- Editor’s Preface. The Invisible Tradition: Avant-Garde Catalan Cinema under Late Francoism
Political cinema is about the absence of the people. This paraphrase of Gilles Deleuze could serve as an epigraph to this volume.1 Avant-garde Catalan cinema thematizes not just the lack of visibility of a people but, more significantly, makes of such absence and silence a powerful cinematic trope with which to counteract the political vacuum created by late Francoism. The essays collected in The Invisible Tradition present instances of an urgent critical reengagement and symptomatic reading of these singular and little-known cinematic interventions.
The social and political imaginaries of Francoist Spain created a singular instance of dislocation in the Catalan filmic avant-garde of the 1960s and 1970s. The commitment to avant-garde practices, emerging out of a tradition dating back to the 1920s in the Catalan context, pushed the envelope of political possibility by establishing an elective affinity and an affective transfer between the political and the aesthetic. By addressing this productive double enunciation through a transnational lens, this special issue hopes to shed new light both on European peripheral cinematic avant-gardes and on the aesthetic articulation of political dissent. The films of the Barcelona School and of Pere Portabella bear the mark of their circumstances and put those circumstances to work by appropriating them conceptually and cinematically. [End Page 465] Late Francoism proved to be an unstable and complex political conjuncture that challenged the use of straightforward cinematic narratives and called for a reimagination of the cinematic medium as an emancipatory practice.
The conjunctures of Barcelona’s cultural milieu were not without complexity either. Fèlix Fanés—whose contribution is the first article in Catalan to be published in Hispanic Review—teases out the implications of Pere Portabella’s collaborative, interdisciplinary, and conceptual understanding of the cinematic medium by paying close attention to the legacies of the prewar Catalan avant-garde, still traceable in the Barcelona of the ’60s and ’70s. By foregrounding the centrality of Joan Brossa, a poet, visual artist, magician, and early-cinema aficionado, as a link between the historical avant-gardes and the emergence of Catalan conceptualism, Fanés situates his early collaboration with Portabella within a genealogy that begins with Miró, runs through Dau al Set, and culminates with the avant-garde politics of the Grup de Treball. Likewise, the influence of the avant-garde musician and conceptual artist Carles Santos brings to the table an emphasis on the materiality and discontinuity of film, together with a fascination with the role of labor in the artistic process, which we have come to regard as intrinsic to Portabella’s distinctive filmic style. Dialogue, collaboration, and mixed media may have begun as characteristics of the Catalan avant-garde milieu, but in Portabella they were formalized into aesthetic choices.
Rosalind Galt pushes the contextualization of the Barcelona School further by situating it within a transnational dialogue between critical theory and the political avant-garde, in its turn immersed in the aesthetic and political debates surrounding the events of 1968. The reconfiguration of an alternative cinematic culture would champion linguistic renewal over party alliances, and oppose both the legacy of neorealism and the hegemony of the NCE (Nuevo Cine Español) in favor of an elective affinity with the Italian Gruppo 63 and, to a lesser extent, the French Tel Quel. Thus the political impurity and the transnational conversations in which these films engage belie the isolationism of the Francoist cultural milieu, where being Spanish fundamentally meant not being European. Galt’s research inextricably links the fate of European leftist cultures to the ascendancy of a critical theory that, via Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco for instance, championed a transformation of art cinema, and to which the filmmakers of the Barcelona School fully subscribed. As Galt demonstrates, although it is possible to read some of the films of the School as Barthesian texts, the assimilation of radical political [End Page 466] agendas to artistic experimentalism created another set of problems that have affected and continue to affect the critical reception of the films of the Barcelona School. The conversations between critical theorists, militant Marxists, and experimental...