Tuesday, May 16, 2023

From spaghetti westerns to Gregorian chants in the Arlanza River Valley

 La Vanguardia

By Carmen Giro


What do actor Clint Eastwood and the Gregorian chants of monks have in common? Probably very little. But both factors coincided in space and time 50 years ago, in a remote valley of Castile.

Fans of Clint Eastwood and those of Western films in general have an unusual but very curious destination: the cemetery of Sad Hill, where the last scene of the movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, by Sergio Leone was filmed. A long sequence that has gone down in the annals of film history and in which the three protagonists face each other, revolver in hand, to get a buried treasure.

In the cemetery of Sad Hill was filmed the last scene of the movie 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'

And where are they? In a cemetery formed by concentric circles of crosses and graves around a central stone circle, where the three main actors, Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach and Lee van Cleef, are located.

If anyone still does not know what we are talking about, look on the internet for the music of this scene by the legendary composer Enio Morricone. By the way, he will no longer be able to stop whistling the melody for several days.

The film is part of the genre of spaghetti westerns that was very popular in the sixties and seventies. Films with stories of the Wild West shot outdoors in natural desert areas or in remote forests of Spain or Italy, and interior scenes shot in the Cinecittà studios in Rome.

The cemetery of Sad Hill was built in the valley of the Arlanza River, two kilometers from Contreras and four kilometers from the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos, famous, among other things, for the Gregorian chants that the monks commercialized, with great public success, as if it were Rosalia, some years ago.

Sad Hill rose in the middle of the valley as a film set. It was built by soldiers of the Spanish army who made themselves available to Leone for whatever he might need. The result, a central square and more than 5,000 crosses representing 5,000 false graves. When they finished shooting, as usual, the whole set was dismantled and the valley was left as it had always been.

Scenario reconstruction

But nostalgia is a powerful force. A group of admirers of the film, and everything it meant for the region, set out to resurrect the stage on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the premiere. Volunteers from the Sad Hill Cultural Association began the reclamation work of the site in October 2015. The central cobblestone, covered by a layer of vegetation, was unearthed for months, and with a crowdfunding campaign they financed the placement of the crosses in their original places.

A group of fans of the film set out to resurrect the stage on the occasion of the 50th anniversary

of the premiere

The entire reconstruction process was recorded in the documentary Desenterrando Sad Hill, by Guillermo de Oliveira, nominated for the 2019 Goya Awards in the category of best documentary film (now it can be seen on various platforms).

The culmination of the celebration was the screening of the film on a giant outdoor screen attended by Enio Morricone and Clint Eastwood telematically. The actor, from the United States, congratulated the volunteers for the work done; It was a very emotional moment.

Visitors moviegoers and curious

Now, visitors who come to see the place can take pictures next to the silhouette of Clint Eastwood and his poncho, with the crosses that surround the circular square, next to the gallows ... There is also a cross that commemorates the composer Enio Morricone, who died in 2020. The public is very varied: from the tourist who has come to Santo Domingo de Silos and has seen the indication that leads to Sad Hill, at the entrance of the town, to the most inveterate moviegoers who do not hesitate to walk all the way from the town – a long climb under the Castilian sun – to reach the destination with all the honors of the hero.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the film, numerous festive events and conferences were organized. Writers, critics, researchers, moviegoers and the inhabitants of the area, including those who had worked as extras, gathered there.

The Castilian region of the Sierra de la Demanda has hosted the filming of other films over the years, such as Chimes at Midnight (1965), Doctor Zhivago (1965) or, more recently, The Miracle of P.Tinto (1998).

It is not known if the collective of the Benedictine monks of the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos and the collective of actors of the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly came to talk and relate, but if they did they would have delighted the influencers. But, of course, 50 years ago there was neither TikTok nor Instagram nor Twicht... nor did he need to do Clint Eastwood.

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