"In July 1966, the Spanish Army built a huge cemetery in Burgos, which had more than 5,000 tombs … but nobody buried in them." At a time when the exhumations and a huge cemetery embedded in a valley, with dead of a civil war, occupy many headlines, this Friday in Spain is released Unearthing Sad Hill (Sad Hill Unearthed), the documentary with which the director vigués Guillermo de Oliveira wanted to tell the commitment of some neighbors to resurrect a crucial scenario of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the circular cemetery that Sergio Leone (Rome, 1929-1989) invented from nothing in Silos. He conceived it as a Roman coliseum in which they would beat in trielo, that not in duel, the three props of the plot (Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef) during a scene of 20 minutes that has gone down in history as a monument to human emotions. The Italian filmmaker defined that place as "the circus of destiny". His film recreated with critical vision a civil war, that of Secession, and its great cemetery was also built in a silent valley. But it was the Wild West, and the dictatorship received the initiative with open arms.
As Oliveira narrates, Franco even put at the disposal of the production company thousands of mili boys, who not only built the sets, but also staged the battles and fell defeated, playing dead. Each day of filming in that scorching summer, the film company paid the foot soldiers 250 pesetas, and there were commanders who charged 900. Three of those young people recruited for the cause of the seventh art in the barracks of San Marcial (Burgos) speak now of the adventure.
But the modest documentary to which Guillermo de Oliveira aspired has ended up becoming an 83-minute film. In him they intervene among others Ennio Morricone, composer of the soundtrack; Clint Eastwood, only protagonist alive; technicians who worked under Leone and devotees of the film as James Hetfield, the vocalist of Metallica, the directors Joe Dante Y Álex de la Iglesia or the writer Christopher Frayling, as the filmmaker's biographer. The Galician began rolling in the Sierra de la Demanda but ended up traveling to Rome, London, Los Angeles. And he managed to reach figures who seemed inaccessible to discover the intricacies of a masterpiece and, incidentally, narrate, in an increasingly intense story, the history of the Sad Hill Cultural Association, the group that promoted the exhumation of the cemetery from far west from Burgos since October 2015.
Love for a myth
Unearthing Sad Hill it's a story of love, of persecution of a myth until you can touch it with your hands, and at the same time "of stubbornness", jokes David Alba, one of the most active members of the association, also present in the documentary. With the help of volunteers from several countries who were passionate about the film, the group unearthed with stones and shovel the stones of the great central square around which the dead tombs were organized. A layer of more than 15 centimeters of earth and roots hid that "magic", "sacred" circle.
For the gradual recovery of the graves (some 5,000 although Leone dreamed of 10,000), it occurred to them to spread a sponsorship campaign through social networks: for 15 euros, anyone on the planet could have his name in a tomb in Sad Hill, the military cemetery of the "sad hill". They have already placed 4,500 names of living people, and some already deceased, in the place of those packages that the terrain itself betrayed. Half a century had passed, but the soil, and above all a scrub vegetation that insisted on growing only on the tombs, faithfully pointed to the concentric burials as if it were the mysterious trace of an alien visit.
Before arriving at the cinemas tomorrow, and the preview, this Thursday at 9:00 p.m. in the Capitol of Madrid with the presence of many of its protagonists, Unearthing Sad Hill has garnered several awards such as Best Film in the Noves Visions Section of Sitges and Best Technical-Artistic Contribution to the western genre at the last festival in Almería. In this Andalusian province (desert of Tabernas) and in Madrid was where he imagined Leone In the beginning, his last film of the Dollar Trilogy. But then decided to also set some scenes in a "greener" landscape. This is how he came across the imposing environment of La Demanda and the Arlanza valley, and he chose four locations in a distance of 30 kilometers: the monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza, as a hospital of the Mission San Antonio; the surroundings of the town of Carazo, as Fort of Betterville; that valley of Santo Domingo de Silos renamed Sad Hill, which still has no antennas or telephone poles that can contaminate the plans; and the Pisuerga tributary on its way through Hortigüela, which would be the Rio Grande.
In this last enclave, the Army built a bridge of logs and stones to recreate the battle between Confederates and Unionists and there was one of the most embarrassing shooting anecdotes for the director. All the witnesses, also Eastwood, keep remembering the facts. The bridge had to jump through the air during combat. It was the bombers themselves of the Spanish troops who had to fly it with TNT when Leone gave the order waving a handkerchief from the mountain. A camera assistant tells in the movie who screwed up and caused the bridge to explode by mistake when it was not even being recorded. It took a couple of weeks to rebuild the busted infrastructure and repeat the explosion.
Metallica has been performing for 30 years with The ecstasy of gold, the music of Morricone in the scene of the Burgalese cemetery. "It's so horribly cool!" Says Hetfield of the soundtrack. "Nothing so great had been released," continues Joe Dante, referring to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as a whole. "Everything is so perfect", exclaims Eugenio Alabiso, the editor: "The cemetery is one of the most beautiful scenes ever filmed." The documentary also includes old recordings by Sergio Leone, Lord of the spaghetti western, summarizing the plot of his film while twisting the elongated pasta and zampa a dish with amazing skill.