Monday, July 8, 2024

The [Euro]western scenarios: on the centenary of Carlo Simi (1924-2000) [Part 3 of 4]

La Abadia de Berzano

By Rafael de España

June 20, 2024

From the apotheosis of the dollar to the discovery of America

For his third western with Clint Eastwood, Leone will have a very comfortable budget that, in the art direction section, will focus markedly on an exhaustive location of exteriors to transform them into totally invented spaces. An original detail of the sets of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is that they are not going to be as Almerian or Madrid as the previous ones: several fundamental scenes are going to be shot in the Burgos area, specifically in the Arlanza region. There is a moment when that old cinematographic resource is used to combine an exterior and an interior that do not correspond to the same building, and in this case of two quite distant places: the "San Antonio Mission" where Eli Wallach takes Eastwood to recover from the sunstroke to which he has previously been subjected is the Lorca Cortijo del Fraile de Almería, while inside is the abandoned monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza, next to Hortigüela.

[On a first visit (summer 2017) to the settings of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly", it is difficult to resist recreating the triello (even if it is shooting oneself) or to make the reverse shot of Eli Wallach.]

Unlike the Poblado Fraile de Almería, the two large spaces recreated by Simi in Burgos had an ephemeral vocation from the first moment, which gives his recent "resurrection"..., well, that, an almost "miraculous" condition. The careful restoration has had a special media impact, carried out by a group of enthusiastic film buffs from the area constituted as the Sad Hill Association[19], which is remembered as the best display of design in the film: the cemetery where the "ecstasy of gold" takes place and the subsequent final triello, so well accompanied musically by maestro Morricone. Admirable work that had a well-deserved tribute in Guillermo de Oliveira's emotional documentary Unearthing Sad Hill (2017).

[Presentation of "Unearthing Sad Hill" at the Sitges Festival, 2018. Squatting, in the foreground: Sergio García, Alejandro de Oliveira, Joseba del Valle. Standing: Christopher Frayling, Raphael of Spain, Luisa Cowell, Ludo Longhi.]

The other great setting set up in a natural environment was the Betterville prison camp, for which the land was restructured and a series of buildings were erected on a hill a short distance from Carazo known as Majada de las Merinas: a moat, a palisade, a bridge, barracks and prisons that, once filming was finished, they were at the mercy of the elements and where only a few meager scenographic remains recalled the presence of a Lee Van Cleef more evil than ever. But currently, the same Sad Hill Association has launched a plan to recover the film space that, from the reports that reach me, seems to be progressing at a very good pace.

[Some images of the prison camp as it appears on the screen. Below, his blurred footprints in 2018.]

[A walk through Betterville with the best cicerones. Above: Montserrat Moneo. Below: Joseba del Valle and David Alba; Despite what is read on the sign, the three of us in the image are good. Or, at least, that's what we think...]


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