Following Alice Guy’s Footsteps in Spain: Seville


That same evening we were going to Seville, hoping to find the ideal Carmen. The cigarette-girls whom we met had, without doubt, inherited the combative character of that heroine, but unfortunately not her seductive charm. We had to content ourselves with taking some documentaries: the celebrated Giralda, the house of Adam, the sultan’s garden and his bath of which, despite my encouragements, Anatole obstinately refused to taste the water. (The Memoirs of Alice Guy Blaché, p. 49)

Seville at sunsetSeville at sunset

The quote above is the sum total of what Alice Guy had to say in her memoirs about her time in Seville. It is one of the few times that the Memoirs show a lapse in her memory, because, in fact, she must have spent at least two days in Seville, if not longer, and she filmed much more than just some actuality footage. By putting together what I knew about Alice Guy’s films and what Francisco Griñan discovered in the process of researching his book, it seems that most of the dances Alice Guy filmed were shot in Seville (the third entry in this series will cover the gypsy dances she filmed in Granada).

As we can see from the quote above Guy went to Seville because she was eager to find a “real” Carmen, that is, a real young woman from Andalusia who without much stage management could represent the heroine of the opera by Bizet. She had already directed a series of French language phonoscènes featuring arias and duets from Carmen back in the Gaumont sound studios in Paris. But that was staged, not “real;” now she was looking for something more colorful, more exotic. Something that would be easily recognizable as Spanish by French viewers because it fit into their pre-conceived iconic notions of Spain.

But what she was also doing something similar to what she had done when she first started out as a filmmaker: she was following in the footsteps of cameramen sent by the Lumière Brothers, who had filmed a series called Danses Espagnoles in 1898. In my book, Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema, I describe how Alice Guy taught herself filmmaking by imitating – to the point of remaking – many of the Lumière  fiction films:

After La Fée aux choux, it appears that Guy learned filmmaking by remaking a large number of the Lumières' fiction films, including L'Arroseur arrosé (directed by Louis Lumière), which she remade in early 1898.  In the Sieurin French Collection there is also Chapellerie et Charcuterie mécaniques, which shows two men feeding things into a machine which spews out mens hats from one end and sausages from another.  This film is clearly a remake of Louis Lumière's Charcuterie mécanique  which shows four men throwing a live pig into a “machine” (basically, a large garbage bin) and having sausages and hams come out the other end.  Guy’s Chez le photographe, shows a man who goes to have his picture taken and then resists the paintainking process of being photographed; it is a remake of Louis Lumière's Photographe. Today we would consider such direct copying to be plagiarism, but at the time it was standard industry practive.  By imitating the Lumière fiction films Alice Guy was following the procedure of the Gaumont cameraman who shot actualités; many of the earliest Gaumont documentary scenes are also close copies of their Lumière predecessors.  But for Guy, the fiction films produced by the Lumière company were also her film school.
As models, Guy seemed to favor fiction films -- Vues comiques and Vues historiques -- directed by Georges Hatot for the Lumières.  Many of her "remakes" even had the same titles as Hatot's original films, such as Colleur d'affiches ("The Poster Hangers"), Les Dernières cartouches ("The Last Bullets") and Surprise d'une maison au petit jour ("House Ambushed at Dawn"). 
     Other films that Alice Guy made for Gaumont may not have the same titles as their Lumière models, but they are almost exact copies nonetheless.  And so the Lumière Le Cocher Endormi ("The Sleeping Carriage Driver") in which a sleeping carriage-driver's horse is replaced by a toy horse becomes the Gaumont Cocher de fiacre endormi in which the horse is replaced with a donkey; Hatot's Faust: Apparition de Méphistophélès becomes Faust et Méphistophélès;  and most interesting of all, the Hatot's Pursuite sur les toits ("Pursuit Across the Rooftops" with sets by Jambon) becomes the Gaumont Les Cambrioleurs  ("The Burglars")…..In the case of Les Cambrioleurs it is clear that Guy bought the backdrop for Poursuite sur les Toits from the Lumières, or perhaps from Jambon himself, and then proceeded, with only the slightest alterations, to remake the film using the Lumière set. 

Alison and FranciscoAlison and Francisco


It seems likely that when Alice Guy arrived in Seville, she had the idea of finding the same location that the Lumière’s had used to film a similar series of dances; by 1905 the Lumière series was seven years old, and the Lumière’s themselves had already gotten out of the business of manufacturing films.  But it was hard for someone who was not from Seville, and who could only speak rudimentary Spanish, to know how to find that location. Following in her footsteps over one hundred years later, and even though I speak Spanish fluently, I also had no way of knowing how to find this location. Fortunately, Francisco Griñan came to our rescue.

Las Estaciones Perdidas del Cine Mudo de MalagaLas Estaciones Perdidas del Cine Mudo de Malaga

Francisco Griñan dedicated ten pages his award-winning book,  Las Estaciones Perdidas del Cine Mudo en Málaga, to the Danses Espagnoles of the Lumière Brothers, twelve films shot in April of 1898 in Seville. This is one of the most in-depth analyses that exists to date of these films. I summarize some of his findings below. It was Griñan who identified the locations the Lumière cameraman used, and later showed me that Alice Guy had ended up using a different location in Seville that nevertheless looked rather similar on film.

Let’s start with the Danses Espagnoles of the Lumière Brothers. This series of  documentary films shot by an unidentified Lumière cameraman (it was not Promio, who first brought Lumière films to Spain in 1894). These films were recently preserved in April of 2009, one hundred and one years after they were made, with the support of the city of Malaga, who also supported  Griñan’s research; they now form part of the Sagarmínaga collection  of the earliest films shot in Spain, in the Filmoteca in Madrid.  (The complete list of the Sagarmínaga collection can be downloaded here.)

All the Lumière films feature the same dance troupe and the same musicians in the same place: the area in front of the Pabellón de Carlos V, also called El Cenador de la Alcoba, a gazebo-like structure with a Moorish flavor that is placed in the middle of the beautiful gardens of the Reales Alcázares de Sevilla.  

Danse Espagnole, catalogue number 843Danse Espagnole, catalogue number 843
Although Francisco could not go with us, he told us how to find what we were looking for, and so we went to Seville following Alice Guy’s footsteps. We started by visiting the location where the Lumières filmed their dances. You’ve seen these gardens in Lawrence of Arabia – some of the skyline shot are actually of these gardens.

Cenador de la Alcoba in the Gardens of the Real Alcazar in SevilleCenador de la Alcoba in the Gardens of the Real Alcazar in Seville

Of the twelve dances the Lumières made, the one that interested Griñan the most was La Malagueña y el Torero, (no. 851 in the Lumière catalogue). Each dance was filmed from a different angle in front of the Cenador, but this one was filmed frontally.


Lumiere Malaguena y ToreroLumiere Malaguena y Torero

This is how Griñan describes the Lumière version of La Malagueña y el Torero:

He notes, first, that the title is a bit misleading, because instead of one couple, a girl from Malaga and a bullfighter, there are several dancing pairs that are all executing the same dance steps in parallel. The women are dressed in regional dress with white mantillas on their heads, while one man is dresses as a bullfighter and the other as a peasant, wearing dance slippers instead of the more normal workboots. Both have the kind of headgear seen often in Goya’s paintings and capes which they wear in the same fashion as matadors as they enter the bullring. Behind them there are two guitarists, the same guitarists who provide the music for all of the other dances in this series; these guitarists are positioned in such a way as to frame the dancers visually in the film frame, while four other musician-dancers behind them play castanets. The “story” of the dance is basically a courtship: the girls from Malaga are courted by the bullfighters who first approach them while wearing their capes, then spread these capes on the ground and kneel on one knee so the girls can dance around them. The whole thing is quite similar to another dance from the same series, Las Manchegas (no. 849) which features the same dancers and a similar dance-story of courtship. Griñan notes that La Malagueña y el Torero seems to have lost some of its footage, as the dance seems cut off and the film strip runs 53 seconds instead of the usual Lumière full minute. He also notes that the dancers sometimes are not properly aligned in the frame (one dancer on screen left repeatedly goes out of frame altogether) and in the middle of the dance they seem to have gotten an order from the camera operator, readjusted their positions, and continued dancing as if nothing had happen. (p. 34 and 35 of his book)

This little film strip is the oldest extant surviving moving picture that features anything to do with Malaga and as such is a real treasure to cultural analysts like Griñan and to the artistic patrimony of Spain as a whole.  The first film actually shot in Malaga was entitled De Malaga a Velez Malaga, made by Ricardo de Baños in 1909, a lost film, also filmed from the front of a train like the Barcelona film posted in my previous blog entry.

When Alice Guy remade La Malagueña y el Torero, she didn’t shoot in  the Pabellón de Carlos V. Either she didn’t find it (though she herself stated she visited the gardens, so it seems likely that she did find it) or chose a different location for artistic or logistical reasons. A closed courtyard such as that offered by the Casa de Pilatos would make filming easier than the open gardens in the Alcazar. The place where she ended up filming  was the patio of the Casa de Pilatos, which she mis-remembered as the “House of Adam” fifty years later.

Here is a link to the film itself:

The Casa de Pilatos has been seen in various Hollywood films,  including Lawrence of Arabia, some of which are listed on its website.

After we visited the Gardens of the Alcazar we spent a very pleasant afternoon visiting the Casa de Pilatos, which is a beautiful and peaceful location with gardens and art collection in addition to the now famous patio.

Casa de Pilatos CourtyardCasa de Pilatos Courtyard

Alice Guy filmed four dances at the  Casa de Pilatos, which were listed in the Gaumont catalogue as Danses gitanes (nº 1.381-84), with specific titles given to the first two: Marengaro y Sévillane. (Marengaro is also known as La Malaguena y el Torero in later film archive listings; the latter title suits the film better as "Marengo" refers to Andalusian fisherman and the film has no reference to fishermen). The film was colored by hand after the fact, and Griñan notes that the colors used are garish and completely unrealistic, especially the bright green tint on the toreador’s cape. There are several cuts in the film, although only one one matches a temporal ellipsis that divides the film into two logical parts. In the first part, the woman wears a mantilla and carries a fan and the toreador wears his cloak; in the second half she has castanets and they are dancing much closer together, with the cloak draped over a windowsill.


Images from La Malaguena y el Torero by Alice GUyImages from La Malaguena y el Torero by Alice GUy

Griñan showed Guy’s dance film to dancer and dance teacher Rosa Maria Coll, who noted that the steps depicted (which match those of the Lumiere film rather closely) don’t match any single dance but is a mixture of moves from various dances: corraleras, verdiales, Sevillanas and jotas. The execution is amateurish at best. (p. 54 of his book).

Clearly the performance left Alice Guy dissatisfied, because when she returned to Paris she had a backdrop painted that depicted the patio of the Casa de Pilatos and re-filmed the dance with a team of what are clearly professional French dancers. This film was originally filmed with sound and might have been one of  the films Alice Guy was referring to when she said her chronophone films shot in Spain were on the program of sound films shown at the Gaumont Hippodrome on that theatre’s opening night in 1911. The clip can be seen as part of the reel of films in the first blog entry of this series, here.

Did she re-do the film on a stage in Paris simply so she could have a synchronized sound version? Or did she realize that the performances were amateurish and she wanted a better performance? These questions lead to me to ask another: is her anecdote about a smarmy dance school master in Madrid and the fight that broke out between the dancers over a lost shawl, a fight that she settled by buying another shawl and treating all the girls to hot chocolate, actually about something that happened in Seville? This would go a long way towards explaining the poor performances and Alice Guy’s decision to remake the film with professional dancers as soon as she was back in Paris.

While in Seville Alice and her cameraman, Anatole Thiberville, also filmed a panoramic shot of the Guadalquivir at Sunset, (can be seen in the clip in the first blog entry in this series). We tried to find the spot from which this panorama was filmed but without Francisco’s  guidance missed by a bit. Nevertheless we have some beautiful shots of the city as it is today, and I will end this entry by leaving you with our souvenir of that lovely sunset.

Seville at SunsetSeville at Sunset