, ">

A Brief History and Analysis of Ferrater Mora’s Films

Although Ferrater Mora is known for his monumental Diccionario de filosofia and for his original philosophical writings, it would be a mistake to think that Ferrater Mora's sole activity has been to write philosophy. He directed much of his creative energies to the cinema. Of course, his interest in making films occupies a minor position in Ferrater Mora's work when compared with his extensive treatment of philosophical subjects. Nevertheless, it would be mistaken to conclude that it is merely a divertissement.

The cinema is a somewhat pedantic name that American followers of the auteur theory have given to what everyone else simply calls the movies. When Ferrater began filming—to the distress of some—it seemed as if he were giving in to a sudden and inexplicable urge, but as he once commented in a filmed interview, what else could he do once he had been given a small movie camera, but make movies. His interest in movie making, however, was not as new and sudden as some thought. Ferrater Mora freely admitted that he was fascinated with films and had been since his early youth. His sister remembers that as a young girl, she was allowed to go to the movies only because she was accompanied by her brother. In making movies, Ferrater was simply pursuing an old interest in a new manner. If one looks, for example, at his first book Cóctel de verdad (not "A Cocktail of Truth," but "A True Cocktail" or "A Real Cocktail"), one will see that it contains two essays on film. One is an attempt to define the nature of film as art, and the other is a study of movie acting, as exemplified by the German actress Brigitte Helm, who may still be remembered for her role in Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Movies, film or cinema—whatever it is called—is thus a lifelong interest that only in later years found expression in something more direct than a couple of old literary essays, an inscription from one of Goddard's characters in a book on language, and essays in Spanish newspapers on Goddard, Bu˝uel, and on the problem of who the "author" is—indeed, in his opinion, who the "authors" are—in the vast majority of films, including those introduced by the words "A film by . . ."

It was during the late sixties, that Ferrater Mora began making movies. His earliest movies, although lacking in technical refinements, are highly original from a philosophical or intellectual standpoint, as well as from a cinematographic point of view. There is no mistaking that they are his movies.

Although Ferrater asserted that the instructions for the super 8 movie camera were more difficult than Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, he quickly grew impatient with the limitations of the very simple, inexpensive movie camera with which he began making films. Taunting himself perhaps somewhat sadly at times, he referred to the film used by the super 8 camera as spaghetti—a term apparently originating with professional film makers. Since he lacked the sophisticated—and expensive—tape recorders necessary for producing lip-synchronized sound, he was forced to tell the story—if indeed, there were a story—by "voice-over" techniques in which one might hear a conversation, but it would not be synchronized with an image of someone speaking.

With the ease of video cameras, it is difficult to remember that in the late sixties it required a great deal of expensive equipment to produce this synchronized sound known as "lip-sinc." From our present perspective, those days look like the dark ages. Ferrater quickly learned enough about sound—and purchased the necessary equipment—to produce the desired results of lip-synchronization. Now one could see people talking and hear what they said at the same time because he was able to make the sound fit the movements of the mouth. With this technology, the spoken word became a more important part of Ferrater's movies. One has only to compare Everydayness, where the brief dialogue is not lip synchronized, to The Heartache and the Thousand Natural Shocks to see the greater emphasis on dialogue and the spoken word. To film people talking and to hear them at the same time encouraged Ferrater Mora to write dialogue for his "actors."

If taken seriously, which paradoxically often means "amateurishly" in the sense of "noncommercially," the art of movie making includes writing the script or story—if there is one—photographing and directing the action, recording and "mixing" the sound, setting up the lights, cutting into "A" and "B" roles, and so forth and this is exactly what Ferrater Mora did. In addition to writing dialogue, he had to decide where the camera should be, whether the shot was a long shot, a close-up, or a panning shot, the angle of the shot, how long the shot would last—down to the second—the lighting, and so forth. If one sees Ferrater's notes—and I call them that for lack of a better word—it is amazing to see the amount of detailed planning required to film only one scene.

Not only on the Main Line in Pennsylvania , but also trudging through Spain, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Corfu, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Morocco and Kenya, Ferrater Mora could be seen staggering under the weight of various cameras, lenses, and tripods, and of course, his prized fluid head, oblivious to curious onlookers. With the appearance of video cameras, Ferrater Mora substituted the lighter camcorders for the movie cameras despite the fact that he had to learn a new technique of electronic editing.

In 1974 Ferrater Mora published a little known book entitled Cine sin filosofía (literally Movies Without Philosophy). The pun in the original Spanish title means "Movies with no intention whatsoever of making a philosophical point." This book contains a sort of "script description" of several of his films that vary from impressionistic pieces like The Suit of Night (El velo de la noche) and The Skin of the Earth (La Piel de la tierra) to what some have considered sociological pieces like Skating Forever (Patinando para siempre) and The Ecstacies of Time (Los éxtasis del tiempo). The last two films might be better described as slices of life. Also included in this book are the more highly structured scripts of films that contain a plot, such as Back to the Firing Squad (De vuelta al pelotón de ejecución)—an early movie whose political undertones, as understood, or misunderstood, by young Spanish students caused heated discussions—A Hero of Our Time (Un héroe de nuestro tiempo), Everydayness (La vida cotidiana), and The Call (La llamada). Some of his films, including some later films, such as Venice 23, Framents of a Travelogue (Fragmentos de un travelogue), The Skin of the Earth, The Five Faces of France, Lux Perpetua and his two films on Majorca are, like his philosophical thought, difficult to classify, but for lack of a better category might be called travelogues, although they do not resemble traditional travelogues.

Ferrater Mora denied that there was any philosophical meaning in his films, asserting that "They are purely visual." Yet it is not surprising that they display some of the same traits that characterize his thinking, such as subtlety, vitality and a kind of openness to whatever he encounters. His camera neither condemns, nor condones. It merely records and displays, sometimes with amusement and sometimes with irony. Perhaps this latter aspect is the visual analogue of his philosophical integrationism, or perhaps it is closer to his ethical view that there are no moral absolutes.

Despite Ferrater Mora's claims, several of his films do seem to have a philosophical content. Consider his prizewinning film entitled Everydayness. In this film, a young woman, who appears utterly passive and completely bored with life, tries to take her own life. Not only does her attempted suicide fail, but she seems strangely untouched by her failure. Ferrater explains that, "Her attempt at suicide is so placid, so lacking in desperation that one can ask if it is 'real' or 'authentic.' The answer is : neither; her attempt at suicide is simply one more element, among others of her everyday life. Thus it does not matter that, by pure chance, it is not successful. The result of the act is indifferent and thus the very act itself is indifferent." Ferrater adds that, "Everydayness is a story, but also an 'atmosphere' " (Cine sin filosofias, 96). Clearly, then, he is commenting upon the quality, or lack of quality, of this young woman's life. His explanation that her act is indifferent raises questions as to how or why one comes to such a state. Usually an individual struggles to live. What has caused this woman to be so indifferent: is it society, is it an individual personality trait? This short movie raises many questions.

In another film, entitled The Call, the protagonist cannot always distinguish between appearance and reality. At the end of the film, she taunts her psychiatrist by asserting that he cannot rationally prove that she was only "hearing voices" while the phone call he is expecting is real. Is this film not playing on the well known and much discussed philosophical problem of appearance and reality? Ferrater admits as much for he asserts that "the mixture and play between reality and fantasy" is linked to the principal theme "who is crazy or insane?" He also tells us that if the main character ends up in a mental hospital, "it is not because she has lost her reason, but because she has pushed the possibilities of reason to an extreme" (Ibid.,139). In other words, Ferrater presents us with the picture of someone who is too reasonable. Is it not a philosophical question to ask if we can have too much reason or to inquire about the results of having too much reason?

Perhaps Ferrater Mora's insistence that his films are not attempts to make a philosophical point is correct, but that is not to say that they don't raise problems that philosophers themselves recognize as philosophical. The enjoyment of the films, of course, does not necessarily rest on being able to identify such questions. Many people, I believe, respond to what Ferrater has called "the atmosphere" perhaps quite unaware of, and even indifferent to, the fact that one could formulate philosophical questions.

Many of Ferrater Mora's films have a circular structure: the closing scene or idea in some way repeats the opening one. The main character is often back where he started—like the protagonist in Back to the Firing Squad or the young woman in Everydayness. Whether this is just one more display of Ferrater Mora's irony is difficult to say since in other places the irony and absurdity—what the poet Per Quart has called "his bemused view of humanity"—is quite clear as, for example, in the opening speech by the pompous professor of art history in Venice 23, in the appearance of the one-legged man photographed against the luxurious surroundings of a tourist hotel in Majorca, or again, in the "travelogue" of Franco's Spain that opens with the words, in both Spanish and English, "In Spain there is everything" including, apparently, not only natural and architectural beauty, but also air pollution, too many cars, and perhaps too many military parades and guns.

back to The Movie Maker