Bullfighting


Bullfighting
   In Spain, the art of bullfighting is known as "fiesta nacional" (which can be translated as "national celebration"), and, even if, since Francisco Franco's death, it has not been politically as central to Spanish identity and culture as it used to be, it remains alive and a source of inspiration for filmmakers.
   The earliest manifestations of what would become the "corrida" date back to ancient times, when killing a bull according to a certain ritual had deep symbolic meaning for Iberian communities. But by the 18th century, the ritual had lost most of its magical meaning and acquired a format that emphasized the sense of a game in which both participants and audiences have fixed roles. Symbolically, this particular entertainment remained closely linked to some aspects of the national identity, as it touched on ideas of masculinity, death, and the combat with the beast (in this case a particular breed of bull known as "toro bravo"). A whole mythology has been shaped around bullfighting, and it brings with it a series of themes, plots, and images that are epic in their resonances.
   In this sense, it is not surprising that "corridas" were already important in the beginnings of Spanish cinema: when Lumière employeé Alexander Promio first came to Spain to showcase the new invention in 1896, "corridas" were among the first images he exhibited. What mattered here was the event, recorded as a documentary, with no attempt being made at extracting its epic resonances in narrative terms. This approach dominates early bullfighting films, and there is an undeniable attempt to present bullfighting as a pleasingly aesthetic and distinctive aspect of Spanish cinema. Later on, rich imaginative traditions around the fiesta began to have an impact, and Spanish filmmakers show an interest in other aspects, which are presented in a costumbrismo key, most centrally the lives and careers of bullfighters (and the colorful backdrops against which they take place), but also the fascinating cultural and psychological implications of artists who are always risking death. Early films like Ricard de Baños' Arlequines de seda y oro (Silk and Gold Harlequins, 1919) build up their narratives around the world of "toreros" and their lovers.
   The cooperation of real bullfighters, who were heroes for Spanish crowds, remained vital to the tradition of bullfighting films. A fascinating star system articulated around the main figures, and the narratives associated with them, with their tales of ambition and petty rivalries, were not dissimilar to those set in the theater in Anglo-American cultures. Some of these films are records of the bullfighters's best performances, but during Francoism, they become protagonists of fiction films (both in Spain and abroad: Mario Cabré was featured in Albert Lewin's 1951 Pandora and the Flying Dutchman).
   The most frequently filmed novel with a bullfighting background is Vicente Blasco Ibáñez's Sangre y arena (Blood and Sand), which was filmed three times in Hollywood (1922, 1941, and 1989), and had an early Spanish version in 1917. The foreign versions (particularly Rouben Mamoulian's garish 1941 effort starring Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth) stress the visually striking aspects, but in the Spanish version we already perceive more concern for the bullfighter as a real individual. A second source of bullfighting images is, of course, the Carmen story, which has been filmed countless times, both in Hollywood in versions by Cecil B. DeMille (1915), Charles Chaplin (1916), and Charles Vidor (1945), for instance, starring, respectively, Geraldine Farrar, Edna Purviance, and Rita Hayworth, and in Europe, for instance Ernst Lubitsch's with Pola Negri, shot in 1918, Jacques Feyder's 1926 adaptation with Spanish singer Raquel Meller, and Francesco Rosi's version of Bizet's opera with Julia Mighenes. Among the Spanish versions, Florián Rey's Carmen la de Triana (1938), with Imperio Argentina as the eponymous gypsy, Tulio Demichelli's Carmen la de Ronda (1959), starring Sara Montiel, Carlos Saura's musical version with Laura del Sol, and the recent Vicente Aranda adaptation Carmen (2003), with Paz Vega, remain the most popular. All of them illustrate different approaches to the "torero" mythologies.
   In the 1950s, bullfighting films represent an effort to make the kind of topical films that could be exported abroad. Even a rather conventional effort by Ladislao Vajda, Tarde de toros (Bullfighting Afternoon, 1956), focuses on what is at stake for each of the men taking part in a particular event. The film follows the background to a single corrida, including audience reactions, friends' gossip, economic considerations, and particularly the fates of a rising maverick, an experienced figure whose career is almost over and who is beginning to consider retirement, and an established, publicity-hungry star of bullfighting.
   Other fictional attempts to portray the feelings of bullfighters include Los clarines del miedo (Bugles of Fear, Antonio Román, 1958), A las cinco de la tarde (At Five O'Clock, Juan Antonio Bardem, 1961), and Currito de la Cruz. The latter is a biographical tale about the rise of a bullfighter based on a novel by Luguín, which was put to film four times, in 1926, 1936, 1949, and 1965 (the best is Luis Lucía's 1949 version starring matador Pepín Martín Vázquez). These approaches present bullfighters as representatives of an honest, conflicted, but nevertheless fearless and dignified masculinity.
   In less idealistic times, the men became more flawed, and some marginal figures became the focus of films. One early example of this trend is Ladislao Vajda's Mi tío Jacinto (My Uncle Jacinto, 1956), about a retired second-rate bullfighter. But the tradition continued strong with examples like the documentary Juguetes rotos (Broken Toys, Manuel Summers, 1966) and El monosabio (Ray Rivas, 1977), where the "national celebration" was presented as less than heroic and a rather tawdry event. Like the other genre focusing on national cultures, the folkloric musical, the bullfighting film entered a period of decadence in the mid-1960s with the rise of desar-rollismo and international projection.
   After the end of Francoism, the crisis in the construction of bull-fighting as a symbol of Spanish culture was accentuated. It was perceived as a remnant of the past, and it reinforced an image of Spain that was felt to be created to fulfill the expectations of tourists. Still, the rich symbolic vein and aesthetics of the corridas were used in original ways by Pedro Almodovar (in Matador [ 1986 ] and, more recently, in Hable con ella [ Talk to Her ], 2002), Bigas Luna (Jamón Jamón, 1992), and Agustín Díaz Yanes (Nadie hablará de nosotras cuando hayamos muerto [ No One Will Talk About Us When We Die ], 1995). Belmonte (1995), on the other hand, was a straightforward biopic of a real-life matador starring future director Achero Mañas.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • bullfighting — ullfighting n. the activity at a bullfight. [WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • bullfighting — ► NOUN ▪ the sport of baiting and killing a bull as a public spectacle. DERIVATIVES bullfight noun bullfighter noun …   English terms dictionary

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  • bullfighting — See bullfighter. * * * Spanish corrida de toros Spectacle, popular in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, in which matadors ceremonially taunt, and usually kill, bulls in an arena. Spectacles with bulls were common in ancient Crete, Thessaly, and …   Universalium

  • bullfighting —    The country s second most popular spectacle (only football attracts a larger public), bullfighting has mirrored the broader cultural changes taking place in Spain since 1939. While a reduced number of corridas took place throughout the Civil… …   Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture

  • Bullfighting —    In Spain, the art of bullfighting is known as fiesta nacional (which can be translated as national celebration ), and, even if, since Francisco Franco s death, it has not been politically as central to Spanish identity and culture as it used… …   Guide to cinema

  • Bullfighting — Bullfight Bull fight , Bullfighting Bull fight ing, n. a sport of great antiquity, in which men torment, and fight with, a bull or bulls in an arena, for public amusement, still popular in Spain, Portugal and Latin American. In the Spanish… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • bullfighting — [[t]b ʊlfaɪtɪŋ[/t]] N UNCOUNT Bullfighting is the public entertainment in which people try to kill bulls in bullfights …   English dictionary

  • bullfighting — noun Date: circa 1753 the action involved in a bullfight …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • bullfighting — noun A sport popular in Spain and Mexico in which a matador taunts and ultimately kills a bull at close range. Syn: tauromachy, bullfight …   Wiktionary


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