Sunday, May 14, 2023

Excavating Golden City, the first Western film set built in Europe

 El Salto

By Ainhoa J. Vilató

May 11,2023

[The archaeological director of the excavation, Jesús Alonso Martín, holds one of the rolls of film, 35 mm, recovered during the excavation DAVID F. SABADELL]

Hoyo de Manzanares hosts the first intervention, from the margins of conventional archaeology, in an old European western film set.

Black-painted glass and light bulbs, charcoal caps and a handful of bricks are identified with one of the buildings near the Wild West canteen. Also props, an old roll of film and elements of the set show that it is indeed a filming location. Some materials associated with the town and completely new in archaeology that also point to the reuse of space.

The mythical scenario through which actors such as Clint Eastwood passed allows these days to recover the memory and open a space "outside conventional archaeology" in two phases that are completed with a guided tour. In the second period, from May 10 to 13, it is expected to locate the land that served as home to "the Reds" in the film For a Fistful of Dollars (1969).

[In the vicinity of the building that served as "Casa Baxter" during the filming of For a Fistful of Dollars (1969) DAVID F. SABADELL]

Located about two kilometers from the entrance to the village, the town of Golden City became the first stable set in Europe, at the height of the western. Now, 20-square-meter surveys on the ground document how the passage of time and neglect have almost completely erased a part of history.

From public land to filming location

It is the place where the first installment of the dollar trilogy was filmed by director Sergio Leone (1929-1989). The same place where the life of Hoyenses was transformed before the arrival of the different film productions during the Spain of developmentalism, in a society still stagnant by the setback that meant the end of democracy. It is now a protected park, which remains municipal property.

[Material of this type abounds in the field. It is an "arc of light" that a certain moment in the history of "Golden City" was part of the lighting for the interior shootings DAVID F. SABADELL]

However, the land is not considered an archaeological site, despite the interest it generates at a cultural level, and especially for a part of the population that grew to the rhythm of the golden age of Western cinema. “It is something complex, but being an intervention with archaeological methodology, what is found here would become part of the Historical Heritage,” clarifies the archaeologist who these days intervenes in Golden City, Guillermo Palomero López. And in the same way as in any archaeological site, the materials found must go through the process of cataloguing, subsequent study and delivery. In this case, the regional museum of Madrid, located in Alcalá de Henares.

On the grounds there is talk of a research scenario that abounds in Spain, and for proof, the excavations in other places protagonists of this film genre, such as the cemetery of Sad Hill in Burgos or the desert of Tabernas in Almería, although without the supervision of experts of material culture as is being the case of Golden City these days.

History of European Western

Color televisions were still part of the popular imagination when western cinema landed in the Madrid municipality of Hoyo, in the 60s. Then, Western films triumphed as a film genre and producer Eduardo Manzano Brochero (1919-1987) decided that this town, northwest of the capital, would be the ideal place to form a cooperative and exploit the industry.

[The European Western also had a remarkable role in the city of Almeria, where there is a very important Western film culture at the tourist and cultural level / unknown authorship]

In 1958 the first sets set in the West, although temporary, for the film “La rubia y el sheriff” had already been built in Colmenar Viejo. However, the idea of designers Jaime Pérez Cubero and José Luis Galicia in 1962 was more ambitious. And with the intention of amortizing the project they planned to design the first stable settlement in Europe. A total of 15 buildings accompanied by the structures of some merely decorative facades.

This town set in the West remained active until 1973 with the filming of the last film, “Fast Hand”, by director Mario Bianchi. In the film you can see the "decay of the village" and the "state of ruins" of most of the buildings. Or at least that's how the archaeological director of the project, Jesús Martín Alonso (Madrid, 1979), a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam, explains it, where he investigates that type of place, material or time that makes up a simulated dimension. As is the case of "Golden City", because as he himself details: "the reality is that this town never existed".

And although Golden City responded to a fictional reality, what happened in parallel on the other side of the town was part of the life of the Hoyenses. In the Monte de los Altillos not only the town existed, cabins, cemeteries, forts and ranches were also built, as well as the construction of a street that simulated Chicago and where, at present, the remains of asphalt on the ground are the only proof of the existence of "the Windy City" in the middle of the Madrid mountains.

"Intervening on an abandoned film set like 'Golden City' means putting the film industry in the spotlight," says Martín. A sector "totally unknown" at the archaeological level, but that marked the life of the people of the municipality for more than a decade.

["This type of material is novel in archaeology," says archaeologist Jesús Martin Alonso DAVID F. SABADELL]

"For Hoyo de Manzanares it was a time of prosperity," says Javier Ramos, co-author of the book Cine del Oeste en la Comunidad de Madrid. The inhabitants of the municipality earned in one day as extras the equivalent of a week of work. "About 125 pesetas," says Julián Iglesias, researcher and founding member of the cultural group Hoyo Cine.

The founder of the group, Marisa Baelo, explains that, in the years of the greatest boom, that "element" still unknown endowed the town with purchasing power. And especially women, who found a way of life outside the work attributed to the female gender of that time. For Baelo, the first memory goes back to his childhood, when on excursions to Golden City the buildings constituted a mass of wood and rubble. It was the late 70s, and the famous town where about 80 movies were filmed.

[Wood-tipped prop bullets that were used in the vests of the characters of the different films shot in "Golden City" / authorship Jesús Martín Alonso.]

Although, fortunately, the gradual demolition in the 70s allowed the younger generations to relate in the environment of that Hollywood fantasy with the Sierra de Guadarrama in the background. As is the case of the founding member of Hoyo Cine, Juanjo Acosta, who remembers the kids like him building cabins with the remains of wood and other materials abandoned on "the sets".

"Hoyo Cine" took off in 2015 due to the innumerable volume of information about this film genre and its impact on Hoyo. There was the objective of valuing the population of Madrid within the "widespread tourism" of the European western in Spain. In its beginnings, an endless number of activities contributed to show the cultural heritage of the town through interviews, photographic exhibitions, gatherings, guided tours and film projections. Then, with the arrival of the pandemic, the pace of actions slowed down.and the set was not far from disappearing completely.

[The bullets were emptied for use, getting rid of gunpowder and other chemical elements DAVID F. SABADELL]

These meetings allowed to locate the neighbors of the town in the different recordings. Also know stories linked to the shootings, such as situations in which mattresses were demanded for risk scenes and women moved with them on their backs from early in the morning.

It is evident that Manzano's commitment to the construction of Golden City had an impact on industry and society, as that stable town in the West became the first of many throughout the Spanish geography. It would be followed by the Tabernas desert in Almeria, built in 1965, or the Daganzo desert, built in 1970.

[The town of Golden City, with the Sierra de Guadarrama in the background, served to simulate the US border with Mexico in For a Fistful of Dollars DAVID F. SABADELL]

In a meeting with El Salto prior to the start of the excavation, the archaeological director fantasized about the idea that this project would become a precedent to value the material culture of Western cinema in Spain. For now, he considers that this first archaeological intervention of a cinematographic scenario could arouse the curiosity of the local administration.

[The extras of the municipality of the day during a break of one of the shootings in the town of Golden City / Courtesy of Hoyo Cine]



1 comment:

  1. Golden City sure was golden. Too bad it's gone. Who knows how many more films we could have made had it lasted a bit longer?