četvrtak, 15. studenoga 2012.

Ivan Zulueta - Arrebato (1979)

Jedan od najslavljenijih španjolskih kultnih filmova.
Opsesije i ovisnosti - o seksu, drogama i pravljenju filmova. Snimiti savršen film znači i sam postati dio tog filma, nestati u njemu.

Cijeli film:

There are many great works of reflexive cinema in respect to “movies-about-movies” and “films-within-films”, including such diverse cinematic works as Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963), Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973), Watkin’s Last House on Dead End Street (1977), Burton’s Ed Wood (1994), Schlingensief’s The 120 Days of Bottrop (1997), and Kaufman’s Terror Firmer (1999), but none of these works quite compare to the stark, angst-ridden essence of the utterly unrivaled Spanish arthouse flick Arrebato (1980) aka Rapture directed by Ivan Zulueta; a metaphysical quasi-vampire flick where film itself (or in literal terms, a Super 8 camera) is the life-draining monster. Barely acknowledged upon its original release due to its pathetically brief theatrical run (lasting only a couple days at a mere Barcelona theater) and still relatively unknown today (despite obtaining a steady cult following over the past three decades), Arrebato was an absolute commercial failure that would ultimately lead to auteur Ivan Zulueta being restricted to the ignoble bottomless pit of television and movie posters (creating art for films by Pedro Almodóvar), henceforth never directing a single feature-length film again, which is most unfortunate when one considers the ingenious and wantonly intimate artistic tenacity he displayed with the formative work. Originally around 3 hours in length as a workprint, Zulueta decided to shorten Arrebato by 30 minutes, and with another 40 minutes of the feature being subsequently cut against his will, the film that exists today, although seemingly taintless, is hardly a director’s approved cut. Fundamentally, Arrebato is an avant-garde arthouse film disguised (quite nicely) as a ‘horror’ flick that is altogether cognizant of genre conventions yet wallows in cinematic experimentation, as it was designed especially with cinephiles and filmmakers in mind as indicated by its less than flattering portrayal of the more calamitous side of cinematic obsession where, in a similar vein to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), the contrived reality of the virtual image perpetually replaces reality itself. As the character José states in a matter-of-fact (but in reality, totally delusional) manner at the beginning of Arrebato, “It’s not that I like cinema…It’s cinema that likes me.” Like the steady dose of sex and drugs consumed by the three main characters in the film, cinema becomes a baleful, life-shattering addiction that steadily eats away at ones' soul. One only has to glance at the pitiful, frivolous, and platitudinous pop-culture-obsessed postmodern movies of philistine filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and Eli Roth to observe this relatively recent phenomenon progenerated by vaudeville and eventually Hollywood, but unlike the would-be-cool works of these three stilted middle-aged fanboys, Arrebato is a staunchly visionary and unprecedented expression of refined (as opposed to revoltingly regurgitated) style. 
At the beginning of Arrebato, the viewer is introduced to the character of José Sirgado (Eusebio Poncela), a hack horror director who is on the verge of completing his latest work; an overdue sequel to his debut vampire film. José lives and breathes celluloid as expressed by the many movie posters that act as wallpaper for his apartment and by his unmitigated ecstasy when he drives by movie theaters (playing works ranging from Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter to Don Coscarelli's Phantasm) as if performing some sort of sacred religious ritual, yet despite all of his film fetishism, he is not exactly the most gifted auteur. Upon reaching home after a relieving day from work, José is bombarded with potent remnants from his past: the unexpected presence of his ex-girlfriend Ana (Cecila Roth) lying on his bed in an opium-induced trance and a mailed package containing audio tapes and processed Super 8 film reels from his long lost protégé Pedro P. (Will More); an erratic, epicene young man suffering from celluloid-obsessed neurosis. José and Pedro act as dichotomous symbols of the two archetypical extremes pertaining to filmmakers: the former being an unambitious hireling who is to afraid to take chances as a filmmaker and the latter being a diehard maverick auteur that will do anything to realize his ever evolving vision as a creator of celluloid art. While listening to the tapes and watching the film footage sent to him by Pedro, José relives the bizarre bisexual love triangle (with Ana and Pedro) of decadent drug abuse, soulless (yet utterly erotic) sex, and cine-mania that consumed and almost destroyed his life a year ago or so. As Arrebato progresses, Pedro and his masturbatory experimental auteur pieces begin to become the lead character(s), as a sort of an out-of-control, all-consuming monster on the brink of self-annihilation. Like the psychotic and suicidal anti-hero Claudio from Alberto Cavallone’s Blue Movie (1978), Pedro has a critical need to fulfill a personal internal void and he uses the creative, pseudo-godlike power of filmmaking to do so. As he explains via audio recording, “All my life, back then, was like a huge wank without cum. Although I, deep down, thought that was to come. How far was I from understanding the sense, the function, the part, the game, that making cinema represents.” Indeed, Pedro’s foremost goal with cinema is to reach the ultimate “high”, “climax”, “transcendence”, and “rapture” (hence, the title of the film) and he firmly believes that, like a drug addict in denial and despite the deterioration of his physical body and voice (as expressed by his new raspy 'mad scientist' voice on the audio tapes), that his celluloid alchemy is truly messianic. Like all great auteur filmmakers (not that he is great but his films are certainly interesting) and unlike lazy filmmaker lackey José, Pedro is a dynamic and domineering eccentric who is never completely satisfied with his art, hence his monotonous productivity, increasingly nonexistent social life and dwindling health. Always a more dedicated and intransigent filmmaker than his filmic father figure José, it is finally Pedro who has the last laugh at both men’s expense (which, unsurprisingly, the latter is happy to pay).

Displaying a true sense of restraint and humility, Ivan Zulueta stated of Arrebato, “It was not my intention to make an avant-garde, elitist film, because my deepest wish is to communicate with my audience the most intensely I can. I know this picture may be disquieting and bewildering at first, but that was absolutely unintentional on my behalf.” More captivating and provocative than Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) and over-and-above the psychosexual horrors of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Arrebato is indubitably in a class by itself as a work of lucid and uncompromising cinema, thus the fact that Zulueta never got to direct another feature is nothing short of a tragedy; at least as far as film history is concerned. As an unrepentant cinephile always looking for the next cinematic high, I can honestly say I cannot think of another time a film has resonated with me so thoroughly and penetratingly as Arrebato – a rare and singular work about cinephilia that also manages to be a landmark cinematic achievement in itself – that is simultaneously hypnotic, erotic, distressing, and exotic yet startlingly intimate.  Forget J.J. Abrams' groveling love letter to Steven Spielberg, Arrebato is an unfeigned Super 8 tribute to cinema and the art of filmmaking.- Soiled Sinema


Alberte Pagán / Esperanza Collado

Images possessed me, devoured me... and I was happy in my surrender. Cinema and I were planning something special, based on reciprocal trust... although it was necessary to reach the edge of the abyss to understand what was happening... it was a matter of letting oneself go with the cinematic flow. -Pedro P. in Arrebato.
During the late '70s and early '80s, a time of socio-political transition in Spain, a number of filmmakers who had been producing independent and experimental cinema managed to show their films in commercial venues. Among those works, Iván Zulueta's 1979 film Arrebato is notable for its unclassifiable nature. Considered a 'cult film', Arrebato is unequivocally a product of its time: while not exactly marginal, its singularity resides in the mode in which the avant-garde discourse that dominates a considerable part of its length is integrated within a broader genre, fantastic cinema.
Perhaps the experimental features in Arrebato have been exaggerated, and even though Zulueta's previous films were highly avant-gardist -Leo es Pardo (1976), Babia (1975), A Mal Gam A (1976)- the author affirmed he "had no intention of making avant-garde cinema whatsoever"; he wanted to make a commercial film to reach a broad audience. Nonetheless, the director's previous experimentation with the medium and his distinctive style are reflected in Arrebato's central preoccupation with formal cinematic concerns such as the interval between frames, its implications in the pauses and rhythms generated within the visual discourse, and a type of vision through the other that ultimately falls through the interstices of cinema.
The avant-garde elements featured in Arrebato are integrated within a non-linear, complex and elaborated narrative structure that ignores traditional canons, contrasting radically with the Spanish cinema scene in the late ‘70s (1) . Those avant-garde elements are embodied in one of the film's main characters, Pedro P. (Will More, a non-professional actor who also appears in Pedro Almodóvar's Dark Habits [Entre Tinieblas 1983]), whose name is a direct reference to Peter Pan. Pedro P. acts as a conducting thread in the narration of the film and represents the alter ego of José Sirgado (Eusebio Poncela) and, ultimately, Iván Zulueta himself. José Sirgado and Pedro P. function as two sides of the same entity, as they are both filmmakers who fulfill Zulueta's own interests in cinema: Sirgado makes B-series vampire movies, Pedro P. is an experimental filmmaker whose main aspiration is to find 'the precise rhythm'. In this sense, Arrebato realizes one of Zulueta's most ambitious aims: the combining of his love for horror movies and his practice in experimental filmmaking.
It would be plausible, therefore, to speak of an 'applied' or 'put into practice' experimentalism in Arrebato, which, in non-commercial or non-promotional circuits, would make of this film an avant-garde work. For this reason, the intention of this essay is to examine some of the sediments of avant-garde cinema history detectable in Zulueta's practice, especially in Arrebato. However, we have first included a brief synopsis of the film, followed by a series of sections in which we note a diversity of relational channels or concepts that should be understood in terms of interactions and influences between avant-garde cinema history, Zulueta's oeuvre in general, and Arrebato in particular.
José Sirgado has spent a whole day with his editor, finishing his second film, a B-series vampire movie, and is visibly displeased, perhaps because "his relationship with cinema has nothing to do with what he had imagined it would be" (Zulueta, synopsis of the film, 1979). When the editor reproaches Sirgado's attitude, he answers "in fact, I don't like cinema; cinema likes me". Later in the evening, he drives home. The action takes place in Madrid, in the summer. The porter at Sirgado's apartment building tells him his unwelcome ex-girlfriend Ana (Cecilia Roth) is in his apartment. Next, he gives Sirgado a parcel mailed from a mysterious sender, P.P., containing a key, a roll of Super 8mm film, and an audiocassette. Tormented by the personal and creative crisis that adds to his inability to finally break with Ana, he decides to take heroin after a vain suicide attempt. Next, he plays the audiocassette he has received. It's of Pedro's voice, which will recur throughout the rest of the film, bringing back memories of the first time both filmmakers met. From this point on, past and present interweave. Manifestly, Pedro's obsession with the pause has grown noticeably since the last time they met, especially after Sirgado sent him an interval-timer, a mechanism with which he can control time lapse or rate of recording while filming. Pedro's concept of the pause, which he presents as an Achilles heel, is ambiguous, but there are at least two possible explanations of it: the vanishing point and key to reach the correct rhythm in cinema; or the metalinguistic distance between the absent and present captured material in film, which transforms into cadence within the core of montage. Pedro has become addicted to filmmaking, eventually filming nothing other than himself. The voice on the cassette recording indicates that the key belongs to Pedro's apartment and that Sirgado must collect Pedro's last processed roll of film from the chemist in order to discover the ultimate outcome of his cinematic experiments. When Sirgado arrives, he finds a strange ritual in which a projected image intervenes in surprising ways, ultimately bringing him over into ‘the other side of the mirror'.
From Expressionism to Psychodrama
Expressionist German cinema, especially Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (F.W. Murnau, 1922), and the Surrealist film Un Chien andalou (Luis Buñuel, 1929), influenced much of Zulueta's work. Whilst Nosferatu died under the sunlight, disappearing through a juxtaposition of frames, in A Mal Gam A the inverse process occurs: the protagonist materializes from nothing and stabs himself -his twisted shadow, resembling Nosferatu's, appears before a window. Turning death into suicide, Zulueta goes back three decades to create a combination of expressionism and psychodrama in the same fashion as Maya Deren's films, which Stan Brakhage and Kenneth Anger continued. In Anticipation of the Night (1958), Brakhage shows the protagonist's final suicide through his shadow. Camera and human vision had become one entity during the film: the protagonist can only perceive himself through his projected shadow, a procedure Zulueta imitates in A Mal Gam A.
If psychodrama implies a mystic process of self-awareness in which the boundaries between dreams and wakefulness dissolve, we can find a diversity of psychodramatic features in Zulueta's work in general, in which narcissism, identity, and self-filming play a significant role. An example is the sequence of Arrebato in which José, seated somnolently in his armchair, is seen waking up directly following a concatenation of images summarizing Pedro's global journeys to the accompaniment of a hypnotic musical drone from a turntable. The oneiric images of Pedro's travels, shot in the style of his other 8mm films, are outside the narration of the film: José doesn't set up the projector to watch them, as he does with the rest of Pedro's films. They simply appear without any narrative justification, forcing us to symbolically interpret them. Pedro's narration seems to telepathically enter José's hypnotized mind without any mechanical intervention, foretelling the final fusion of both characters.
Although there are many significant direct references to Nosferatu in previous films by Zulueta, none of them reflects the interactions between vampiric catharsis and the sublimation of cinema with the thoroughness and complexity of Arrebato. The film's densely self-reflective nature when dealing with ideas intrinsic to the medium and its practice leads to an interzone in which cinema overcomes death and life. 'Arrebato' means exultation, ecstasy, rapture -exactly what Pedro P. experiences while watching his own films; the verb related to the noun 'arrebato', 'arrebatar', implies the action of snatching -which also acquires significance in the peculiar relationship between Pedro/Sirgado and cinema, and their final fusion. The supernaturally acquired anthropomorphism of Pedro's Super8 camera -a camera capable of filming by itself- does not simply refer to a demoniac entity: the vampiric performance of the camera, which metaphorically sucks Pedro's blood (a phenomenon reflected in the increasing number of red frames mysteriously appearing in his late films), turns death into the reference proper of representation in Arrebato. Nevertheless, death should not be understood as opposite to life in this context. The characters do not die; they are transferred into a cinematic dimension, the other side of the mirror that brings them closer to cinema.
Addiction to drugs, specifically to heroin, plays a parallel role in the film: it takes the characters' lives into a different arena. Pedro, in contrast to Ana and José, only takes the 'right amount' of cocaine in order to have access to 'the right rhythm' in which the so-called pause plays a decisive part since it negates the passing of time. The unconscious -or nearly unconscious- states of dreaming, sleeping, the evocation of memories, and being high on heroin are reiterative and of a special significance in Arrebato. When Pedro and José experience such states the narrative discourse breaks and formal experimentalism emerges. In the same way, Pedro's camera performs its vampiric activities when Pedro sleeps. The relationships between cinema, imagination, dreams, and the unconscious have been widely explored in avant-garde cinema, which brings us back to Un Chien andalou. There is a direct reference to Buñuel's film when Pedro and his friend Gloria -whose androgynous voice is dubbed by Almodóvar- fight in his apartment. Pedro throws an object at her and the next shot -a man lying on the sidewalk who has been robbed- refers to Un Chien andalou.
The Manipulation of Time
Filming with a timer device is a distinguishing feature of Zulueta's cinema as a whole. In Arrebato, it becomes the main technique used in Pedro's cinematographic work, and a direct emanation of his continuous search for the correct pulse between images. Filming with a timer during long periods allows a precise comprehension of procedural phenomena (the movement of clouds, a plant growth, rising or falling tide, etc.), of great use for science and lyrical cinema.
Shots of clouds, intercut with images of an empty sky or surrounded by buildings and fleeting shadows, abound in Zulueta's Aquarium (1975), Leo es Pardo, and Arrebato. In fact, when Pedro receives the time-interval device he immediately sets his camera on a tripod pointing directly to the sky. Avant-garde filmmakers such as Dziga Vertov (The Man with the Movie Camera, 1929) and José Val del Omar (Aguaespejo Granadino, 1955), who undoubtedly influenced Zulueta, had already made use of such techniques.
Arrebato contains two sequences in which rapid montage appears as a pronounced avant-garde cut-in, seemingly occurring completely outside the narrative context of the film. An example of this is the acceleration of images in a programme on a TV in Pedro's house. A similar acceleration of images is achieved with the technique of assembling different rapidly edited shots with almost identical frames. Robert Breer's REcreation (1957) made a deep exploration of this method, although, owing to an unbalanced concatenation of images, the result is much more abstract in Pedro's films.
Pedro, like Zulueta, utilizes the 'flicker' technique in most of his films, as well as its counterpoint, slow motion, which lends his works a very poetical nature. The final section of Marie Menken's Notebook (1963), Etcetcetcet, includes a vertiginous circular shot of vehicles which Pedro P. imitates in order to depict his travel from Segovia to Madrid. Owing to its long duration, this sequence constitutes another attempt to break the film's narrative by displaying a certain independence from it, although as soon as Pedro's voice is back, the experimental discourse is halted.
Lyrical film
What once was called the ‘film poem', ‘pure film' or ‘impressionist cinema', a cinema engaged in capturing non-narrative lyrical impressions of reality, and which reemerged decades later as 'lyrical film', is also present in the aesthetics of Arrebato, specifically in the 8mm rolls filmed by Pedro. The continuous movement of clouds and the surface of water are opened to aesthetic contemplation, as they were in films such as Regen (Joris Ivens, 1929) or the more abstract H2O (Ralph Steiner, 1929).
A reference to pointillism, which originated in 1920s impressionist cinema and was continued by Len Lye in his hand-scratched films (Free Radicals, 1958), could be highlighted too when we look at Zulueta's sublimation of tingling TV monitors, always present in his films. In Arrebato, that television presence only lasts about four seconds: TV static is on one occasion inserted without any apparent justification between a shot of José and a movie poster; in another, it functions as a background against which the ghostly presence of Ana is superimposed. Television pointillism has been explored by Aldo Tambellini's Black TV (1968) and, in a similar fashion, although exploiting the materialist nature of celluloid grain, by Ken Jacobs in Tom Tom the Pipers Son (1971). In both works, a referential pre-existing image is transformed by means of extreme close-ups of the screen, which ultimately becomes abstract. Zulueta followed such a procedure in Te Veo (1973).

Abstraction through detail
In Complementos (1976) Zulueta illustrates the entire process of a heroin shot, which reappears in Arrebato with a significant difference: focusing in on a sole detail, the needle absorbing the substance from a spoon, the filmmaker seems more reticent about experimenting formally, although the sequence shows an excellent rhythmic construction of the ritual. In the feature film, the camera remains steady in a close-up while the syringe goes in.
A Mal Gam A abounds in detail shots of turntables and light reflected on their surfaces, which provides the film with a formal and kinetic nature. In Arrebato, in the context of the experimental work of Will More's character, Zulueta again shows the grooves of a vinyl record in an interesting formalist play in which the flow of images from Pedro P.'s journeys around the world and its accompanying music cease and restart intermittently. The interruption of such hypnotic fluidity, depicted by shots of a stylus going up and down the vinyl groove alternated with black frames, performs a double ellipsis: the passing of time during Pedro's journeys while José seems to be immersed in a trance and the spatial displacement in which, gradually, we are brought back into the narrative present. This entire sequence exemplifies the continuous alternation of past -the remembered moments evoked by Pedro's voice from the cassette player- and the present in which José, despite the interruptions of Ana, remains attentive to Pedro's recordings.
Returning to the sequence early in the film focused on José and Ana's relationship, there is an interesting transition between the shot of her face appearing superimposed over TV static and the couple making love. The transition consists of a few shots of Ana's mouth and face during the sexual act. The image here is grainy, undefined and poorly illuminated. It is accelerated, slowed down, thrown out of focus and contrasted with the following sequence, in which the couple appears lying in bed in sharp 35mm clarity. Such a poetical flourish, which could be understood as José's memory, makes use of lyrical cinema techniques similar to those in such films as Brakhage's Window Water Baby Moving (1959), Carolee Schneemann's Fuses (1967), and Stephen Dwoskin's Dirty (1971). The lower part of a blurred male face appears among the footage Pedro sent to José, as well as images of an erection in close-up taken directly from Fuses. Appropriation is, in fact, a technique Zulueta frequently makes use of in his work in general, most notably in Kinkón (1971), Masaje (1972) and Frank Stein (1972), in which -following the methodology employed by Bruce Conner in A Movie (1958)- the Spanish director combines accelerated footage taken directly from television programmes with pre-existing images or found-footage.
Materialist film advocates the inclusion of the cinema apparatus in the film: form and structural elements intrinsic to filmmaking become the content of the work, eliminating the construction of fiction found outside the very material properties of the work. Perhaps Zulueta's ambitions are very different from those of structural/materialist film, although a work like Arrebato, which focuses on filmmaking itself and persistently emphasizes the presence of cameras, splicers, celluloid, and projectors, makes possible a coherent interpretation in terms of the material or physical presence of film. Nonetheless, this presence will never appear completely independent of the narrative line that dominates Arrebato, although Zulueta's tendency to emphasise the elements mentioned with numerous close ups provides a significantly materialist approach to the medium that goes beyond the purely diegetic context of the film. In comparing the activity of the camera in The Man with the Movie Camera -purely formal and alien to human movement- with that of Pedro's Super8 camera in Arrebato, we find that the narrative justification, the camera's personification as a vampire, is an impediment to the experimental progress of the film. In fact, the persistent presence of the material of film contrasts greatly with the negation of its physical reference, as Zulueta proffers cinematic properties that transcend the limitations of materiality.
Conversely, it would be plausible to track the influence of a materialist film classic such as Line Describing a Cone (Anthony McCall, 1973) to the sequence in which Ana mimics Betty Boop in front of the light cone coming from the projector. The mechanical apparatus (form) places itself as the content; the beam of light acquires presence, shaping solid shadows as with McCall's film-sculpture or Malcolm LeGrice's film-performance Horror Film (1971). In those cases, in which the screen is illuminated only with light coming from the projector, there are references to Blanco sobre Blanco (Antonio Artero, 1970), Zen for Film (Nam June Paik, 1964), and White Field Duration (Le Grice, 1973) -the first of these using no celluloid whatsoever.
We have already mentioned the use of red frames in Arrebato. Their appearance at first seems subliminal, but increases progressively every time there is new footage shot. At first, Pedro P. discovers there is a red frame superimposed on his footage and, therefore, on his recorded experiences, every ten seconds. After shooting several rolls Pedro thinks carefully: there are twenty frames left; ten frames appear in red coloration each shooting session, consequently, "I have two times, two dreams, two doses, two raptures, two whatever they are, but I have two left". An interpretation of such a phenomenon outside the narrative context of the film (i.e. cinema acquiring vampiric qualities), refers directly to flicker film and its metrical and mathematical approach of cinema: "velocities added up, subtracted, multiplied..." says Pedro P. The red frame in Arrebato could be loosely related to the appearance of red frames in Paul Sharits' T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G, (1968), and the progressive imposition of red coloration in Peter Kubelka's Schwechater (1958). Its counterpoint would be Pedro's face captured still on the screen: the last roll of film is entirely covered in red frames, with the exception of one frame in which Pedro's portrait appears. Moreover, when Sirgado projects that very frame, the image miraculously moves: Pedro gestures Sirgado to his (Pedro's) bed in order to let himself be filmed by the camera. The triangular exchange of reciprocal looks between Pedro (from the screen), the camera, and José -who, seeing the emerging image of his own face confounded with Pedro's on the screen, decides to bandage up his eyes as if he could not stand the sight of his surrender to cinema-, ends up in a beautiful, dramatic, and, above all, cinematic conjunction of the 'three' characters preceded by the sound of a machine gun replacing that of the camera's clicking shutter.
Te Veo (1973) ends with the signature 'By Zulueta', the letters scratched into the celluloid frame by frame by the filmmaker as a materialist manifesto, as Len Lye and Stan Brakhage had done before in their films. Brakhage made his Chinese Series (2003) by scratching celluloid moistened by his own saliva with his fingernails, while lying in bed a few days before dying of cancer. Like the process by which the characters become mummified within the frame in Arrebato, this method perhaps symbolizes a passion for cinema so personal and extreme that it can only result in the intention of a filmmaker to imprint his signature on a work that transcends the boundaries between life and cinema, cinema and death.
In short, the experimental features in Arrebato emerge within its narrative content. On the one hand, a consideration of the film as "fantastic" or fictional reveals a series of narrative means that resemble the practice of avant-garde filmmaking. Although pushing it to its limits, these features do not break the narrative continuity and remain subordinated to the storyline. On the other hand, the protagonists' prime occupation, filmmaking, allows an inclusion of cameras, celluloid, projectors and splicers that does not fall outside the referential quality of the image-text. Rather than an approach to structural-materialist film, such elements function as a reinforcement of modernist realism, which in Arrebato falls into the practice of "cinema within cinema".
The visual excesses of Arrebato are a product of Zulueta's own cinematographic background, first, as an underground cinema spectator during his time living in New York in the early 60s and, subsequently, as the creator of a series of experimental films influenced by this experience. The dramatic content of the film embraces the inclusion of avant-garde features, since its fantastic or vampire movie quality adopts formal experimentation naturally. Such is the case when people appear and disappear without apparent narrative justification, a still frame projected on the wall inexplicably acquires motion, a light bulb switches off when Pedro sneezes, and a recorded voice comments on events happening in the present. Rather than appealing to the so-called 'suspension of disbelief', such phenomena are organically adopted into the narrative discourse in an indetermination that provides a great creative richness to the film. On a few occasions, such images may fall outside the limitations of the storyline, acquiring an autonomous presence, most notably in the sequence in which Pedro P. shows José and Ana his journeys on a Super8 projector before announcing:
"Tomorrow I'll leave this place, new spaces wait for me, other people, famous places which nobody knows, thousands of hidden rhythms that I will discover. The mirror will open its doors and we will see the... the... (sneeze).. the... the other! Uh.... so... stay still! Stay still, everybody! Stay still, world, because I'm coming!".


I have had this film for 3 or 4 years now, and really, I should have seen it long ago. I was only missing out. However, thanks to the wonderful film communities that have sprung up stronger since I acquired my initial bootleg, English subtitles now exist for the film. As mesmerizing as its images are, what gives this film its power are the ideas that are present. The images are hypnotic, having what the film itself could potentially describe as "occult rhythms," but without an idea behind the sublimity present in the super 8 film that populates the film, we'd be left with nothing but aesthetics.

There are several ways I would characterize my relationship to film: First and foremost, I am obsessive. Secondly, I find that a story works best (or is most interesting) when rooted primarily in abjection and the uncanny. I think abjection is an important term when considering this film. For me, the loci of abjection and the uncanny in cinema is met when genre film--particularly horror--intersects experimental. This is an allowance of the fantastic with an allowance of materiality, a performative necessity (as in the film itself is performing an act as we, the viewers, are watching), and an insistence that the qualities of film (image music text; movement, narrative) can achieve more than the inherent, assumed qualities of what is considered the classical Hollywood narrative achieve.

Arrebato itself is at the threshold of genre and experimental cinema. Finding itself with one foot in both worlds, meshed together perfectly, it is a cinema of ideas, a cinema of power. It is a cinema of abjection. We'll start with this.

It's easy to turn to the theoretical construct--developed primarily by Julia Kristeva--of abjection when discussing the horror genre. A primary element of abjection is the idea of "letting go of something we would still like to keep."1 A dismembered arm, from the perspective of the amputee, is abject. Horror cinema is often a cinema of viscera: "blood, semen, hair and excrement/urine, we recognize these as once being a part of ourselves, thus these forms of the abject are taken out of our system while bits of them remain in our selves."

According to Kristeva, since the abject is situated outside the symbolic order, being forced to face it is an inherently traumatic experience. For example, upon being faced with a corpse, a person would be most likely repulsed because he or she is forced to face an object which is violently cast out of the cultural world, having once been a subject. We encounter other beings daily, and more often than not they are alive. To confront a corpse of one that we recognize as human, something that should be alive but isn't, is to confront the reality that we are capable of existing in the same state, our own mortality. This repulsion from death, excrement and rot constitutes the subject as a living being in the symbolic order.
Arrebato is located in the space of abjection. It's narrative drive is the idea of the "rapture" (the literal translation of "arrebato"), a semi-mystical state of heightened being, a "pause," as Pedro, who is developing the rapture refers to it. When we are first introduced to Pedro, he does nothing but shoot film, an obsession that, we find out, helps him to keep from eating, sleeping, fucking, or shitting for prolonged periods of time. He lives in a state of hysteria, wildly crying as he watches the short fragments of film that he has shot. The only time he can calm down, the only time he can face the reality of humanity, is with the help of "dusty-dust"--heroin.

While Pedro drives the narrative of the film, it is through the world of Jose-- a filmmaker and heroin addict--that this narrative unfolds. Structurally, the narrative of Pedro is embedded within the Narrative of Jose, until the end when the two collapse into each other (almost ontologically). As the film begins Jose is editing a film, a vampire feature that he is visually dissatisfied with. He arrives home from his apartment, after being gone two weeks for a shoot, to find his lover who had formerly left forever, and a parcel from Pedro containing a key, a reel of Super8 film, and an audio cassette.

Eventually Jose sits down to listen to the tape, which retells the story of Jose's interactions with Pedro, as well as the development of Pedro's filmic alchemy. Upon initially meeting Jose, Pedro recognized something special in him, something that isolated Jose as an ally to Pedro's esoteric cause. while Pedro's haunted voice presents the idea that what it is that Pedro can "see" is something mystical, it's obvious to the audience that the only thing that these two men have in common is an utter obsession with the cinema. As Jose remarks early on in the film, “It’s not that I like cinema… it’s cinema that likes me." Jose is presented as akin to real world filmmaker Jess Franco-- despite the fact he doesn't always feel satisfied with what he's done, he has to be making films. Pedro's obsession has already been explained, taking up literally all of his time. For better or worse, both Pedro and Jose are addicted.

This cinematic addiction is paralleled by Jose's relationship with Ana--his ex-lover who formerly left. Their relationship, normal at first, quickly devolved into an intense bond dependent upon heroin to keep it together. The heroin/relationship subplot helps to heighten the intensity of the film, the desperation present, a motivation for the film's denouement: a material example of obsession.

But now we must return to the idea of abjection: "The concept of abject exists in between the concept of an object and the concept of the subject, something alive yet not." Let's consider re-writing this sentence as: What appears on film during cinema exists between the concept of an object and the concept of the subject, something alive yet not. Film's materiality captures a representation of a physical place, a physical person, an action that is literally happen. But what we see when we watch a film is not the actual physical place, it's not the real person, it's not the actual action: what we see is an image. What we see is neither live nor dead; rather, it's a representation of the image.

And this is what the film is about: Arrebato presupposes that film can be more than a representation--it suggests that film has power, and as Roberto Curti points out in his brilliant article on the film, "the image of an object put on film does not share the same ontological reality as that of the filmed object." Eventually, both Pedro and Jose become nothing but film. They are no longer ontologically present in the physical, material world at the end of the film. Rather, they become pure simulacra--a copy without an original. They are ontologically film. The vampiric nature of the camera, brought to life through Pedro's "occult rhythms," has sucked people out of the real world into "film-world."

It is through this ideological construct that a simple jump-cut removing an actor from the frame becomes terrifying. Obsession leads to men away from the "real" world and into something else. A metaphysical afterlife that can be seen but not felt. Pedro knows that he is going to ostensibly "die" as the red pauses on his developed film become longer and longer, yet he prepares himself for and faces his "escape" with both desperate terror and a severe insistence. There is utter beauty in the desperation, and we can feel it in all of Pedro's footage, the pulsing, rhythmic representations of the world moving at an intense tempo: the moon crossing the sky, a penis erecting with the air of flora in bloom, clouds erasing the blue of the air with a mask of white, people moving through life, etc., etc. These images are cinema's pulse, the bloodstream that keeps it alive.

Arrebato itself echos the ideas that it diegetically presents: the film itself holds power over the viewers, calling upon desperation and rhythmic images, coupled with a compelling storyline, to cull the viewer into an active trance-like state. It is mysterious, enigmatic, and compelling. It is a film. - Magick Mike

Ivan Z (2004)

Beyond a shadow of doubt, the cinematically reflexive Spanish auteur-piece Arrebato (1980) aka Rapture directed by eclectic Basque artist Iván Zulueta (Un, Dos, Tres, Al Escondite Inglés aka Hide and Seek, Leo Es Pardo aka Leo is Dark) is one of my favorites films, even if I only first saw it about 6 months ago, so it goes without saying that I consider it nothing short of an artistic tragedy that the eccentric genius behind the film would never again direct a feature-length film before dying in 2009 at the somewhat premature age of 66. Plagued by a lifelong lingering addiction to heroin – which played a central role in the direction and themes of Arrebato – Zulueta only found enough energy to direct a couple shorts and TV episodes and design art for a couple movie posters (including early works of Pedro Almodóvar), but would never achieve anything even remotely as groundbreaking and artistically dignified as the 1980 film he is best remembered for. In the 52-minute documentary Ivan Z (2004) directed by Spanish-Venezuelan documentary filmmaker Andrés Duque (La constelación Bartleby, Dress Rehearsal for Utopia), one is treated to a rare and intimate interview with Zulueta at his parents' house regarding his lifelong film fanaticism, filmmaking, family, and the soul-destroying nature of heroin. Suffering from a perennial case of Peter Pan syndrome well into his 60s, which he is more than willing to own up to, Ivan Zulueta has nil qualms about describing his many failures in life and his lack of enthusiasm at the prospect of continuing filmmaking after completing Arrebato. As big of a cinephile as ever, Zulueta spends more time talking about films that paralleled and changed his life than discussing friends and relatives. As he explains at the inception of Ivan Z, Zulueta described the power and influence of cinema as follows, “I haven’t had a better time with anything than with watching films. There was nothing better. Well…I spent the whole day in theatres.” Undoubtedly, such enthusiasm for the silverscreen would ultimately be a central and guiding theme for his modern masterpiece Arrebato

 The son of a rich and successful lawyer who somewhat strangely moonlighted as a director of The San Sebastián International Film Festival and a mother that dabbled in painting, Ivan Zulueta was destined to a life of leisure, cinema, and art before his birth. Roaming around in his charming childhood home in a blue bathrobe at the beginning of Ivan Z, Zulueta shows off vintage film posters he designed for films like the classic West German anti-war flick Die Brücke (1959) aka The Bridge directed by Austrian auteur Bernhard Wicki, the British romantic-comedy The Grass Is Greener (1960) directed by Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain, On the Town) and the Spanish-Mexican black comedy Viridiana (1961) directed by Luis Buñuel, among many others. Zulueta also reveals paintings done by his mother and it is quite apparent that her aesthetic influence had a major impact on her son. Zulueta describes watching the progress of his mother’s paintings as a child as being exciting as watching the progress of a movie. Lovingly calling his mother “loopy” after the Hanna-Barbera’s theatrical cartoon short series Loopy De Loop (1959-1965), as well as And the Ship Sails On after Federico Fellini’s late-period 1983 minor masterpiece because he jokingly states that he hopes she one day moves, Zulueta seems to have an especially close relationship with his mum, even if he refuses to call her “mom.” Although the Spanish auteur admits, “I’ve really had a perfect life here” in regard to his family and childhood, he feels it was ultimately harmful in his development as an adult. Judging by Zulueta’s highly vocal disdain for “keeping busy,” I have no doubt he is right, but, of course, it inevitably lead to his direction of Arrebato as no working-class individual would ever consider being an artist a legitimate form of work. Indeed, Ivan Zulueta may have wasted and thrown away most of his life, but relatively speaking, he has achieved more than most by directing ones of the greatest films of the 1980s period, thus it was ultimately worth it in the end. After all, how many human beings can say they will be forever immortalized due to there art?! 

 Towards the conclusion of Ivan Z, Zulueta admits that he always admired the scene in Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979) where the lead character Joe Gideon, an overworked theatre director, opens up his medicine cabinet and takes his narcotic happy pills. Although Zulueta would not have as fruitful of a directing career as Gideon, he would get his own bottle of prescribed methadone tablets, which he proudly displays in what is one of the most distastefully uproarious scenes in the entire documentary. Despite Zuleuta’s generally positive attitude and charming persona, I found Ivan Z to be a doleful documentary about a somewhat tragic individual who, in my humble opinion, had the potential to be one of the greatest filmmaker who ever lived, but instead opted for a less than luxurious life of aimlessness and addiction. Referencing Alice's Restaurant (1969) directed by Arthur Penn as an example, Zulueta freely admits that he was well aware of heroin’s destructive essence and how it partially led up the dissolution of the hippie movement, yet he couldn’t help embracing what he describes as, “the ultimate drug, the last frontier.” Indeed, indubitably a man with an addictive personality, film and filmmaking also acted as a sort of a drug for Zulueta as they gave him an arguably ‘safe’ high, but, then again, the Spanish auteur depicts quite a different scenario in Arrebato; a film where a young avant-garde is eventually totally drained of his youthful vitality to be vampiric Super 8 camera. Using a Super 8 camera himself for the greater part of his years as a filmmaker, the character Pedro (Will More) in Arrebato is more obviously modeled after Zulueta than the lead José Sirgado; a hack horror filmmaker who is more interested in monetary stability than artistic integrity. Discussing past conversations he had with Arrebato star Will More, Zulueta readily admits that regarding junk, “It’s simple. If you take it you can’t fuck, you can’t go to the movies, you can’t travel, you can’t move. There are lots of things you can’t do." Of course, for Zulueta it cost him a potentially unparalleled filmmaking career, but at least we still have the enrapturing Spanish masterpiece that is Arrebato.- Soiled Sinema

Iván Zulueta’s Cinephilia of Ecstasy and Experiment

The career of the visual artist and filmmaker Iván Zulueta bridged the transition from the culturally repressive context of late-Francoist Spain to the transgressive movida madrileña underground of the return to democracy. His early work, pop-influenced and publicly visible, offered an oblique critique of the officially-encouraged retrograde culture from within the margins of the mainstream, but with his subsequent experimental shorts and his legendary 1980 cult film Arrebato (“Rapture”) he moved into the shadows of the underground and his now-established status as ephemeral maudit auteur of the period of transition to democracy.
Like his transition-era contemporary Pedro Almodóvar, Zulueta’s work reflects a complete rejection of tradition—especially the nationalist, xenophobic and anti-modernist imagined tradition the regime used to justify itself—but unlike Almodóvar, who is the clear success story of the movida, Zulueta “stands for everything about the period which was impossible to assimilate; his work speaks of frustration, obsession, powerlessness to deal with everyday realities.” (1) His work offers, through varied modalities, an invitation au voyage, an evasion by way of ecstatic transport through drugs, sex, fetishised popular culture objects and above all filmic experimentation. Where Almodóvar’s first films popularised a good-natured, pleasure-fueled movida that helped many artists break into the mainstream—the actress Carmen Maura, the singer Alaska, several visual artists and Almodóvar himself—Zulueta’s best work and its themes remained unassimilable, both formally and thematically incompatible with the expectations and desires of a Spanish, or any other, wider public. By consistently privileging experimentation over commercial appeal, individual rapture over collective politics, and addiction and isolation over fame, Zulueta ensured for himself both artistic freedom and marginalisation. (2)
Zulueta’s non-conformism has to be understood in its context of late-Francoist Spain, a society of imposingly programmatic Catholicism and official cultural xenophobia. His work, uncomfortable with religion and eager to absorb foreign influence, runs counter to both of these monolithic national imperatives, forming a problematic relationship with officialdom for which precursors abound in his own country. One repeating line of flight away from the Spanish cultural structure is the mysticism and evasion seen in the writings of Santa Teresa, San Juan de la Cruz and Federico García Lorca, and the experimental films of José Val del Omar, among others. While it may not be convincing to see in Zulueta’s work a continuation of the mystic line, it could be argued that the impulse to flee the quotidian through rapture has persisted, changing form as Spain has modernised but remaining confined to the darkness of convents, basements and the alternative cinema spaces that screened Zulueta’s work. But where in the concept’s archaic sense rapture was brought about by the contemplation of the divine in nature, art or elsewhere, in the case of Zulueta the vehicles of transport are mostly more modern, and serve to evade the mediocrity of the retrograde cultural conformism of his context. Aside from his early film-school projects, most of Zulueta’s short films are available, along with his two features. I will discuss the more or less two thirds of Zulueta’s work that can readily be located on digital format.
Zulueta was born Juan Ricardo Miguel Zulueta Vergarajauregui, and grew up in the family villa in San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque) where several of his films were shot. His mother painted, and his lawyer father directed, from 1957 to 1960, the famous film festival in his home city. When he moved to Madrid in the early 1960s to study filmmaking, his plans were frustrated by a requirement that students be at least twenty-one years old to study direction. Faced with a wait, he travelled on a merchant ship to New York, where he studied illustration and painting at the Art Students League and discovered in the underground art and film scene a will toward experimentation that was almost completely absent, or at least invisible, in Spain, and which would inform his graphic and filmic work. (3) He returned to Madrid to study filmmaking at the Escuela Oficial de Cine (Official Cinema School), starting in October 1964, where, faced with the dominant moralising naturalism of the cinema of the time, which he found to “not call into question the communication between the film and the spectator,” he opted for experimentation. (4)

International Pop Arrives
After making several film school shorts, Zulueta’s first appearance on the Spanish cultural scene happened on television, with the arrival of international pop culture to Francoist Spain on the weekly variety program Último grito (“Last Shout”). The show—which was directed by Zulueta (within strict limits imposed by the show’s censors) and ran from 1968 to 1970—combines complicity with mass-marketed youth culture with its critique. It introduced a sheltered Spanish audience to Anglo pop culture through early rock videos and interviews and showed low-budget narrative short films that satirised the clichés of the traditional regime-approved cultural iconography. Although in the context of official resistance to foreign cultural intrusion the mere screening of a Monkees video might be considered subversive, the show does formulate occasional explicit critiques of the retrograde popular culture of the time by appropriating some of the more critical aspects of the sixties counterculture—Frank Zappa’s ironic undermining-from-within of the rock music industry is one example—and through the corrosive authorial intervention of Zulueta and company in the short films, such as the parody La cerillera huerfanita contra Papá Noel (“The Little Match-Girl vs. Santa Claus”) that ridicules the moralising sentimentality that was the dominant tone of regime-safe culture. Último grito was abruptly canceled when the more-conservative Alfredo Sánchez Bella replaced Manuel Fraga as Minister of Information and Culture.
A side project of the television show resulted in Zulueta being contracted for his first feature film, the 1969 Un, dos, tres, al escondite inglés (“One, Two, Three, Hide and Go Seek”), whose plot revolves around a fictional version of the Eurovision song context. Present in the background is Spain’s 1968 Eurovision win that resulted in part from Franco’s sending emissaries from the Spanish television channel (Televisión Española, or TVE) to book foreign programs and concerts in exchange for votes in the contest. (5) The Spanish song selected in Zulueta’s film, “Mentira, mentira” (“Lie, Lie”) shares the drab enthusiasm of Spain’s official Eurovision selection of that year, “La, La, La”, both of which reflect a national collective denial of the passage of time, as aesthetically distant as possible from the radicalised culture that was generating the famous upheavals of the time in Paris and elsewhere.
Un, dos, tres… itself is very derivative of Richard Lester’s Beatles’ films A Hard Day’s Night (1963) and Help! (1964). It features music videos, pop art, infectious slapstick humour and a simple plot that opposes the traditional culture favoured by Francoism with a more modern pop music product. When the romantic ballad is officially selected to represent Spain in the “Mundocanal” song contest, a group of central characters who run a record shop—named “Ugh!”—selling only what they somewhat oxymoronically call “authentic pop music,” set out on a crusade to foil the enterprise. The producers are looking for a band with a more modern image than that of the ballad’s rather unglamorous singer-songwriter, but the subversive heroes eliminate the chosen pop bands one-by-one through various comical acts of violence that take place at the end of each video. This provides an excuse to show a video of each group performing their own song. Like Último grito, the film combines critique with complicity, subversion with promotion, and is oddly belated, a few years behind what was happening elsewhere.
Un, dos, tres… then, thematises a conflict between the nostalgic, sentimental and retrograde official culture and an optimistic, sentimental and cosmopolitan culture derivative of the tamest of international pop music. Much of the film’s footage consists of videos featuring Spanish bands—with names like “Henry y los Seven”—performing a local version of Anglophone pop music often sung in oddly-pronounced English. This use of English, while a commercially attractive “hip” gesture, also ran counter to the regime’s nervousness regarding linguistic diversity. The regime required, for example, all foreign cinema to be dubbed into Castilian, and the Eurovision-winning “La, La, La” was originally to be sung by Joan Manuel Serrat in Catalan, but under notice that this would have violated the regime’s linguistic purity policy, Serrat was forced to cede to the pop singer Massiel, who eventually won the tainted competition. The use of English, then, is not completely innocuous, and the music, although it seems incredibly tame today, evidently carried a somewhat rebellious charge in the strictly-controlled Spanish cultural field of its time, which was being subjected to a tightened censorship regime after the reaction against the early-‘60s liberalisation known as apertura (“opening”).
Experimentation and Rapture
His work with TVE concluded, soon Zulueta began to draw the album covers and film posters for which he would become famous in the movida madrileña—the Madrid underground scene of the years of the transition to democracy—and beyond. He was also making experimental films, mostly in Super 8. Freed from audience and producer demands, he began to explore the sense-making and sense-destroying possibilities of montage and the immersive and perception-altering power of the manipulation of image velocity in a trio of short found-footage variations. The first of these is Kinkón (1971), a silent adaptation of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s 1933 classic, King Kong. (6) Zulueta re-filmed a television broadcast of the original, and through creative subtraction and manipulation of camera speed, condensed the original’s feature length to an intensified seven minutes. The cathode-ray flicker and flattening that results from the re-filming defamiliarises the original, but its classical continuity mode of address continues to operate on the viewer, and the increase in velocity makes mesmerisingly urgent the dramatic plot of the original.
Zulueta refined Kinkón’s technique with Frank Stein (1972), this time on leftover pieces of 35mm film from El Imán, the production company for which he had made Un, dos, tres…. It distills the original 1931 James Whale feature down to three minutes, mixing fast-motion with freeze-frames on moments of high emotion, often close-ups of agitated faces. Unlike Kinkón, Frank Stein has a soundtrack, on which bleakly intense music is mixed with quasi-diegetic sounds (such as fire or crowd noises heard over corresponding sequences) and tormented voices add to the intensity of this cinematic roller coaster ride that builds screechingly to an abrupt climax.
For Zulueta’s next found footage film, the 1972 Masaje (“Massage”), he re-filmed more heterogeneous original materials—a day’s programming on TVE—again on 35 mm, but here narrative continuity gives way to a vertiginous montage of jumbled imagery. Cultural icons of Francoist Spain flash by in fast motion—bullfights, religious scenes, and even a glimpse of the Generalíssimo himself in the annual Civil War victory parade—along with a surging landslide of pop culture and advertising schlock. An abrasive musique concrète soundtrack consisting mostly of percussive noises and voices played backwards throws a tone of critical irony over the undefinable, but perceptively propagandistic logic behind a day’s television programming under Franco. In this powerful détournement of official spectacle, the solemnity the regime imposed on representations of all things official is deflated both by the avalanche of associations generated by the montage and the comical deformations produced by the alterations to the velocity and the soundtrack. The televised-image contract is reformulated from one of passive consumption on the part of the spectator to one in which the immutably iconic images of the regime are released from their official frames and put into free-floating play where new, often-corrosive meanings can be formed.
Soon after making these three films, Zulueta took to more personal, subjective experimentation through travel (to Morocco and around the Mediterranean) and psychedelics, filming all the while with a Super 8 camera. Most of the films of this period were confiscated by the police in a raid on a cinema club and subsequent searches of Zulueta’s apartment, but one is available. Roma-Brescia-Cannes, made in 1974, could be called a lyrical home movie. P. Adams Sitney defines the lyrical film as one that “postulates the film-maker behind the camera as the first-person protagonist of the film. The images of the film are what he sees filmed in such a way that we never forget his presence and we know how he is reacting to his vision” (7). Zulueta’s lyrical home movie has a narrative if one looks hard enough, a diary of a camera-consciousness adrift, desiring and searching for something to film. Nearly a half hour long, silent and shot on Super 8, it starts anti-narratively, with touristic shots of famous sites in Rome crowded with visitors that impose an anti-aura of banality on the city-museum. After an eventual fade to black, an initial narrative pulsion is produced by way of shots of the landscape filmed from a train, and we arrive at a sort of hippy idyll in the mountains above what must be Brescia. In and around a rustic stone house several young people pass the time baking bread, playing the sitar and yawning contentedly, surrounded by nature, children, dogs and farm animals. But the flight from touristic banality to sleepy domestic stasis provides only temporary relief, and the filmmaking “conscience” eventually sets out, by train and sea this time, to forward the sputtering narrative. After this transition the camera arrives in Cannes, where it encounters an object to desire in a tall, willowy black man of indefinite gender performance. This man dresses in a vaguely Hindu-hippy fashion, and carries with him an aged thick book that seems to contain sacred text. The camera trails him through the streets of Cannes, films him lovingly in springtime parks and more intimately in his budget hotel room. The season being spring, the film festival is underway, but the now-fixated camera only breaks away long enough to capture glimpses of the festivities, where for a brief moment we see Luis Buñuel in the crowd. But the quest is over, the camera has found an object to love and the film can and does end.
The 1975 Super-8 short Aquarium is Zulueta’s first available incursion into the psychodrama—in which the filmmaker dramatises a disturbed state of consciousness—in which appear lyrical passages of the kind that will be made by the fictional experimental filmmaker played by Will More in Zulueta’s 1980 feature Arrebato. (8) Aquarium features the use of a timer to film vertiginous fast-motion shots of clouds passing over the cityscape, which alters the perception of the change-movement relationship: instead of seeing stably-shaped clouds that apparently move across the sky, the clouds’ shape can be seen to change as their position remains the same. After several of these exercises in perceptual alteration, the film settles in to focus on its protagonist, also played by Will More. By way of eye-line matches the distorted images are made to express the agitated interiority of More’s character. He is alone in his room in the Aquarium hotel (really Zulueta’s Madrid apartment overlooking the Plaza de España), making explicit the theme of agoraphobic isolation and anguish that one could imagine to be the conditions of production of most of Zulueta’s short films. More’s character is apparently overwhelmed by ennui and seeking escape through sources of stimulation. He eventually plugs into the television by placing his hand on the screen, which transports him into a rapturous state as he watches what looks a lot like Zulueta’s own Frank Stein. He later finds stimulation at the window of his room, discovering to his surprise that the city’s inhabitants are also speeding by in fast motion, before his agitation is further reflected in a fast montage of repeated zooms and views of the urban landscape from above. The penultimate sequence is a remake of part of Un chien andalou (1929), as a woman appears and the two characters act out the street sequence from Buñuel’s film. This apparently throws causality out the metaphoric window, and for the last minute of the film we see what looks like re-filmed footage of the final section of Roma-Brescia-Cannes.
With the thirty-three minute A MAL GAM A he made in 1976, Zulueta brings the lyrical film into the territory of mystico-psychedelia. The cinema as drug, as vehicle for rapture—as will later be seen in Arrebato—is a theme of this most autobiographical of Zulueta’s experimental films (which could also be seen as a documentary of an agoraphobic mode of artistic production), the protagonist is played by the filmmaker himself (“Jim Self” is the trans-linguistic homophone that appears in the credits) and shot mostly in the family villa in San Sebastián. The subjectivity of an enraptured Zulueta is linked through eyeline-matches to images defamiliarised by alterations in speed, repeated zooms and other manipulations, images that often oscillate between the scatological and the sacred: images of toilets and flowing silly putty are juxtaposed with decayed religious iconography. With the effects produced by the looping psychedelic noisetrack, associative montage with visual rhymes and matches, vertiginous fast zooms through images of pop culture icons, and, of course, the ever-flowing silly putty, this is the closest Zulueta comes to creating a filmic vehicle of rapture.
Zulueta had his first, limited commercial success in 1976, with the 16 mm short Leo es pardo (“Leo is Brown”), which was shown at the Berlin Film Festival and received limited distribution in Spain. (9) Another psychodrama, it has a much more linear narrative than Zulueta’s previous shorts as it experiments with a variety of camera tricks to create a space—the interior of a flat—that reflects the agitation of its female protagonist (played by Maribel Ferrero). According to Zulueta, Leo es pardo was conceived of as a test to see how cheaply a ten-minute film could be made, with the idea of producing a commercial-length film on a similar minute-for-minute budget, and it led directly to Zulueta’s second feature.
Unlike Un, dos, tres…, Zulueta had complete authorial control over this project, and the result was the extraordinary event within Spanish cinema that is Arrebato (Rapture, 1980). Since the 1975 death of Franco, which spelled the end for both the regime and its rigid censorship laws, Spanish cinema had vented much of the pent-up energy against the conservative sectors in whose interest the regime ruled for more than three decades. Arrebato avoids this kind of direct political critique to instead explore themes of addiction—to drugs, sex, cinema…rapture in all its forms—and the underappreciated powers of the filmic medium.
Arrebato’s central character is Pedro (Will More), a Zulueta alter-ego and maker of homemade films that not uncoincidentally resemble many of Zulueta’s shorts. A brilliant caricature of the experimental filmmaker, Pedro is enraptured by films—in a mystic version of Dziga Vertov’s kino-eye he awards film primacy over the human eye—that produce only aggravation in others, a condition that results in his alienation from society. The two other principal characters are José (Eusebio Poncela), a burnt-out director of low-budget horror films and Ana (Cecilia Roth), an Argentine actress who appears in his films. They share a bed occasionally, and heroin more frequently, which dulls their sex life and sours their relationship. What all three have in common is a desire for ecstasy, which they satisfy through, in addition to heroin, objects selected by Pedro that carry a Proustian involuntary memory charge, mysteriously amplified to a sublime degree. Ironically, Pedro, the sinister vampire figure who makes the decadents of the movida seem like playful innocents, is a product of the rural space exalted in Francoist discourse as the authentic Spain, repository of all that is pure and good. This master manipulator of vehicles of rapture, among them sex, drugs, films, comic books and a Betty Boop doll, first wins over José and Ana, then finds success as a mystic medium of the Madrid counterculture. By virtue of this talent, the apparently child-like, naïve provincial who makes Super-8 home movies becomes a Warhol-like figure in the underground, furnishing objects of fascination that promise a return to a state of innocence and wonder but which eventually destroy those who give in to the temptation. The film’s ending, a final submission to annihilation through cinephilic rapture on the part of the two male protagonists, may appear a throwback to a naïve, juvenile romanticism, but the film’s anti-commercial sincerity in dealing with its very problematic themes keep it far from falling into the occasional puerilities that did Zulueta’s only other feature, Un, dos, tres….
Due to its chaotic production, Arrebato’s budget went far beyond projections. Between this overrun and a hard drug habit, Zulueta earned a reputation that would make future funding unlikely. The film was rejected by the Quinzaine des realisateurs at Cannes, and opened with little promotion and less public notice in Madrid in 1980, a complete failure. But a year later it was rescued by a few critics and good word of mouth. Re-screened in Madrid’s Alphaville Cinema, where it remained for a year, it ended up becoming the first, and still most legendary, Spanish cult movie, and as a film without imitators its reputation today is of an absolutely unique moment of honesty, free from the compromises with cultural conservatism and the phobias that have dragged much of Spain’s cinema into mediocrity.
After Arrebato, the heroin habit that had both fueled and complicated work on the film intensified and Zulueta underwent a long unproductive period. (10) Unable to return to direction, he turned his creative impulses to poster designs, many of which, especially those for the early films of Pedro Almodóvar, are widely-recognisable, and later to the instantaneous artistic possibilities of material manipulation of the polaroid photo. After seven years of isolation in San Sebastián, Zulueta moved back to Madrid, and eventually returned to filmmaking on two more occasions, both times contracted for television episodes.
Párpados (the literal translation, “Eyelids”, misses the homophonic “par pa’ dos,” or “a couple for two”) is a 1989 television episode with an intricate script involving a delirious array of doubles, mirrors and word-play revolving around the central theme of amorous obsession. Another half-hour episode, Ritesti, was made in 1992 for the Spanish television series Crónicas del mal (“Chronicles of Evil”). A single night’s action bounces back and forth between a small-town train station and a nearby bakery, where an innocent young military recruit goes to pass the time after he misses the last train. The bakery is operated by a gorgeously sinister and slightly older woman, and seduction, of him by her in her appropriately lugubrious basement, predictably ensues. As in Párpados, the potential diegetic vehicle for rapture is sexual, but here the inclusion of vertiginous montage sequences suggests that Zulueta had not renounced using experimental technique to alter the relationship with the viewer. These two television episodes were Zulueta’s last moving-image work. During the dark period that followed, heroin dominated him to the point that, as he recounts, during the 1990s he went eight years without leaving the family villa. (11) Toward the end of the decade he successfully took up his graphic work again, producing posters for revivals of many classic and newer films.
On the last day of 2009 Zulueta passed away, leaving images well-known—Último grito, Un, dos, tres… and especially Arrebato—and others almost unseen—his many short films—that delve into the lesser-explored possibilities of the filmic medium, forming a body of work fiercely resistant to the retrograde cultural conformism out of which Spain emerged, but at the same time wary of the alienating effects of consumer-ready pop commodities that were to soon dominate.
This article has been peer reviewed


  1. Alberto Mira. “The Dark Heart of the Movida: Vampire Fantasies in Iván Zulueta’s Arrebato.” Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies. Vol. 13, 2009. p. 156.
  2. Relatively little has been published in Spain on Zulueta’s work, and even less is available in English. The most extensive analysis of his work is Carlos F. Heredero’s Iván Zulueta: La vanguardia frente al espejo. Alcalá de Henares: Festival de Cine de Alcalá de Henares, 1989. Two valuable audiovisual sources are the documentary film Iván Z., a 2004 documentary on the filmmaker made by Andrés Duque, and Iván Zulueta: en memoria, a half-hour tribute to the artist produced by his late-1960s employer, Televisión Española. The biographical information here comes from these two documentaries and Heredero.
  3. In Iván Zulueta: en memoria the filmmaker specifically recalls his encounter with works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Tom Wesselmann in New York galleries.
  4. My translation of the original quote from Heredero, p. 51.
  5. The allegations were laid out in the 2008 documentary 1968, yo viví el mayo español, by Montse Fernández Villa, in which appeared, among others, the well-known Último grito presenter and Un, dos, tres, al escondite inglés actor José María Íñigo.
  6. This is what P. Adams Sitney might call a collage film, a category he exemplifies with Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart, a 1936 re-editing of the found footage of East of Borneo (George Melford, 1931) in which Cornell’s primary manipulations are subtraction and reordering. See, P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943-2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  7. Sitney, p. 160
  8. The psychodrama, “modelled on dream, lyric verse and contemporary dance,” typically “enacts the personal conflicts of a central subject or protagonist. A scenario of desire and loss, seen from the point of view of a single guiding consciousness, ends either in redemption or death. Against the grain of realism, montage-editing evokes swift transitions of space and time. The subjective, fluid camera is more often a participant in the action than its neutral recording agent”. See, A.L. Rees A History of Experimental Film and Video. London: BFI, 1999. p.58).
  9. The Spanish title contains a play on words around the substantive “leopard,” which is lost in the literal English translation.
  10. Zulueta discusses this period in Iván Zulueta: en memoria and Iván Z.
  11. From an interview in Iván Z.
Ritesti (29 mins, colour, 35 mm, 1992)
Párpados (29 mins, colour, 16 mm, 1989)
Arrebato (105 mins, colour, 35 mm, 1980)
Tea for Two (9 mins, colour, Super 8, 1978)
Leo es pardo (12 mins, colour, 16 mm, 1976)
El mensaje es facial (20 mins, colour, Super 8, 1976)
A MAL GAM A (33 mins, colour, Super 8, 1976)
Fiesta (12 mins, colour, Super 8, 1976)
Complementos (19 mins, colour, Super 8, 1976)
Aquarium (14 mins, colour, Super 8, 1975)
Mi ego está en Babia (40 mins, colour, Super 8, 1975)
Roma-Brescia-Cannes (24 mins, colour, Super 8, 1974)
Masaje (3 mins, black & white, 35 mm, 1972)
Frank Stein (3 mins, black & white, 35 mm, 1972)
Kinkón (6 mins., black & white, Super 8, 1971)
Un, dos, tres, al escondite ingles (105 mins, colour, 35 mm, 1969)
Último grito (television program, 1968-1970)
Ida y vuelta (41 mins, black & white, 35 mm, 1967)
Agata (18 mins, black & white, 35 mm, 1966)
La fortuna de los Irureta (20 mins, Super 8, 1964)

Kinkon (1971) 


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