Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Madrid the forgotten cradle of the Spaghetti Western

 Neither Italy nor Almería, the years in which Madrid became the Hollywood of the West Despite the fact that Almería survives in the collective imagination and not Madrid, the capital was until recently the forgotten cradle of the ‘spaghetti western’. From 1962 to 1978 more than two hundred films were recorded.

El Confidencial

By Paula Soler


One hundred and sixty-five pesetas. Married and on the way to her forties, that figure that was piling up project after project made Victorina Rosado become an advanced woman for her time. Her long, straight hair and Filipino-French features of hers secured her a place in every Western movie casting for years. She was the perfect Indian. Although she also played a singer, a Mexican and even a cook in the co-productions with Italy. “She used to go out so much that they had to make me up to look like someone else, even in the same movie,” she recalls, almost 96 years old at her house in Hoyo de Manzanares. Not many know it, but in this Madrid municipality of less than 9,000 inhabitants a genre was born. The 'Golden City' was built there, the first permanent set in the Far West in Spain, which was the setting for more than seventy films during the decades of developmentalist Francoism. Among them, 'For a Fistful of Dollars', the beginning of the Dollar Trilogy, the real turning point for the European 'western' genre. Eulogio, Hoyo's neighbor, still remembers when he saw one of the scenes of Sergio Leone's film being shot when he was barely fifteen years old. At the time, he says, Clint Eastwood was fairly unknown, but he and other kids his age who joined the productions as extras — in exchange for some savings for the summer holidays and many hours of filming — were stunned by the guns and the chases. by horse.

[Victorina Rosado during one of the 'western' shoots (Courtesy photo)]

 At that time, the inhabitants of Hoyo worked mainly in the fields. The arrival of foreign filmmakers and technicians in the municipality meant, as in others, a great boost to its economic activity. They demanded costumes, lights, sets, food, transportation and supporting actors; and they paid better than in the field. Eulogio was just a teenager who earned a few pesetas for the summer, but for women like Victorina those shoots allowed her, years later, to open his own business (and learn some Italian). "We understood each other as best we could, they spoke their language and I didn't even speak potato," says Rosado, who pointed to the plates with his hands and articulated words that he had heard before: "mela?, banana?". The answer was always yes. With food one always ends up understanding each other.

Those were the beginnings of the 'eurowestern', better known as 'spaghetti western', which emerged as the cheapest option to replicate from Europe the Hollywood classics about the Civil War (1861-65), the clashes on the border with Mexico , or the Indian Wars between white settlers and indigenous peoples. What its producers —mostly Italian and Spanish— did not imagine then is that they were creating a variant that would change everything. That premiere in 1964 of a young Sergio Leone marked a new way of making movies. The films were no longer a series B of those made by the United States. With this trilogy was born a style, a language, a star (Clint Eastwood), a director paradigm and the conception of the original soundtrack as the key to move the viewer. Leone, Eastwood and Morricone "plus the iconography that is generated around the cigar, cruel characters, violence, space-time, overalls... They generate a before and after," explains Víctor Matellano, director, critic and author of 'Clint, shoot!' From 1962 to 1978, more than two hundred films were shot in the community, compared to 156 in Almería

In addition to the Dollar Trilogy, other works such as 'Gringo', 'Three Good Men', or 'The Terrible Sheriff' were also shot; and although the popular association to the genre is Almería and not Madrid, the capital was until recently the forgotten cradle of the spaghetti western. From 1962 to 1978, more than two hundred films were recorded in the community, compared to the 156 that Almería received. But the myth had already been generated and the Andalusian province has survived in the collective imagination as the scene par excellence of the confrontation between gunmen and criminals that starred actors of the stature of Henry Fonda or Charles Bronson. And even some films recorded in Ciempozuelos were said to have been shot in Almería, explains Matellano. Back then, this was the preferred area for industrial location and it offered a singularity: the desert landscapes that are still preserved in the Mini Hollywood sets, which undoubtedly helped its survival over the years. But filming began in Almería after Madrid, and besides, not everything could be done there. Neither did they have the infrastructure of the capital, where studios like the one in Las Matas were located, nor were the costs so low as they had to move the technical team to the south of Spain.

Beneath the myth, another reality is hidden. Feature films had already been shot in the capital in the late 1950s and early 1960s because Madrid was familiar to Americans thanks to figures like Samuel Bronston. The producer of Russian origin was responsible for great successes such as "El Cid" or "55 days in Beijing", which at its premiere brought together a young Don Juan Carlos I, the then "senior minister" Carrero Blanco, or even the Duchess of Alba, as can still be seen in the archives of the Spanish Film Library. And although in general Spain offered great attractions for foreigners to want to come to film in the country, such as the great talent of its human capital, the real reason for the boom in those years was frozen capital. “The peseta could not leave Spain. The Americans had invested in many companies in the country and could not make it profitable, convert it into dollars”, says the film director. So they thought about how they could get something valuable through customs, and they came up with a way. El Cid (1961), starring Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston, was worth eleven million dollars and only took up eight cans of film.

These were not the only factors that played in favor of Almería to become the queen of the 'spaghetti western', but also the fact that the volume of partial or total production made in Madrid was not revealed until several decades later. , or that the community vindicated its history just a few years ago. “In Madrid a lot of cinema was made, but very little has remained” Madrid's big mistake, however, was not keeping its sets. "A lot of cinema was made, but very little has remained," laments Javier Ramos, historian and author of 'The Western Cinema in the Community of Madrid'. The best example is Hoyo de Manzanares itself. The 'Golden City' began as nothing more than a street with empty facades. As more Italians and Americans arrived, interiors were built, a saloon, several horse troughs, a fort, and later, another stage was even opened, recreating Chicago's own 1970s film noir.

[What can be seen today of the old sets of Hoyo de Manzanares today (P.S.)]

 Now, in that same place there are no more than those watering holes, so the association 'Hoyo Cine' and the City Council decided to value its history and recreate it so that it would not fall into oblivion. In 2019 they reproduced the set of 'For a Fistful of Dollars' with augmented reality. Rebuilding it was not an option because the area is protected within the Cuenca Alta del Manzanares Regional Park. "We created an application, 'Vive Hoyo', with which you can scan some images that show the sets as they were in real size on the current landscape," explains Clara Alcalá, Tourism technician at the Consistory. Like Hoyo, La Pedriza, Colmenar Viejo and even Casa de Campo were the settings for Western movies. The genre is already residual in Spain, although from time to time directors like Wes Anderson come to shoot in places like Chinchón, or Almodóvar plans to shoot another one in Almería. But it was not always like this. "Since before the cinema existed, novels of this genre were very successful in Spain," says the historian from Madrid. “Once they started making movies, they liked them right away, and even Buffalo Bill brought his show to Barcelona for a week”. That was proof of the success of the genre at a time when these 'movies' were not only shown in large cinemas, but also in small neighborhood ones. Today Madrid preserves above all its natural landscapes, which have hardly changed since those days of intense filming on the outskirts of the city. Although there are also routes, exhibitions or festivals for those who want to immerse themselves in that old love for battles between Indians and cowboys through sketches, photographs, old carriages or costumes. The community has at its disposal a guide with four routes and 36 municipalities through which to visit all the locations where the 'Far West' films were shot, from Cercedilla or Aranjuez, to Aldea del Fresno or El Escorial. Although some are upset that more films were shot in the capital than in Almería, it cannot be denied that during that golden age of the western genre in Europe, Madrid became its Hollywood of the West. *Interviews conducted by María Román and Paula Soler.

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