Jesús Urda

Baroque Glances at Society: the appropriation of decoupage, depth of field, pan-focus and the long take in the early films of J. A. Bardem

Year: 2008

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Trinity College Dublin
(at time of presentation)

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For the majority of film critics of the 50s and ´60s ,  Spanish director J. A. Bardem was always  regarded as a Spanish Neorealist, whose films approached society  through the moral and ethical glasses of Italian Neorealism. However realist or neorealist his approach may have been, his style showed a premeditated effort to emulate Hollywood modes of storytelling. Hollywood stylistic techniques of the 1930s and the overwhelming exercise of filmmaking by Welles in  Citizen Kane (1941)  would act as bag of tricks for the young director. His first films – disregarding their ideological origins – showed a clear manifestation of Hollywood filmmaking alone in the poor and internationally isolated Spanish cinematography. Bardem became a brilliant imitator, a director of homage scenes and sequences. Something that in current filmmaking practices is considered as a virtue was labelled as plagiarism by a numbers of critics of his time.

The decline of montage in favour of decoupage during the ´30s and the new techniques developed by William Wyler, Orson Welles and cinematographer Greg Toland, such as the use of depth of field, pan-focus and the long take, invaded European filmmaking after World War II. Bardem, although not the only one to follow these techniques in Europe, was a clear exponent of Hollywood modes in Spain. Films like Cómicos  (1954), Muerte de un Ciclista/ Death of a Cyclist (1955), Calle Mayor/Main Street (1956), La Venganza (1957), and Sonatas (1959) maintained a Neorealistic tone but, at the same time, an accurate, bold virtuoso exercise in the imitation of Hollywood “modern” techniques. This practice resulted in a baroque kinetic atmosphere on the screen that would mark his style for the following decades.