Rapture (1979)
9/10
Surrealism against the current
5 January 2023
If you want to explore the prehistory of modern Spanish arthouse and counterculture landscape, you must follow the antecedents, and will find many connections and influences behind names like Almodovar, Banderas, and other popular names of the Spanish "Movida" and associated film scene. You might start taking a quick look at Jaime Chavarri's "Mi querida señorita" and "El desencanto" to understand some of the latent energies that exploded fast forward in a counterculture piece like "Rapture".

Zulueta studied graphic design in New York, at the prestigious Arts Students League in Manhattan Midtown, where in 1964 he discovered Warhol's Superstars at The Factory, Paul Morrissey, and other vanguards of the underground movement; Jonas Mekas' and his Film-Makers' Cooperative and the Filmmakers' Cinematheque.

We can be safely assume that being the son of the director of the San Sebastian International Film Festival helped him establish contact with names of the New American Cinema like Jack Smith, Brakhage, Bogdanovich and Cassavettes.

Their influence on Zulueta's work is clear, especially on his first shorts, in which he also departed from narrative and pursued oblique storylines, mostly based on abstraction and minimalism, favoured, by budget constraints too. These shorts, by the way, are amply self-referenced in "Rapture" in combination with more Structuralist influences that result in a rather interesting underground genre mix mush.

The year is 1979, Spain's cultural elites are staging their transition to democratic modernity with a glittering explosion of slow-cooked vibes. The Punk and Post-Punk counterculture imported from nearby London is revitalizing the cultural landscape, awakening sleepy influences and reinvigorating them, permeating henceforth into "Rapture" narrative composition, making an extensive use of fashion, photography, comics, cartoons and wall art elements to which Zulueta, himself a pictorial artist, was already especially fond of.

Alongside these representations, Rapture also appealed to the marginal crowd by purposely hinting to an emergent LGBTQ+ community, facilitated casually through some recreational drug use depiction, these however do not come out as some sort of queer militancy but as positively bristled, campish and wildly comic sexual energy, as a necessary and somehow accidental consequence of sexual liberation.

These energies however clashed heavily with moods that dominated the official narratives, homosexuality was still de facto criminalized, unorthodox personalities were profiled and harassed as socially dangerous. Liberalization efforts however, galvanized and inspired the youth and a more open approach regarding the new gained "modernity" spread and subsidized other artistic endeavours in the form of what it came to be known as "La Movida".

Plot summary: José Sirgado (Eusebio Poncela), director of Midnight horror movies, is in a creative and personal crisis. He is unable to consolidate his breakup with Ana (Cecilia Roth) and also receives news from a disturbing acquaintance Pedro (Will More), addicted to filming in Super 8 and utterly obsessed with discovering the essence of cinema with help from Marta (Marta Fernández-Muro), his loving and worrisome cousin who helplessly pays him attention and care despite his ungrateful extravagance.

The film revolves mainly these around two characters who, after a couple of previous meetings, will connect for the last time through letters, a cassette and some Super8 tapes.

Pedro disappears but entrust to Jose a kind of final revelation; claiming that film provoked something that only the Jose can decipher. Ana (Cecilia Roth), an actress and José's ex-girlfriend, hands him some of Pedro´s letters hoping for reconciliation or a way out of the relationship.

José and Pedro, fascinated by each other, use cinema and drugs in a completely different way. The first, the result of excesses, has gradually lost his genuine passion for cinema and now only sees it as a job. Pedro, who perceives Jose´s vampire, presents him his own as a way of redemption and ultimate act.

Because "Rapture" is mainly a horror film, drugs on the one hand and cinema and existential boredom sucks the protagonists´ blood. Above all it is a vampire movie because it works as a metaphor for what happens to you when your will disappears, when you are becoming a vampire, when passion and boredom begins to be self-destructive and cannot be stopped.

Zulueta demonstrates a wide knowledge of cinema, its rhythm and patterns. He valued naturalism, poetry, and emotion, and believed that only a new use of language was able to expand the boundaries of cinema. Like Artaud he also believed in the interconnectedness of the art; did notice a lack of evolution in cinema, sought a new way of approaching reality and was not interested necessarily in logical coherence.

However, in "Rapture", Zulueta confirms himself as a highly formalist filmmaker, unsurprisingly as he wanted to make a Roger Corman-Easy Rider-style film for young people with a low budget, but one that would perform well on screen and be well received by the public.

He ended up foregrounding the medium from a personal perspective, the subject and the social object of the film. Playing with frame, projection, and time was no longer important. He aimed to present the story in its bare components as an anti-illusionist rather than as an academic "structural film," Zulueta however, was not fond of categorizations.

In "Rapture", more attention is paid to how creator, characters and alter-egos are cast, rather like a work of art, to the point where the plot itself hardly matters. To the point that makes the audience experience not just a movie, but a work of art, the auteurist "real" that fits with the mood of the audience for which the film was originally intended.

"Rapture" can be assessed on several levels but all viewers have the feeling of watching perhaps the most accurate autobiographical feature film that Spanish horror cinema has produced. One realizes that Zulueta worships fetishes, POP objects, film or television screens, mirrors... and one finally realize that THOSE strange things that happen to the characters have also happened to Zulueta.

This film has a meaning that is not for everybody, just like poetry is not for everyone, which is a bit elitist. The message works through intuition, it has to do with emotion, those that horror films arouse, with the emotions of fascination, and deep down beyond. Thus, "Rapture" is an underground film, because it reveals a series of sensitivities that are off the surface of society, rather, they have to be explored in depth as Jose Sirgado's character does when he delves into Pedro's life, inside many other aspects of it.

We are definitely facing a cult work that has been gaining followers over the years. This is because "Rapture" was far ahead of its time in 1979, this type of cinema was not made in Spain. Zulueta had the ability to absorb foreign currents to create his own. "Rapture" condenses in itself the fabrication of some fascinating characters, the autobiographical tone and the film essay.

It would be quite a challenge to try to explain the film based on logic, under a specific structure and conclusion; each viewer can extract a different reading from it, abstraction works like that. Image is full of meanings but when freed from the burden of narrative sits comfortably amid a rich variety of mindstates.

Through the persistence of spatial metaphors describing character lives creates a universal dramatic switch that masks the real and uneven relationships between characters and audience. Thus, Zulueta achieved something like a magical psychonautic catharsis that conforms a charming, beautiful and strange film, an exercise in creativity and freedom, an aesthetic experiment, and an artistic document that is also a historical document of beautiful and exciting time.

The clearest influences come from Murnau and the German expressionism, had to be as it is a vampires´ tale, closely related, there are also strong Kafka´s Metamorphoses vibes though simmered through influences of Antonin Artaud, Battaille, the Dadaists and their poetics of ritualism, paradoxical experience, divine ecstasy and extreme horror all the way to Jonas Mekas and the actionists elements of gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork) of the radical New York art scene.

Of course than this is a posteriori intertextual interpretation. He made clear later on that he wanted to follow Dennis Hopper and Roger Corman styles with a touch of Goddard at most. But "Raptures" escapes beyond Goddard´s "Lacanian" Live-limit experiences. Zulueta rejoices on the use of the poetry of Anguish, Alterity, Eroticism, Disembodiment and Abhumanity stepping far beyond Robert Mulligan´s "The Other", "Peeping Tom", "Blow Up", Oshima´s "Ai No Corrida" or Kenji Mizuguchi's "Ugetsu" which are the most obvious and direct references.

He was original even on who he identified referentially with in terms of atmosphere and theme. But there is a clear will to challenge the conventions laid down before with an anti-idealist philosophy conditioned by "the impossible", breaking "rules", until something beyond all rules was reached.

Which is why he embraced the abject and explored themes that transgress and threaten our sense of propriety. Is unavoidable to compare it with "Eraser Head" by David Lynch or Cronemberg´s "Videodrome", even if they come from the same depths, they are contemporary but thinly relate to each other. Experimental to the utmost, the viewer will notice that Rapture pre-dates visual narratives and treatments in later influential films like Pulp Fiction or The Ring series.

As usual with Cult classics, the great virtue of the film is that all its defects converge to make it even better.
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