Friday, March 19, 2010

A history of mute cinema in Spain

The recognition that today he greets to the Spanish movies out of our borders (Penélope Cruz already adds his third candidacy to the Oscar, which is trumped on seventh of March) contrasts with the insecurity of his first steps, which gave in 1896.

The clarity always comes from the movies. When the lights go out, the time remains suspended in a network by which there hang fibers of laughs or tears. Implacable, the anonymous jury waits in his armchairs to the testimony of the witnesses. In this occasion – it is a December 8 of 1930-, the public reads the following words: "On the ruins of Castile. They say that the Sky wanted to punish to the small Castilian village. That's why the ground will deny his fruit to him. On having seen his belfry, they all do the sign of the Cross”.

This way The damned village begins, one of the masterpieces of the Spanish movies, rolled by the Aragonese Florián Rey with a budget for twenty-two thousand pesetas. The damned village is one of the indispensable qualifications of our cinematography, as admit periodically the critics who surrender to the anxiety of preparing "his" list. In fact, it would be said that it is the only movie of the mute epoch that has amounted “to the altars”, although it would be necessary to tint that that December 8, 1930 the spectators attended the version sonorizada of the outstanding figure: after the fireworks of The singer of jazz, the first sonorous movie released in the Movies Callao in June, 29, such modernity was imposed; and, since then, the comics took the taste to the word.

But the movies had come to Spain a few decades earlier, specifically in 1896. The right-hand man of the Lumière in our country, young Alexander Promio, rolled this year Square of the port in Barcelona, one of forty six pieces that, on topics of the everyday life, filmed here the Gallic patrol. An observation of R. Cardona reminds to us that while the brothers Lumière “were tending to roll what was happening around him, Edison from his beginnings stretched to teatralizar what he was filming”, reflection that would serve to explain from his root the differences between the European and American cinematographies.

The Lumière cinematograph initiated his tour along the principal Spanish cities until our pioneers were raised to the car, onlookers, perhaps intrigued, like who he falls in love for the first time; also with this mistrust that there cause the mere “scientific curiosities” that do not have any future. It is considered that the first Spanish movie is an Exit of mass of twelve of the Prop of Saragossa, work of the businessman of ambulant spectacles Eduardo Jimeno, exhibited on October 11, 1896 in the Aragonese capital. “When I went to Saragossa with the flaming Lumière, as it had a device to obtain movies, I decided to prove fortune as operator”, confessed Jimeno in an interview. It him was not badly.

The movies saw the light in a society in crisis that would determine his development: close to seventy per cent of the population it was rural; the wars were provoking a considerable loss of influence in the exterior; and, in cities like Madrid, the small genre and the bulls imanaban all the interest and it was not possible to compete with the foreign industry.

The discredit that he accompanied to the first Spanish movies seems reasonable if we save the figure of two or three colossuses, one of which, Fructuoso Gelabert, it rolled the first movie with argument in 1907: Tiff in a coffee. In her two young people fights for a woman before being separated by his friends. Gelabert was answering to the typical film maker profile: inventor, occasional, governing, producing interpreter … your contributions to the seventh art were compiled in a series of autobiographical articles published in 1940, when everybody had already forgotten it.

Along with this name, it shows that of Segundo de Chomón, prolific author who went so far as to roll up to five hundred movies, between which there have rescued Electrical Hotel and The hen of the golden eggs. Compared with the work of the illusionist Méliès the father of the special effects – that of Segundo de Chomón not desmerece, like test the one that was working for cinematographies as advanced as the French or the Italian. Between his milestones, he invented – or he perfected, according to others – the traveling in the movie Cabiria and realized part of the visual effects of Napoleón, indisputable outstanding figure of Abel Gance.

Electrical hotel (1905), Segundo de Chomón.

In Chaplin, the biopic of R. Attenborough, we do to ourselves a very complete idea of the barracks of fair that received the first spectacles. How to describe the puzzlement that the images were causing in movement? How to admit that Paris, suddenly, should stay to a span of the hand? Or: how not to tremble, as Ann Torrent in The spirit of the beehive, before the appearance of the monster of Frankenstein reflected in the water? Yes: so unstable and insecure barracks of fair as the images that were flowing of this sleep factory.

For a study of M. Palace we know that the fair movies could go so far as to have a capacity of five hundred localities. In Spain the prices were changing between approximately fifteen or twenty cents for the general entry and twenty-five or forty for those of preference, when the kilo of bread was costing in Castile approximately forty cents. Another fact: the first weekly magazine on movies, The Illustrated Cinematograph, which appeared in 1906, was costing twenty.

The public belonged to the popular and average classes, with children's abundant presence, and the previous censoring, which was exercised from Barcelona, was implanted in 1913. The Church took the most that it was offering him the system and did multiple exhibitions for catholic workers, while the royalty did not spend for high the invention either: in 1898, for example, Gelabert sold to Pathé the negative of Visit of Mrs Maria Cristina and Don Alfonso XIII to Barcelona; and, four years later, Lefèvre was impressing the ceremony of coronation of the monarch. Thanks to the copies, we can reconstruct episodes as the Tragic Week of Barcelona (1909) or the murder of Canalejas (1912), where Pepe Isbert was interpreting the killer anarchist.

Murder and burial of Canalejas (1912), of Aryan Adelardo Fernández.

After the fair barracks, the first rooms came in cities like San Sebastian, Barcelona or Valencia. In the last one, the phonograph Antonio Cuesta founded one of the alone producers of the epoch, Movies It Costs, responsibly for blind person for the village.

Barcelona turned into the engine of the incipient industry, with the companies creation like Movies Barcelona, where Gelabert opened all his skills, Studio Films or Hispanic Movies, which are remembered by his very advanced reportages on the war of Africa requested by his founder, Ricardo Baños, before the signature should disappear for a frightening fire in 1918. Madrid, on the other hand, would not initiate his consolidation up to much later.

To imitation of the movie d'art French, the producers threw quality pieces assigned to the historical drama or melodramas that the powerful company Barcinógrafo put to the service of Margarita Xirgú, his principal star. The first big mammoth production of our History was a biography of Cristóbal Columbus, released significantly on October 12, 1917 with French participation. The movie does not stop being a frightful thing for his bisoñez, but, simultaneously, meritorious.

Without our cinematography becoming an uncultivated land, one of his theoretical most brilliant, R. Gubern, admits that “until 1905 the Spanish production scarcely exists. From 1905 his volume climbs, but he suffers an important crisis in the period 1917-1920”. They skimp the proper names in a History of the one that, if it was small, scarcely keeps his memory. One of these names will be Benito Perojo defined as “the film maker of the bourgeoisie”. Although his most famous work was the sonorous one The verbena of the Pigeon, in the mute movies it gave samples of his talent in movies as Boy, The black who had the white soul, with Concha Piquer, The countess Maria or The wine vault, adaptation of a work of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, who went so far as to do also career with the new discovery.

Cartel of the movie The black who had the white soul. Credit: Cartelmania.

In effect, the author of Between orange trees was one of the most related intelligentsia and that devoted himself with major passion to the seventh art. Also there came to the clapboard of this stallholders' pastime neither more nor less than the whole Nobel Prize winner of Literature, Jacinto Benavente, who directed the most famous version of his work, The vested interests, for Cantabria Movies before there founded her own producer, Films Benavente, for which collaborated with said Perojo.

Who does not remember the poem of Rafael Alberti sad Appointment of Charlot”? Or: who has not read any of the luminous reflections of Francisco Ayala in Investigation on the movie theater? They were, all of them, nice and "wild" praises that formalized the relation of the seventh art with the intelligence. Nevertheless, the frivolity of the genres was not lending in general to very wise reflections. In addition to the documentaries, there were triumphing newspaper serials as seven children of Écija (1911) or The mysteries of Barcelona (1916), so successful that it was not late in The testament of Diego Rocafort (1917) inspired the consequence.

We insist: there was no David Wark Griffith in our mute cinematography; there was neither an Erich Von Stroheim, nor stars as Rodolfo Valentino or Douglas Fairbanks. With the arrival of the sonorous one, the Spanish professionals set off towards the Mecca of the Movies to interpret the Hispanic versions of the movies that were triumphing in the American box office. Empire Argentina was Clara Bow, Maria Fernanda Ladrón of Guevara was getting into the skin of Norm Shearer; and, in another things order, the cabaret singer Raquel Meller, who was employed at nine movies, was inspiring Charles Chaplin the tender personage of the violetera in Lights of the city, one of the indisputable outstanding figures of all the times.

But these kudos, these honors often fruit of the need for an industry more flourishing than the Hispanic one, they continued to a long epoch of disappointments, like those of José Salvador Ropero, who did not go so far as to commercialize a device that was solving the tone of the cinematograph in the year 1906, or those of writer Alfredo Serrano, who in 1925 was denouncing the disastrous situation of a cinematography that was not going out of his instability.

“Again before the damned village”. Juan, the farmer, excuses his wife. The child kisses his mother. She cries, shamed and redeemed. Fading in black. The lights of the room ignite. The public gets up satisfied. The report of the jury cannot be more favorable. A masterpiece has been born. Perhaps the first one of the Spanish movies.


ONION STEW, P., AND BLOND GIL, L., Encyclopedia of the Spanish movies. Chronology. I take I, Editions of the Rowan, Barcelona, 1996.

MOIX, T., The Big History of cinema, Spanish Press, Madrid, 1995.

VV. AA., history of Spanish cinema, Cátedra, Madrid, 1995. Art. of GUBERN, R. (págs. 9-17); and PÉREZ PERUCHA, J. (págs. 19-118).

VV. AA., General History of the Movies, Vol. I, Santander, Chair, Madrid, 1998. Articles of CARDONA, R. (págs. 39-79); PALACE, M. (págs. 219-241).

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