Events in Modern Languages & Cultures
IAS Seminar: Professor Brad Epps [Harvard University], 'Apocalypse Then: Destruction, 'Revelation' and the Framing of Historical Time in Catalan Film under Franco'
Apocalypse, as an uncovering, disclosure, or revelation in the etymological sense is more popularly and powerfully understood as a destruction, catastrophe, or disaster, as the end of worldly history, the coming of wrath, and “the time of the dead.” Its dominant imagery is thus not that of a peaceful, reasoned unveiling of truth or the “unconcealed” intelligibility of aletheia or some soft spirit of sincerity, but rather that of an irate, implacable judgment replete with winged beasts, fire and smoke and brimstone, seven-headed dragons, and four forceful horsemen. In the wake of World War II and its attendant, generalized crisis of faith, apocalypse had acquired a devastatingly atomic character and had come to signify the possibility—for some, indeed, the inevitability—of a scientifically charged and politically orchestrated planetary annihilation.
In post-war Spain (a post-war state, it bears remembering, that remits at once to the “world” and to Spanish “civil” society), where Franco survived to rule long after Hitler and Mussolini had fallen, apocalyptic imagery and the terminal temporalities that it entailed played an intermittent and ambivalent role in cinematic production, punctuating not only such openly fascistic films as José Luis Sáenz de Heredia’s Raza(Race, 1941), based on a story by Franco himself, but also such different and by now largely forgotten films as Daniel Mangrané and Carlos Serrano de Osma’s operatically inspired Parsifal (1951) and Ramón Masats’ Beatles-inspired Topical Spanish (1970), both of which narrate stories within the framework of a nuclear cataclysm. In this seminar, which is very much part of a work in progress, I would like to consider how the terminal temporalities of the apocalyptic—as well as, in some cases, the messianic—represent and inform the historical reality, or realities, of a nation in which the conflagrations of wars past are coiled in the present and its (then) imagined future. In so doing, I will be grappling with issues of succession, duration, and (non)-linearity; disclosure, censorship, and “revelation” (a word that in Spanish has a specifically photo-filmic charge); and the interrelations of aesthetic value and historical memory. Inasmuch as none of the aforementioned films enjoys anything remotely like the status of “greatness” (whether nationally or, much less, internationally), I will also make reference to three highly experimental and critically celebrated films by Pere Portabella: Nocturn 29 / Nocturne 29 (1968), Vampir-Cuadecuc (1970) and Umbracle (1972).
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