|The bull and its blood symbolize a call to nature at its most brutal, pure and irrational. -Jose Antonio del Moral|
If you are not a fan of bullfighting please move along. My interest in defending this sport is exactly zero.
There is a documentary about bullfighting, The Matador, by Seavey and Higgins, that follows a very young (and now very famous) Spanish bullfighter, David Fandila, over a three-year period as he struggled to complete 100 corridas in a single season. A cursory glance at the reviews found the film to have been well received when it premiered in 2008, and this in spite of the subject. While I found the story of “El Fandi” more engaging than the story-telling, it certainly offered up some great bullfighting video and even better quotes; from Jose Antonio del Moral, “The bull and its blood symbolizes a call to nature at its most brutal, pure and irrational.”
Many casual comments become quite compelling when scrutinized, including agreement from El Fandi, that he is not an artistic bullfighter. This observation is not without merit, since a comparison to, for example, Enrique Ponce provides a clear contrast in styles. Ponce performs with an elegance of posture and movement that even a first-time viewer would likely define as classical. Whereas El Fandi demonstrates a theatrical, often coarse flair more akin to an entertainer. This difference in approach is not just about technique. It is about the purpose of the spectacle found only in a corrida.
El Fandi states unambiguously his desire to deliver a memorable performance, to “bring the audience to ecstasy.” Being a great bullfighter in the traditional sense appears less interesting than being an inspiring entertainer. del Moral offers another observation to this point, “…but it is a beautiful savagery with an artistic payoff.” By comparison, he refers to ballet, where the movement of the human body is regarded as artistic expression. Yet for El Fandi, it is the elegance displayed in the face of death that defines the artist. While a whiff of fear will destroy an otherwise masterful performance, El Fandi chooses to exaggerate his bravado, delivering a show that forcefully reminds the viewer of the high stakes being wagered with each corrida. His technique is less about the form (classical) than in the delivery (entertaining).
It is also worth noting that the documentary does an excellent job of reminding the viewer that the bulls can give as good as they get. The remarkable scene of El Fandi being gored, immediately undergoing surgery, then returning to the ring forty-five minutes later to continue fighting is unsettling to the extreme. And a vivid reminder of what separates the truly great from the rest of us mere mortals.
Finally, it is worth knowing that a bull only fights once, if it survives it is put to pasture. Speaking about the bulls that survive the corrida, a young David Fandila talks about the “inner calm” he senses when in the presence of these winning champions. Interesting observation from a guy whose death in the ring is the only way for a bull to enjoy an “inner calm.”