The Spanish Prisoner

The Spanish Prisoner

Yannis Tzioumakis
Series: American Indies
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 168
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r27vn
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  • Book Info
    The Spanish Prisoner
    Book Description:

    Despite more than a passing nod to such crowdpleasing classics as Hitchcock's North by Northwest, playwright-turned-independent filmmaker David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner is a particularly idiosyncratic film that betrays its origin outside the Hollywood mainstream. Featuring a convoluted narrative, an excessive, often anti-classical, visual style, and belonging to the generic category of the'con game film' which often challenges the spectator's cognitive skills, The Spanish Prisoner is a film that bridges genre filmmaking withpersonal visual style, independent film production with niche distribution,and mainstream subject matter with unconventional filmic techniques.This book discusses The Spanish Prisoner as an example of contemporary American independent cinema while also using the film as a vehicle to explore several key ideas in film studies, especially in terms of aesthetics, narrative, style, spectatorship, genre and industry.Key FeaturesoDistinguishes between independent and 'indie' cinema through anexamination of the 'classics divisions,' especially Sony Pictures ClassicsoAssesses the position of David Mamet within American cinemaoIntroduces the genre categories of the 'con artist' and the 'con game' filmand discusses The Spanish Prisoner as a key example of the latteroExamines the ways in which narrative, narration and visual style deviatefrom the mainstream/classical aesthetic

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3370-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Introduction: ‘You don’t know who anyone is’
    (pp. 1-10)

    Approximately eighteen minutes into The Spanish Prisoner, there are three scenes that involve Joe Ross, the corporate designer and inventor protagonist of the film, and Susan Ricci, the new company secretary and, to that point in the narrative, Joe’s potential romantic interest. The scenes take place in the first class compartment of a plane flying back to New York from the Caribbean islands. It was there where Joe, Susan and a few select employees of a New York-based company had enjoyed a short stay on the company’s account, while trying to pitch to a group of investors and businessmen Joe’s...

  6. 1. From Independent to ‘Indie’ Cinema
    (pp. 11-27)

    In 1996, a year before the release of The Spanish Prisoner, film industry analysts and critics proclaimed enthusiastically that that was ‘the year of the independents’.¹ At first sight, such a proclamation seemed surprising, given that the hit films of the year were all from the conglomerated Hollywood majors. Fox was responsible for the biggest commercial success of 1996, the extremely popular (and in our case ironically titled) Independence Day (Emmerich), which recorded worldwide grosses of $811.4 million from its cinema release, of which $306.1 million was in the North American market. Warner followed at some distance with Twister (de...

  7. 2. David Mamet and ‘Indie’ Cinema
    (pp. 28-47)

    David Mamet is not the first name that springs to mind when thinking about paradigmatic filmmakers from the American independent or ‘indie’ sectors, and his films have rarely been considered characteristic examples of filmmaking at the margins of Hollywood.¹ As a matter of fact, the whole body of his work in American cinema has attracted very little attention from film scholars and to this date there have been only two book-length studies of his films; one dating back to 1993, when Mamet had made only three films, and one published in 2005, which once again focuses on his early films...

  8. 3. ‘Indie’ Film at Work: Producing and Distributing The Spanish Prisoner
    (pp. 48-63)

    In Chapter 1, I explained how the mid-to-late 1990s became the golden years of ‘indie’ cinema, an era of opportunity for filmmakers who had not always found it easy to finance their often challenging projects in the preceding years. Fuelled by the incredible commercial success of Miramax, the third wave of classics divisions and the increasing visibility of film festivals like the ultra-hip Sundance, the second half of the 1990s witnessed the increasing integration of a wide variety of films with distinctive characteristics (in terms of aesthetics, political viewpoints, thematic and cultural preoccupations, etc.) into the structures of global production...

  9. 4. ‘That’s what you just think you saw!’ Narrative and Film Style in The Spanish Prisoner
    (pp. 64-87)

    If there is a theme that appears in all Mamet films and often tends to dominate and overwhelm other distinctive themes that permeate his body of work in American cinema, that theme is ‘deceptive appearances’ and the tendency of people to misinterpret reality, often with dire consequences. Potentially every sequence, scene or even shot in a Mamet film can function as a smokescreen, hiding underneath a completely different layer of reality. And even when this deeper layer of reality is revealed underneath the surface, it is quite often the case that this is yet another smokescreen with reality and truth...

  10. 5. Playing with Cinema: The Master of the Con Game Film
    (pp. 88-122)

    In her book Weasels and Wisemen: Ethics and Ethnicity in the Work of David Mamet, Leslie Kane argues that ‘game-playing as structure and element of plot is a controlling figure’ in both Mamet’s films and his stage plays.² Following Thomas M. Leitch, who studied the function of game-playing in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Kane suggests that game-playing in Mamet’s films ‘evokes complex concordances from which the audience derives pleasure “from having followed the director’s lead”’.³ She continues:

    Mamet’s films, like Hitchcock’s, ‘beguile audiences’ enticing them to follow the action as ‘a move in the game’ that suprises or disorients...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 123-125)

    The Spanish Prisoner is a characteristic example of American ‘indie’ cinema, irrespective of the fact it has not been perceived as such by either popular or scholarly film criticism. The film’s truly unique but, at the same time, stagy aesthetic, in tandem with the filmmaker’s stubborn decision to put the mechanics of the plot before verisimilitude and/or psychological motivation, and the presence of a strong genre framework (which, arguably, is more appropriate for mainstream Hollywood cinema) made for a ‘curious’ type of film that, not surprisingly, puzzled film critics. It seems that the film’s relatively humble industrial origins and the...

  12. Filmography: David Mamet in American Cinema and Television
    (pp. 126-127)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 128-139)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 140-146)
  15. Index
    (pp. 147-156)