Oct 4, 2012

Ivan Z

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.

-Ty E

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