The Spirit of the Beehive is a Spanish Masterpiece


The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

Directed by Victor Erice

Bocaccio Distribution, 97 minutes, Not-rated

In Spanish with subtitles





It’s intriguing that authoritarian rulers think they can manipulate media to their advantage, especially in their waning days. Spanish director Victor Erice was a bit like the character Fernando (Fernando Fernán Gómez) in The Spirit of the Beehive, a semi-closeted critic of the regime of Francisco Franco. Erice’s film is now considered one of Spain’s finest and is included in the Criterion Collection of classic films. It debuted in 1973, two years before Franco died and his fascist-style Falangist movement collapsed with him. Before he expired, Franco tried to convince a skeptical global community that artistic freedom thrived in Spain, which is how Beehive got a global audience. I doubt this is what the generalissimo imagined.


It was Erice who was the more clever manipulator. First, he set The Spirit of the Beehive in 1940, the year of his own birth, but also when Franco’s troops vanquished the last Republican resistance. Erice filmed in the real-life village of Hoyuelos, a remote village in northern Spain in which the big excitement occurs when film reels are delivered and the local hall becomes an impromptu theater. In this case, it’s the James Whale-directed  1931 version of Frankenstein in which Boris Karloff was the Monster. In that one, the Monster plays with a young girl by the waterside before killing her. Was Erice suggesting Franco-stein? Probably! Why else make the Monster the centerpiece of a horror/drama film whose principal is six-year-old Ana (Ana Torrent)?


Ana and her older sister Isabel view Frankenstein and it had a profound effect on Ana’s vivid imagination. The sisters live in one of the few bourgeois homes in the village, though both Fernando and his wife Teresa must hide their sympathies for the defeated Nationalists. Theirs is the age-old strategy of keeping their heads down and only dragging out the crystal set late at night (probably to listen to the BBC). They also hide the photo albums, lest the wrong eyes observe shared comradery with the wrong people. You’d only know this from research, but one such photograph is of intellectual Miguel de Unamuro, a fierce Franco critic who died during house arrest. How did Erice get that past the censors? My only explanation is that the film was too enigmatic to reveal Erice’s intent.


The film makes brilliant use of psychological terror. Chekov’s gun is a time-tested dramatic device that introduces a prop that foreshadows its future use. Ahh, but what if you fill the screen with eerie music, flashback Monster images, a remote abandoned cottage, a deep well, school anatomy lessons, dark furniture, windows that blow open and slam shut, poisonous mushrooms, a cheerless painting of St. Jerome, a creaky house, and rumors of a ghostly spirit? Anybody who tried to bring all that to bear in a single denouement would produce a messterpiece, not a masterpiece. But thanks to Luis de Pablo’s atmospheric soundtrack and the carefully angled cinematography of Luis Cuadrado, the film’s real terror occurs in Ana’s point-of-view shots, her dreams, and in the minds of viewers. One tense moment involves Isabel and serves to warn you to watch carefully and assume nothing.


Another character is known simply as “fugitive,” an on-the-lam former Nationalist soldier whom Ana tries to help. Is he Ana’s Frankenstein? What do we make of Ana’s disappearance? There has to be a Monster of some sort, right? It would seem so, but who and where does it lurk? And what about the title? In part it references the honeycombed windows that frame some of the screen’s tension, and it’s also a smokescreen for Fernando’s misanthropy, but I suspect we are also invited to consider what resides in the folds and crevices of the human brain. Such probing certainly affected child actress Ana Torrent, who went on to become a well known star in Spain. She is on record with saying that she was figuratively and literally haunted by the movie. 


It's stunning to realize that The Spirit of the Beehive was Erice’s first feature. It should be noted that it is so slowly paced that in its day, some audiences booed. Does it drag? Maybe, but it also has the effect of prolonging viewer anxiousness and apprehension. Like young Ana, I have been haunted since I saw it.


Rob Weir


The Good House: Strong Leads but Inconsistent

The Good House (2021 )

Directed by Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky

Roadside Attractions, 114 minutes, R (language, brief sexuality)




Hildy Good (Sigourney Weaver) is a Type-A personality  who was once the best realtor in Wendover, Massachusetts. Courtesy of an acrimonious divorce and alcohol rehab, she has slipped to C- on the personality charts and is now the number two realtor because former protege Wendy Heatherton (Catherine Erbe) stole many of Hildy’s clients when she was on the shelf. Hildy wants to get her mojo back, but like many recovering alcoholics, thinks she can control herself, which is nearly always a recipe for failure.


Wendover is a moderately sized town prone to gossip. The local scuttlebutt holds that Hildy has more of a problem than she thinks. In a creative attempt to rebuild her practice, Hildy aids a young couple with an autistic son sell their home. It needs repairs and upgrades they can't afford, so Hildy contracts jack-of-many-trades Frank Getchell (Kevin Kline). He has always carried a torch for Hildy and has hopes for the future, but from her standpoint the best thing about Frank is that he works cheaply.


Hildy begins to think big and aims to secure a big development deal with the Santorelli brothers. She has also befriended Rebecca McAllister (Marina Baccarin), who is new in town and learns that she’s having an affair with Peter Newbold (Rob Delaney), a psychologist whom she has known for many years. This means Peter might be leaving his wife and selling his home. Peter infers that if he does, he will use Hildy as his agent. When she finds out he's actually listing his house with Wendy, Hildy hits the roof. Can Hildy stay in control, or is she too deep into her cups and too far down the path of self-deception? It’s not hard to spiral downward when she and Rebecca began to share bottles of wine.


From there it’s just a short slide to solo chugging several bottles a night and hallucinating. About the only thing that is working in Hildy’s life is that she has begun a romance with Frank. Alas, she thinks it’s just a fling and fails to appreciate what a thoughtful man he is. Frank bails her out of a few potentially embarrassing situations, though he learns the hard way that it’s very difficult to help someone to whom you are close. Eventually even he grows disgusted with some of her behavior and he won’t be the only one betrayed.


As a film about alcoholism, The Good House is neither bad nor all that great. Weaver,  however, is perfect for the role of Hildy Good. She is now a mature actress who looks great for being in her 70s but, when necessary, dons her fading rose face. Did she also channel some things that touched her personally? I don’t know about that, but Weaver certainly embodied verisimilitude. As they age, many people have difficulty adjusting to the fact that they can’t sustain a high-powered life. It’s doubly tragic if they lack the grace to accept a simpler one. You should sympathize; American society often makes it difficult for them to find new niches, which is a major reason why depression and substance abuse are common among older adults. Weaver reminds us of such things.


Kevin Klein is equally well cast. He was once known for his boyish charm and good looks. Kudos for making a nice transition into the role of Frank, a  crusty New Englander more at home covered in sawdust or splattered with paint than sitting around a formal dinner table. Unlike Hildy, Frank is comfortable with who he is. And why not? Beneath Frank’s roughhewn working-class exterior lies an essential decency.


As such movies go, several crises  push Hildy to confront reality and shuttle viewers toward a happy ending. In other words, The Good House is ultimately a bit of a fairy tale. I'm sure it happens on occasion that a single shock induces sobriety, but it’s usually a messier and longer process. In some respects, Hildy’s fall from her initial sobriety is more realistic then her sudden return to the dry wagon.


To reiterate, The Good House a good movie, just not an outstanding one. To make an analogy, the film’s Wendover is not really a Massachusetts coastal town. The location is actually in Nova Scotia. That's a Hollywood movie in a nutshell, illusion masquerading as goes-down-easy truth.


Rob Weir



Scapegoats, Hype, and Prospects: Boston Red Sox

Could be the Red Sox Management Team

I am a Yankees fan, but I think the Red Sox will have a faster turnaround, as they are less constrained by payroll.


Let’s start with this. The person who gets fired isn’t always the problem. General Manager Chaim Bloom took the fall for several miserable seasons, but he did what he was hired to do: cut payroll. In baseball, you often get what you pay for and Boston has been unwise in its spending habits. The payroll is $205 million but that’s only because they have so much deferred money on the books. (They’re still paying Manny Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia, among others.) Bloom wielded the scalpel per ownership orders. Did he help the farm system? I’ll get to that.


Pitching is the number one priority and it would be wise to stop pining hopes on older pitchers with a history of injuries. Like Cory Kluber and James Paxton for instance. If they can find a buyer for Chris Sale, they’d be wise to sell. Richard Bleir, Mauricio Llovera, and Kaleb Ort are also expendable. Insofar as the lineup goes, they need to admit that Trevor Story was an expensive mistake and move on. They got what they could out of Rob Refsnyder, but he’ll never be an everyday player. The infield needs to be rebuilt and the catching corps looks better on paper than it is.


I often think the Red Sox don’t have pitching smarts. They tried to move Nick Pivetta, but he’s one of their most reliable hurlers. They also need to end the Garrett Whitlock as starter experiment and put him back in the bullpen where he’s outstanding. Build around Brayan Bello, one of their best pitching prospects in some time. I’m less convinced by Kutter Crawford, but it’s early days. Any way you slice it, though, Boston will need a frontline pitcher or two to compete in 2024. If ownership foolishly pots for a win-now mindset, that would mean moving someone they’d rather not.


Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox can hit. That is, if they make smart decisions. They think Justin Turner is too old, but he sure is raking now. They’d also like to move on from Adam Duvall, but he too is productive. (They should have never traded Hunter Renfroe.) More baffling still, they have buyer’s regret over Masataka Yoshida. Please, please send him to New York! Alex Verdugo is allegedly difficult, but the man can hit as long as you don’t think he’s going to put 30 homers over the wall. The future core, though, is Rafael Devers, Tristan Casas, and (they hope!) Jarren Duran and Ceddanne Rafaela.  Duran should be alright, but it’s hard to say about Rafaela.


Boston’s long-term future rests on the yield of the farm system. How good is it? There’s the rub; as I’ve noted elsewhere, the Red Sox are MLB leaders in hyping prospects. I’ll rank them the same way I did the Yankees: R for Real Deal; S for Suspect, and P for it will take a Prayer. Again, though, the Hype Machine makes all of this speculative.


·      Bobby Dalbec: R but not in a Red Sox uniform. He strikes out a lot, but he’s versatile and has power. Needs a change of scenery.

·      Marcelo Mayer: R Perhaps the shortstop of the future, though scouts think he’ll end up at second or third.

·      Nick Yorke: R He could be the one to make Sox fans forget about Pedroia.

·      Roman Anthony: S He could make Yoshida redundant, but he’s raw at present.

·      Ceddanne Rafaela: S The Sox love him, but scouts don’t. He hasn’t shown much power thus far.

·      Tanner Houck: S A prime example of hype. He was supposed to be an ace, but it looks like he’ll be a mop up pitcher.

·      Joe Jacques: S Looks promising, but the sample is miniscule. The same can be said of Josh Winckowski and Zack Kelly. I’d pick Winckowski as the best of the trio.

·      Kyle Ort: P Lots of noise around him, but most of it is from balls exploding from bats.

·      Kyle Barraclough: P Unless he’s a late bloomer, he’s a bummer.

·      Kyle Teel: P The Sox need a catcher, but this kid is no Carlton Fisk. He allegedly has power, but he hasn’t shown much. If he’s a defense-first catcher, there’s no room for him on the roster.


Lots of the hope is at lower levels of the minors. That places players such as Wilyes Abreu, Blaze Jordan, Louis Perales, and a half dozen others in the show-me category.


Minor leaguers are often at their most valuable as trade pieces. It’s imperative that Boston gets a new general manager in place soon. Young players often play winter ball and hope to attract notice. The downside is that just as often their flaws are exposed and trade value goes down. Houck and Ort are examples of that. What could you get for the pair of them? A new GM needs to develop a 3-year plan and not be afraid he or she is trading a future Mookie Betts.


Rob Weir