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  • Spanish Film Cultures: The Making and Unmaking of Spanish Cinema by Nuria Triana-Toribio
  • Paul Julian Smith
triana-toribio, nuria. Spanish Film Cultures: The Making and Unmaking of Spanish Cinema. London: Palgrave/British Film Institute, 2016.viii + 157 pp.

It is perhaps a measure of the new maturity of the discipline of Anglophone Spanish film studies that scholars should now venture beyond close readings of films and auteurist studies, both of which are accessible extensions of the literary criticism in which the great majority of specialists in the UK and USA were trained. Addressing the institutional questions of industry and government policy (and, indeed, the relationship between the two) requires a more painstaking apprenticeship in media and area studies. It is thus to Nuria Triana-Toribio's great credit that she devotes a whole monograph to this hitherto neglected area. And she builds here on the considerable body of pioneering work she has already published: on the contested topics of Spanish national cinema, auteurship in a digital age, and "residual film cultures" (i.e., those embodied by established figures that are no longer in tune with current conditions). This monograph is a logical and very welcome extension of that earlier work. [End Page 353]

In spite of its broad title, Spanish Film Cultures is devoted to a single subject: the Academia de las Artes y Ciencias Cinematográficas, which was established in 1986–1987, and is responsible for the Goya awards, the Spanish Oscars. Triana-Toribio's period of study takes her from one term of office by the PSOE to the end of another (2011). As she shows, the identification of this assumed professional film community with a single political party is problematic for Spanish cinema and audiences alike. The aim of the book is to demonstrate "not only that the Academia [sic] has shaped Spanish film culture in democracy, but that it has created the idea of Spanish cinema as we know it … both the dominant or hegemonic and the emergent and the waning film cultures that have grown or withered in conflict or opposition to it" (2). In this institutional context, then, textual readings of individual films or auteurist accounts of filmmakers' careers take on a newly strategic light in a contested cultural field where Bourdieu's questions of habitus and distinction are foremost.

After an introduction that sketches the role of film academies in other countries and seeks to define "academicism," the first chapter investigates the values and origins of an Academy that protests too much that it is inclusive, transparent, and democratic (17). Triana-Toribio shows convincingly that this position was based on a "narrow" conception of cinema as politically engaged and socially realist that was out of date even in the 1970s (19). And the desire for international prestige signaled by acceptance at foreign festivals had previously been part of the Francoist regime's agenda (23). The quest for a new democratic consensus on what counted as "good" cinema (European quality models) was, moreover, based on the exclusion of multiple bad objects such as the popular genre film of the Dictatorship and the commercial cinema of the new democracy, which would remain disconcertingly attractive to Spanish audiences unwilling to be schooled in the new cultural pieties (33, 35).

The second chapter treats the Goya awards as a function of the Academy's "natural disposition" to judgment and as the main showcase for "hegemonic Spanish cinema" (36). While the Academy was set up as an avowedly apolitical organization, the awards ceremony or Gala has often served as a "political platform" for its leftist members (37). Prizes thus serve both to offer guidance to local audiences (43) and to reward "not so much the work at hand as its symbolic weight" (45), valuing as they do "a specific type of professional and performance style" (47). The latter was biased toward tasteful aesthetic pleasure, realist conventions, and the recreation of the past (48). In such rare films as ¡Ay, Carmela! (Carlos Saura, 1990), which receives close analysis here, the tastes of audiences and academicians coincided (51). Conversely, the Academy's televised Gala has regularly proved controversial with the public, provoking criticism from right-wing press...


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