Viva Pedro: The Almodóvar Interview

Generous, energetic and all-around amazing, Pedro Almodóvar talks with PopMatters about his new film, Broken Embraces and much more.

Who are your "key directors"?

You went into Autumn Sonata in great depth at your New York Film Festival lecture, and talked about Ingmar Bergman as being one of your “key directors” and I was wondering who the others are? Is Cassavetes one of them?

No, no. Cassevetes, I used to like him very much. For me, Opening Night is his masterpiece. But, I mean, Billy Wilder is one of my key directors. The darker Wilder, and also the more screwball comedies from him. On one hand I am a big admirer of the screwball comedy -- Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubtisch, and Wilder. But also I am fascinated about the noir. He did some, Double Indemnity, for example, is a key movie for me, a really dark satire. I think some of the darkest satires are made by foreigners like Wilder. And George Cukor is one of my most key directors, in general, George Cukor in all of his periods. Even the last movie he made, Rich and Famous, Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bissett, it was a very good end. You know, sometimes the last movies of these kinds of monumental directors, they are too old and in the case of George Cukor it was a good end.

In the case of John Huston, also, I admire very much The Dead. It was a very, very good way of saying goodbye to this world. It was a precious masterpiece. One of the best adaptations of a literary text. Traditionally, the good novels, they don’t become good movies. Fellini is also one of my favorites. Goodwill also to Renoir, Vittorio De Sica, I admire many, many, many directors. Fritz Lang is one of my absolute favorites -- the silent period and the American period. He could make such good movies in two very different countries and curiously, I think it was a great coincidence and a really question of great timing, that at the time when he arrives to the United States he is having as a backdrop all of the films he shot in the silent period. That he was able to then transfer that style to this thriller kind of genre that budded right around that time.

I should probably ask a question about Broken Embraces!

(laughing) Yes! Yes! You have to!

I was taken with the use of music in the film. For example, the use of the Can song (“Vitamin C”) and also the Cat Power (“Werewolf”) were intriguing. What drew you to these songs?

The first time that I listened to Cat Power, I was in L.A. I was very moved by that song. There was a kind of sad sensuality in that song that I liked very much. When I saw personally, onstage, Chan Marshall, I found her fascinating, a very peculiar performer. It’s incredible that someone can sit like this (Almodóvar then mimics Marshall’s performance stance at the piano by kneeling on the floor and using the coffee table as a keyboard) smoking and singing at the same time. She’s very peculiar and fascinating in the sense that she does things one shouldn’t do onstage and she does them and they come out great and perfectly original. I think her voice has many different textures in a way that sometimes reminds me of Billie Holliday. Rich, very rich. This song, I love this song. I was very moved by it.

And Can, it’s amazing that this group could make this song like, 25 years ago -- I don’t know how many years ago -- during the ‘70s, so when you listen to it in the movie, it really sounds contemporary. They were very nice because they gave the rights to me almost for free! They were very surprised that I asked them for the rights of the song.

The Cat Power song, to go back for a minute, I felt really grounded that particular scene on the beach, a landscape that felt very other-worldly at times. Can you talk a little bit about filming on the beach?

What was absolutely new to me was shooting in kind of landscape that is limitless in some way, it’s very open, it’s the horizon that is your limit, and that is very new to me. And the other thing was interesting for me was the originality of the colors, the colors of that beach, which is called Golfo Beach. Lanzarote, for example, is primarily a volcanic island, so the predominant color is black. Even though this is a place where they go to retreat, there was something already kind of like a mortuary in a way, like a little bit of a foreshadowing of what’s to happen. It’s the colors, but it’s also the shapes that nature takes on that island, it’s already very original and very dramatic and for the story it was perfect. Not a lot of people know Lanzarote. So it was also very interesting to shoot such an intimate kind of story made up of mostly close-ups or two-shots on such an almost limitless kind of landscape that was also a very interesting thing for me to work with. It was something very new. It was strange in a good way.

Pedro Almodóvar: (urging me to stay and ask another question, pointing at my notes) I always have the feeling that, you know, the journalists are not satisfied because you have prepared many more questions.

That’s very kind of you. Because I write for a website, I am always interested in hearing director’s and performer’s opinions; because there is such a proliferation of new media, about the debate on whether online film criticism is as valid as traditional print criticism. So as somebody who makes films and also has such a deeply-felt sense of the history of films, I was wondering what your opinion is on the place of the film critic right now?

I think we are really at a new moment in time, as far as criticism is concerned where online criticism is shaking up the hegemony that print media, or those who work for print media have over criticism, and I really do think that is a good thing. It’s interesting, what I don’t like about the internet, in general, is simply that on one hand that is really interesting is this kind of incredible democracy that the medium in itself carries. And those that I don’t like -- at least in Spain -- are the anonymous writers. The ones that write, say, for forums where people don’t really have much to say and they really impoverish what there is to say about things because they end up saying very empty things.

I do think of the internet as this great big monster that has some good things and some bad things. For example, one of the things that do proliferate is this sort of aggression in the comment making. People are free to make comments anonymously -- they can level al kinds of insults in very aggressive ways. I’m not talking about the critics. I think if it’s done well, that part of what’s going to happen is that new points of view are going to really give new blood and renew those points of view that were on some level solidified in the print media. I do read some of the criticism in Spain and it’s much more interesting than what is being written in newspapers.

Broken Embraces opens in New York on November 20th, 2009 and will slowly be distributed across the country as the prestige film season rolls out and the Oscar race begins.

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