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Performing fatness : oversized male bodies and hegemonic masculinities in recent Spanish cinema.

Fouz-Hernández, Santiago (2015) 'Performing fatness : oversized male bodies and hegemonic masculinities in recent Spanish cinema.', CineLit-VIII: An International Conference on Hispanic Film and Fiction. Portland, Oregon, USA, 19-21 February 2015.


Every actor undergoes a certain degree of physical transformation in preparation for a role. This could be as simple as changing hairstyle or as drastic as completely altering body shape. Regardless of the complexity of the makeover, this very physical aspect of characterisation is undoubtedly a major part of any performance. Major body transformations are often highlighted in the advertising campaigns of some films as a means to attract audiences. In biopics, for example, the process might have resulted in an actor achieving a remarkable resemblance to the real-life character s/he is impersonating – the classic example is Robert De Niro, who gained around 30 kilos to portray the older version of boxer Jake LaMotta in Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980). In an action movie, in an epic or a superhero film, physical changes usually involve packing up a lot of muscle bulk in a short period of time, such as Chris Hemsworth’s recent transformation for his role in for Thor (Kenneth Branagh, 2011). Some roles require actors to lose a lot of weight, for instance, Christian Bale for The Machinist (Brad Anderson, 2004). There are also shortcuts – Eddie Murphy wore a fat suit for The Nutty Professor (Tom Shadyac, 1996) and its sequel (Peter Segal, 2000). The field of Fat Studies has gained critical momentum in recent years, and its impact on Film Studies is becoming increasingly evident. Yet, fat bodies are rarely discussed in the context of masculinities and Men’s Studies. In Fat Boys, a pioneering booklength study on representations of fat men in art, literature and popular culture Sander L. Gilman offers some answers as to why that may be. The title of his introduction, ‘Fat is a Men’s Issue’ (2004: 1-35), is an explicit response to Orbach’s muchcritiqued argument in Fat is a Feminist Issue (first published in 1978).1 He argues both that the cultural association of women and fat ignores the history of fat men in ancient Greece, nineteenth-century medical discourses and Western literary history. His examples demonstrate a persistent association of male obesity with failed masculinity, deviance and disability.2 There is now a well-established body of scholarship that reads actors’ physiques as a tool to interpret and analyse films. Some recent studies discuss fat masculinities in cinema, but most of these have focused on well-known Hollywood actors, genres or Hollywood cinema more generally.3 In Transgressive Bodies, Niall Richardson examines the representation of fatness in recent mainstream film and popular culture. His findings imply that contemporary representations of fatness follow the pattern described by Gilman: ‘the suggestion of fat has always been that the character is lazy, undisciplined’ (2010: 96). In his study of fat masculinities in film noir, Christopher Forth agrees that ‘fat has been gendered as “feminine” in the Western cultural imagination’ and argues that in film noir fat manhood is generally associated with ‘looseness, immorality, weakness and cowardice’, and thus a threat to patriarchy (2013: 389). In the context of Spanish cinema, Pavlović’s ground-breaking Despotic Bodies and Transgressive Bodies (2002) lucidly explores the connections between national identity and visual depictions of the body during Franco’s dictatorship and the transition. My own work with Martínez-Expósito (2007) investigates the prominence of male bodies and male nudity in Spanish films of the democratic period. In both cases, fat male bodies are discussed, but not in much detail. This chapter aims to provide a better understanding both of fat masculinities and how fatness might affect an actor’s performance, in the context of contemporary Spanish cinema. I will start by exploring two stars whose performances of fat masculinities has fundamentally different meanings (Santiago Segura as Torrente for the famous saga, and Javier Bardem as Santa in León de Aranoa’s Los lunes al sol/Mondays in the Sun (2002)), to then focus on Gordos/Fat People (Daniel Sánchez Arévalo, 2009), a film that confronts the issue of fatness directly and that usefully complements the other two cases.

Item Type:Conference item (Paper)
Additional Information:See DRO record for book chapter: Fouz-Hernández, Santiago (2016) 'Performing fatness : oversized male bodies in recent Spanish cinema.', in Performance and spanish film. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 205-219.
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Date of first online publication:2015
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