Sunday, November 15, 2015

Why The Surprise? Mallorca on film

The Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival, the curtain on which comes down this evening with its awards ceremony, was partly intended to show off Mallorca to potential producers and/or directors. Recently, Oliver Stone was in Mallorca and was heard to comment that he was "surprised" by Mallorca. He hadn't realised quite how well the island is blessed in terms of landscapes and what have you. His comment naturally led some to conclude that he will be filming here some time soon. Stone may well do, while participants at the film festival might also feel inclined to use Mallorca as future locations.

In a way, though, it's surprising that Stone and other film people might be surprised by Mallorca. It's not as if there isn't a long history of the moving picture on the island, both for the making of films and for the use of film for promotion (the two of which have, at times in the past, coalesced for propaganda purposes).

While nowadays there are any number of videos that show off Mallorca, back in the day, moving images were somewhat scarce. But this relationship with film dates from the very earliest days of the moves to attract tourists to Mallorca at the start of the twentieth century.

Over a hundred years ago - it's not clear exactly when but probably 1910 - the Fomento del Turismo (the Mallorca Tourist Board) felt moved to send its congratulations to one Josep Tous Ferrer, who was the owner of the Teatro Lírico (Lyric Theatre) in Palma. He had shot short films of a variety of scenes that characterised the island and had sent them to cinematographers in Spain and overseas. Well, he probably didn't personally shoot them, as he was a fairly leading figure in Palma business life: I'm assuming he was the same Josep Tous Ferrer who founded the newspaper "Ultima Hora" in 1893.

The Lyric was inaugurated on 1 February 1902, and in 1910 it started showing films - hence the conclusion that it was in 1910 when the tourist board was congratulating Tous on his efforts. This apparent visionary of multimedia was the forerunner, the pioneer of documentaries and films of Mallorca that were to follow, and the tourist board itself was swiftly in on the act. In November 1911 it was announced that a film would be made of "all the beauties and idiosyncrasies" of the island and that it would be sent - free of charge - to "all Spanish and foreign cinematographers", as it would be an excellent means of promotion.

Whether "all" the cinematographers received a copy isn't known, but in the following year something extraordinary in the world of film occurred. Leon Gaumont and the French Gaumont company filmed "In The Isle Of Majorca", the isle of Mallorca in colour. It used the system that Gaumont had devised, Chronochrome, which was to prove to be an invention that didn't really have legs. Nevertheless, and so the claim is made, the first ever colour film was made in Mallorca, and it was about Mallorca, a short travelogue that showed images of Palma, of Valldemossa and Pollensa.

It's doubtful that this film was widely seen at the time, while its existence was clearly forgotten about, only for it to be rediscovered a few years ago. One question surrounding it is why Gaumont chose Mallorca to be what seemed its pilot usage. Perhaps the efforts of Tous and/or the tourist board had worked, and a foreign cinematographer had taken the bait.

It was to be many years later that the propaganda element entered the equation. The Franco regime saw the cinema as a means of showing Spain off in a rather better light than the international community considered the country. Consequently, there were to be certain famous films made in Mallorca. One uses the word "famous" advisedly. The films were more notorious for being somewhat ropey in terms of plots or so obscure that no one, not even the actors, had a clue what was going on: this was the fate of "The Magus" with Michael Caine in 1967. But before this was George Sanders in the 1950 smuggling yarn, "Black Jack", and then, in 1962, the most daring film of the era (for Mallorca, that is): "Bahia de Palma" with Elke Sommer in a bikini.

The surprise is, therefore, that there should be a surprise. Maybe Oliver Stone will take the bait, just as Leon Gaumont appeared to have in 1912. If he does, the colour will be something of an improvement.

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