- Music is one of the cultural manifestations of national identity, and this accounts for the centrality of this particular variety of musical film featuring types of songs and dances closely associated with Spain: copla, pasodoble, flamenco, and other forms became metaphors of "Spanishness," and as such they have been the core of a struggle for opposing notions of national essence. From the earliest silent films (with a soundtrack added during projection) to Carlos Saura's documentaries and ballet features, many films have centered around specifically Spanish musical traditions, with narratives that were merely an excuse to provide numerous opportunities for spectacle, visual flair, dance, and star turns. The word "españolada" is sometimes used pejoratively to refer to films that use in simple ways these aspects of Spanish culture, and folkloric musicals were regarded by critics as central instances of such a reductive category.Leaving aside the silent period, the first substantial wave of folkloric musicals came with the Republic, and Imperio Argentina was the greatest star in the genre. Her talents were showcased in Nobleza Baturra (Aragonese Nobility, 1935), Morena Clara (1936), and Carmen la de Triana (Carmen From Triana, 1938), all directed by Florián Rey. Stories were most often set in Andalusia and had strong costumbrista elements. Other performing stars of the period, famous from the stage or from records, such as Angelillo and Estrellita Castro, also tried their luck on film, although their careers were short-lived and less substantial. The bent of these films was populist (rather than blatantly conservative), and besides engaging with "racial" star personalities, they promoted an idealized, colorful, and picturesque idea of rural Spain that was also popular abroad.The formula did not change much during the Franco period, although the stars changed, and so did the ideological message: Lola Flores and Juanita Reina became the reigning queens of the 1940s and 1950s version of the racial musical, with Antonio Molina its undisputed king; in terms of directors, Luis Lucia became an expert in the genre. The idea of Spain was now firmly placed within the constrictions of the new fascist regime, which absorbed and appropriated populism; national identity was now defended fiercely against external threats. This had an impact on the folkloric musical.In films like Lola la piconera (Lola the Coal Girl, Luis Lucia, 1951) or La Lola se va a los puertos (Lola Leaves for the Port, Juan de Orduña, 1947), both starring Juanita Reina, for instance, the singing heroine defends her cultural identity against, respectively, the French or the pressures of modernity. Lola Flores, on the other hand, was the quintessence of so-called "racial" temperament, which she displayed in films such as Pena, penita pena (Pain, Miguel Morayta, 1953) and Morena Clara (Dark Clara, Luis Lucia, 1954). Critics and intellectuals may have been dismissive of this version of Spanish identity, as noted, but the films retained a huge box-office popularity for decades, particularly among the working classes. Even Sara Montiel, who belonged to a different generation and developed a star personality based on different styles, like the cuplé, flirted with the formula in Carmen la de Ronda (Carmen from Ronda, Tulio Demicheli, 1959) and continued to introduce folkloric numbers into her earlier films (later, she would include tangos, sambas, and even pop numbers).As the impulse for modernity became stronger in Spain, their association with the ideological project of Francoism tainted these films and their folkloric themes in the memories of audiences, and in the 1960s they were largely replaced with pop musicals that featured more international performing genres. In the 1980s, however, as the memory of high Francoism began to be imbued with an ambiguous nostalgia, there was a renaissance of some aspects of the folkloric musicals, carried out by substantial directors and now including some historical reflection. These films strove to find the heart within the apparent cheap sentimentalism of copla and the passion in flamenco. The new approach started with Carlos Saura's series of musicals, which concentrated on particular folkloric dancing genres, including Carmen (1983), El amor brujo (Love the Magician, 1986), Sevillanas (1992), and Flamenco (1995). ¡Ay Carmela! (1990), directed by Saura himself, took as a starting point a populist republican singer to represent the virtues of popular art. Las cosas del querer (Little Love Matters, 1989), although more nostalgic, was Jaime Chávarri's attempt at recycling the old copla traditions by chronicling the vicissitudes of a show-business performing troupe (inspired by singer Miguel de Molina's company) after the Civil War. Finally, Fernando Trueba's La niña de tus ojos (The Girl of Your Dreams, 1998) was a return to the beginnings of the genre by taking inspiration from Imperio Argentina's "españoladas," shot in Germany during the Nazi period.
Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. Alberto Mira. 2010.
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