Author Javier Ramos Altamira
El Campello (Alicante)
Received on September 9, 2022
Accepted on November 29, 2022
"Historical Site is the place or natural area linked to events or memories of the past, to popular traditions, cultural creations or nature and to the works of man, which have historical, ethnological, paleontological or anthropological value."
The remains of an old set could also be included in this category, since they are places that have been used as a setting for the filming of one or more films. Obviously, a film is a cultural creation, which, depending on the significance or impact it has achieved, may have a historical or cultural value. And I believe that this value can be extended to all the elements that are part of it, including the decorations.
In this category we could include the famous Sad Hill cemetery, in Carazo (Burgos). Recently restored, it is a beautiful natural setting, where the grandiose cemetery was built for the filming of the emblematic final duel of the movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966). The place has great tourist potential, but its maintenance requires an investment in time and money. That is why the Sad Hill Cultural Association has recently requested its declaration as an Asset of Cultural Interest.
[Sad Hill Cemetery, © Photo by the author.]
"Archaeological Zone is the place or natural area where there are movable or immovable assets that can be studied with archaeological methodology, whether or not they have been extracted and whether they are on the surface, in the subsoil or under Spanish territorial waters".
This point is a bit more complicated, but I include it because I believe that an old film set, abandoned for years, is also susceptible to being studied with archaeological methodology. It could be argued that the sets are too recent constructions to be studied archaeologically. But in reality, this is not an obstacle, since archeology is a science that studies sites from any era, as occurs, for example, with industrial archaeology.
An example of this case could be the western town of Golden City, in Hoyo de Manzanares. It was a set made up of a dozen buildings and some minor structures, built in 1962 for the shooting of spaghetti-westerns. In fact, more than 70 films of this genre were shot here, including the emblematic For a Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964). The set consisted of a dozen complete buildings that were completed with others that were simply facades. It fell out of use in 1973 and remained standing until the mid-1980s.
Until a few years ago, the foundations of several buildings were still visible, as well as a couple of troughs. Unfortunately, except for the troughs, all of it was recently cleaned, leaving hardly any remains. However, despite this destruction, the traces of some buildings can still be seen on the ground, which I am sure, as occurs in some archaeological sites, if they are excavated, they could still be recovered, valued and adapted for visiting. But not everything is negative in this case. Fortunately, the Hoyo de Manzanares town hall and the Hoyocine Association are trying to recover this place for tourism, for which they have placed a series of information panels that tell what existed there. However, the recovery of this place has been hampered by being within the current Cuenca Alta del Manzanares Regional Park. This situation raises a new question: can an Asset of Heritage Interest that is located within a Regional or National Park be recovered, excavated and restored?
[The West Town “Golden City”, © Photo of the author.]
I mention Property of Patrimonial Interest, because it is a category added in Law 3/2013, of June 18, on the historical heritage of the Community of Madrid, which is added to those established in the Spanish Historical Heritage Law, and in the one that could perfectly fit an old film set or decoration. According to article 2, point 3, of Law 3/2013: "Assets of Patrimonial Interest will be assets that, forming part of the historical heritage of the Community of Madrid, without having exceptional value, have a special historical or artistic significance and in such sense be declared". In other words, it is a new category, considered to be of somewhat less interest, but equally likely to be protected. On the other hand, according to article 5, point 1, of said law: "The Community of Madrid has exclusive competence over the historical heritage located in its territory, without prejudice to the competences that the legal system attributes to the State and the Entities Local". This implies that, since the town of Golden City is located in a Regional Park managed by the Community of Madrid, in principle, there should be no problems for its conservation.
As we can see, despite the attempts to include film sets in some section of the law, it is very difficult to fit them into current legislation on historical heritage. There is no section that makes specific reference to them as cinematographic heritage (we have already seen that reference is made to other elements such as cinematographic films in title VII, second section, of the Spanish Historical Heritage Law, referring to documentary and bibliographic heritage). For this reason, and in my opinion, the only solution would be to open a new door and create a specific category for the protection of this part of our culture. As we have shown, there are some interesting precedents, such as the one we have seen in Madrid legislation, where a new category has been added, Asset of Heritage Interest, which is adapted to the circumstances of said Community.
Other examples of this type of initiatives can be found in other Heritage laws, such as Law 14/2007 of November 26, on Historical Heritage of Andalusia, which adds, in its article 26, to the already known categories, another new denominated Place of Industrial Interest, with which it is intended to protect the places and constructions that have a relevant industrial value. We also have examples in the laws of the Community of Castilla y León and that of Asturias, in which the category of Historic Route is incorporated, or in the Heritage law of the Valencian Community, in which the category of Cultural Park is created. So, and following these measures, could not be added, in some of these laws, a category called Place of Cinematographic Interest?
Surely it is something utopian to try to protect film sets legally, as part of cultural heritage. And more, taking into account the difficulties of the administrations to preserve its heritage, which means that there are still many other monuments of greater historical value that are still in danger of destruction. In addition, the protection and preservation of heritage requires an investment and there is rarely a budget for these things.
But if we analyze the situation carefully, there is indeed a way to recover that investment and it is through the enhancement of the property, above all, with a view to its tourist exploitation. As with other tourist resources (natural places, monuments, etc.), old film sets can be a focus of attraction for moviegoers, which could have a favorable impact on the economy of the municipality or city where they are located. At present it is evident that cinematographic tourism is becoming more and more fashionable in our country. Every year, more fans want to visit the places where their favorite movies were filmed. Of course, this interest increases exponentially if any part or element of the set remains standing, which was part of the filming and which makes it easier for tourists to recognize the place.
In this way, in the event that the film sets could not be legally protected, another option would arise, which is to preserve these sites, reusing them, once their film set stage is over, for their tourist exploitation or even, for the filming, as is the case with the western towns of Almería or Gran Canaria. This is a very interesting option, which, however, presents the problem that, to carry it out, a strong economic investment is required, which makes it the less common option.
In short, and as a summary of this article, it must be said that, although there are few sets that have remained standing after their abandonment, they have an obvious cultural and tourist interest, which is being increasingly valued by a society in which cinema occupies a prominent role. This interest makes them worthy of being preserved and valued, as an important part of our historical heritage.
But, as we have seen, the protection of these places by the administrations is still complicated, since it does not have a precise fit within the current legislation. Fortunately, new initiatives are emerging little by little, such as the one mentioned for the recovery of the Sad Hill cemetery, which is even seeking its declaration as an Asset of Cultural Interest, something that, if achieved, would set a very important precedent, with a view to the conservation of our cinematographic heritage.
[Reprinted by permission of Javier Ramos Altamira]
Javier Ramos Altamira is the author of the books El cine del oeste: en la comunidad de Madrid (2019) and Las rutas del western en Cataluña y Aragón (2022). Both books are highly recommended about the locations of Spaghetti westerns filmed in northern Spain around Madrid and in Cataluna and Aragon.