Recent American profiles of Pedro Almodovar have marveled at the "Day of the Locust"-styled throng--"the multitude" as the flamboyant Spanish director calls it--that pushed and shoved last February to catch a glimpse of him as he arrived at the Madrid premiere of his eighth feature film, "Atame!"
Rivaled only by the world's top soccer stars and pop singers, Almodovar, the most internationally popular and important Spanish director since Luis Bunuel, encounters such unbridled enthusiasm in his country wherever he goes.
Just two years ago, Almodovar made a big splash on the American film scene as well with his 1988 Oscar-nominated "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." During his visit here for the Oscar ceremony last spring, the fiercely independent filmmaker was courted by the Hollywood establishment like cinematic royalty. He met with major studio executives about making his first American film. Jane Fonda, Sally Field and Goldie Hawn all hungered for the remake rights to "Women"--Fonda, backed by Tri-Star, eventually won out. Madonna herself took him on a tour of the set of the upcoming "Dick Tracy" in an effort to charm her way into one of his films. "Women" lost out to "Pelle the Conqueror" in the race for the Oscar, but Almodovar, nonetheless, seemed on the verge of megastardom in this country as well.
Now, one year later, his American experience hasn't been quite so triumphant. "Atame!," released here as "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!," has been slapped with an "X" by the Motion Picture Assn. of America--a rating that is likely to limit the number of theaters around the country willing to screen it.
Faced with the "X," Miramax, the movie's distributor, has decided to release the film uncut and unrated. While the rating probably won't diminish audience enthusiasm in such Almodovar strongholds as New York and Los Angeles, where it premiered last Friday, it could very well shrink the film's box office take when it opens over the next several weeks in other parts of the country.
And what about Almodovar--how does he feel about the dreaded "X"? Well, to be frank, the 38-year-old director says he is outraged and humiliated.
"It's scandalous," said Almodovar, here for the premiere of "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!" (His wild, raunchy and hilarious 1982 film, "Labyrinth of Passions," opens here in June.) "I feel like it is exactly the same kind of lie that I used to know when I was in Spain under Franco. It's exactly that kind of fascist technique."
Almodovar, who produced his early films while working for the telephone company in Madrid, has made his name chronicling the dark, bawdy and ultimately lonely misadventures of people living on the fringes of society--heroin-shooting nuns in "Dark Habits"; a speed-addicted cleaning woman in "What Have I Done to Deserve This"; a murderous bullfighter in "Matador"; lovelorn homosexuals and transsexuals in "Law of Desire," and a group of emotionally mauled women in "Women on the Verge," (which is Spain's biggest all-time box office hit and has grossed well over $30 million worldwide).
"Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!," shot in Spain for $2.5 million, has been called Almodovar's slickest and most technically accomplished film. It tells the twisted love story of Ricky (Antonio Banderas), a young man recently released from a mental hospital, who breaks into the apartment of an ex-porno star named Marina (Victoria Abril), ties her up as gently as possible, and waits for her to fall in love with him. While he has weathered the criticism from women who have accused him of masochism, Almodovar says the MPAA hit him with the X for the film's one prolonged sex scene, which shows the two lovers only from the waist up and focuses primarily on Marina's sexual fulfillment. In arguing on behalf of the film at a hearing before the MPAA, noted civil rights attorney William Kunstler called the X rating outrageous in light of other films that have received R ratings. Still, the MPAA upheld the X.
In an impassioned, half-Spanish, half-English conversation at his West Hollywood hotel on a recent drizzly morning, Almodovar spoke candidly about the MPAA, "the feminists," "Hollywood," drugs, celebrity and his passion for filmmaking.
Question: Were you asked either by your distributor or by the MPAA to cut anything from the film to avoid the X?