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June 13, 1991|ELENA KELLNER

Spanish director Jose Luis Garci was the subject of a retrospective homage presented by USC and the Spanish National Commission for the Quincentennial. Garci is best known in the States for "Volver a empezar" ("To Begin Again"), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1982, and for the Oscar-nominated "Sesion continua" ("Double Feature") in 1985 and Asignatura aprobada" ("Course Completed") in 1987. Capping the month-long tribute was a Beverly Hills reception, where Garci was hailed by actor George Hamilton and Oscar-winning director Robert Wise ("West Side Story" and "Sound of Music"). The Spanish filmmaker admits that he has been influenced by U.S. films--he's seen more than 8,000 of them! Taking a brief detour from the big screen, the 44-year-old Garci just completed a series of seven one-hour programs for Spanish television.

On the subject of TV in Spain, sociologists there are worried about a new "addiction" which, according to one report "is contaminating Spanish culture." And what is this villainous evil that has mesmerized the multitudes? They are referring to the deluge of Latin American soap operas (14 at last count) that have taken over Spain's airwaves. The first of these soaps, 260 episodes of the Venezuelan production "Cristal," starring Jeannette Rodriguez, lured 11 million viewers, more than a third of Spain's total audience. Cristal became a fixture at 3:30 p.m., when most Spaniards are eating lunch at home.

"You've heard of The New Kids on the Block? We're 'The old dudes in the street!' " joked Freddy Fender, referring to his new group, the Texas Tornados. It features four veteran performers: Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers, who were members of the 1960s rock group "The Sir Douglas Quintet"; Flaco Jimenez, a 1986 Grammy winner, and Fender, whose hits include "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" and "Before the Next Teardrop Falls." Sahm and Meyers don't speak Spanish, but the curious combination of talents seems to be striking the right musical chords. Earlier this year, a song from their debut album garnered a Grammy. The album has been re-recorded with Spanish lyrics. When they finish their current U.S. tour, The Texas Tornados are scheduled for a return engagement in, of all places, Holland!

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