Friday, December 11, 2020



Construction in Colmenar Viejo, of the western town "The blonde and the sheriff" (Raoul Walsh, 1958)

          Cinema is a cultural industry that emerged in the late nineteenth century with the purpose of narrating stories or events, through sequences of images that produce movement. The success of this new art (popularly known as Seventh Art) was almost immediate, developing unstoppably throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. As a result, the cinema has inevitably become one of the favorite forms of leisure in today's society.

          The main objective of this art is to entertain, to tell stories in a visual and attractive way, so that the viewer forgets for a while about everyday problems and gets involved in the story that is being told.   Cinema tries to stimulate the imagination of the public by transferring them to all kinds of situations, places and times, without leaving the projection room.

          To achieve this objective, in addition to the work of the director, the actors and the technical staff, it is very important to create a setting or scenario as real as possible where these stories take place. The three ways to achieve this are: 1) looking for a suitable landscape, building, town or city, 2) creating the place artificially using a set or 3) recreating the setting using a computer program.

              Despite the increasing use of computers for these tasks, for many years, the main system used by film production companies to carry out their filming was through the construction of a set. 

          The set is usually designed by the art director or the decorator, according to the script of the film and following the director's directions. Decorations are usually made for a single production, so they are not made with the intention of lasting. This implies that flimsy materials such as wood, stucco or papier-mâché are used to build them. Sometimes, more durable elements such as stones, bricks, plywood or metal pieces are also used, with which to reinforce the structures. These types of sets are usually built in a specific location, outdoors or within a Film Studios; and they can be from a small cabin to an entire town, as happened with the western town of Colmenar Viejo.

The western town of Colmenar Viejo (Madrid)

As a general rule, once the film is finished, the sets are usually disassembled and disposed of, or stored somewhere. In the case of those raised in outdoor locations, these are simply abandoned after collecting the most important elements of the set. With the passage of time, the weather and looting are gradually eliminating, and as in any other abandoned construction, the weakest parts of the structure. Despite this, some elements can be preserved for many years, as testimony of what was done there.

Another case is that of the film sets raised to be used in more than one production. These are usually built more solidly, with the aim that they can last and be used in different films, simply by changing the external appearance of the set. For this, more durable materials such as brick, cement, stucco, wood or plywood are used, with which the structure is made. All this is covered and completed with weaker elements, with which the stage is given the definitive appearance.

As with ephemeral sets, these types of sets, once their exploitation phase is over, are usually dismantled, destroyed or simply abandoned. Over the years, if there is no maintenance or they are reused for tourist purposes, degradation is inevitable, condemning these places to disappearance.

Remains of the old town of the West in Daganzo (Madrid) in 2016

Throughout the history of cinema in Spain, many sets have been built and later destroyed. One of the best examples would be the gigantic sets erected by Samuel Bronston in Las Matas (Madrid), where so many blockbusters were shot ( 55 days in Beijing, The fall of the Roman Empire , etc.) and which disappeared at the beginning of the years 70.

However, there are also quite a few sets that have held up despite the passage of time. And if we take stock of those that remain, we see that a great majority belong to a cinematographic subgenre that triumphed in Europe in the 60s and 70s: the spaghetti-western.

Some of these sets are maintained quite well, thanks to their reuse for tourist purposes or filming, as is the case with the three towns of Almería (Oasys, Mini Hollywood and Western Leone) or that of Gran Canaria (Sioux City). There is some case in which it has also been preserved thanks to private initiative, such as the Sad Hill cemetery ( The good, the ugly and the bad ) in Burgos.

 However, unfortunately, most of the sets that are still standing today are in a dilapidated state or have practically disappeared. Some examples of this would be the remains of the city of Flagstone ( Until its time ) in Granada, the western towns of Madrid (Hoyo de Manzanares, Colmenar Viejo and Daganzo) or the fort of El Cóndor ( El Cóndor ), also in Almería.

Taking into account the situation of the latter, it is inevitable to ask: is it worth preserving the remains of these dilapidated decorations? Can they be considered cultural heritage and protected against deterioration, as is the case with architectural or archaeological heritage? Do they have any interest for citizens? If they could be declared as cultural heritage, how long would one have to wait, after abandonment, to be able to consider it as such?

In order to answer these doubts, it would first be necessary to analyze the Spanish legislation on cultural and historical heritage. In this way, we could find out if film sets are likely to be protected in an official way or not.

The regulation on cinematographic activities in Spain dates back to the 1950s; but it would not be until the 1980s, when the possibility of protecting the assets that are part of the cinematographic heritage began to be considered.

 Currently, the main law that regulates this aspect in Spain is Law 16/1985 of June 25, on Spanish Historical Heritage . To this law should be added the different Heritage laws approved in each of the Autonomous Communities, with which it is intended to go further and regulate, according to the historical and cultural characteristics of each region.

[To be continued tomorrow.]


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