Fifty Contemporary Film Directors
📖 eBook - ePub

Fifty Contemporary Film Directors

Yvonne Tasker, Yvonne Tasker

Share book
496 pages
ePUB (mobile friendly)
Available on iOS & Android
📖 eBook - ePub

Fifty Contemporary Film Directors

Yvonne Tasker, Yvonne Tasker

Book details
Book preview
Table of contents

About This Book

Fifty Contemporary Film Directors examines the work of some of today's most popular and influential cinematic figures. It provides an accessible overview of each director's contribution to cinema, incorporating a discussion of their career, major works and impact. Revised throughout and with twelve new entries, this second edition is an up-to-date introduction to some of the most prominent film makers of the present day. The directors, from differing backgrounds and working across a range of genres, include:

  • Martin Scorsese
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Sofia Coppola
  • Julie Dash
  • Shane Meadow
  • Michael Moore
  • Peter Jackson
  • Guillermo Del Toro
  • Tim Burton
  • Jackie Chan
  • Ang Lee
  • Pedro Almodóvar.

With further reading and a filmography accompanying each entry, this comprehensive guide is indispensable to all those studying contemporary film and will appeal to anyone interested in the key individuals behind modern cinema's greatest achievements.

Access to over 1 million titles for a fair monthly price.

Study more efficiently using our study tools.




By José Arroyo
Pedro Almodóvar is a star director. As with stars, his name alone condenses a series of identities that change over time but can also be historically located. He’s been first a leading light of Madrid’s underground arts scene during the period of Spain’s transition to democracy from 1975 to 1982, then the enfant terrible of Spanish Cinema in the 1980s, later the Spanish director so celebrated internationally that he becomes first synonymous with its national cinema and then eclipses it altogether: it’s fair to say that more has been written about Almodóvar in English than on the rest of Spanish Cinema put together. Now he is a grand old man of European cinema, an acknowledged master of the art. However, ‘Almodóvar’ signifies not only a career, or social changes, but ways of being, ways of looking and certain types of movies. His great gift has been to make those on the edges of society, the excluded, derided, the subalterns of society (in different ways and on different levels, women, gays, the deserted, the bereft, drag queens, drug addicts, social and sexual criminals) not only central to his films but to depict them in such a way that the audience empathises and sometimes even identifies with them – they not only become understandable and knowable but ‘they’ become ‘we’. Some of the greatest female characters ever created for the cinema, often brought to life in career-defining performances by some of Spain’s greatest actresses (Carmen Maura as Pepa in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Penélope Cruz as Raimunda in Volver to name but two) are the heart and motor of his films; and the setting for their story and the way it is told is often a marvel of mise-en-scène.


An understanding of the political, cinematic and cultural contexts in which Almodóvar began making films is crucial to understanding his achievements and the impact of his early films. Born a decade after the Civil War, Almodóvar is part of a generation who grew up as Franco declined into old age. Important events that frame his early career are the states of emergency, which suspended civil liberties, declared by the regime in January of 1969 and December 1970 (the period when Almodóvar first moved to Madrid and which he would later use as setting for the beginning of Live Flesh), the assassination of Carrero Blanco, Spain’s Prime Minister, which brought an end to the relative liberalisation of the dictablanda or soft dictatorship in 1973 and Spain’s tenuous transition to Democracy from Franco’s death in 1975 to the election of the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) in 1982. The fragility of Spain’s hold on Democracy was made evident by Colonel Tejero’s attempted coup in 1981. When Almodóvar says, as he has done repeatedly, that his films were made as if Franco had never existed, it doesn’t mean that he was unaware of politics but that, well aware of all the risks, he still chose to make his art in freedom. It is important to remember that the titles of some of the shorts and Super-8 films he made during this period (Dos putas … o una historia de amor que termina en boda/ Two whores … or a Love Story that Ends with a Wedding or Folle, Folle … Fólleme Tim/ Fuck, Fuck, Fuck Me Tim [1978]) alone would have landed him in jail a few years earlier. Bom peeing on the policeman’s wife in Pepi, Luci, Bom might seem merely cheeky camp, until one remembers that a few years earlier Spain had been a military dictatorship, or speculates on the consequences of such imagery had Colonel Tejero’s coup succeeded. It is only then that that representation in Pepi, one of many in his early films, is revealed as the radical and subversive gesture that it is. What his early films evoke most powerfully is a sense of courage and daring made possible by youth and an emerging sense of personal and social liberation.
Almodóvar is remarkable first because he managed to make films at all – I can’t think of another director of his generation who hails from the rural peasantry – and second because the films he did make were so different from anything that had been made in Spain until that time. When Almodóvar began his career, ideals of great filmmaking were seen to be exemplified by Victor Erice’s El Espíritu de la colmena/ The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973, and Carlos Saura’s Cría cuervos/ Cria (USA)/ Raise Ravens (UK), 1975. Erice and Saura’s great works are densely symbolic, hermetic, allegorical art cinema made at a time when this mode of filmmaking was a way for directors and large audiences in Spain to commune in a social critique of the regime and of society. In a context in which this was seen as the model of, and purpose for, cinematic art, Pepi and Labyrinth of Passion, with their broad winks to Andy Warhol and John Waters; their borrowings from comic books, Hello Magazine, and a wide range of references from cinema and other aspects of popular culture; their scatological and corrosive humour and crude technique, not to speak of their superficiality and campness, were greeted by the critical establishment with all the shock of the new and found wanting aesthetically. As Vicente Molina-Foix has written, ‘it took a long time for Almodóvar to be recognised as a great filmmaker in his own country’.1 Luckily, Almodóvar’s first features gave voice to, and found ardent support from, both an emerging youth culture and a gay subculture.

‘La movida’ as mode of production and consumption

Pepi and Labyrinth are products of a period and of a scene of which the films in turn are now the most vivid documents. The period is the transition to Democracy. ‘This country is beginning to have so much Democracy, I don’t know where it will end’, says Luci’s husband in Pepi … , ‘we have to give the Communists a good beating!’ The scene is ‘La nueva movida Madrileña’, a loose amalgamation of artists, performers and musicians who had no more in common than clubbing together, a desire for the new, particularly as refracted from the fashion and music scenes in London, first glam, then punk, then the New Romantics, and a wish to shock anyone in Spain who chose to cling to outmoded ideas. Many of the artists who formed part of the scene and later became famous (Ceesepe, Fanny McNamara, Alaska y los Pegamoides, Costus etc.) contributed to and/or appeared in Pepi and Labyrinth. Though the films are still funny and they surprisingly continue to shock, they are also now imbued with a patina of nostalgia that accrues to that which is lost – the youth of the first generation of Madrileños since the Civil War able to explore their identities in a Democratic country where new norms of behaviour had not yet been agreed to, and with all the attendant pleasures and dangers that entails.
Pepi, shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm for release, was made over a period of two years on a shoestring budget provided mainly by friends. It found an avid audience, particularly at the Alphaville cinema in Madrid, where it was so successful the cinema itself financed Almodóvar’s second feature, Labyrinth of Passion. The two films became staples of the repertoire, playing at the cinema for years, often at late screenings to audiences already so fond of and familiar with the films they would voice the dialogue before the film’s characters. The scene where Fanny McNamara sniffs nail polish in Labyrinth, for example, was received with the kind of relish and audience participation Anglo-American audiences might remember from midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
If the screenings of Pepi and Labyrinth were the focal point of ritual happenings, Almodóvar was happening right along with them, his finger not only on the pulse of La movida but also constantly dipping into many other art forms. Whilst still working at his day job as a clerk for the National Telephone Company, he was also a member of the Los Goliardos theatre troupe, performed and recorded in a punk band (Almodóvar y McNamara, whose songs would become part of the soundtrack to The Law of Desire), wrote short stories, photonovels and created the character of Patty Diphusa for the La Luna de Madrid magazine.2 All of these activities, along with what amounts to a genius for publicity in general (as is evident in the parodies of TV advertisements he inserted in almost all the early films, risking bringing the narratives to a standstill in order to get a good joke in) and self promotion in particular (still evident in the meticulous press books prepared for each new release) meant he couldn’t be ignored and he wasn’t. He’d become not only a director but an instantly recognisable national star.

Entering the mainstream

Dark Habits, What Have I Done to Deserve This? and Matador represent a steady progression in Almodóvar’s career. Dark Habits was the first of his films to be produced by a ‘proper’ production company (Tesauro S.A., who would also go on to produce What Have I Done to Deserve This?); What Have I Done…? was his first mainstream popular and critical success; Matador was the first of his films to receive the funding from Spain’s Ministry of Culture then essential for any mainstream filmmaking in Spain. The three films are the last he would make for outside production companies and they are instructive in what each tells us about Almodóvar’s developing aesthetic.
Dark Habits is still very funny and a pleasure to watch for many reasons: the jokes, the music, the increasing evidence that Almodóvar has an eye for shot compositions that are pleasing in themselves but also progress the narrative. The actresses in the film are wonderful and now evidently a repertory company (later to be much publicised as Las chicas Almodóvar whose number would also include some chicos such as, most famously, Antonio Banderas): Cecilia Roth, Carmen Maura, Julieta Serrano had already appeared in his previous films; Antonio Banderas, Immanol Arias, Assumpta Serna, not cast here, had appeared before in earlier films and would again in later ones: Chus Lampreave makes her first appearance here and would delight audiences in Almodóvar films for years to come. The film is also interesting in that it demonstrates that Almodóvar is not infallible with actors; that the great performances in his films are collaborations for which actors need to be given their due; the proof is Cristina S. Pascual’s performance as Yolanda, unarguably the worst in Almodóvar’s oeuvre an...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Fifty Contemporary Film DirectorsHow to cite Fifty Contemporary Film Directors for your reference list or bibliography: select your referencing style from the list below and hit 'copy' to generate a citation. If your style isn't in the list, you can start a free trial to access over 20 additional styles from the Perlego eReader.
APA 6 Citation
[author missing]. (2010). Fifty Contemporary Film Directors (2nd ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2010)
Chicago Citation
[author missing]. (2010) 2010. Fifty Contemporary Film Directors. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
[author missing] (2010) Fifty Contemporary Film Directors. 2nd edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
[author missing]. Fifty Contemporary Film Directors. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis, 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.