluloid spiritual séance, managed to evoke the Hollywood master Douglas Sirk and to express in his films all (and more) that Hollywood in 1950s could not or was not allowed to. However, this program of films in Tuškanac is not limited to these two great masters of melodrama. In a maneuver that invites a dialogue between movies and goers, this program consists of films that, each in its own way, illuminate the celluloid net of Pedro Almodóvar’s film texts and his influences (those that influenced him and the other way around!). In this net the biggest catch is the aforementioned Sirk and the unavoidable Luis Buñuel, whose opus and surreal identity game (masterfully executed in the film That Obscure Object of Desire, 1977) was a great source of inspiration to Almodóvar. Moreover, he was inspired by the character and work of the great Spanish film (today TV) diva Sara Montiel, who is equally as fascinating on the screen as in real life (this constant interplay of “reality” and media representation is Almodóvar’s favorite theme). This mighty (melo)dramatic bunch would undoubtedly be incomplete without Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who with his Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst essen Seele auf, 1974) is an excellent counterpoint to Sirk’s All Heaven Allows (1955). Almodóvar’s focus on the characters of strong women, already a well-known fact, is reminiscent of Mankiewicz’s excellent drama All about Eve (1950), still the only film in Hollywood history that has had four nominations for Best Actresses. It is a film which, through that ultimate diva and archetype of a strong woman, Bette Davis, perfectly illustrates Hollywood’s glamour along with its flip side. Finally, as a near-demented hypertrophy of melodrama and its unavoidable ingredient (emotional) kitsch, for viewers with more refined (dis)tastes, we offer the cult Hairspray (1988) by John Waters. This film connects the key melodramatic strategies and shifts them into camp through the use of bright and glaring colors, music as a key means of expressing emotions (musical), a martyred female character (a fat and plain girl) and explicit ironic social critiques (fight against racial segregation, etc)…
In the context of this program in Tuškanac, a noticeable shift has happened in the theoretical (re)evaluation of melodrama from the period in which the post Sirk generation, such as Fassbinder, Almodóvar and in the most extreme case, John Waters, made their films. From a genre that was readily put in the same basket with other “feminine” i.e. “sentimental” and “sensational” pop culture products, such as soap operas, under the pressure of harsh (often feminist) theoretical writing, from melodrama there emerged a subversive social critique. Its pronounced emotionality and opulent visual style are readable in an ironic, ideologically far more complex code, which makes melodrama an equal opponent, as in theory so in (film) practice.
We can happily say that Croatia is even today as Catholic as Spain, even if that is so only within the four walls of Tuškanac. (Mima Simić)