What I’m Watching at Night: Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

A surprising illustration that could double as a storyboard frame for the future Talk to Her twelve years later

Anxiety can be a good thing sometimes, as long as it doesn’t hang around. I worked on the novel for so long that I forgot what it felt like to be in a silent period, to be in a space where a project wasn’t exactly even in working shape. I’m working on stories right now, but not necessarily a collection [1] There’s a novel in note form, but even those lines are scant. Summer is here, though, and a good friend and I are exchanging work on deadline, however shaky the drafts might be. Something is bound to take shape.

It’s folly to openly take inspiration from other artists.[2] A couple of weeks ago, though, Pedro Almodóvar was on my mind, mostly because my friend Chris had sent along The Skin I Live In for my fortieth birthday. I skipped the film in the theater because I had been so disappointed in Broken Embraces and didn’t have the heart to sit through a second dud, especially after I had read the reviews. But after watching The Skin I Live In, I found I was really happy to see that Almodóvar had kept up exploring his own particular notions of identity and shifting relationships, and that even his time demarcations (like the ones that divided Talk to Her) were at once familiar and freshly aligned with new material.

I shouldn’t have been surprised though. In preparation for this film, my friends and I screened his 1990 film Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, which I hadn’t seen since college. I was alert to how his preoccupations have always been evident. Witness this fun shot:

A screw

The visual pun really delighted me, and its placement was harmless enough: if an audience thought it sophomoric, at least it was near the beginning of the picture, where it assisted the tone, but didn’t necessarily interfere. Later, though, I started to recognize what might have been the stirrings of the core of Talk to Her, the diminishment of a male body as it goes in search of its obsession.

The scuba diver in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

In Talk to Her, the scuba diver pun gets extended—thrillingly—into a full-fledged scene, going well beyond a sight gag into an imaginative culmination of what it means to really get inside someone. [3] I like to think it takes a long time for artists of that echelon to recalibrate early obsessions [4] to become not just the money shot itself, but the foundation of scenes with enough dimension to carry other, perhaps unintended, digressions and permutations. It’s the kind of thing that gives me hope—that there’s nothing wrong with going back across previous ideas, that revisiting them sometimes yields even deeper pleasures. After all, I can always count on Almodóvar to give me certain things over and over again, like intriguing title designs, primary color schemes, some great song, and beguiling art/set decorations. And beautiful faces, which always satisfies.

Antonio sleeps (and we can watch him all night)

  1. [1] A story called “High Heels Running in the Rain” came out in Eleven Eleven and a new one, “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.,” is due out next year from Glimmer Train, but I have no idea if they are part of the same book.
  2. [2] There’s always some pendejo in the world who doesn’t know the difference between imply and infer; I’m doing none of the former and hope said pendejo (or -a) does none of the latter.
  3. [3] If you know the film, it may be its most unforgettable sequence, though not necessarily its best.
  4. [4] I suppose this begs the question of my own obsessions, but that’ll have to wait for another time, like when I post about Muriel Spark…
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