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Introduction

This selection of Spanish film posters from the 1950s, '60s and '70s is exhibited in conjunction with Spain (Un)Censored, an exhibition of films made in Spain during the Franco era (1939–75). Many years have gone by, and the Spain that produced these posters has largely disappeared. For that reason each poster is accompanied by commentary that attempts to contextualize it within its era, in relation to the film it was intended to serve, and in relation to censorship, against which all of these productions had to struggle.

These eleven posters reflect some of the most notable films in the series and the trends they encompassed. These themes range from the social demands of Furrows and The Cuenca Crime to the erotic drama of Aunt Tula and My Dearest Señorita, to the many other films that—like Death of a Cyclist, Nine Letters to Bertha, and The Spirit of the Beehivecombine personal experience with collective memory. Masterpieces by directors Luis Buñuel, Luis García Berlanga, and Carlos Saura decisively changed the history of Spanish cinema.

During the nearly thirty years of Franco's rule that separate the production of Furrows (1951) and The Cuenca Crime (1979), we can observe an evolution in poster technique, from the initial pictorial style to the use of photography, from the simple reproduction of scenes to symbolic illustration. One feature remains constant: the presence of the human figure of the actor.

Another element shared by all of these posters is their lettering, which is a continuation of the extraordinary graphic tradition of the Second Spanish Republic (1931–39). The generation of artists who made posters for the Republicans, (such as Jano and Mac), grasped and depicted the post-Civil War films' underlying messages. They passed their knowledge on to the next generation, represented by such designers as Iván Zulueta, who made posters for Viridiana and My Dearest Señorita. Unfortunately, many of the poster designers are unknown; these anonymous artists would be proud to see how their creations have become newly relevant for another audience a half-century later.

Alfredo Mateos Paramio studied Spanish philology in Valladolid (Spain) and in Paris, at the Sorbonne. He has published articles about the influence of Italian Neoplatonism on Golden Age Spanish poetry, contemporary art, and poetry. He was cultural director at the Instituto Cervantes in Greece (2001–03) and New York (2003–05), and is currently cultural director at the Instituto Cervantes in Morocco.


Surcos (Furrows). 1951. Spain. Directed by José Antonio Nieves Conde. Poster: Designer: Jano. 99.5 x 70 cm. Madrid: Industrias Gráficas Martín 

Surcos (Furrows). 1951.A conservative story line—the purity of country life versus the corruption of life in the city—forms the basis of director José Antonio Nieves Conde's scathing portrait of the exodus that pushed masses of rural dwellers toward Madrid in search of new opportunities after the Spanish Civil War. The protagonists, a family of farmers, settle in the neighborhood of Lavapiés, where they experience the power of money, which breaks down traditional relationships and replaces them with submissiveness and violence. When the eldest son dies, the family is forced to admit that their dreams have been shattered and return home.

This film brought Italian neorealism to Spain in the way it portrays poverty and in its use of location filming and unknown actors. Beneath its naturalism lies a well-worked script by Natividad Zaro, a woman who proceeded to demonstrate the male chauvinism of the era. Furrows was criticized by the Church for reflecting a society without compassion or hope.

The poster, designed by Jano (as were many during this period), depicts the episode in which the oldest son is caught stealing sacks of food from trucks on the highway. A dark figure in the background is the black marketeer Chamberlain, who appears in other posters for the film as a giant emerging from the city, a Leviathan that devours human beings.

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¡Bienvenido, Mister Marshall! (Welcome Mister Marshall!). 1955. Spain. Directed by Luis García Berlanga. Poster: Designer: J. Lapera. 99 x 69 cm. Barcelona: S. Martínez

¡Bienvenido, Mister Marshall! (Welcome Mister Marshall!). 1955.
Welcome, Mister Marshall! began as a folkloric film to launch the career of singer Lolita Sevilla, appearing with comic actor Pepe Isbert. However, that idea was trumped for a satire of the Franco regime's foreign policy, given that the government had just established a collaborative relationship with the United States and was presenting the measure as a promise of prosperity.

With the help of Juan Antonio Bardem and humorist Miguel Mihura, Berlanga transformed what began as a hymn to Spanish hospitality into a sinister farce about meek villagers and their incompetent leaders. The deference of the Castilian village's mayor toward the expected foreign visitors even reaches the point of dressing all the men in traditional Andalusian costume and the women as flamenco dancers. The visitors from the United States never arrive, and at the end, after all their efforts, the villagers end up paying for the failed welcome of the U.S. group out of their own pockets.

Yet all is laced with humor to elude the censors, exactly as parodied in the song sung by the procession shown at the bottom of the poster: "¡Americanos! ¡Os recibimos con alegría! ¡Olé mi madre, olé mi suegra y olé mi tía!" ("Americans! We greet you with joy! Bravo my mother, bravo my mother-in-law, and bravo my aunt!")

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Muerte de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist). 1955. Spain. Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem. Poster: Designer: H. Aguilar. 100 x 69 cm. Madrid: Martín I. G.

Muerte de un ciclista (Death of a Cyclist). 1955.
Juan Antonio Bardem was one of the first filmmakers to attemp to lay bare the Franco regime's contradictions without departing from commercial cinema channels or openly confronting censorship. At the same time, however, he used new methods of storytelling to connect various scenes.

Death of a Cyclist, awarded the International Critics' Prize at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival,centers on the angst of an adulterous couple who hit a bicyclist while driving on a deserted highway and leave him to die. The love story, which echoes Antonioni's Story of a Love Affair (1950), intertwines with the critique of a society in which the rich and the poor only cross paths tragically on the curve of a highway or at high-society women's charity games.

The poster reproduces the place where the film begins and ends: a location marked by the accident but also—in Bardem's memory—by the Civil War battles during which he would think about his girlfriend, before returning home to find she had married a wealthier man. The upper section of the poster, which depicts María José and her windblown hair, dovetails with the end of the film, in which she destroys her lover in order to keep her secret. Fear of change and of losing material possessions are the egotistical passions that Bardem contrasts with student demonstrations—a prelude to those that would actually take place in Spain. In no other film is the director as successful in closely interweaving the collective and the individual.

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Viridiana. 1961. Spain. Directed by Luis Buñuel. Poster: Designer: Iván Zulueta. 100 x 70 cm. 

El Verdugo (The Executioner). 1963
In 1963, shortly before The Executioner premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the Franco regime executed Communist politician Julián Grimau and anarchists Francisco Granados and Joaquín Delgado. Berlanga's film is the story of a funeral-home employee who marries a government executioner's daughter and—in order to get an apartment—agrees to take over his father-in-law's job with the hope of never actually having to perform it. Though told in a comic tone, The Executioner is a condemnation of the death penalty, which caused the Spanish government to attempt to halt the film's screening in Venice and later to make numerous cuts.

Painter Macario Gómez centered this poster on the long shadow of the executioner, who is bent over under the weight of his title. The design recalls the film's final scene, described by Berlanga: "The Executioner grew out of a single image that haunted me for years: a vast white passageway and two small groups of people, one dragging the victim and the other the executioner."

Parallels between victim and executioner are a disturbing aspect of the film's story: how people must capitulate to have a place in society and to defend their obligations, becoming capable of killing another human being and their innermost selves. Just when the executioner thinks he's free amid the tourists in the Caves of Drach, a Civil Guard patrol appears in a boat and calls his name—just like Charon, the ferryman of death in Greek mythology.

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El Verdugo (The Executioner). 1963. Spain. Directed by Luis García Berlanga. Poster: Designer: MAC. 99 x 69 cm. Barcelona: I. G. Marí, 1963

El Verdugo (The Executioner). 1963
In 1963, shortly before The Executioner premiered at the Venice Film Festival, the Franco regime executed Communist politician Julián Grimau and anarchists Francisco Granados and Joaquín Delgado. Berlanga's film is the story of a funeral-home employee who marries a government executioner's daughter and—in order to get an apartment—agrees to take over his father-in-law's job with the hope of never actually having to perform it. Though told in a comic tone, The Executioner is a condemnation of the death penalty, which caused the Spanish government to attempt to halt the film's screening in Venice and later to make numerous cuts.

Painter Macario Gómez centered this poster on the long shadow of the executioner, who is bent over under the weight of his title. The design recalls the film's final scene, described by Berlanga: "The Executioner grew out of a single image that haunted me for years: a vast white passageway and two small groups of people, one dragging the victim and the other the executioner."

Parallels between victim and executioner are a disturbing aspect of the film's story: how people must capitulate to have a place in society and to defend their obligations, becoming capable of killing another human being and their innermost selves. Just when the executioner thinks he's free amid the tourists in the Caves of Drach, a Civil Guard patrol appears in a boat and calls his name—just like Charon, the ferryman of death in Greek mythology.

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La tía Tula (Aunt Tula). 1964. Spain. Directed by Miguel Picazo. Poster: Designer: IZQ. 97 x 66.5 cm. Madrid: Edicolor, 1964 

La tía Tula (Aunt Tula). 1964
The various posters made for this film depict Tula's widowed brother-in-law Ramiro's attempt to rape her, an attempt to force surrender from this never-married woman who lives in a provincial Spanish town. He does not succeed, but the lengthy struggle between the two on the house's hallway floors constitutes an authentic battle of love and fear.

Perhaps this was the same battle that had broken out at the time between two conflicting cultures in Spain: a Catholicism that recoiled from any representation of the body, and a new generation that regarded such attitudes as a mental pathology to be overcome. Miguel Picazo takes the second view, changing the sense of Miguel de Unamuno's original novel and, for example, having the priest advise Tula to give in and get married. Yet thanks to the talent of Aurora Bautista, a long-established actress of post–Civil War epic Spanish cinema, Tula neither gives in to Ramiro's desire nor completely accepts her designated role of social victim. Her will to remain untouched even though it means she will lose her niece and nephew results in profound silences whose final mystery does not yield to Picazo's expository script.

Although Miguel Picazo was initially shielded by the government film office, Aunt Tula was cut by nearly five minutes—more than Berlanga's The Executioner. Most of the deleted material had to do with women's conversations about virginity and with references to the Civil War.

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La caza (The Hunt). 1965. Spain. Directed by Carlos Saura. Poster: Designer: Jano. 98 x 65 cm. León: Melguizo, 1966

Nueve cartas a Berta (Nine Letters to Bertha). 1965 This film, whose script was rejected by numerous producers, garnered a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and a favorable reception at the 1966 New York Film Festival, earning director Carlos Saura an international reputation. The story explores the interaction among three friends who go hunting with twenty-year-old Enrique in a dry, sun-scorched area pockmarked by rabbit holes and old Spanish Civil War trenches. As the day wears on and the heat intensifies, the three older men find it harder to hold back the tensions among themselves. Their lives have taken different paths, and each man confronts the other in clashes that ultimately reproduce the fratricidal war for which this film is a resounding metaphor.

Poster designer Francisco Martínez Zarza, who signed his work as Jano, was in a position to understand this, having spent more than a year in jail for illustrating Republican magazines during the Civil War. Perhaps this is why he painted the ferret—defined in the film as a vampire that never gets its fill of blood—atop its prey. Like the plague that sickens the rabbits, violence spreads among the hunters.

No one wants to tell Enrique a about the long-ago war, but his zeal to understand makes him the only one who can escape the deadly illness. His weapon is a camera that the others shy away from. The crouching figure of the game preserve's owner on the poster refers to a photo Enrique took of him—but that the preserve owner destroyed.  The Hunt seems to imply that this rejection of shared representation keeps the virus of hatred alive in a society.

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Nueve cartas a Berta (Nine Letters to Bertha). 1965. Spain. Directed by Basilio Martín Patino. Poster: 99 x 68 cm. 

Nueve cartas a Berta (Nine Letters to Bertha). 1965
A shadow falls equally over the city and the figures of Lorenzo and Mari Tere in the poster for this film, which heralded a new era in Spanish cinema. Excluded from government financial support for new filmmakers ("support" that actually cut newcomers off from the industry), Nine Letters to Bertha won the Best Director award at the 1966 San Sebastián Film Festival for melding innovative formal devices with a description of provincial life without horizons.

Narrated in the form of letters written by a student who met the daughter of a Spanish exile in England during the summer, the film bears witness to the unease of the generation that did not fight the Civil War, stuck in a Spain that will not relinquish the past. The city of Salamanca appears as an immense, cream-colored stone monument in which the protagonist lets loose his elliptical thoughts. Patino wrote: "I kept wondering, ‘Are the censors going to take this out or not?' Under different circumstances, I would surely have carried things to their logical conclusion. Whether history would be richer for it, I couldn't say."

The film does not follow a linear structure, but pulls together images according to the laws of emotion, as do dreams or memories. The kiss depicted on the poster, with the protagonists' closed eyes, evokes the idea that beneath each person's present-day life throbs distinct and unforgettable images. Martín Patino's subsequent work focused on documentaries and speaks to his attempt to create a collective visual memory.

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Mi querida Señorita (My Dearest Señorita). 1971. Spain. Directed by Jaime de Armiñán. Poster: Designer: Iván Zulueta. 100 x 70 cm. Madrid: Karmat, 1972

Mi querida Señorita (My Dearest Señorita). 1971
In 1971, four years before Franco's death, busloads of Spaniards regularly crossed the border into France to spend a day watching movies that featured people without their clothes on. Franco-era censorship had become so obsessed with nudity that a high-voltage erotic film such as My Dearest Señorita could be made without being censored only because it did not reveal its characters' secret skin.

This film is about a case of transsexuality. Adela, a middle-class woman from a provincial town, discovers that she is really a man. Along with the many rural residents streaming out of the area, "she" then flees to the big city under "her" other, masculine identity. There "he" finds and courts "her" former maid.

My Dearest Señorita is not simply about an individual's heroic struggle to defend his sexual identity: it is a drama about boundless desire, showing that love pays no attention to reason, appearance, or gender. The notes of one of the censors are significant: "Playing with a sex change is for minor works of frivolous theater, not major-release films."

The poster reveals the essential aspect of the character portrayed by José Luis López Vázquez. This is not someone who vacillates between two sexes, but is rather a man and woman at the same time, capable of combining courage with fragility. "I'm scared," Juan/Adela confesses to Isabelita at the end of the film. Probably just like the nearly two million viewers who went to see it in Spanish movie theaters that year.

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El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive). 1973, Spain. Directed by Víctor Erice. Poster: 99 x 68 cm. Gráficas Summa

El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive). 1973
Many Spaniards who saw this film in 1973, still under the dictatorship, felt that a new era had come. More than its veiled critique of the closed world of Franco's Spain ("a residence that admits neither the ill nor the handicapped," maintained by a "ruthless and useless effort"), what set The Spirit of the Beehive apart from other motion pictures in theaters at the time was the childlike curiosity with which it suffused the world, and the resonance of the absences that the Civil War had caused in every family.

This effect was achieved through a dynamic use of the camera, which takes on the rhythm of breathing and becomes as persistent as a gaze that cannot find other eyes on which to settle.

All of the characters are tinged with the melancholy of isolation. The father is protected from the bees behind his wire gauze. The mother sends letters by train but gets no answer. Only the child Ana is able to pierce the barriers and nurture the wounded soldier in the same way she saw another little girl befriend Frankenstein's monster in the village movie theater.

The poster pours a golden light over the scene of the girls on the train tracks—a light that, in the film, Víctor Erice reserves for the interior of the house. Outside reigns the bright light of danger and its dark promise: toadstools, open wells, savage trains that approach through the labyrinth of the ear.

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El crimen de Cuenca (The Cuenca Crime). 1979. Spain. Directed by Pilar Miró. Poster. 92. 5 x 67.5 cm.

El crimen de Cuenca (The Cuenca Crime). 1979
Film censorship was abolished in 1977, two years after Franco's death. However, when Pilar Miró submitted her application to screen The Cuenca Crime in 1979, the military courts blocked the premiere and prosecuted her for slandering the Civil Guard, although she was never brought to trial.

The film is about an actual incident that took place in a Spanish village at the beginning of the twentieth century. When a shepherd disappears, two villagers are accused of his murder, interrogated, tortured, tried, and sentenced to prison. Upon their release, the shepherd is found in another village.

The incidents in the film were carefully documented, but the torture scenes too closely resembled the brutality of Franco's police during the regime's final years. Opposing the transfer of power to the new civil society, in February 1981 a Civil Guard colonel took a squad of soldiers into Congress, but citizens took to the streets and the coup d'etat failed. Six months later The Cuenca Crime was released and moviegoers went to see it in droves.

The poster for this film is reminiscent of one for Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 (1976). The difference is that the people moving toward the viewer are not villagers demanding their rights, but two farmers being dragged by the Civil Guard and jeered at by their own neighbors. The Cuenca Crime chronicles the collective subjugation of Spanish society, helping to explain why the dictatorship lasted so long: the victims were also betrayed by their families and friends. 

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Acknowledgments:

This selection of film posters has been made on the occasion of the film exhibition Spain (Un)Censored, organized by Sally Berger, Assistant Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art, and Marta Sánchez, independent curator, in collaboration with the Instituto de la Cinematografía y de las Artes Audiovisuales (ICAA) of the Spanish Ministry of Culture.

Support for the exhibition comes from the Consulate General of Spain, New York; Embassy of Spain, Washington, DC; Instituto Cervantes, New York and Dirección General de Relaciones Culturales y Científicas, Filmoteca, AECI, of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. Special thanks to The Regional Government of Castile and León.


All the photos courtesy of Images from the Archivo Gráfico de la Filmoteca Española, Instituto de la Cinematografía y de las Artes Audiovisuales (ICAA) of the  Spanish Ministry of Culture.

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