Zulueta’s ‘Outburst’, between the vampire and the horse

“With Arrebato, Iván Zulueta broke the mold. No other followed his line or tried to do anything like it ”. The journalist, critic and member of the Zinemaldia selection committee, Quim Casas, did not see the second feature film by this man from San Sebastian at its premiere, in 1980. It was a couple of years later, in a revival in Barcelona, ​​when he finally saw that work so ahead of its time that it became a true “UFO” of Spanish cinematography. “Since very interesting things have been done, but nothing comparable to Arrebato”.

Over the decades, the last film by the author –to whom Artium is dedicating an exhibition these months– has become an indisputable cult film, although it was not always like that. It was filmed in 1979 but its premiere was delayed until July 9 of the following year, before the public and critics forced it into oblivion. “Few people understood it,” says Casas, who adds that the film and his production brought together all the essential elements to brand Zulueta as a “cursed filmmaker,” a label that accompanied him until his death in 2009.

Outburst went unnoticed until the beginning of this century, when it was released on DVD for the first time. Last January, in addition, the FlixOlé platform added a restored 4K version to its catalogue, thanks to the collaboration of the American distributor Altered Innocence. This copy, which can also be purchased on BluRay, will be added from Sunday to another specialized film platform, Filmin.

Arrebato has become a reference film in certain circles, a psychological horror film that plays with the viewer, with the characters and even with Zulueta himself. Not surprisingly, the idea of ​​the doppelgänger, the German concept that describes the existence of sinister doubles –which others such as Krzysztof Kieslowski or José Saramago dealt with in works such as The Double Life of Verónica (1991) or The Duplicated Man (2002), respectively– flies over a radically meta-cinematic proposal. José Sirgado –Eusebio Poncela– and Pedro P. –Will More– are nothing more than two of the three faces of the trifronte that is completed with the face of the man from San Sebastián, a filmmaker who doubts between the commercial and the underground. Outside the mirror of two bodies, the particular Alicia de Zulueta, Ana –Cecilia Roth–, actress and Sirgado’s ex-girlfriend, united to him by a genuine love, the one that both feel for the heroin, the only functional thing in a decomposing relationship.

Somehow, and just like Zulueta, José Sirgado and Pedro P. are filmmakers on the margins, misunderstood filmmakers addicted to the horse that allows them to flee from now. But what happens when this drug is no longer enough? That new addictions are sought and there are no better ones, they say, than those that take your life away, like a Super-8 camera, in the case that concerns us, that is capable of putting you on pause and causing a regression to better times -the sound of a timer marks the rhythm at various moments of the footage-, a vampire who transforms idealized memories into frames dyed red-blood.

Like Chekhov’s weapon that is described in the first act to be used in the third, Zulueta gives brushstrokes about the most metaphorical meaning of this trip to the world of addictions from the first bars when, in a cutting room, the character of Poncela and the one played by the late Antonio Gasset edit the footage for a film about a bloodsucker. Poncela puts on a prosthesis with protruding fangs and says: “I’m not the one who likes movies. It is the cinema that likes me”.

“It’s a film that could perfectly appear on a list of films about vampires,” says Casas, while adding that, in his opinion, The addiction, by Abel Ferrara (1995), and Zulueta’s “are the two indie films” that have best dealt with “addiction to heroin, cinema and the vampirism that this entails”.

Iván Zulueta, the damned

Zulueta’s second feature film has a lot to do with Lynch, which is not surprising, given that, as Casas recalls, the man from San Sebastian had the feeling that he and David Lynch “were kindred spirits.” Here’s another doppelgänger. It is unknown if Lynch has seen Zulueta’s work, but he did know the American’s experimental shorts and also Cabeza Borradora, which he, while alive, came to admit had influenced him.

Eusebio Poncela, Cecilia Roth, Pedro Almodóvar, Antonio Gasset… All of them, like Zulueta, linked to the Madrid Movida and all of them have, to a greater or lesser extent, their space in Arrebato. For this reason, the tape is usually located in said orbit, although the film “turned out to be Martian” even for that movement. These factors, added to the distributor’s inability to “move” it properly, caused it to be branded as “damn”.

But really, Outburst was not the only film from a cursed director. Ten years earlier, the man from San Sebastián had already premiered his first film, Un, dos, tres… al escondite inglés, another experimental, amateur and pop film, close to the amphetamine proposals that the Beatles had brought to the great screen. In 1976 he directed the award-winning medium-length film Leo is brown and in 1989, Párpados, for Televisión Española. In the meantime, of course, we must pay attention to his pictorial and poster work. “He never claimed to be so independent, nor so cursed. Possibly, he would have liked to continue making films in a more normalized way” However, “the very strangeness” of this production marked its author for life.

The “cursing” sank its teeth into Arrebato even before its premiere. The filming was lived with absolute precariousness. At the end of each day, the team did not know if the next day they would have money to continue. So much so that, halfway through filming, the entire sound crew abandoned the production – it had to be redoubled later. This, added to the complicated way of working of a drug-addicted Zulueta, made the recording rare.

radical ‘outburst’

For Quim Casas, Zulueta’s Arrebato, in its radical nature, provided a “unique” way of making films and talking about cinema itself, at a very specific moment, the Transition. Some of his contemporaries, such as Adolfo Arrieta, chose to develop their careers beyond borders; others, like Pedro Almodóvar, opted for a more popular cinema. “The historical importance of Arrebato is that it showed that a completely underground and avant-garde cinema can be made in a context like that”, comments the critic, who does not hesitate to place Zulueta in the line of New York experimentalists and radical European independent cinema.

Outburst would also resonate at the same frequency as previous works such as The Man with the Camera (1929), an experiment by Dziga Vertov on the film possibilities of the recording system. Coincidentally, the same year that Zulueta was shooting his second feature film, Kieslowski released El aficionado about a man who, as in Vertov’s exercise, discovered the power that a Super-8 housed to the point of conditioning life. of the. Steve Erickson vibrated at similar coordinates when writing Zeroville, in which he fabled about how life is nothing more than a roll of film that can be cut and pasted, in short, remounted to freeze the most precious moments of memory.

Zulueta’s ‘Outburst’, between the vampire and the horse