Amy B. Smoyer, PhD

Prison Food, Incarcerated Lives, Health & Social Work

Siskel, Ebert & Amy

Roger and Gene making gang signs.
Gather 'round one and all and let me tell you a story of days gone by...

Back in the Reagan years, when I was just a wee lass, there was no Internet.  No Netflix. No HuluPlus. No DVDs.  There were VHS videotapes, but as I recall there wasn't a video player in my house. Cable TV existed, in a very basic form, but again was late arriving to our place.

In this media environment, PBS was an attractive option and Siskel & Ebert's At The Movies was a delight. I loved this show and sat on the edge of my chair in great anticipation each week to see which movies they would critique.  Since my movie options at the time were basically limited to the Springfield Mall Cineplex and the one-screen theater in Media, the trailers shown on this program were often my only glimpse of the entire movie. I still love the previews, often better than the movies themselves.

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's movie conversations made a lasting impression on me.  They were urbane and witty in a way that most of the other adults in my life weren't.  OK, so they didn't look cool, with their dorky sweaters and collared shirts, but they were smart and pleasantly caustic. Metrosexual before their time.

I hope to channel their energies into the following reviews of some of the Spanish movies that I saw this year as part of my class at the University of Santiago - Spanish Culture and History Through Film.  The wonderful professor gave us lists and lists of movies, so if you want more recommendations, there's plenty more where these come from...

In chronological order by historical time period represented, not date of production...

  1. Juana La Loca (2001):  THUMBS DOWN.  The only positive feature of this film is that it may spark an interest in Juana and encourage you to read more about her. The movie's suggestion that she was crazy with love and jealously is, I believe, a narrow representation of the frustrations that this woman must have experienced when her life was manipulated by her father, husband and son and her power stripped from her.
  2. El Greco (2008):  THUMBS UP. Kind of a simple portrait of this great artist but offers a basic understanding of his life and the power of the church in the 16th century.
  3. Goya en Burdeos (1999):  THUMBS DOWN. Director Carlos Saura is a mystical kind of guy who prefers light and sound over plot.  I think I fell asleep at one point.  Still, Saura and Goya are both fascinating artists, so it's worth a peek.
  4. Inconscientes (2004):  THUMBS UP. This is a Woody Allen-like comedy involving psychoanalysis, misunderstanding and double entendre.  Funny at times but mostly beautiful to watch.  Filmed in Barcelona in one of the homes designed by Gaudi.  Sets, costumes - eye candy!
  5. Al Sur de Grenada (2002):  THUMBS UP. Based on the experiences of Gerald Brenan, an English author who lived in Southern Spain in the 1920s, this movie offers a sweet, if predictable, story about small-town life. I know there wasn't indoor plumbing, but it still looks like fun.
  6. La Lengua de Las Mariposas (1999):  THUMBS WAY UP. This highly acclaimed film is based on a short story by Galician writer Manuel Rivas and takes place here in Galicia.  The film is about a young boy growing up in the final days of the Second Republic and the start of the Civil War. I can't believe it took me this long to see it - not to be missed.
  7. Las 13 Rosas (2007):  THUMBS UP.  This movie about 13 young women who were executed by the Franco government at the end of the Civil War is stunning and unforgettable. Just in case you need to be reminded of the horrors of war and dysfunctional judicial systems.  Don't watch it alone.
  8. Ispansi (2011): THUMBS DOWN.  Who knew hundreds of Spanish children were sent to Russia  by their Republican (as in anti-Franco, not GW) parents at the end of the Civil War?  Not me.  This movie tells an important story, but is so saccharine and poorly acted that it doesn't make much impact.
  9. Los Girasoles Ciegos (2008):  THUMBS UP.  This movie, from the same man that directed La Lengua de Las Mariposas, also depicts Galicia, this time just after the Civil War.  Secrets. Evil priests. Devastating war.  Haunting.  When they kick in your front door, how you gonna come?
  10. Un Franco, 14 Pesetas (2006):  THUMBS UP.  Phew! Finally made it out of the War years.  Now it is the 1960s and folks, frustrated by Spain's struggling economy, are emigrating to look for work.  Kind of like today, only different. Mediocre acting and in need of editing, but still offers an authentic portrayal of Spanish life at that time.  The immigrant's story always hits a nerve. Made me cry, in spite of myself.
There you have it, 10 film to get you started.  Let me know when you're up for more...