A Spanish Holiday

Source: Charles Marriott, A Spanish Holiday (New York: John Lane, 1908), pp. 308-309

Text: On account of the fiesta, I suppose, we found the Zocodovér dark and deserted after dinner and all Toledo gathered upon a little arc-lighted, bat-haunted terrace with a privet hedge and mulberry trees overlooking the black gulf of the Tagus. For entertainment there was a band, an open-air cafe, and a kinematograph which promised pictures of “The Chicago Tramways, Japanese Painters at work, The San Francisco Earthquake, The Ascent of Mont Blanc, and The Assassination of the King and Queen of Servia.” In contrast to the evening crowd at Madrid, everybody here seemed to be friendly, content to walk up and down, eat caramels or the marchpane for which Toledo is famous, listen to the band, and answer with alacrity the purring of the electric bell which announced that another representation of the pictures was about to begin.

Comments: Charles Marriott (1869-??) was an American writer. A Spanish Holiday is a travel book. King Alexander and Queen Draga of Serbia were assassinated in 1903; the San Francisco earthquake was in 1906.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust


Source: Louis Couperus, ‘Bioscoop’, Haagsche Post, 2 December 1916, English translation by Ivo Blom in ‘North and South: two early texts about cinema-going by Louis Couperus’, Film History vol. 20, issue 2 (2008), pp. 127-132

Text: The contrast between North and South manifests itself in many different ways. At the Bioscoop, too. First of all, in the South the Bioscoop is called Cinematografo in Italy or Cine in Spain. Well, this difference is negligible. But in both southern countries the difference is great as compared with cinema in Germany and the Netherlands. As soon as we go North, the cinema becomes something of a theater, becomes pretentiously heavy. You are received by employees in braided frocks, your coat and stick are taken from you, you are allocated a certain, fixed seat, you are not allowed to stand up, you notice everyone around you in the shimmering darkness in their seats for hours, there is an intermission … Nothing of all this in Italy or Spain. Not only is the cinematografo or the cine much cheaper than the bioscoop, but the whole interior is more light-hearted, comfortable, accommodating. The illuminated foyer which you can see from the street is inviting, with a salon orchestra (albeit not very attractive to me personally), and a reading table. To enter when it rains, when I don’t want to go to a bar, when I have paraded around enough, when I am tired, bored … I pay 30 centimes and whenever I want to look rich, 50 centimes. I cannot go above that, unless for a world famous film such as Quo Vadis? Even for 50 centimes – both in Italy and Spain – my seat is too chic, so terribly chic, that I prefer to pay 30 centimes … Around me are casual, very decent people, so decent that if I want to see the less decent, I need to descend into places where I pay only 20 or 15 or 10 centimes. I see the same films, but … one week later. But everywhere the experience is light and capricious, an ephemeral joy, while in the North cinema has shut itself inside an impenetrable shell. Really, when I walk into a cinema I want to do it in a light-hearted and casual way. I’ll stand up for a quarter of an hour if necessary, just to see Max Linder or a scene of the war, and then leave again. Dear heavens, you really notice when you are in the North, as soon as you are away from Italy: in Munich or … The Hague. There is no question of standing up; everything is so solemn and heavy, that your first casual impulse to see a film is immediately crushed. In Italy I saw the whole war in Tripoli screened before me, surrounded by a decent officer-with-family audience, without reserving seats and always for 30 centimes each day. Here, I am hesitant to go and see The Battle of the Somme because I don’t want to reserve a seat. I want to keep my coat on, even keep my wet umbrella with me; I’d rather stand than sit; in particular I don’t want to turn my cinema joy into a solemn visit; rather I desire an unpretentious, casual ‘walking in’, a passing pleasure, which should not last more than twenty minutes at the most.

Oh North and South, not even in the bioscoop and cinematograph do you have anything in common.

But now the analysis. Why is it so different in the North and the South? Because of the heavy soul of the Northerners? Of course, but also because ‘street life’ does not exist in the North and because in the South ‘walking into a cinema’ is a part of everyday life. Just as in the North it is not allowed in a lunchroom bar to toss off a little glass of vermouth standing up, so it is not normal to consider the cinema as a short halt in your flanerie, as a shelter from the rain, as a short, oh, so short, distraction from the melancholy which can so affect the flaneur when he is lonely, wandering among the busy crowd. And so he longs for Max Linder or Charles Prince; yes, even some lively pictures of actuality, whose photographic ugliness, teasing and screeching, scratch the silently suffering soul of the purposeless street wanderer when the winter twilight hour nears, when the shopping lights and street lanterns are starting to flame and the pain of wistfulness hurts him, without really knowing why …

It is then that you lose yourself – not in a bar where the electric light shines mercilessly – and where you need to drink something; it is then that you lose yourself, in the South, in the cinematograph, where you can watch pictures as if still on your mother’s lap.

Comments: Louis Couperus (1863-1923) was a Dutch novelist and poet and is considered one of the leading figures in Dutch literature. He wrote about films in his regular ‘Bioscoop’ column for the Dutch newspaper Haagsche Post. The films referred to are Quo Vadis? (Italy 1913) and The Battle of the Somme (UK 1916). Max Linder and Charles Prince were French film comedians, the latter known on-screen as Rigadin. Bioscoop is the Dutch word for a cinema building, taken from the English word Bioscope. My thanks to Ivo Blom for his permission to reproduce his translation, and to Deac Rossell for alerting me to the Film History article. Ellipses are as given in the Film History translation.

Spain was indeed different

Source: Christopher Clark, contributed by the author.

Text: During the 1960s I often used to spend summer holidays with the Nadal family in Cadaques. My father and Angel Nadal collaborated at the time on the Buster comic strip: Dad wrote the storyboard and dialogue and posted the sketches to Angel who applied the artwork at a desk on the balcony of his apartment, fishing rod to hand. His eldest children, David and Ana were a little younger than me and had a large circle of friends whose families typically resided in Gerona or Barcelona for most of the year but escaped to the Costa Brava villages during the summer months. Talk between us kids was mostly about pop, heard intermittently over the radio: I taught them ‘A hard day’s night’ and the English words to ‘Amarillo el submarino es’ (Yellow Submarine). But we also talked about cinema.

General Franco and the Church ensured that censorship remained tight. The Spanish children could sense that things were different and more exciting across the Pyrenees. A few years later this translated into queues at the border to see ‘Love Story’ while it was being shown in Perpignan. I was quizzed about the supposedly lurid details and caused them immense disappointment, and even more surprise, when I told them I hadn’t seen it and was not inclined to do so either.

Cadaques is a very special place, isolated for decades by the surrounding mountains from the interior. Artists loved it: Dali had a house in neighbouring Port Lligat. Film makers loved it too and I remember witnessing a scene being shot that I was told included James Mason, though I only saw the large car that brought him there. Social life revolved around the beaches during the day and the bars and casino during the evening: dancing sardanas on Sundays. Children largely made their own entertainment, fishing, playing games of tag or going on late afternoon hikes up the mountain. Spanish TV in the 60s was uniformly dreadful, replete with overdubbed American and British movies from previous decades.

So I was surprised one evening (in 1966 or 1968) when David and Ana said we were going to the cinema. They didn’t say which film: I was just curious about where the cinema might be. I have failed to remember exactly where it was but it was close to the imposing church and may have been in the church hall. The noise was unbelievable as we went in: a bare room, concrete floor and metal-legged chairs scraping or falling by the dozen as throngs of kids (I don’t recall seeing many adults present) joked, poked and generally misbehaved at the tops of their voices – illegally in Catalan. As soon as the lights were turned off and the projector warmed up the noise level dropped but then the fingers and occasional head silhouettes started to appear on the blank screen and the hubbub resumed.

The film was Las Minas del Rey Salomon (King Solomon’s Mines, 1950) with Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. I’d pretended to read the book at school so didn’t really know the story but was cross that the Spanish couldn’t get the King’s name right.

About ten minutes into the film the audience noise had subsided enough to be able to hear the dialogue, breathlessly dubbed in Spanish. Then the projector broke down, which it was prone to do regularly during that screening. The light went back on, the shouting and yelling resumed, this time levelled at the hapless projectionist.

I honestly cannot remember a single scene from that film: all I can bring to mind is the audience behaviour and the sonorous bareness of the venue. That was the only time I went to the cinema in Cadaques.

Several years later, just before and while studying Spanish at university, I went to several cinemas in Barcelona. The cinemas in central Barcelona were then, as you’d expect in a cosmopolitan centre, high class establishments and the experience was similar to an evening out in London or Paris. But out in the suburbs the experience could be closer to that evening in Cadaques. People came in and went out of the cinema when they felt like it: our group of about six lads arrived late for El Graduado (extensively cut, I later realised) and so we sat through part of the next showing to catch the opening scenes we’d missed. I decided I needed to see it again so took the bus down the hill to a small cinema next to Plaza Lesseps, which was more bar than cinema. The film was shown in two parts, so after more booze the audience was even more prone to participate during the second part than in the first. I had to wait a couple more years before I could see it properly, in the original, uncut version, on the telly back home.

Comments: Christopher Clark (born 1952) is a musician and former sound archivist at the British Library. His father was cartoonist and film animator Ron ‘Nobby’ Clark. He adds: “I’ve always enjoyed going to the cinema, ever since my Dad took me to the cartoons at Victoria Station to fill in time before our train departed. I knew from matinees in my home town of Horsham that a cinema full of kids was prone to occasional disturbances but in all my childhood years of half-term Disney first releases and westerns I can’t remember any noise above the occasional rustle of sweet papers intruding on the film’s progress. Spain was indeed different.” The films mentioned are Love Story (USA 1970), King’s Solomon’s Mines (USA 1950) and The Graduate (USA 1967).

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Source: Laurie Lee, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), pp. 93-94

Text: After a supper of beans and mutton, served in a cloud of wood-smoke, I was invited out into the plaza to watch a midnight ciné. Here, once again, the aqueduct came into use, with a cotton sheet strung from one of its pillars, on to which a pale beam of light, filtering from an opposite window, projected an ancient and jittery melodrama. Half the town, it seemed, had turned out for the show, carrying footstools and little chairs, while children swarmed on the rooftops and hung in clusters from the trees, their dark heads shining like elderberries.

The film’s epic simplicity flickered across the Roman wall, vague and dim as a legend, but each turn of the plot was followed with gusto, people jumping up and down in their seats, bombarding the distant shadows with advice and warning, mixed with occasional shouts of outrage. The appearance of the villain was met by darts and stones, the doltish hero by exasperation, while a tide of seething concern was reserved for the plight of the heroine who spent a vigorously distressful time. During most of the film she hung from ropes in a tower, subject to the tireless affronts of the villain, but when the hero finally bestirred himself and disembowelled the villain with a knife, the audience was satisfied and went to bed.

Comment: Laurie Lee (1914-1997) was a poet, novelist, screenwriter, best known for his first volume of memoirs, Cider with Rosie. His second volume, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, covers his travels across Spain in the mid-1930s.

My Last Breath

Source: Luis Buñuel, My Last Breath (London: Flamingo, 1985), pp. 31-33

Text: I think I was about eight years old when I discovered the cinema, at a theatre called the Farrucini. There were two doors, one exclusively for exiting, one for entering, set in a beautiful wooden facade. Outside, a cluster of lemonade sellers equipped with a variety of musical instruments hawked their wares to passersby. In reality, the Farrucini was little more than a shack; it had wooden benches and a tarpaulin for a roof.

I wasn’t allowed to go to the movies alone, but was always accompanied, as everywhere, by my nurse, even when I only went across the street to play with my friend Pelayo. I remember how enthralled I was by my first cartoon; it was about a pig who wore a tricolor sash around its waist and sang. (The sound came from a record player hidden behind the screen.) I’m quite sure that it was a color film, which at that time meant that each image had been painted by hand.

Movies then were little more than a curiosity, like the sideshow at a country fair. They were simply the primitive products of a newly discovered technique. Apart from trains and streetcars, already habitual parts of our lives, such ‘modern’ techniques were not much in evidence in Saragossa. in fact, in 1908, there was only one automobile in the entire city, an electric one.

Yet movies did signify a dramatic intrusion into our medieval universe and soon several permanent movie theatres appeared, equipped with either armchairs or benches, depending on the price of admission. By 1914, there were actually three good theatres: the Salon Doré, the Coyne (named after the famous photographer), and the Ena Victoria. (There was a fourth, on the Calle de los Estebanes, but I’ve forgotten the name. My cousin lived on that street, and we had a terrific view of the screen from her kitchen window. Her family finally boarded it up, however, and put in a skylight instead; but we managed to dig a small hole in the bricks, where we took turns watching soundless moving pictures.)

When it comes to the movies I saw when I was very young, my memory grows cloudy; I often confuse them with movies I saw later in Madrid. But I do remember a French comedian who kept falling down; we used to called him Toribio. (Could it have been Onésime?) We also saw the films of Max Linder and of Méliès, particularly his Le Voyage dans la lune. The first American films – adventure serials and burlesques – arrived later. There were also some terribly romantic Italian melodramas; I can still see Francesca Bertini, the Greta Garbo of Italy, twisting the long curtain at her window and weeping. (It was both wildly sentimental and very boring.) The most popular actors at the time were the Americans Conde Hugo (Count Hugo) and Lucilla Love (pronounced Lové in Spanish). They were famous for their romances and action-packed serials.

In addition to the traditional piano player, each theatre in Saragossa was equipped with its explicador, or narrator, who stood next to the screen and ‘explained’ the action to the audience. ‘Count Hugo sees his wife go by on the arm of another man,’ he would declaim, ‘And now, ladies and gentlemen, you will see how he opens the drawer of his desk and takes out a revolver to assassinate his unfaithful wife!’

It’s hard to imagine today, but when cinema was in its infancy, it was such a new and unusual narrative form that most spectators had difficulty understanding what was happening. Now we’re so used to film language, to the elements of montage, to both simultaneous and successive action, to flashbacks, that our comprehension is automatic; but in the early years, the public had a hard time deciphering this new pictorial grammar. They needed an explicador to guide them from scene to scene.

I’ll never forget, for example, everyone’s terror when we saw our first zoom. There on the screen was a head coming closer and closer, growing larger and larger. We simply couldn’t understand that the camera was moving nearer to the head, or that because of trick photography (as in Méliès’s films), the head only appeared to grow larger. All we saw was a head coming towards us, swelling hideously out of all proportion. Like Saint Thomas the Apostle, we believed in the reality of what we saw.

Comment: Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) was one of the world’s great filmmakers. This extract is taken from his autobiography. Toribio was the given Spanish name for the French comic actor André Deed, best known under his Italian name of Cretinetti. Onésime was a different actor. The film with the expanding head may be Georges Méliès’s L’homme à la tête en caoutchouc (1901). I have not been able to identify Conde Hugo or Lucilla Love, who might possibly have featured in Spanish serials, of which there were a number in the late 1910s.