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June 12, 2020

An Interview with Fernando Arrabal

Only in complete darkness the firefly shines

As part of our Viva La Muerte episode, Fernando Arrabal was generous enough to answer some questions via an email interview. Huge thanks to Elena Anele of the Horror Rises from Spain podcast for translating!

The Projection Booth: How old were you when you wrote your first play? What was it about?
I wrote my first play when I was 13. This was published many years after. At that time everybody thought I wanted to be a painter. So did I.

I was all time drawing, water coloring or painting things I can’t do today. It was thought I got some of my father, brother, grandmother….’s talent.

A lot of them, in my modest opinion, were and are great painters.

My brother and my father’s father entered in the military academy and the painting school of San Fernando in the same year.

[… Dalí dreamed of reaching his true memories: Un diari: Les meves impresions i records intimes]

Both chose to belong to the army. When I tell that my brother was a champion on air acrobatics in 1984 people laugh skeptically. And if I say I believe that he is the best oil portrait painter that laughter turns into revelry.

To tell you the real truth… he was the first oil portrait painter these days, because most of them are abstracts and concept paintings, and that kind of artists does not exist anymore.

Life is a big fun! When the person honoring me – not deserved at all- by worrying about me, I mean my living years, my everyday meetings in the surrealistic group I also make them smile. Surrealism is such a funny word, too.

If I bring back the pataphysics … the laughter is big. If I talk about aeronautic– even worse about the painting ones- victories, the guffaw is huge.

How could it be possible that you make up such funny lies with that complicit generous gaze?

TPB: What was it about?
I supposed you are asking me about the main theme of that play. I wanted to refer to the war that was in all media in those years.

One day I knew – nothing related to my theater- that two confronted managers asked their troops fiercely to increase their virtues and principles in 1915.

TPB: How did you get involved in the “Panic Movement”?
Just creating it. The elephant is better than the flea to verify its insignificance.

TPB: Can you tell me about meeting Roland Topor and Alejandro Jodorowsky?
I had met Topor since the beginning. Every day I mourn his absence and I miss him. Every moment with him was fulfill of the nostalgia of the chance of being.

I met Jodo much more later.

TPB: From what I understand, Picnic on the Battlefield was adapted several times for different television shows and movies.
And also, as an opera. It has been my most adapted work. There is nothing to justify. I do not understand the fact that there are parrots which learn to speak just to justify themselves.

TPB: How was that for you?
I was happy and surprised, but... I say that again… it is not my favorite work. The dromedary among camels proves the rule.

TPB: Did you have a particularly favorite version?
I have seen it so many times in last 50 years! If the Trojan horse had been a mouse, would he have gone totally unnoticed?

TPB: How did you get involved with Who Are You Polly Magoo?
By chance. Actually, God created the fish tank before the fishes.

TPB: Was Le Grande Ceremonial the first work of yours that was adapted for film?
Maybe. In the pub Destiny the roulette is Russian.

TPB: How was it working with Pierre-Alain Jolivet?
Hardly ever or never I was told Jolivet was my Pavlov and that he started salivating before his dog did.

TPB: What was your collaboration with Jodorowsky like on Fando Y Lis?
Impossible for the direction of my play in Mexico. I was in Paris. Impossible for the movie later on: I was in jail. Even the most lewd well-digger wanted to dress the naked Truth.

TPB: How did you manage to get Viva La Muerte made?
The project won the : l´avance sur recettes award. As if Newton’s bonsai discovered universal gravitation.

TPB: What were some of the differences between the film (Viva la Muerte) and the original source novel Baal Babilonia?
Many and huge. Nabucodonosor’s nephew was the first at calling him Nabuco.

TPB: What is your process when it comes to adapting your own work for the screen?
A youth mistake: I did it by my own in my room. There are some becoming tramps due to their dreams. Then I asked some of my friends as for example Jean-Pierre Melville, Truffaut, Trauner and Buñuel.

I should have asked them since the very beginning.

TPB: Can you tell me more about the “fantasy” sequences and how you dealt with videotape as a medium vs. film?
Nobody knew anything of all that, no one around me had the slightest idea. Production took us 3 days in which we worked 16 hours a day in a London lab. My assistant (Claudine Lagrive, Pan have her on His right) and I had to deal with two nice helpful English men that couldn’t even speak our language better than we spoke English.

In the light of the issue I called images/phantasmes - what I was seeing and I felt in love with the final result.

At the end, we even had time to celebrate the result in a pub with two improvised and friendly co-workers.

Turmoil once again surrounded me so much that I could have some utopias.

TPB: How was the film marketed? Was it different from country to country?
Intense. Only in complete darkness the firefly shines.

TPB: What your process getting your subsequent films funded and made?
Of all movies I have no idea about funding, even though the blinding uselessness of robots.

TPB: When were you able to go back to Spain?
Short after Franco’s death. When fanatics were fighting reason gave them arguments.

TPB: Did you ever find out what happened to your father?
No. I am hopeful. In March I knew about the existence of my grandmother Coraje [in English it means courage, bravery – Trans. Note]

TPB: Can you tell me how you got involved with Peter Fleischmann?
We were friends from before. I always thought he was a photocopy from another photocopy.

TPB: I do have to ask about the multiple eyeglasses thing. When did you start doing that?
Not long ago. I usually wear two. Each monad has a defined mission: its reason for existence.

TPB: Is that an answer to bifocals?
No! A green rainbow, is this more ecological?

TPB: Thank you for your time!
Same to you and have a good night – best moment of the day- because in the deepest the short-sighted diver is a visionary.

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