Tuesday, July 9, 2024

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

La Abadia de Berzano

By Rafael de España

June 20, 2024

As we have recalled a few lines above, Simi's last western with Leone, Until His Time Came, achieved images of great visual impact by being able to shoot in a place as emblematic as Monument Valley, where Tonino Delli Colli achieved chromatic displays that John Ford's somewhat anodyne operators had never reached. To make matters worse, the Leone-Simi tandem found a no less picturesque enclave to the northeast of the valley proper, Mexican Hat (which the master Ford, apparently, had never noticed), to obtain what is undoubtedly the best visual composition of the film: the arch in the middle of nowhere under which a boy (who will grow up to be Charles Bronson) tries to hold his older brother on his shoulders with a rope to the neck. The tireless Carlo Gaberscek managed to see the remains of this structure on two occasions (1983 and 1990)[20] before the desert wind blew it away forever.

["Until his time came", or also in the West there is room for some surrealism.]

As far as the recreated scenarios in Spain are concerned, the "emerging city of Flagstone" was erected next to the La Calahorra-Ferreira station (Guadix region, Granada) with great detail at a cost that alone was equivalent to the total budget of A Fistful of Dollars; of the elaborate brick buildings there are some isolated remains on the desert environment, in a kind of western version of Giorgio De Chirico's landscapes[21].

[Flagstone, another urban creation by Simi. The half-built buildings and streets seek to give the image of a city with great aspirations.]

                          [Flagstone or the splendor of the ruins.]

The other important set is Sweetwater, or "McBain Ranch", where Claudia Cardinale only finds the corpses of those who were to be her family. Thanks to the tourist promotion of the Tabernas area, Sweetwater has managed to reach the present day, although it has had to undergo some questionable tourist modifications. Until recently the facility was known as Western Leone.

[The McBain ranch today, integrated into a new town and converted into... saloon! Then and now...]

We have already commented that the Almeria stages of Simi have been able to survive by converting themselves into theme parks: "El Paso" from Death Had a Price is now called MiniHollywood Oasys[22] and, together with another town built a little later, known at first by the name of its promoter, Juan García[23], and now as Fort Bravo – Texas Hollywood[24], is the venue for the incombustible AWFF – Almería Western Film Festival[25], which in 2024 will reach its XIV edition, recovering Juan Francisco Viruega as director[26].

[One of Carlo Simi's most iconic buildings in the Poblado Fraile is the one with the façade with three arches, which in the current MiniHollywood Oasys continues to function as a sheriff's office. Those desperados who seem to celebrate their release from the dungeon have nothing to do with... the Dalton brothers, to say something: the one on the left is a servant and the one on the right, although it could be confused with Lucky Luke, I think that every good cinephile will have recognized the great Alex Cox. In my case, I had the double honor of his company and of being immortalized by a luxury paparazzo, Guillermo de Oliveira, at the AWFF in 2019.]

As for the lands of Arlanza, we have important news to commemorate the centenary of Carlo Simi. As we have pointed out before, the never sufficiently recognized Sad Hill Association has proposed another task that promises to be as titanic as the one carried out with the triello cemetery: the reconstruction of the Betterville prison camp.

[The bridge where Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach entered Betterville in 1966 is resurrected in 2024. Among the members of the Sad Hill Association we see Sergio Sánchez (second from the left) and, from right to left, Daniel García, David Sebastián, David Alba, Carlos Llorente, Pelayo Barbero and Diego Montero. In the middle, wearing a cap, the producer and audiovisual producer Isra Calzado López, author of the image reproduced here.]

But there is something else. The seed planted by such a meritorious team has had a new fruit in something that especially affects the memory of Carlo Simi: a museum project dedicated to his work with the valuable material that his widow Elisabetta (recently deceased) and his daughter Giuditta kept from him. Although the initiative did not come from the Sad Hill Association, its promoter was one of those who put so much effort into "unearthing" the mythical cemetery: Joseba del Valle[27]. And it will have its headquarters not far from that emblematic place, specifically in Covarrubias, a beautiful town that until now we have related to characters of undisputed historical ancestry such as Fernán González[28] but to whom we will soon be able to add others closer to us such as Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood... or Carlo Simi, obviously.

[Source:https://www.tuvozenpinares.com/articulo/sociedad/equipo-aterriza-comarca-arlanza-impulsar-museo-carlo-simi-sad-hill/20240405093811069978.html«With A Little Help From My Friends«] 

While waiting to be able to turn this sketch of homage to a great figure of the Mediterranean western into something more consistent, I do not want to put the final point without mentioning some of the people who have so kindly walked me through the places I have just mentioned and from whom I have been able to verify the bigger than life interest they have put in their maintenance and recovery. They go in strict alphabetical order and I apologize if I forget someone, because one is already a few years old... and their neurons too!: David Alba, Juan Gabriel García, Sergio García, Aquilino Molinero, Montserrat Moneo, Diego Montero, Guillermo de Oliveira, Juanen Pérez Miranda, Cristina Serena and Joseba del Valle.


By Raphael d Espana

[20] Gaberscek, op.cit., p.86-87.

[21] On the filming of this and other westerns in Granada I refer to the very documented three-part tour by Francisco Arco that can be consulted without leaving this Abbey:

[22] https://minihollywoodoasys.com/

[23] Construction began on the initiative of Alberto Grimaldi y Leone as a result of the filming of Death Had a Price, but the project was stalled by a series of prolix incidents that José Enrique Martínez Moya summed up a few years ago in Almería un mundo de película (Instituto de Estudios Almerienses / Diputación de Almería, 1999), pp. 364-365. What I have not been able to find in any of the texts consulted is a reference to the architect or master builder who designed the complex, which was perhaps García himself; although the original idea was Grimaldi and Leone's, it does not seem that Carlo Simi had anything to do with it. The first western filmed there was Da uomo a uomo / Death Rides a Horse (1967, Giulio Petroni).

[24] https://fortbravo.org/

[25] http://www.almeriawesternfilmfestival.es/es/inicio/

[26] ... who has just released his first feature film, Amanece (2023). https://cerebrin.wordpress.com/2024/06/05/entrevista-a-juan-francisco-viruega-director-de-amanece/ 

[27] https://www.diariodeburgos.es/noticia/z2e4c415c-ce57-87e9-cc91eebf5aecbf65/202402/la-obra-del-museo-carlo-simi-en-covarrubias-arrancara-en-meses; A complete audiovisual report can be found in https://youtu.be/9Yi-6Bv2-sc.

[28] Following the success of Samuel Bronston's El Cid (1961), independent filmmaker Sidney Pink teamed up with Marujita Díaz's production company in 1962 to shoot an epic about the first Count of Castile, El valle de las espadas / The Castilian, with Espartaco Santoni as a somewhat soft Fernán González (Chuck Heston was not available) and directed by Xavier Setó.

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