To celebrate LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari is publishing a daily series of LGBT Heroes, selected by the magazine’s team of writers and special contributors.
Pedro Almodóvar – Director
by Michael Langan
I was introduced to the films of Pedro Almodóvar by my friend Phil, who I worked with in a video shop in Birkenhead. I’d recently graduated from University and moved back home, directionless and uncertain about the future. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Almodóvar’s breakthrough movie in the UK, had been released a couple of years earlier and seeing it for the first time injected an explosive burst of colour and energy into my life that altered me irrevocably and for which I’ll always be grateful.
His early work is particularly imbued with the punkish energy and aesthetic of the first post-Franco generation of Spanish artists. It’s iconoclastic and subversive, trashing the institutions of church, state and culture that had been so repressive for so long. There are junky nuns in Dark Habits, gay relationships in Law of Desire, a dissecting of machismo in Matador, and an examination of the difficult lives of women in What Have I Done to Deserve This.
Almodóvar mixes elements of melodrama and farce, which, for me, is one of the things that makes the films queer. When you watch his body of work you see repeated tropes and themes – gender identity, role-play and performativity, writers and film directors appearing as central characters, wives murdering abusive husbands, childhood abuse and, of course, the complications of sexuality and relationships – all handled with great style and verve.
Almodóvar made a series of films in the ’90s marking a shift in his work that’s often referred to as a ‘maturing’. All About My Mother, Talk to Her, and Bad Education form a trilogy that deals with his themes on a more serious level. There’s still comedy but there’s also a deepening of his concerns and, in some cases, a re-visiting and re-creation of scenes from earlier works. You get the sense that Almodóvar is examining himself as much as anything else.
Recently, Quentin Tarantino paid fulsome tribute to Almodóvar and his work and, like Tarantino, Almodóvar has a complete vision that is instantly recognizable as his own and isn’t confined to strict realism. Both filmmakers create the total artwork and both also make great use of music. Almodóvar’s films have introduced me to some great singers and performers like Jimmy Scott, Maya Mataraso and Luz Casal, and not least the composer Alberto Iglesias, surely one of the best writers of film music ever.
What I feel when I watch Almodóvar’s movies, as I regularly do, is something akin to love. I’m in love with his films and they make me fall in love with life. As a gay man I grew up with and through Almodóvar’s work, as a queer writer I am constantly inspired by them and him, by that total commitment to his artistic vision, his sense of fun and humanity and his unique and distinctive style, all of which celebrate an unashamedly queer world. That’s what makes him a hero for me.