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Growing-Up Performances :
Benton Komins
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Madrid 1986: Tina's Lament 

InThe Law of Desire, Pedro Almodovar "writes" a filmic series of maturation scenarios that undermine stable notions of physical sex, sexing, and sexuality; he exploits the slippery possibilities of seduction to underscore the roles that environment and situation play within an individual's economy of desire.  In this film moments of seductive density point to a mode of understanding that lies outside of the "rational" male maturation story—the consolidating formula outlined in "Little Hans."  From the opening sequence, Almodovar positions his audience into a universe where only alternative maturation stories exist; the polysexual world of "hip," post-Franco Madrid—its artsy porno directors, nostalgic transsexuals, and impotent soda jerks—assaults the spectator.  Neither mature heroes nor immature villains exist in this perverse filmic world.  In a peculiar, almost parodically Freudian way, Almodovar exploits the possibilities inherent to the paradigmatic "breakdown of the mental dams of shame, disgust, and morality."13  As the sexual irregularity functions as the norm in the film, its inflections of male maturation, of both corruption and consolidation, implode Freud's pattern. 

I focus on Tina, one of the polymorphously perverse characters whose maturation story Almodovar embeds in the film.  (The foibles of this character—her erotic entanglements, Appendx 3 page break 36 | 37 friendships, and scandals—bind the disparate elements of the film.) Tina is played by the beautiful actress Carmen Maura, a regular in the Almodovar troupe: her movie-star sunglasses, plunging neckline, and short frilly skirt resonate with the starlet trappings of Hollywoodiana.  In an almost irresistible way, Tina's "sexy femininity" (her appearance enforced by the camera's hungry focus on the contours of her body) invites male cinematic scopophilia.  She directly brings to mind Laura Mulvey's injunction that the woman at the heart of the classic Hollywood film "in [her] traditional exhibitionist role is simultaneously looked at and displayed, with [her] appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that [she] can be said to connote to-be- looked-at-ness." 14  

But does Tina "conform" to the exhibitionist pattern? 

Imagine the scenario: on a noisy Madrid street, Tina, in her usual low cut-dress, and an identically dressed young girl stop in front of a boys' school chapel.  (She seems hypnotically lured by the organ music that she hears.)  The chapel and the music activate nostalgic reverie; an image of the past induces a moment of profane illumination for Tina.  "127 Serrano Street, I studied there when I was little.  They haven't fixed this [a gap in the fence] yet . . . How many times I must have jerked off in there.''15  Tina shares a moment of her past with her young companion.  This "holy" place was a part of her boyhood; with her masturbatory memory, it becomes abundantly clear that the irresistible Tina is a transsexual. 

With the shocking revelation of Tina, the paradox of Almodovar's invitation to male voyeuristic pleasure surfaces.  While the camera's overdetermination of her body conforms to the Mulvey idiom, quotation marks surround Tina's overstated appearance.  Going beyond the question of male scopophilia, Almodovar offers a slanted version of the psychoanalytic model of symbolic lack. 

    Psychoanalysis . . . suggests that women are not capable of representing lack because they have never possessed and then been threatened with the loss of that which allows one symbolically to depict lack—the penis. Classical film in its turn positions women characters . . . as being the image, and not as having it or not having it. 16 
Following, or perhaps counterpoising, the logic of  Constance Penley's argument, Tina is both the questioned/able male scopophilic object  (because she has experienced the "real" loss of her penis), and the self-created image who blithely disavows her ability to Appendx 3 page break 37 | 38represent lack.  She thwarts the image of the grotesque transsexual; the spectator knows about her boyhood past through her words, not the features of her transformed body.  Through the constellation of meanings around her body, Tina puts the entire issue of male scopophilic desire, as well as "female image being," into serious question. 

Tina "jerked off" at the chapel, eroticizing the spiritual munificence of the parish priest.  Upon entering this sacred place, she again bursts into song: "Listen to my pain . . . dry my weeping of bitter tears . . . attend to my lament."  Through a series of shots and reverse shots, Tina's song of woe is directed at a priest, Father Constantino, who plays the organ directly in front of her. After this brief moment of song, dialogue enters the sequence.  As Tina's exchange with Father Constantino spotlights the power of Almodovar's slippery maturation message, I cite the dialogue in full: 

    Tina: I was a soloist in the choir when I was little. It's the only thing I miss from that time.  

    Father Constantino: You remind me of a lad who used to study here. He also sang in the choir.  

    T: Father Constantino, it's me!  

    [The priest stops playing the hymn. He is temporarily confounded.] 

    FC: You! It can't be.  

    T: It can.  

    FC: You've changed so much.  

    T: Not really. I'm the same deep down.  

    FC: And that girl? [pointing to Tina's young companion who is sitting on top of the altar blasphemously playing a harmonica]  

    T: She's my daughter. 

    FC: Are you married? 

    T: No, I'm condemned to solitude.  

    FC: You can never say that.  

    T: I can. In my life, there have only been two men. one was you, my spiritual guide. The other was my father. Both have left me. I don't trust any other.  

    FC: Put your trust in God. He will never leave you.  

    T: Maybe you're right. I'd like to sing in a choir again.  

    FC: Not here, please!  

    T: Why not?  Appendx 3 page break 38 | 39 

    FC: If it's God you're searching for, go to any church. He's in all of them.  

    T: But my memories are here.  

    FC: Escape from them as I have done.  

    T: I don't want to. My memories are the only thing I have left. next page

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