Originally published in Sight and Sound; London Vol. 7, Iss. 8, (Aug 1997): 43-44,3
Writing on Las cosas del querer in the year 2000 (see reference at end) ….I noted how the film re-imagines and re-images Spain through the ‘figure of the homosexual and through homosexual culture, i.e. what in the film’s narrative is exiled from Spain, the film itself re-constructs and re-inserts into the representation of nation. When Mario (Manuel Bandera) is discharged from jail at the beginning of the film, the warden contemptuously hands him what he sees as his faggotty castanets and tells him, ‘in this Spain of peace there is no place for reds or queers’. But in the Spain of Las cosas, queers are in fact everywhere: cafes, toilets, and aristocratic drawing rooms; on-stage, backstage and, most importantly in the audience. When María Barranco sings that she is delighted to be ‘single for life’, the campy boys in the audience respond in the feminine, ‘nosotras tambien (we are a well)’.
A pivotal moment in Las cosas, one which demonstrates how the film draws on gay culture and the folklore film is the scene below, where Mario (Manuel Bandera) sings, ‘Te lo juro yo (I swear to you)’ to Juan (Ángel de Andrés López). Structurally this is the climax of the film where Mario declares his love for Juan, rejects the Marquis and insults the Marquis’ mother, thus setting in play the mechanisms for the dénoument. We are first shown Mario in long shot. The song begins. Mario, looking intently at Juan in medium close-up, abruptly turns away to face the empty theatre as he begins to sing, ‘Yo no me di cuenta de que te tenía hasta el mismo dia en que te perdi (I didn’t realise I had you until the very first day I lost you)’. Mario sings of his suffering and begs for love. When the lyrics gets to the point that the break-up was all his fault because he slept around, we are shown the Marquis spying on the performance, a clear reference to Mario’s own sexual appetite. However the key moment is when, in close-up, Mario, eyes brimming with tears, turns abruptly back to face Juan and sings the lyrics, declares his love, directly to him ‘mira que te llevo dentro de mi corazón…mira que pa mí en el mundo no hay na mas que tú….por tí contaria la arena del mar, por tí seria capaz de matar (Look, I carry you within my heart..Look, for there is only you…for you I would count the sand in the sea, for you I would be capable of killing)’. Juan squirms with embarrassment but Mario will sing the rest of the song directly to him.
Gay male audiences were avid and knowledgeable consumers of the folklore genre and the films, songs and stars of the genre were, and continue to be, an important part of Spanish camp culture. Jo Labanyi in Screen has written that the ‘early Francoist folklórica has in recent years enjoyed a revival with Spanish gay audiences because of its camp exposure and the evident constructedness of its representation of gender roles. Las cosas not only puts the gay audience back in to the picture diegetically but also addresses gay in the audience through a mode of narration that acknowledges and utilises a camp appreciation of the genre at various levels.
The climax of Las cosas del querer is the declaration of love of one man for another through a song that has rich connotations. Lola Flores famously performed ‘Te lo juro yo’ to Fernando Fernan Gomez in Morena Clara (Luis Lucia, 1954, see clip above). She was the happy-go-lucky gypsy, he the stiff lawyer. Lola is leaving hims because his mother has convinced her that she would damage his career. So she sings him this song as a way of saying goodbye and with an intensity of feeling and a sense of self-abnegation that echoes and begs comparison with Bandera’s more restrained and less skilful performance. But what is also carried through is the memory of Lola Flores and what she signifies both in the folklore film and in gay culture. Leonardo Rojic has rated her as one of the greatest camp icons. Roger D. Tinnell calls her the ‘Queen’ of Spanish music. She was also a mythic star of folklore cinema in the Spain of the 40s and 50s. Román Guber compared these folklore stars to monsters: ‘in times of (economic) depression the cinema converts itself not so much to a factory of dreams as into a factory of nightmares. The Americans invented King King, we invented the folklóricas‘.
It’s a cruel remark, Lola, so famous and beloved she was called Lola of Spain was seen to represent what was best about Spanishness: talent, wit, pluck, energy and of course alegría (gaeity). She embodied this in such an exaggerated way that it became camp. Seeing Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards (Michael Roberts, Netflix, 2017) it was interesting to see Blahnik and John Galliano bonding together through a campy appreciation of Lola Flores (see image above) which demonstrates both their love for her and her continued sub-cultural significance.
What I didn’t know when I wrote the article on Las cosas in the year 2000 is that the song was also performed by Sara Montiel in Varietés (see above). So the use of the song in Las cosas del querer has associations not only with one diva but with two; two stars associated with outsiderness and transgression; two figures central to camp appreciation in Spain from the late forties right through at least the 80s and beyond, two transgressive figures, through which male homosexual audiences in Spain learned particular ways of being gay and a particular gay culture which they could contribute to, participate in, change; and in doing so find an imaginary space through which to construct an identity, a culture and a society in a country in which they were forbidden to; where their very being resulted in censure and punishment.
It’s interesting now to see the same number in Las cosas as a re-presentation of queerness in Spain brought together in a declaration of homosexual love that speaks through a collective memory of a camp appreciation of both Lola Flores and Sara Montiel, processes that Almodóvar dramatises so well in relation to Montiel in La mala educación/ Bad Education.
You can see Almodóvar’s hommage to Flores below:
And here is his hommage to Sara Montiel:
Three versions of the same song across three films from different decades, sung by two gay divas and one homosexual speaks a particular gay culture, its development, change and uses, as is evident in Almodóvar’s appreciation of both.
José Arroyo, ‘Queering the Folklore: Genre and Re-presentation of Homosexual and National Identities in Las cosas del querer‘, Bill Marshall and Robynn Stilwell (eds), London: Intellect Books, 2000, pp. 70-80. All other references can be found in this article.