CARLOS SAURA, MUSIC AND THE MIRROR
A filmmaker may have many kinds of relationships with music, from turning it into a servile element used only to heighten drama to building an entire film around it. He or she may construct and shoot a film with music or based on music. However, there are some who aspire to filming music itself, as in the case of Carlos Saura. Or to integrating it within a concept of audiovisual performance or narrative where, to use Saura’s own words, “it isn't just the music that makes the image powerful, it’s the image that makes the music powerful”.
From Sevillanas onwards, Saura gradually moves towards his ideal of a “pure musical”. The notion is based on doing away with any kind of contrived plot device (the justification, usually weak, that classic musicals were based on) to underpin the corresponding dance and song numbers. Saura opts to film a series of scenes whose intimate connection is not narrative but strictly musical instead. The intention is to take a look at the art of the sevillanas in an attempt to capture their beauty, stripped bare of any folkloric embellishment and performed on a set that he sees as being influenced by Japanese Zen culture, consisting of metal structures lined with semi-transparent plastic that can be lit from in front or from behind. These geometric spaces produce a series of coloured backdrops that seem to be more Mondrian than figurative representation, more akin to the static nature of painting than to the dynamism of narrative. The movements of dance troupes, dancers and vocalists are powerfully silhouetted against these flat geometric backgrounds, with no room for any possible distraction for the spectator.
For these experiences, Saura has worked alongside operators like José Luis Alcaine (Sevillanas), Vittorio Storaro (Flamenco) and José Luis López Linares (Iberia), who created designs of light and colour that have more to do with art than with drama. When presenting the various Flamenco musical forms or "palos", the hardest, loneliest palos are confined to the intimate space of the night and the moon, while the more festive and joyous palos are linked with strong colours or with the bright light of dawn. In Iberia, the most heartrending Flamenco and percussive tones are usually shown in atmospheres of solitude and introspection, but the brass notes of a band, the Caribbean rhythms and the more popular folkloric scenes are shot in daylight, unlike the sets for Fados, which are more intimate and intense.
Saura's films on music (and not with music) defy any kind of generic categorizing and are still pieces that simply cannot be classified within Spanish film production. Saura continues to demonstrate a blind trust in the ability of music to produce genuine aesthetic emotions that are universal and need no further explanation about their origins or contexts. In this sense, his films are intended for the layperson and the initiated alike, as the former may make merely intuitive contact with this music, while the deeply knowledgeable will perfectly understand the profound design on which each film is constructed. Beauty does not lie in the images or emotions that may be evoked by this music in each listener's subjective perception, but rather in the immediacy of the creative gesture, in that prodigious aesthetic effort that enables the performer to translate the world, with all its miseries and joys, into song, dance and music.