A Postmodern Simulacrum
Rather than a mere expression of nostalgia, postmodernism may be seen as an attempt to recover the morphological continuity of specific culture. The use of past styles in this case is motivated not by a simple escapism, but by a desire to understand our culture and ourselves as products of previous codings.
James Collins, "Postmodernism and Cultural Practice"
Aside from its citation of Imitation, there are other reasons why Almodovar's film constitutes a postmodern remake. Its intertextual vision is highly parodic—filled with (which Hutcheon has termed) "self-conscious, self-contradictory, self-undermining statement" (1). In the Sirk film, melodramatic moments often border on comedy (as when the telephone rings for Lora with a job offer each time she is about to kiss her lover, Steve [John Gavin]). This nascent farce (just below the histrionic facade) was apparent to Rainer Werner Fassbinder—whose films were also modeled on Sirk's. Here is an excerpt from Fassbinder's tongue-in-cheek summary of Imitation (which he calls a "great, crazy movie about life and death . . . [a]nd . . . America"): "[The characters] are always making plans for happiness, for tenderness, and then the phone rings, a new part and Lana revives. The woman is a hopeless case. So is John Gavin. He should have caught on pretty soon that it won't work" (Fischer, 1991A, 244–45).
In High Heels the ironic and melodramatic modes are nearly indistinguishable. When Becky and Rebecca are first reunited, they embrace. At that heightened instant, Rebecca's earring becomes caught in Becky's hair. When Judge Dominguez asks Becky whether she has killed Manuel, she replies, "You don't do that before an [theatrical] opening." Later, as Becky is taken away in an ambulance, she tells her homicidal daughter, "Find another way to solve your problems with men."
Beyond its conjuration of Imitation, the film's cinematic references are quite extensive. With Almodovar's focus on maternal melodrama, there are intimations of Mildred Pierce (1945). That film also depicts an incestuous triangle in which a daughter kills her mother's lover. Like Becky, Mildred attempts to assume responsibility for her offspring's crime. (Interestingly, Roger Ebert sees the performance of Marisa Paredes in High Heels as "inspired . . . [or inhabited by] Joan Crawford" ). While Mildred Pierce is never mentioned in almodovar's film, Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata (1978) is. That film (which concerns a woman's struggle with her renowned pianist-mother) is cited by Rebecca to explain how she is plagued by Becky's fame. Other quotations issue from Dominguez's pose as a female. As he sings in a nightclub, members of the audience duplicate his every gesture (like spectators of The Rocky Horror Picture Show ). When Dominguez confesses his love to Rebecca and she rebuffs him for cross-dressing, he replies, "Nobody's perfect." That line replicates one spoken by Osgood (Joe E. Brown) in Some Like it Hot (1959) when he learns that the woman he adores is a man.
While High Heels circulates in elitist film markets, its citations often derive from mass culture—a fact that distinguishes postmodernist from modernist works. As Almodovar, himself, has stated: "I think you can look at genre . . . without making those 'exquisite' divisions of art cin-
ema [and] popular cinema" (Morgan, 28). That his quotations are often from American movies, testifies to the hegemony of Hollywood film in the world economy, as well as to America's more "egalitarian" vision of the arts.
Aside from deconstructing the binaries of high and low culture, the postmodern work has been said to relax the boundaries between fact and fiction. Hutcheon sees the form as enacting a process of hybridization "where the borders are kept clear, even if they are frequently crossed" (37). High Heels slyly suggests the "real" in its invocation of a controversy that surrounded the making of Imitation: the fatal stabbing of Lana Turner's lover by her daughter, Cheryl Crane, in April of 1958 (Fischer, 1991A, 216–18). In High Heels, this fact reenters (with a vengeance) in Rebecca's twin murders: her childhood killing of her stepfather (by switching his medications) and her later shooting of Manuel. While this subtext can be excavated from Imitation, it is on the surface in High Heels, which makes crime the central axis of the drama (Fischer, 1991A, 21–8). Thus, High Heels par-
takes in a dual homage: to the fictional narrative of Sirk's film and to the documented tragedy of Turner and Crane. As though to suggest the infamous 1958 tabloid expose, Almodovar makes Rebecca a newscaster who confesses her offense during a broadcast. He also has Becky write her memoirs, a fact that alludes to the autobiographies penned by Turner and Crane. If Marisa Paredes reminds us of Joan Crawford, thoughts of Mommie Dearest (1981) cannot be far behind.
While High Heels accesses the "real" of a Hollywood scandal, it relinquishes the theme of race so prominent in Imitation, figuring it only in a flashback of the "natives" who populate the island of Rebecca's childhood vacation. If "passing" is at issue in the film, it is devoid of racial overtones and attends to Judge Dominguez and his feminine disguise.
As High Heels intermingles fact and fiction, so it crosses genres—much as Judge Dominguez crosses dress. (Almodovar himself states that he does not "respect the boundaries of . . . genre" but "mix[es] it with other things" [Kinder, 1987, 38]). Hence, High Heels is a "hybrid" of the melodramatic, satirical, and film noir modes. The film's myriad references to cinema, publishing, and television tap into another postmodern theme: the overwhelming presence of media within contemporary culture—producing a vision of existence as the transmission of synthetic images. For Jean Baudrillard, we live in an age in which "production and consumption" have given way to "networks" through which we experience an "ecstasy of communication" (1983, 127). Significantly, the life dramas in Almodovar's film are enacted on TV. Manuel is a network executive. Not only does Rebecca break down during a televised program but her mother and Judge Dominguez learn of her wrongdoing by watching the show. Likewise, it is by viewing TV that Rebecca discerns her mother is ill. Finally, a narrative twist arises when Rebecca claims the wrong set of prints from a photographic lab—as though to symbolize the rampant confusion of images in the world. Clearly, the issue of artificiality is already apparent in Imitation, whose title and theatrical setting unavoidably elicit the theme (Affron, Stern).
Other aspects of High Heels reveal a postmodern bent. At times, the drama suffers "lapses" at odds with its overall continuity. (David Kehr, for example, complains of the film's "strange displacements.") When Rebecca is jailed and sent to the prison courtyard, several inmates enact a bizarre, choreographed "production number" reminiscent of those in a Hollywood musical. On another occasion, when Rebecca reads the television news, she laughs as she reports the weekend traffic fatalities (as though to reference Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend ). In both cases, the diegesis is ruptured through homage. At other times, the slippage is produced by an excess of emotion rather than by an ironic gap. As Becky sings in a theater (distraught over Rebecca's incarceration), she kisses the stage floor, whereupon a tear drop falls and lands on her bright red lip print. It is an unlikely
moment that functions as a pure icon of sentimentality (like a bird on a branch in a D. W. Griffith film).