Men on the Screen

Re-visions of Masculinity in Spanish Cinema (1939-2019)

by Juan Rey (Volume editor)
Monographs VIII, 306 Pages
Series: Masculinity Studies, Volume 9

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Men Who Roam the Spanish Screens
  • I Masculinities in the Francoist Era
  • 1. The Man Franco Dreamed of: A Prescriptive and Dictatorial Masculinity
  • 2. Traitors of the Homeland: The Stigmatization of Reds in Falangist Discourse
  • 3. Masculinities of the Past as a Re-writing of the Present
  • 4. Excessively Comical, Even Grotesque Men
  • II Masculinities in Late Francoism and Transition Periods
  • 5. The Man in Destape films: Rascals, Braggarts, Sexually Repressed Men …
  • 6. The Injured Man: Men Who Sell Their Body
  • 7. The Latin Lover Who Degenerates into an Iberian Male
  • 8. The Fetishist or the Erotic Gaze of the Repressed Man
  • 9. The Quinqui as a Hero: Criminal Adolescence during the Transition
  • 10. Man and God: The Sacred in the Construction of Masculinity
  • 11. The Man of the Transition Period: Deadbeats, Losers and Simpletons
  • III From the Transition Period to Present Day
  • 12. Candidates and Corrupt Politicians: Political Men since the Transition
  • 13. The Tragic Man: Cyber-Genealogy of the Impossible Male
  • 14. The Heroes of the Thriller: The Disintegration of the Romantic Canon
  • 15. The Man-Monster: Masculinity and Visual Effects (VFX)
  • 16. The Realistic Man: Rural Masculinities
  • 17. On Hunters and Prey: The Mise-en-Scène of a Lurking Masculinity
  • 18. In the Center of the Labyrinth: Man against the Minotaur
  • IV New Masculinities? Continuities and Breaks
  • 19. The Bullfighter as an Archetype and Icon of Spanish Masculinity
  • 20. Idols, Characters, and Stereotypes of the Male Athlete
  • 21. Older People, Grandparents … How Men Age in the Cinema
  • 22. Violently Sexist Men: Aggression as a Sign of Masculinity
  • 23. Men of Their Word: From Silence to Screaming
  • 24. The television Man: Beyond the Cinematographic Horizon
  • Filmography
  • Contributors
  • Index

Men Who Roam the Spanish Screens

Juan Rey1

Cinema, whether it is understood as entertainment, business, criticism, or art, is always a reflection of the society in which it is born. Men on the Screen is a review of masculinity in cinema made in Spain by Spanish directors from 1939 to the present. The objective of this volume is, then, to observe the different types of masculinities, whose classification gives rise to a chronology that goes from the man who embodies the dream dreamt by the dictator Franco to the modern man, who is lost in his labyrinth, while also examining the repressed men, those men who have strayed and who live in the city, the rascals and braggarts, those who fight every day just to survive, the petty criminals, those men who divest themselves of the rancid national-Catholicism in order to be themselves, those who are caring, those who harass and kill their prey, the heroes, those who seduce women with their gab, corrupt politicians, those who sell their bodies, grandparents, violent and chauvinistic men, those who live in anguish for the passage of time, and even those immured by repressing and hypocritical morality. All of the masculine categories delineated above indicate that cinema is a reflection of the great changes experienced by Spanish society during these years. During this long period, Spain has gone from being a poor, isolated, dark, sad, politically and religiously depressed country to becoming a dynamic, modern country, one of the great countries of the West. And these transformations, these men, who are diverse, who are in conflict at times, and who are depressed, hopeful, hungry, consumerist, and dreamers—they are what cinema gathers. What follows next is a catalog of men who have wandered and roamed the Spanish screens.

1939 is the starting point of this study, the year in which General Franco won the Civil War in Spain and began a dictatorship that lasted until his death in 1975, a time period that largely marks the Spanish twentieth century. This ←3 | 4→extended period (1939–2019) is organized in several sections that are determined by political events. The first phase to be discussed is Francoism, which as already noted lasted from the years 1939 to 1975. However, Franco’s dictatorship was not monolithic, and in the almost forty years that it lasted, there are different sub-phases, depending on the economic and political evolution of Spain, which can be distinguished.

There is a first phase, the post-war period, characterized by hunger, misery, strong political and religious repression, and international isolation (1939–1959). The establishment of industrial stabilization plans carried out by technocratic ministers implied a change of direction that led to a second phase known as Developmentalism (1959–1970). During this decade, Spain began to timidly open to the world, and a fledgling middle-class emerged. The country improved industrially, economically, and socially. Political repression, although tempered, still remained in force. The last phase of the Franco regime known as Late Francoism (1970–1975) corresponds with the last years of the dictator, who died in bed while still in power. Spain was already a modern country in every way except politically, as the dictatorial regime still prevailed, and the Catholic Church continued to exercise an iron grip on morals and customs.

Secondly, there is the Political Transition, which represents the transition from the dictatorial regime to the democratic regime. This second stage goes from 1975 to 1982, a year in which the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) won an absolute majority in the general elections. It was the first time that a leftist party, after almost forty years of dictatorship, came to power in Spain. These were tumultuous times, with a lot of political and social tension, but finally democracy was established. Thus, the third stage, Democracy covers the period of time from 1982 to the present. In recent years, Spain joined NATO, the European Union, is a member of various international organizations and is definitely integrated into modernity.

As far as cinema is concerned, it is convenient to take into account a period known as Destape (literally ‘uncovering,’ ‘undressing,’ or ‘revealing’), also called Comedia sexy celtibérica (Spanish Sexy Comedy), which extends approximately from the early 1970s to the beginning of the 1980s; that is to say, it covers the final years of Late Francoism, the whole Transition, and the first years of Democracy. Its origin has to be sought, on the one hand, in the relentless sexual repression and the desire for freedom, and, on the other hand, in the publication of new censorship norms, which redefined the norms for nudity, and stated that it would be permitted “whenever it [was] required by the total unity of the film, rejecting itself whenever it [was] presented with the intention of arousing passions in the normal viewer or feeding back ←4 | 5→into pornography.” This timid opening resulted in the appearance of films, shows, and publications of high erotic content. The actresses appeared lightly dressed, and a common topical phrase was, “I can do a nude scene if the script requires it.” In short, it was a film of high erotic content, low cost, rude humor, and poor quality, in which they (usually foreigners) appeared lightly dressed and they (always male Spaniards) chased them seeking a satisfaction that they rarely obtained.

According to the aforementioned time periods, the book is organized into four sections: Masculinities During Franco, Masculinities in the Late Francoist and Transition periods, From the Transition to the Present Day, and finally New Masculinities? Continuities and Breaks.

The first section addresses the study of the various masculinities that appear in Francoist cinema. In this sense, the chapter “The Man Franco Dreamed of: A Prescriptive and Dictatorial Masculinity” analyzes the male model offered by the Francoist ideology, an amalgam, sometimes confused, of political ideas, worldviews, and beliefs that were changing over time. In this blend there are, as in geological substrata, traces of Fascism of clear Mussolinian style, which were later tailored by Falangism in order to assimilate them to the Hispanic worldview. This amalgam also shows remains of the stalest traditionalism, both in its conservative and monarchical strands; and naturally, in the Catholicism that permeates Spanish society, before, during, and, most surely, after the Civil War. This conjunction of elements turns out in a certain way of being male, which is prescribed (imposed) by the Franco regime, which configures the so-called “Franco man.” In this sense, the hero of the film Raza (Race), played by an actor linked to the regime, represents the origin and the essence of Franco’s masculinity. Yet, the film not only presents that archetype, but, in line with the prevailing authoritarianism, also prescribes it. Thus, every “true man” must aspire to that model, if he does not want to be persecuted, stigmatized, or condemned to a “civil death.”

This view is complemented with the analysis of the renegade that is carried out in “Traitors of the Homeland: The Stigmatization of Reds in Falangist Discourse.” One of the constant features of Francoist cinema is the creation and recreation of “Reds.” Reds are perceived as the enemy against the hero, or the traitor against the patriot, a filmic reality that recreates a world around two opposite human natures, a Manichaean vision of Spanish society. The objective of this chapter is to address the iconic-symbolic analysis of the film Rojo y Negro (Red and Black) in order to identify the attributes imposed on “Reds” (the enemy, the republican) during the years after the civil war, a subject tarnished with the idea of capital sin of Judeo-Christian descent. Hence, the civil conflict is presented as a “crusade” against the “infidel,” the enemy ←5 | 6→of the homeland, who is embodied in an amalgam of characters ranging from the Republican to the Jew through the Anarchist and the Bolshevik. The crusade represents a hatred of the unknown, against everything that comes from abroad. The creation of this enemy contributes to generating alertness and, at the same time, legitimizes the existence of an authoritarian power. All this is present in this filme, one of the few Falangist productions that saw the light in a markedly fascist phase.

But Francoist’s obsession is not only focused on the present, it is also projected onto the past. This can be seen in “Masculinities of the Past as a Re-writing of the Present.” Films that bring historical facts to the screen often serve as a projection or interpretation of ideals or contemporary events in their production. This is the case of the cycle of historical cinema produced in Spain during the first phase of Franco’s dictatorship in the 1940s and 1950s. In this first phase, cinematography and ideology were intertwined with patriotic proclamations and exaltation of the greatness of the Spanish race. The most emblematic films of this period provide leading and supporting roles to historical characters such as Philip I of Castile, known as the Handsome, Christopher Columbus, Luis Montana, Juan de Tapia, known as the warrior, Juan de Padilla and their son Pedro, Manrique, Ramiro de Ávalos and Pedro de Guzmán, among others. These are male characters who star, in three of the cases, in films centered on a strong female character. With the perspective of Francoist historical cinema in mind, different masculinities such as that of the hero, the traitor, the guardian, or the seducer will be analyzed.

The Francoist period concludes with a sarcastic view of the common man, of the ordinary man as can be seen in the chapter “Excessively Comical, Even Grotesque Men.” Spanish cinema in the Franco era has been studied more as a popular spectacle than as a period of exploration of new languages and film formats. However, in this period, one can find hybrid and suggestive productions that have served as a school for later Spanish cinema. In this chapter, we observe and analyze excessively comic male characters, born from one of the most creative coupling of Spanish filmmakers: director Luis García Berlanga and screenwriter Rafael Azcona. The aim of this chapter is to look for the ironic, dissonant, and rebellious meanings of several characters of this kind of cinema of the mid-Franco dictatorship in order to find other dimensions hidden in humor. The result is a humor not designed to make people smile, but to contrast starkly with reality, in order to express the sense of claustrophobia in characters who are trapped in moments or circumstances contrary to their will.

The second section, “Masculinities in Late Francoist and Transition Periods,” examines various masculinities that appear in Spanish cinema from ←6 | 7→1970 to 1982, a time of great political, economic, social, moral, and sexual changes, which triggered different crises. The characters and archetypes who roam and wander the Spanish screens of the time are a sample of Spanish society, a society in the process of transformation in which contradictory values and dreams coexist. One such tension unfolded in the sexual realm, where the old repression sponsored by the Franco regime and national-Catholicism merged with the winds of liberalizing change that foreign tourists, especially Nordic ones, brought to the country. Such confluence can be seen in “The Man in Destape Films: Rascals, Braggarts, Sexually Repressed Men….” The Spanish cinema from the Late Francoist and Transition periods was the visible trace of a society that faced a slight liberalization of a sexual nature. Miniskirts, lingerie, and the bikini began to appear, symbols of a foreign popular culture that was being implanted through risqué comedies roughly sketched; these symbols were the trigger of the fears of the repressed man. The actor Alfredo Landa became the first reference of this type of films, an opportunistic braggart who put a face to the average Spaniard. The commercial success of his films gave rise to a cinematographic classification that bore his own last name: landismo. The conservative costumbrismo (trend emphasizing the interpretation or the importance of local everyday life, mannerisms, and customs) clashed with the sexual liberalization and the figure of the rascal. This new scoundrel, under the tapestry of comedy, expresses the desire of every man, the masculine predisposition not to maintain a relationship exclusively with a single woman. However, this man, who presents a mediocre appearance and possesses an instinctive sexuality under his own buffoonery, is capable of unleashing an irresistible attraction for women.

“The Injured Man: Men Who Sell Their Body” further explores the sexuality of the male protagonist. The representation of men during the Francoist regime and part of the Transition period is clearly defined by the most demanding heteronormativity. The most conservative stereotypes to define national masculinity appear to control cinematic representation: the soldier, the monk, the father, or the husband fill the entire screen. For the Francoist collective imagination, the existence of male sex workers who serve women is unthinkable and, even more unthinkable, to serve other men. Therefore, for a long time, the cinema of these time periods denied the representation of an activity that, despite its social invisibility, has always existed. However, providing sufficient time and giving a certain sociological situation (the tourist boom of the 1960s), even the censorship apparatus of the dictatorship had to negotiate a way to give some visibility, however limited, to a character whose mere presence puts into question the dominant masculinity. From the soft representation of the Francoist film comedy and the Destape films to the ←7 | 8→harsh representations of the Quinqui (petty thief) cinema and other dramas of the beginning of the transition, the figure of the sex worker in the cinema of this period is studied, both in his hetero- and his homosexual strands, in his rapport with hegemonic virility, and in his proposals for new constructions of masculinity.

The chapter “The Latin Lover Who Degenerates into an Iberian Male” follows along the same lines. At the end of the 1960s, when the Franco regime began a slight liberalization, Spain started to welcome tourists, and the coasts began to fill with ‘Swedish’ women in bikinis. In the masculine ideology of the time, these tourists not only sought the sun but were also attracted by the sex appeal of the Iberian male: a rude, primitive, short, hairy and vigorous lover. The popular saying here makes sense: “the man, like the bear, the more hairy, the more fair.” This stereotype of masculinity is faithfully reflected by the Destape cinema, in which the Latin lover of yesteryear degenerates into the Iberian male. The paradigm of the Iberian macho of the cinema of the late-Francoist period a sexually repressed man, but obsessed with women, a physically unattractive seducer (short, dark, hairy), a hick (uncultured and little traveled) and sexist (a sultan, a hunter, a sweet talker of easy flattery). The trail of this ridiculous character can be traced to the present.

The perspective on the moral and sexual crisis that is experienced in Spain is complemented by a vision that, in this case, proceeds from the outside as it is included in “The Fetishist or the Erotic Gaze of the Repressed Man.” Despite the international isolation brought about by the Dictatorship, a part of the Spanish cinema transcended borders. For almost three decades, from the 1950s on, feature films of Hispanic origin were produced in Mexico, by filmmaker Luis Buñuel. In this chapter, the presence of a man who lives eroticized by specific parts of a woman’s young body is acknowledged. These are men who give an account of a deep and unacknowledged erotic-sexual desire generated by the nudity of feet, legs, thighs, and the female breast; that is to say, they are repressed men who experience a libidinous spiral from certain areas of the female body that they furtively observe and spy.

The economic crisis and social collapse are reflected in “The Quinqui as a Hero: Criminal Adolescence During the Transition.” During the Transition to democracy, Spain undergoes a period of social transformation and an economic crisis. In this environment, the suburbs of the big cities become a breeding place for adolescent delinquents who become heroes for the most depressed classes. Ángel Fernández Franco (a.k.a. El Torete), among others, star on the covers of the national press and lead to a filmography known as “Quinqui cinema.” It narrates the adventures of the most popular criminals of the time. In most of these films, the lead actors are the same criminals who ←8 | 9→frighten the citizens. These actors, delinquents and delinquent actors, mostly adolescents, represent some of the traits of the youth of the time: a brutal masculinity and a traditional heteronormative sexuality, in which violence as a way of life is rooted since preadolescence. These young delinquents are the survivors of economically impoverished environments in which they carry out their activities, aspects which contribute to the hagiographic nature of these films. The Quinquis are one of the distinguishing elements of an era in which Spanish cinema does not hesitate to show the suburbs, drugs, and criminal acts of this group of boys.

The chapter “Man and God: The Sacred in the Construction of Masculinity” tackles man’s spiritual crisis. In Francoist cinema, the construction of masculinity is dominated by the codes and examples derived from a heteropatriarchal and Catholic belief system. With the death of the dictator and the entry of Spain into a postmodern religious system, a questioning of the way in which personal belief is experienced, imposed, or transmitted is carried out. This chapter addresses the phenomenology of religious practices as constructors of masculinities at a time when they have lost their centrality and, therefore, the social acceptance of their foundational work. For this purpose, the representation of religious gestures linked to masculinity is analyzed in such complex and stimulating films. The objective of this chapter is to demonstrate how the crisis of masculinity in Spain is closely linked to the crisis of Catholic centrality.


VIII, 306
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2020 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. VIII, 306 pp.

Biographical notes

Juan Rey (Volume editor)

Juan Rey is Professor in the Audiovisual Communication and Advertising Department of the University of Seville (Spain). He holds PhDs in communication and Hispanic philology. His past publications include numerous articles, as well as The Male Body as Advertisement and Masculinities in Hispanic Media (2015) and All About Almodóvar's Men (2017).


Title: Men on the Screen