Tony Román

Shadows 01. The short films of Tony Román
by Pepe Coira

“Last night I was in the kingdom of shadows”. Maxim Gorky

In June 1936, the magazine Cinegramas began a section, ‘Galería de valores nuevos’ (Gallery of New Values), which sought to showcase tireless and promising emerging filmmakers, those who would come to define the future of Spanish cinema. The section only ran for three instalments. The month after it began, the civil war broke out and Cinegramasdisappeared like so many other things. It is curious that of those three issues, the first two were dedicated to two people from Ourense. Tony Román and Carlos Velo, whose short films, like Canto de emigración and Saudade, were at the forefront of Spanish cinema.

Of course they weren’t the only Galicians there. That same month of June, José Suárez, the great photographer, was shooting a film, Mariñeiros, destined to be a sublime documentary. And the Barreiro brothers, who a few years earlier had developed their own colour film system in Pontevedra(!), had just produced a unique political film: Por una Galicia mejor.

This powerful group of filmmakers had little contact with each other. And yet they had much in common. They were born at the same time, they were young people from wealthy backgrounds who felt the impulse, then very rare, to make films that were in dialogue with the vibrant new films coming from abroad. And, equally important, all of them looked nearby for their subject, in Galicia. They worked from a double or triple periphery: from the periphery of an industry, the Spanish industry, already peripheral in itself, with scarce means and in short format, with hardly any access to cinemas, and they did so at a time and from a territory that neither economically nor culturally allowed itself to dream of having its own cinema. And yet, they did it. Briefly. Fleetingly…

Transience is something that was also common to that group of filmmakers. Each in their own way, they were all shaken by the war. The promising future they had glimpsed in June 1936 was shattered. And with it the works of that time. Of the four films mentioned above, only one by Carlos Velo has survived, in fragments. Of the others, there remain only traces – which is no small thing – that allow us to remember, to imagine the loss.

This is precisely what this new section of Play-Doc is about.

Shadows is a space opened up to the memory of the cinema that was made here before, with so much effort and talent. Films that are traces of a past – not only the years of the Republic, but also the era of silent films, the emergence of the sixties – which we have neglected, perhaps because it is so close to us, but which is full of stimulating, surprising, unique work. The idea is to bring to the screen the work of filmmakers who deserve our rememberence.

Let’s begin with Tony Román.

Better known as Antonio Román, our protagonist would go down in the history of Spanish cinema as one of the main representatives of early Francoist cinema. He directed some of those films of the 1940s – such as Escuadrilla and Los últimos de Filipinas – made to glorify the new regime. The notoriety he achieved then would end up overshadowing the rest of his filmography, which includes such notable and unconventional films as Intriga, Madrugada, La casa de la lluvia and La fierecilla domada. And even more forgotten, was the first period of a filmmaker whose name at the time was not Antonio, but Tony.

In the article that Cinegramas dedicated to him in 1936, he was described as a unique figure in Spain, a man who had spent his youth exclusively in the study of cinema. There was no room for anything else in his life. Tony Román personified the passion for the most modern cinema, for the avant-garde, for pure cinema…

In the 1930s, the years of his formation, Román combined criticism in specialist magazines with the production of short films. In both fields, he showed the orthodoxy of one who had clear references, great masters such as Eisenstein, Dovzhenko, Ruttmann, Flaherty…

In the first of two sessions devoted to Tony Román’s short films, we will review the bulk of his work at the time, starting with Ciudad encantada (1936), a fable about the confrontation between city and country, between academic and popular culture. It is tempting to think of this film as a projection of Román himself, who paid attention to peasant life from the distance of an essentially urban man of sophisticated tastes. The film where this attention reached its better form is the other great protagonist of this session: O carro e o home, a marvellous ethnographic film that Román shot in 1940 in Lobeira, with the help of Xaquín Lorenzo. Lorenzo’s collaboration was decisive. Xaquín Lorenzo had spent years studying in the Galician countryside and it was in his village, with his neighbours and friends, that the film was shot. O carro e o home is the result of the coming together of those who knew what to tell and those who knew how to tell it.

In between these two films he made others, most of which have disappeared, but which we will remember in this session: Al borde del gran viaje, Mérida, Barcelona ritmo de un día… Alongside them, we will learn about a film that was never made, Rías bajas, a documentary about seafaring life in Galicia that was reminiscent of Hombres de Arán, and about the camera tests that Román made in order to be able to make films on his own. The films he made and the ones he didn’t make, what remains and what disappeared from that time of promise and tragedy, is the material from which this first session is made.

The second session is devoted exclusively to Canto de emigración (1935). Canto de emigración. Romance en imágenes sobre motivos gallegos, the full title, was Tony Román’s first professional film. Inspired by a drawing by Castelao, the film told the story of Galician emigration, emulating the great Soviet filmmakers. It aspired to be an example of pure cinema, like Eisenstein’s Romanza sentimental, a cinema without words in which images and music enter into an intimate dialogue.

When Canto de emigración was released, it was hailed in film club circles as a refined work of avant-garde cinema and ignored by commercial circuits. Catholic circles described it as communist. The magazine ‘Nós’ dedicated words of praise to it in one of the very few references to cinema in its history… And then it disappeared.

Canto de emigración is a lost gem of Galician cinema. So, what are we going to see?

De Canto de emigración se conservan varias fotografías, un esbozo de guión y la partitura que el músico tudense Teódulo Páramos compusxo especialmente para ella. No son materiales suficientes para recuperar la película, pero si para evocarla. Con la colaboración de la Orquesta Clásica de Vigo, que interpreta en directo la banda sonora del film, vamos a imaginar lo que Canto de emigración pudo ser. Como si la sombra de aquella película llegase á pantalla.

Several photographs of Canto de emigración, an outline of the script and the score that the musician Teódulo Páramos, from Tudela, composed especially for the film, have been preserved. These are not sufficient materials to recover the film, but they are enough to evoke it. With the collaboration of the Orquesta Clásica de Vigo, which will perform the film’s soundtrack live, we are going to imagine what Canto de emigración could have been. As if the shadow of that film had reached the screen.