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Dark Laughter

Spanish Film, Comedy, and the Nation

Juan F. Egea

Publication Year: 2013

In Dark Laughter, Juan F. Egea provides a remarkable in-depth analysis of the dark comedy film genre in Spain, as well as a provocative critical engagement with the idea of national cinema, the visual dimension of cultural specificity, and the ethics of dark humor.
            Egea begins his analysis with General Franco's dictatorship in the 1960s—a regime that opened the country to new economic forces while maintaining its repressive nature—exploring key works by Luis García Berlanga, Marco Ferreri, Fernando Fernán-Gómez, and Luis Buñuel. Dark Laughter then moves to the first films of Pedro Almodóvar in the early 1980s during the Spanish political transition to democracy before examining Alex de la Iglesia and the new dark comedies of the 1990s. Analyzing this younger generation of filmmakers, Egea traces dark comedy to Spain's displays of ultramodernity such as the Universal Exposition in Seville and the Barcelona Olympic Games.
            At its core, Dark Laughter is a substantial inquiry into the epistemology of comedy, the intricacies of visual modernity, and the relationship between cinema and a wider framework of representational practices.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Series: Wisconsin Film Studies


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

...Even though I dedicate this book to them, I also need to acknowledge my wife’s and daughter’s constant support and understanding. Writing on comedy can be fun, but it is still writing, and both Sarli and Sofía either forgave or pretended they did not notice the moodiness and the crankiness when things were not moving along smoothly. I think they do like me...

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pp. 1-6

...My second objective is to explore the ways in which cinematic texts mediate the socioeconomic context in which they are produced and exhibited. Hence I am interested not only in understanding cinema as cultural praxis but also in examining cinema’s relations with the cultural discourses that surround it...

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1. Familiar Questions

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pp. 7-29

...minds as they do about any meaningful connections within any given group of films. To put it otherwise, a given cognitive model both enables and limits any exercise in fi lm genre description and formation. Let us consider, for instance, the following classifications: documentaries, Westerns, road movies, indie films, melodramas of the unknown woman, cult films, film noirs, short films, action/ adventure movies, chick flicks, prison films, political biopics, the swimming musicals of Esther Williams, and British war films after the US entrance into...

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2. Movement and Paralysis, Dissidence and Identity: Ferreri’s El cochecito

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pp. 30-48

...The fi rst part of this chapter occupies itself with this central insight: Don Anselmo’s symbolic ambivalence (as an individual, as a character) can only be truly discerned as mediated by the object that turns him into a desiring subject. Taking into consideration that the object in question is also the means to gain membership in an idealized community (that of his handicapped friends...

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3. Complicity Dissected: Berlanga’s El verdugo

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pp. 49-65

...In this filmic dissection of complicity, the camera is of course the scalpel, a cinematographic apparatus that does not move as much as it cuts through the characters’ motives to examine their degree of involvement with a repressive regime. Correspondingly, space in this movie—filmic, imagined, or iconic— appears as a kind of symbolic limbo in need of an explicit agency on the part of those who occupy it. That would be the way to make space mean something...

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4. Don Jaime’s Laughter: Humor and Perversion in Viridiana

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pp. 66-85

...to be contemplating what his decision, whatever it is, will bring about. And he chuckles. The future that his words on a white piece of paper will help materialize seems to amuse this man. His most recent past, what has just happened, is nothing but deadly serious. He has asked his niece, a novice nun, to dress in his late wife’s wedding gown. He has proposed to her, and, with the help of his servant, he has drugged her, kissed her in her sleep, and made her believe that she...

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5. Modernizing Desire: Fernán-Gómez’s El extraño viaje

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pp. 86-109

...innocence can be as harmful as connivance . . . To the series of questions covered so far, we now need to add a refl ection on the place desire occupies within modernity. Desire certainly played a major role in all the purchasing, killing, and compromising done by ostracized old men, secluded fetishist, ironic modernizers, and reluctant executioners. However, the production and reproduction...

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6. Almodóvar Interlude: Transitional Laughter

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pp. 110-134

...even symbolically, the death of the nation’s father. In Spain that death, and the political transition it set in motion, may have been the cause of mourning for some and of trauma for others, but it was also the occasion for much celebration and certainly a reason for laughter. The meaningful (and manifold) confl uence of death and comedy has been a constant in this book. At this juncture, then, it is only reasonable to ask whether there is a relevant role for dark humor...

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7. Back with a Vengeance: Laughing Darkly in Post- 1992 Spain

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pp. 135-156

...This was the year in which Seville became the site of a universal exhibition, Barcelona celebrated the Olympic Games, and Madrid was chosen as the cultural capital of Europe. Five years later, Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was inaugurated. In the Spain of the 1990s, every collective display of nationhood—Spanish, Catalan, and Basque—seemed to aim at presenting an image of newness, of the future, even of perfectibility to a global...

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pp. 157-158

...Almodóvar comes along when the dictatorship is over, and he proceeds to add disorientation to a comedy fi lm practice in which questions of timing and propriety were paramount. His transitional laughter kept dark humor as the vital ethical tool to examine the unstable place the laughing subject had in the serious process of changing a country...


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pp. 159-170


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pp. 171-178


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pp. 179-188

Other Works in the Series

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pp. 189-190

E-ISBN-13: 9780299295431
E-ISBN-10: 0299295435
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299295448
Print-ISBN-10: 0299295443

Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 28 b/w photos
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Wisconsin Film Studies