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Film + Travel Europe
By Museyon Inc.
Museyon, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Museyon, Inc.
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LANDSCAPES OF IMAGINATION: CINEMATIC LEGACY
Most memorable experience in film/travel: Watching Octopussy, starring an over-the-hill Roger Moore and the scantily clad Maud Adams, in a gender-segregated movie theater in downtown Cairo.
A typical trip to Spain entails boarding a train in France to cross the Pyrenees and taking a city-dotted tour of well-worn cultural hotspots. Barcelona's dizzying Sagrada Familia, Madrid's Prado museum, and the Moorish architecture of Seville are de rigueur, with perhaps a jaunt north to San Sebastian's old city in quaint, seaside Basque country and a possible stopover in Pamplona, bulls or no. Then it's back to Paris for the return flight home.
While a fine itinerary, this plan rushes through much of what makes Spain Spanish. From the rocky green Pyrenees to the spiky mountains of Extremadura, to the parched plains of La Mancha, which fired the imagination of Cervantes's Don Quixote, and the undulating deserts of Andalusia, Spain offers a remarkable and varied geography. Often only glimpsed by passengers through a moving train's windows, these landscapes are familiar to anyone with an interest in cinema. They just might not know they were looking at Spain.
Long shots of the taciturn, poncho-draped Clint Eastwood facing down danger in unforgiving terrain are perhaps the most enduring images of the American West. Yet they were filmed in Spain's southern province of Andalusia. Sergio Leone's famed spaghetti western trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) was shot in and around the arid Desierto de Tabernas, laced by the Sierra de Los Filabres and by the beaches of the Costa del Sol. The famous circular duel in For a Few Dollars More (and in Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West) was shot near Los Albaricoques (meaning apricots), a town offering easy access to the well-maintained coastal preserve of Cabo de Gata. Cortijo Los Frailes in Cabo de Gata played the monastery where Tuco's brother nurses Blondie back to health in The Good the Bad and the Ugly. While Tuco taunted the recovering Blondie to give up the name on the grave that holds a fortune, the windows of the Los Frailes revealed one of the few verdant landscapes photographed in the trilogy: the Cabo de Gata Natural Park, a temporary Eden for the pair's uneasy truce.
Many other spaghetti westerns were shot in Andalusia in the 1960s and early '70s, thanks to a sunny, temperate climate suitable for year-round filming. British filmmaker Alex Cox returned to the region in the late '80s for Straight to Hell, his punk spoof of the genre. He filmed in the same badlands at Guadix and Tabernas as the Italian directors and camped out in Almería, at the Gran Hotel, where Leone villain Lee Van Cleef (Angel Eyes) had to be escorted from the bar.
The first Hollywood director to film extensively in Andalusia was David Lean. He had intended to film all the desert sequences for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) in Jordan, but cash-flow problems forced the producers to move the shoot to Spain. Lean sent second-unit director André de Toth (an accomplished director of films noir) in search of replacement landscapes. He found what he was looking for in the sleepy fishing village of Almería, and the film went on to create iconic images out of the surrounding deserts, including the famous silhouette shot of Peter O'Toole as Lawrence, arms outstretched in victory atop a vanquished Ottoman train. Still, the terrain was not quite to Lean's liking, so tons of yellow sand were brought in to "dress" the sets and a grove of palm trees was planted along the Rambla de Tabernas, the dry bed of a desert river. (Dubbed "El Oasis" by locals, it was reused in Leone's For a Few Dollars More.) Aqaba, the destination of Lawrence's first campaign in the movie, is played by the beach at El Algarrobico, near Carboneros, where a monstrous new hotel is now the target of protests by environmentalists.
American director Terry Gilliam later staged the battle against the Turks for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen along Almeria's coast. During an interview about the 1988 film, he remembered that while building supports for an attack tower, which kept sinking deep into the sand, the crew uncovered a mass grave from Spain's Civil War.
The victor in that war, dictator Francisco Franco, had been luring Hollywood's cash-conscious producers to the country long before Lean and Gilliam. Behind the times both economically and politically as far as Western Europe was concerned, mid-century Spain offered what few other places could: a wide range of landscapes, from mountains to seasides and deserts; more than 2,000 castles and a plethora of ruins from the times of Romans, Visigoths, and Moors; and a government willing to divert legions of its army for long periods to serve as extras and set-building muscle. Areas of Andalusia, in particular Málaga and Almería, the last to surrender to Franco's Falange, offered miles and miles of unmarred vistas. The local governments had been denied development funds as punishment for their rebellion — and as a result these areas were attractive to producers with period scripts to film.
Robert Rossen shot at the 15th-century castle Manzanares el Real for his 1956 film Alexander the Great, the first of the Hollywood directors to do so officially under Franco's Operación Propaganda Exterior, the Generalissimo's attempt to bolster the image of Spain abroad. King Vidor recreated Biblical times in Saragossa and Madrid for Solomon and Sheba (1959). Stanley Kramer tells of Spanish resistance to Napoleon in The Pride and the Passion (1956), a story for which Spain got to play itself. For the climactic scene, guerrilleros breach the medieval wall at Ávila, with its 88 lookout towers and nine gates. Built beginning in 1090, the wall is three meters thick and was designed to keep out both invaders and disease. Franco's army accommodated Kramer's star-studded shoot (which included Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, and Frank Sinatra) by simply tearing down telephone and electrical wires that obstructed the camera's view. Ten years later Orson Welles shot Chimes at Midnight, his 1965 film about the Shakespearean character Sir John Falstaff, at these same walls. No stranger to Spain, Welles spent time in Seville in the mid-'30s and later showcased Alcázar de Segovia in his low-budget murder mystery Mr. Arkadin (1955). Looming high in the background, that castle plays home to the elusive main character, whose ill-gotten riches corrupt those around him. (It's also believed to be the inspiration for the queen's castle in Disney's 1937 animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.)
The innovative producer Samuel Bronston reaped big rewards from the Ministry of Information and Tourism's coordinated effort to draw both producers and tourists to Spain. He shot John Paul Jones (1959) on Spain's Costa Blanca, in Denia, and built a studio 30 miles outside Madrid, commissioning scripts that would showcase vistas of other travel-worthy parts of Spain. His most successful production, El Cid (1961), starring Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston, tells the story of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, the Spanish national hero who wrested control of Valencia from the Moors in the 11th century. Director Anthony Mann used the 15-century Belmonte Castle outside Cuenca as the 11-century city of Calahorra and the old city of Peñiscola, on the Costa Dorada, stood in for Valencia. The pine forests of the Guadarrama mountains served for the stunning exterior shots.
The Sierra de Guadarrama, with easy access to Madrid, also doubled for the Danube River frontier where Emperor Marcus Aurelius promised a Pax Romana to the Germanic barbarians in the Bronston-produced The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964). The day before principal photography began, director Anthony Mann wished for snow. He got his wish when the region's first snowstorm in 50 years hit on day one of shooting. The following year, David Lean would use the chilly area further north in Soria to build the ice palace where Doctor Zhivago and his beloved Lara took final refuge from the Russian revolution. He too had hoped for snow, but ended up using white marble dust instead.
Spanish filmmakers have always made use of the landscapes at hand as well. In 1932 Luis Buñuel made his only documentary, Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread), in the mountains of the autonomous community of Extremadura, on the Portuguese border. During the two-month shoot, Buñuel stayed in the hospitable village below in La Alberca. He bunked at the monastery Las Batuecas, calling it the closest place to paradise on earth, adding, however, that "the mountains were like infernos." Franco favored this area, where the conquistadors Cortés and Pizzaro were born, and today the mountains house quaint hillside hamlets and hiking trails along steep gorges and crystal clear streams.
Carlos Saura used the small village of Esquivias, where Cervantes married his wife Catalina, and the bleak scrublands of Seseña, Toledo, for his 1966 film La Caza (The Hunt), about a hunting trip gone terribly awry. For Cria Cuervos (1976), which featured Geraldine Chaplin, his wife at the time, he shot at an estate in Madrid that he could see from his office window. In Hoyuelos, on the Castilian plains near Segovia, Victor Erice shot The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), about a contemplative young girl who, after her first encounter with cinema, becomes entranced by the possibility of a Frankenstein come to life. Spying a wounded rebel soldier across the ochre wheat field near her home, she braves a return visit to feed her newfound friend. Set in the 1940s, the masterfully photographed film captured the timelessness of this remote Castilian village, which itself experienced movies for the first time when the film crew arrived for production in the mid-'70s.
Albert Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is set in the fictitious coastal town of Esperanza. Tossa de Mar on Spain's Costa Brava in Cataluña, which extends from Barcelona to the French border, provided the actual location. Tossa de Mar features a scalloped edge of cove-protected beaches, watched over by the towers of the medieval fortifications of the Vila Vela, widely featured in the 1951 British film. A statue of Ava Gardner, the female lead, now adorns the Platja Gran. The Catalan coast, of course, has a rich cinematic pedigree. Salvador Dalí hailed from Cadaqués, where he and Luis Buñuel later created the script for L'Age d'Or, Spain's first talking picture and a surrealist masterpiece. The action in L'Age d'Or begins at Cabo de Creus, where four bishops, dubbed "Majorcans," sit perched in full ecclesiastical regalia. Forty years later, Kirk Douglas would scramble over these same rocks to escape badass pirate Yul Brynner in Lighthouse at the Edge of the World (1971). Cabo de Creus, in this case, was a stand-in for Tierra del Fuego, whose winds are much fiercer than the tramontana that sweep down from the Pyrenees to create windsurfing-worthy seas.
More recent films showcase Spain's less-trod coasts to the north. Llanes, part of what is called España Verde, hosted the cast and crew of The Orphanage in 2006. The tree-covered cliffs hide a network of surf-washed grottos along Bay of Biscay; director Juan Antonio Bayona used one such cave, which becomes submerged at high tide, to spooky effect. On the Atlantic coast of Galicia, the most northeastern point of Spain, Alejandro Amenábar filmed the 2004 biopic The Sea Inside. He shot at Playa das Furnas, where the real-life Ramón Sampedro had his actual diving accident. Don't be fooled by the seaside sequence at the very beginning of the film — that palm-lined beach is in the Seychelles.
Geographic sleight-of-hand has been commonplace since cinema's beginnings, so deciphering the geography of films can be tricky. Belchite is a town near Saragossa along the Pyrenees that was pummeled by Franco and its ruins left standing as a warning to rebels. In Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (2006), the San Martín de Tours at Belchite sits in mossy pine forests on the way to the Sierra de Guadarrama. Terry Gilliam set these same church ruins on a beach in Andalusia for The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
With or without the intervention of CGI, Spain's unusual topography has served the wildest of imaginations. In Conan the Barbarian (1982), Spain doubles for a fantastical prehistoric Europe, with La Cuidad Encantada's unlikely mushroom-shaped rock protrusions as the setting for the home of a blood-sucking witch. (They had also appeared years before in The Pride and the Passion.) Terry Gilliam returned to Spain once more in 2000 to shoot The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Production was a disaster from the first day of shooting, and after a few weeks the producers ran out of money. Luckily, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha witnesses the production's unraveling and includes the doomed film's only completed scenes, shot at the Bardenas Reales Nature Preserve. Actually located in Navarra, its pleated, arid crags of limestone and clay seem otherworldly.
Still, the flat plains of Castile-La Mancha remain the psychological heart of Spain. Perhaps more than any other region, they represent a foreigner's conception of the country. It was here that Miguel de Cervantes, while imprisoned in Argamasilla de Alba, created Spain's most famous progeny, the demented and chivalrous knight who did battle with windmills. Pedro Almodóvar was born in La Mancha, in Calzada de Calatrava, Cuidad Real. Perhaps the most well-known of contemporary Spanish filmmakers, Almodóvar once attempted to explain how baroque creations such as Don Quixote can have come from La Mancha's desolate landscape. "It's just earth and the horizon, directly connected to the sky," he said. "It's almost abstract." Artists, he speculated, fill it with their rich imaginations. Travelers, whether drawn to these plains, the mountains, the seasides, or the cities of Spain, are welcome to do the same.
The former editor of Film Arts magazine, Shari Kizirian has written extensively on the business and history of cinema. Her articles have been published by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC), the Sundance Institute, and the International Documentary Association, among others. She currently lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.CHAPTER 2
Most memorable travel experience: First time in Hong Kong. Most memorable movie experience: Too many, so the latest, Let the Right One In.
Baguettes, red wine, berets — to foreign eyes, France may seem like a simple, homogenous nation. In reality, between the Alsacians, the Basques, the Britons, the Corsicans and the Occitans, it's home to swaths of diverse regional languages, cultures, and architectural styles. And there's no better measure of its sundry geographical and social landscapes than in this Gallic nation's dynamic cinematic history.
We start with Brittany, which lies at the country's western most tip. It was named after the Celtic Britons who inhabited the area autonomously prior to its annexation in 1532, and the nationalist French government has gone to great lengths over the years to suppress the region's language and influences, still seen in its sculpture-laden parishes. Most people outside of Brittany don't know much about the region, save the lush, sweeping landscapes and dramatic, rocky coastlines that seem to seduce filmmakers. One of the most prodigious documentarians of the region: Claude Chabrol, the New Wave director who set 1969's Que la Bête Meurt (This Man Must Die) there, in Quimper — a cobblestoned, medieval hamlet abundant in 16th-century homes, whose almost Gothic atmosphere befitted the brooding picture. Chabrol would continue to shoot a string of movies in Brittany, including 1970's Le Boucher (The Butcher), 1977's Alice ou la Dernière Fugue (Alice or the Last Escapade) and 1990's Jours Tranquilles à Clichy (Quiet Days in Clichy).
Nearby you'll find the much more famous Pont Aven — home to the Pont-Aven School of Art, founded by post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin. Nestled in a small valley on the border of the Aven River, this City of Painters lives up to its wistful nickname — largely due to its proximity to the Forest of Love, a verdent locale that sits at the town's perimeter. Oddly enough, no Gauguin biopics have actually been shot here, but two comedies have: 1975's Les Galettes de Pont-Aven (The Cookies of Pont Aven) and 1983's Un Chien dans un Jeu de Quilles (A Dog in a Game of Nine- Pins), the latter starring French comedy legend Pierre Richard. Both films made extensive use of Pont Aven as well as other small surrounding cities, notably the charming, tiny harbor town of Doëlan, located in a quiet loch. New Waver Eric Rohmer, meanwhile, found inspiration in another seaside town for 1996's Conte d'Eté (A Summer's Tale), the warm, sun-kissed third installment in his Four Seasons quartet of films. His movie takes place in the resort of Dinard, where no less than 407 charming villas date back to the Belle Epoque period.
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