Monday, March 21, 2016

The Burnt Image: Mallorca's cinema pioneer

There is a learned journal called "Artigrama" that is published by the University of Zaragoza. Fifteen years ago it contained an article entitled "Alternative Itineraries". These were for the Spanish possessions in north Africa - Ceuta and Melilla - the Canaries and the Balearics. The theme of the article was film and cinema and specifically its history.

The title hinted at something which wasn't really explored in the article: itineraries, as in tourist trips, based on film and cinema. There is a wealth of potential in Majorca for such itineraries, yet it remains largely untapped. Calvia, to its credit, is one municipality to have established a route based on locations used within its boundaries. Otherwise, the visitor is left somewhat to his or her own devices, eagerly hunting for the likes of Formentor's La Fortelesa, one of the principal stars of the property porn extravaganza that is "The Night Manager". When this enormously expensive estate isn't sending social networks into meltdown, then it is the sight of an unclad Tom Hiddleston (as well as, one might add, a similarly unclad Elizabeth Debicki).

Current film is of course light years away from what it once was. Which brings one back to the itineraries alluded to in that article's title and to one of the names to whom the article gives prominence. The Tramuntana mountain range and its coastline has long been the subject of interest for those with film cameras. While the current day has revealed the likes of Cala Deya or Sa Calobra, back in the day they were filming Soller. And there's one short film in particular.

A relic of cinema history from black-and-white days in 1913 is bound to be described as having "grainy" footage, as cliché demands that this is how it should be described. The Soller film to which I refer, as does the article, is one part of what was entitled "De Palma al Puerto Soller". It is a film of the inauguration of the tram (it can be found on YouTube). One sees gentlemen in their finery climbing aboard the tram, ladies in their finery - white outfits with white hats - children running in front of the tram. What is in a way remarkable about this film is that everything is so recognisable: the track as it makes its way from the station through the town and then on its way to the port.

The film was shot by one Josep Truyol Otero, who can claim to having been one of the pioneers of Mallorcan film if not the pioneer. The tram film was in fact contained within a two-part series with the overall title of "Excursiones por Mallorca". Here were the itineraries, the excursions on the island that Truyol filmed. One was solely about Palma, the other was the trip to Soller and the port.

Truyol, born in 1868, was a photographer. He moved to Barcelona aged nineteen and established a studio there. Some years later, 1900 to be precise, he went to the  Exposition Universelle in Paris. At this world fair, he was introduced to the cinema. Three years later, and back in Mallorca, he opened the "Cinematógrafo Truyol". This was where the gardens of Hort del Rei now are, an area of Palma that was to the fore of entertainment around the turn of the twentieth century. This was where the wooden circus building had stood and where, in 1902, the Lyric Theatre (Teatro Lírico) opened.

The Lyric did show the occasional film, but Truyol's establishment was the first true cinema in Mallorca. Unfortunately for Truyol, the owner of the Lyric - Josep Tous Ferrer, something of a media mogul of the era - was to concentrate on films. In 1910, being undercut by the prices at the Lyric, Truyol's cinema closed. He faced financial ruin but in a way it was the making of him. While Tous Ferrer was to oversee more elaborate documentaries showing the wonders of Mallorca, Truyol was dabbling in film technique - double exposure, multiple imaging. The 1913 series was alas to be the pinnacle of his achievement.

He was persuaded to exhibit his films abroad. This proved to be a mistake. Further financial problems were to dog him. His last film work, it is believed, was in 1919. But frustrated and disappointed, he was to set fire to almost all the films he had. The film of the tram's inauguration survived. He continued working as a photographer and died in 1949, never having achieved his ambitions as a film maker.

His contribution to Mallorca's cinema was all but forgotten and so was he. But a few years ago this contribution was recognised. A documentary was made. Its title, poignantly enough, was "La imatge cremada": the burnt image.

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