A strategic process of reading whereby a later film or text makes one reread an earlier work (or works) in a new light, thereby opening up what previously seemed a closed text. This dynamic is compatible with T.S. Eliot’s essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” where he argues that it’s not only new works that are influenced by older works, for older works can also be transformed when read in the light of new ones. This pattern is particularly strong in the works of auteurs like Pedro Almodóvar and Ingmar Bergman who focused on personal material and had total artistic control over their films.
Film Quarterly, Spring 1981 (
or The Anxious Subject, 1983)
MK’s essay, "From the Life of the Marionettes to The Devil's Wanton: Bergman's Creative Transformation of a Recurring Nightmare."
p. 151, “From the Life of the Marionettes...brings to full expression both narratively and visually and in the most intense, highly concentrated form, a murderous nightmare that runs throughout his canon. The emotional and aesthetic power of this stunning film is best appreciated when seen in the context of his entire body of work.”
p. 168, “When Peter’s mother tells us that he and his younger sister played with dolls and had a puppet theater, she immediately evokes Bergman’s own childhood experience as a precocious puppeteer. This parallel emphasizes that the opening of Marionettes is the most highly compressed model for all of Bergman’s films—one he almost omitted. All of his works feature his marionettes acting out his violent nightmares in theatrical settings, allowing him to project his dual identification with the ravenous wolf and the ravished child.”
58, 2 (Winter 2004-05)
MK essay, “Reinventing the Motherland: Almodóvar’s Brain-Dead Trilogy”
p. 12, “The auteurist tactic of introducing a theme as a minor motif in one film and then transplanting it to later works where it flowers is familiar in the works of many filmmakers from earlier decades, especially those who consistently draw on personal material—such as Woody Allen, John Cassavetes Federico Fellini, and Ingmar Bergman. (In fact, this practice became so commonplace in Bergman’s work during the 1960s that he could end The Passion of Anna (1969) by saying in voice-over of his male protagonist: “This time his name was Andreas Winkelman.”) But in our period, more resistant to auteurism, the recurrence of an unusual trope like the brain-dead youth strategically demands a retroactive reading that attends to such auteurist echoes and encourages the audience to follow the filmmaker faithfully from one text to the next.
All About Almodóvar: A Passion for Cinema
MK essay, “All About the Brothers: Retroseriality in Almodóvar’s Cinema”
p. 269, “I want to explore how Bad Education enables us to reread two of his earlier films featuring a pair of brothers, which also involve murder and molestation and which marked important steps in Almodóvar’s emergence as a world class auteur: Law of Desire, the first film produced by his fraternal production company, El Deseo, that he and his brother Agustin control; and What Have I Done to Deserve This?, his first film to win recognition from international critics. Conversely, I want to see how these two earlier films affect our reading of Bad Education.
I recently traced a similar dynamic of retroseriality through what I have called Almodóvar’s “brain-dead trilogy”: The Flower of My Secret (1995), All about My Mother (1999), and Talk to Her (2002), each of which contains an episode in which a young person is rendered brain dead. I claimed that this recurrence leads us to follow Almodóvar’s development of the trope from a symbolic image in The Flower of My Secret, to a major pivot in the plot of All about My Mother, to the central narrative situation of Talk to Her. In some ways, this paper is that earlier essay’s spectatorial sibling—a sequel that shows how Almodóvar again leads us to choose two earlier works from his canon to illuminate what a later film is doing and to redefine them as a trilogy through this act of retroserial rereading.
“I am using the term “retroseriality” to describe both an aspect of Almodóvar’s films and a method of reading them. I am not suggesting that his work is regressive or nostalgic; nor am I referring to his recurring thematic of a “return,” which can be found in many of his films, as well as in the title of the recent Volver (2006). Rather, I am arguing that his films increasingly perform an evocation of earlier works (both his own and intertexts of others) that lead us to read them as an ongoing saga and to regroup them into networked clusters. Thus, like T.S. Eliot’s classic essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism, his films remind us that new works influence old works just as old works influence new ones, for new variations lead us to reread older works in new ways.
p. 270, “There are at least four basic models for retroseriality, which Almodóvar combines in uniquely productive ways: 1) auteurist cinema; 2) serial television; 3) the transformational trilogy; and 4) open-ended database narrative.
p. 273, “The fourth and most recent model of retroseriality is the open-ended database narrative that has emerged within digital culture—a form of narrative experimentation that has been the focus of my own research and multimedia production for the past decade. By database narrative, I mean those structures that reveal the underlying database of possibilities out of which any particular tale or story element—character, event, object, setting—is chosen, by either author or spectator. By suggesting that all of these elements can easily be reshuffled, and by demanding an active mode of reading that searches for new connections, this structure weakens the ideological hold of any master narrative and thereby encourages transformation and mobility. Although this structure has been fostered and fetishized by digital culture, it also can be found in earlier non-digital narrative forms (including experimental theater, fictional cinema, and television) and is therefore compatible with the other three models of retroseriality. Database narrative is especially well suited to a personal mythos like Almodóvar’s that celebrates sexual and social mobility and that constantly gives his open-ended “laberinto de pasiones” new life. As he put it in Patty Dipusa: “My life, like my stories, has only foundations, but lacks a beginning and an end.”