The Spirit of the Beehive," a 1973 Spanish movie now at the Outer Circle 2, seems to provoke extreme responses. Viewers are either enraptured or paralyzed. As one who felt paralyzed. I think I can see where there might be some provocation for the enthusiasts but I fail to see much justification. "Spirit of the Beehive" is the sort of slumbrously sensitive item that tends to give art films a poisonous reputation.
A first feature by Victor Erice "Beehive" is a dreadfully solemn opaque contribution to the genre of films about children represented by "The Yearling." "Forbidden Games," "The Fallen Idol," "The Rocking Horse Winner." "A kid for Two Farthings," "Tiger Bay" and "Whistle Down the Wind." For a time the British seemed to specialize in melodramas about the potentially dangerous contradictions between a child's apprehension of reality and the social realities of the grown-up world itself.
In "Beebive" two little girls, irresistibly embodied by Isabel Telleria (the older) and Anna Torrent, who live with their parents in a small Castilian town, are affected in curious ways by attending a screening of "Frankenstein" at the town hall, where movies are shown once a week. The premise has a number of possiblities but Erice lacks the dramatic technique necessary to develop any suggestion in a coherent or pschchologically revealing way.
Even when the story begins following rather obviously in the footsteps of "Whistle Down the Wind" - Ana briefly harbors a fugitive whom she identifies with the persecuted monster from the film, just as the kids in the English film confused fugitive Alan Bates with the Jesus of their Bible stories - the material fails to shape up. Erice has a vagrant sensibility. He tries to evoke moods from a number of vintage horror, films, but "Beehave" has no conventional integrity or identity - and no emotionally compelling mystery - all its own.
One of Erice's problems is that he seems to believe in the infinite evocative power of long, ponderous, static takes. "Beehive" is overstocked with what I've come to think of as Robert De Niro at the telephone takes, after the ostentatiously inexplicable scene in "New York, New York" where Martin Scorsese lingers over De Niro placing a call we're not permitted to monitor and then thinking about whatever he was thinking about, while we're aching for the camera to get back to his wife's vocalizing on "Honeysuckle Rose."
Pudovkin onve performed a famous experiment juxtaposing shots of an expressionless actor symbolic objects to prove the emotional power of editing.But there is only one feeling that results from staring indefinitely at a screen actor projecting no expression - impatience. Far from discovering a great new resource, directors who resort to the prolonged meaningless moment seem to betray the absence of writing skills, which might be expected to supply some of the sharply delineated characters, motivations, conflicts and simple exchange of pleasantries that are so conspicuosly missing.