Friday 29 April


I’ve been watching “Today’s Worst”, a tacky tabloid TV show. Victoria Abril appears dressed-to-video in an outrageous Jean Paul Gaultier leather original. Her breasts are armoured with movie lights and her head sports a motorised video camera. Not quite what we might usually expect from Spain’s answer to Bette Davis, she looks like a style conscious information warrior, ready to record life’s tackiest moments — and believe me, the tackier they are the better.

Actually, “Today’s Worst” is not the latest exploitation documentary to hit Australian television, though it could be quite easily. It’s just one twisted part of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar’s most recent black comedy, “Kika”. A self-conscious collage of characters, costumes and sets, “Kika” takes us on a romp through a crazy world getting screwier every minute. As watchers of his films have come to expect by now, Almodovar’s latest pop- baroque world is inhabited by an assortment of comic psychopaths, sexy innocents, and homicidal writers. But I’m not so interested in story here.

Most of the action is set against a bewildering array of fifties kitsch objects and modern design styles. Like many of his previous films, “Kika” is a tour de force of eclectic sets and fashions. Not one to indulge in tasteful interiors, subdued colour schemes, and off-the- shelf costumes, Almodovar’s films stand out against the more naturalistic Hollywood spectacles we are so used to seeing. While some might moan at his clashing colour schemes and mismatched patterns, others will find his unconventional collaging of styles refreshing and playful — perhaps even cynical.

In fact, the technicolour backgrounds and outfits are an essential function of the narrative. Though this is true of all films, here the effect is especially heightened. After all, anyone who stages most of the second act in a cluttered Memphis-style apartment gone wild is not exactly playing it safe. A fifties George Nelson red patent marshmallow lounge sits beside an eighties Ettore Stoss shelving unit, filled with gaudily coloured Murano glassware. The tiled Mediterranean ceramic floors (not to mention the kitchen, bathroom, fireplace and bar!) change pattern and colour every few metres, while pony skin and candy striped cushions nestle in bold Designers Guild tartan and green couches. Kitsch Vargas nudes vie for attention with the lava lamps and assorted pictures of beaming angels. If you haven’t got the picture already, Almodovar’s sets are an interior designer’s nightmare. The interesting thing though, is that it works.

What with Kika’s floral print dresses and her housemaid’s red gingham uniform, the film is constantly vibrating with conflicting pattern and colour. Some of this rubs of on the characters of course. The convolutions of plot and increasingly dark humour are brought into even sharper relief by the stagy backgrounds and bright attire. Almodovar’s vision of late-twentieth century social relations might be bleak, but his style is certainly not. Nothing appears to be in its right place, and everything (and everybody) is fighting for attention in a radically decontextualised world. So why not put the millefiori glass and leopard skin ceramics next to the lava lamps and Keith Haring objet d’art, right?

Perhaps this approach to design can be dismissed as dismal (or is it optimistic?) postmodernism. Mix and match went out in the eighties anyway didn’t it? Certainly, Almodovar’s filmic world has little to do with the leading edge of Spanish design, which has flourished in the post-Franco era. I suspect it has more to do with the filmmaker’s talent as a collagist, though here extended into the entire fictional world.

An enduring phenomenon of modern art, collage assisted the movement of the picture out into space and its eventual merging or dissolving into action and form in time and space. What better place to advance this principle than the cinema? Here on Almodovar’s screen we witness the drama of the picture moving into space and into the aincoherence of life.

A little far fetched? Maybe. But if nothing else, “Kika” is a challenge to the straight tastes and classical styles that dominate mainstream sensibilities. Who knows. Today’s worst could easily become tomorrow’s best.

Ross Harley