In an addition to the series that shows that Bwog is intellectual and likes to learn outside of the classroom, we dispatched Sports Editor Ross Chapman to write about his experience sitting in on a lecture entitled “Eloy De La Iglesia and Emerging Gay Identities During the Spanish Transition.” Read about Eloy De La Iglesia and the lecturer, Dr. Alberto Mira, below.
In a quiet Milbank Hall last night, a few dozen students, teachers, and miscellaneous queer theory aficionados gathered to listen to Doctor Alberto Mira’s quest to “throw new light on an under-appreciated filmmaker.” After a quick introduction from the head of the Spanish language program, Dr. Mira (a professor at Oxford Brookes University) got right to discussing the straightforwardly named lecture topic, “Eloy De La Iglesia and Emerging Gay Identities During the Spanish Transition.”
Eloy de la Iglesia isn’t very well known in America, or many other places in the world. However, according to Dr. Mira, he was “probably the most popular filmmaker” in Spain in the late 70s and early 80s. He was just as synonymous with shocking film as he was with radical portrayals of social issues. His biggest hit in America might be the 1973 cult classic, “Cannibal Man,” but his films about juvenile delinquency and the emerging Spanish queer identity hold more public worth in Spain. On the question of whether or not he was a “good filmmaker,” Mira said that he had points of view and ideas, and was able to communicate them through the medium. He was “inelegant but interesting,” a style that unfortunately didn’t do him much help with art critics.
The period in question, the “Spanish Transition,” refers to the switch from dictatorship to democracy in the nation. The changing politics coincided with a serious relaxation of censorship and a major upswing in the public presence of marginalized identities. The political side of it officially began with the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, the beginning of the Spanish Transition for gay identity politics has murkier origins. Many place it in 1973, when articles and magazines on homosexuality entered circulation, but the movement was small and easy to ignore until the late 70s. Gay politicians began to get involved with Spain’s left wing, and a lot of the rhetoric of the time was very close to modern queer theory. De la Iglesia went to meetings and engaged with gay politics, which prompted him to discuss the realities of the gay community in his films.
The queer community has often faced uncertainty in how sexual their public image ought to be. Promoting a completely sterile gay couple, some argue, robs them of their homosexuality, but sexual characters so often fit into categories and stereotypes that do nothing to help the movement. Eloy de la Iglesia averted the politics of positive, saintly images while avoiding stereotypes. He gave Spanish cinema homosexual characters who talked about their own issues and feelings, rather than having sexuality and all of its burdens thrust upon them from the exterior. But this new agency came with the reality of a community that, in the mid-70s, focused more on the politics of pleasure than those of identity. His characters, of varying ages and social classes, flaunted their sexuality in sometimes manipulative ways. Because of this, even the gay community of the time was weary to accept his films.
Even in his films that didn’t specifically tackle sexuality, de la Iglesia often included homoerotic tones (yes, even in Cannibal Man). Interestingly, this wasn’t what got him in problem with the censors, even before the fall of Francisco Franco. More often, shocking violence or nudity were the vices of which the government did not approve. This speaks volumes about the Spanish discussion about sexuality in the 70s. There weren’t many films about it, but not because filmmakers didn’t have permission; many of them just didn’t care. This is part of what made Eloy de la Iglesia such an important figure – he brought these ideas into public light before much of the gay community came out, in a cinematic style that made a spectacle out of every social issue.
Alberto Mira brought this all to light through biographical discussion of de la Iglesia, and through clips of his work. Most of these videos came from YouTube, which helped to showcase that seemingly inherent knack all professors have for messing up technology. Dr. Mira couldn’t figure out how to turn AutoPlay off, meaning that whatever images came up on the projector were subject to the will of Google. Following an important discussion between two characters in a bank from one of de la Iglesia’s films was a distinctly homoerotic and definitely low-budget scene, of which the lecturer was deeply embarrassed. He turned this into a lesson, though, reflecting on how even some of de la Iglesia’s serious works get mixed in public and critical view with pornography. It takes the proper lens to evaluate such radical work from such a radical time. If you think you have that (and a good grasp on the Spanish language), both myself and Dr. Mira would highly recommend the filmography of Eloy de la Iglesia.
Eloy De La Iglesia via Filmoteca Vasca