has begun writing quarantine essays from Madrid. Posted today, the latest essay was "
On Monday night, as the new hardened measures for the current quarantine were being announced, I started feeling symptoms of claustrophobia for the first time. They’ve come up late, as I’ve been suffering from claustrophobia and agoraphobia for a while; I know they are opposite pathologies, but my body is paradoxical, it is one of its characteristics, it always has been.
That night, I knew I was going to try to go out the following day; I felt as if I was going to commit a premeditated crime. As if giving yourself to a forbidden pleasure and you cannot do anything to avoid it. It sounds like cheap pulp literature, and it is, but I blame it on the effects of confinement.
I planned it minimally; I’d go to buy food, a genuine shopping trip and a genuine need since I’m on my own. So that Tuesday morning I got dressed to go out and I felt like I was doing something exceptional: dressing! It’s been 17 days since I last did it, and I’ve always experienced getting dressed as something intimate and very special. I recalled various other occasions of getting dressed, very important moments for me I realize now, which have remained in my mind since. For instance, I recalled when in 1980 I was getting dressed in Lope de Rueda street, for the premiere of “Pepi, Luci, Bom” in the Peñalver cinema on Conde de Peñalver street. Even though it was a cinema where they played re-releases, for me it was as if it was premiering at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. It was the first time that a film of mine would be watched by an audience, the first time in a real cinema and as part of the commercial circuit, with its seats full of people, the audience watching images created by me with my friends, during the year and a half that it took to film. And those who didn’t leave the cinema laughed so much. I remember I wore a red satin bomber jacket that I bought in Portobello Market, in London.
It’s not always that one dresses as part of a plan, or at least you don’t always remember it so. I recall when two years after the premiere of “Pepi,” still in the midst of La Movida, I consciously dressed in a grey Mao collar suit to go to a bar in Malasaña run by a boy I had my eyes on. I have never been much for Mao collars; I prefer the Perkins because it covers up the double chin. I remember the Mao collar suit because the boy in question became part of my life for the next two, three years. And he left a mark.
I also remember the purple silk Shantung tuxedo by the designer Antonio Alvarado, and the studded ankle boots, like the ones now made by Louboutin, that I wore to my first-ever Oscar ceremony in 1989. We didn’t win, my relationship with Carmen Maura blew up into pieces, but I remember that trip to Los Angeles as being full of wonderful events.
Four or five days before the ceremony we had dinner at Jane Fonda’s home; she was obsessed with remaking “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” She’d invited very few people, Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson, her partner then, who mentioned to Bibiana Fernández he had spotted her watching the Lakers that very afternoon. Cher, with natural make-up to make her look as if she had no make-up on, more gorgeous, cuter and shorter than I imagined. And Morgan Fairchild. Yes! (I thought the next guest would have been someone like Susan Sontag.) I was truly surprised, because I thought Morgan Fairchild played in a lower league to the rest (although having worked on “Flamingo Road” and “Falcon Crest” is no small achievement). Jane Fonda must have noticed my surprise since afterwards she explained that she used to go on demonstrations with Morgan Fairchild, who was as feminist if not more so than herself.
We spent the soiree gobsmacked by the energy of the female guests and of Jack himself. We had many pictures taken with them and with the paintings hanging on those walls, whose author was Jane’s father, Henry Fonda.
The morning after the ceremony, I received a phone call at the hotel, a woman’s voice. She tells me, as if she were not conscious of its impact, but confident that her voice was going to have an impact on me: “Hello, it’s Madonna, I’m filming ‘Dick Tracy’ and I would love to show you the set. I’m not filming today and I can dedicate the day to you”.
It could be a false Madonna, or a psychopath who was thinking of cutting me into pieces on one of those waste grounds James Ellroy describes so well in his novels. If you read “The Black Dahlia” you’ll know what I’m talking about; Ellroy’s mother was dismembered on one of those wastelands. You can also watch the film by my beloved Brian De Palma based on the book, with Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank, but the truth is it didn’t turn out that well. It’s not bad for quarantine, but I would recommend you many others by De Palma before that one: “Sisters,” “Phantom of the Paradise,” “Carlito’s Way,” “Body Double” — with Melanie Griffith at the peak of her powers, skinny as a rake — and above all, “Scarface” with Al Pacino. Don’t bother with “The Black Dahlia” and organize yourselves a program with all of those films, you’ll thank me later. They are all gems, seriously accessible, and really enjoyable. I will make you a list of recommendations at the end.
Coming back to Madonna, it could always be someone who was playing a joke on me, but my self-esteem — despite not winning the Oscar — was high enough for me to have no doubt this was an authentic phone call. Madonna’s voice gave me the address for the studio where they were filming, and I turned up there, pleased as punch.
The truth is the whole team, from Warren Beatty to Vittorio Storaro, couldn’t have been kinder to me. They treated me as if I was George Cukor. Beatty forced me to sit on the chair with his name on, the director’s chair, so I could watch the sequence they were filming. I was about to confess that when I was a child I discovered my sexuality when I saw him in “Splendor in the Grass” (the builder in “Pain and Glory” never existed), but I stopped myself from doing so, of course. They were filming a sequence where an unrecognizable Al Pacino was yakking away non-stop. He was nominated for the Oscar the following year, and the film was awarded three statuettes.
Madonna took me around all of the sets and I met someone who I deeply admired, Milena Canonero, the costume designer who by then had already won three Oscars (she’d be nominated for “Dick Tracy” the following year): “Chariots of Fire,” “Barry Lyndon,” and “Cotton Club.” I recommend all three films to cope with the quarantine. My favourite is Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon.” Milena Canonero would go on to win a fourth Oscar, I don’t remember which film. Visiting her workshop was what probably left the strongest impression on me during that visit; it would have been the only reason why I would have liked to work in Hollywood: the obsession for detail.