Film: Tacones lejanos / High Heels
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Studio/Distributor: El Deseo / Warner Española
Starring: Marisa Paredes; Victoria Abril; Miguel Bosé; Féodor Atkine
Release Year: 1991
Almodóvar’s famous sets, fashion choices, lip-syncs, characters, wild plots, and everything Almodòvarian in his films keep the sensibilities of camp so-very-much alive and exciting. The lip-sync, I argue, is the most recognizable element of camp. Coincidently, one of the most recognizable characteristics present in an Almodòvar film is the incorporation of a lip-sync performance. Because I love the range and variety a good lip-sync can present—from being gaudy, raunchy, or genuinely emotive—this brief commentary will focus on Letal’s (Miguel Bosé) lip-sync from Tacones lejanos (1991).
To set the scene, Rebeca (Victoria Abril) invites her famous, pop-star mother Becky del Pàramo (Marisa Páredes) and Rebeca’s husband Manuel (Féodor Atkins) to watch la transformista Letal perform. Letal being an impersonator of Becky is significant to Rebeca. Rebeca befriends Letal as a means of getting closer to the memory of her mother, since her mother was never present throughout Rebeca’s adolescence. Significantly, Rebeca grows close to Letal, a performer she sees out of drag only once, and that one time she sees Letal out-of-drag, they share an errrr… intimate moment (GODDAMN YOU, FRUED!). See? How tasteless. How gross. How CAMP!
Anyway, Letal’s impersonation of Becky, while lip-syncing “Un año de amor” by the in-real-life artist, and España's great, Luz Casal, strikes the chords of camp.
First, Letal enters through a curtain of beads. She slowly walks by her mystified audience as their eyes, heads, and even shoulders follow her to the backdrop of the painting of folklórico women, which is surrounded by red curtains. When we get all of Letal in her mid-thigh, red sequin dress with a cropped, red blouse over, then red gloves to accessorize, and red pumps to finish her look, the scene is fully saturated in red. A scene that should fall flat because of the monotonous color picks-up because the audience in the film buys her performance. Particularly, Becky who in her Chanel pendant earrings, juxtaposes the gaudiness of Letal’s set. That is the power of the lip-sync: we all know the performer is not singing the song busting through the bar speakers, but that doesn’t flatten the entertainment of the performance, despite the questionable look on display.
Moreover, the irony of camp exists in displaying the tastelessness of Letal’s fashion and stage in order to make a fashion statement worth admiring. For example, a badly constructed syllogism of mine that confronts both the irony and paradox of the syllogism that fits quite well in this scenario: the color red connotes sexy and rich; the display of too much sexiness and richness is considered decadent; therefore an overt display of red that becomes decadent is still considered sexy and rich. That is the power of camp. That is the power of Almodóvar’s lip-syncs.
In conclusion, camp is like one of those things you gotta experience, then discuss your way out of believing you ever really had a grasp on understanding. Go watch or re-watch Tacones lejanos. It’s a wild fucking ride worth taking a couple times. And, it’s a far better watch than reading my messy understanding of camp and its application to scenes from Almodóvar films. Trust.
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