The first film I ever saw in my life, in 1940, was a Mexican production shown at the Gazul Cinema de Alcalá. I believe the title was “I met you to the sound of the marimba”, a Mexican song which served as the theme to the film. The marimba was a cross between a traditional African drum and a xylophone used by the Indians of Central America, which supplied the rhythm for the primitive natives' dances. “I met you ...” was a simple love story. At the age of eight, peeping at a Mexican romantic film was an event which awoke my childish curiosity like nothing had done before. With the arrival of the moralina [Franco's moralising censorship], children were barred from seeing certain films and that spoilt the party rather.
The cinema had arrived in Alcalá in 1928, in the century following its invention, as in the majority of Spanish towns. Before the end of the 19th Century there had been many experimental attempts in Europe and the United States to capture photographically the movement of rigid figures, i.e. cinematography. But it was Edison who, in 1893, invented a camera with a roll of film to be seen using an apparatus called a “kinetoscope”. Later, in France, the Lumiere brothers invented the cinematograph, which projected the film onto a screen.
The first films were short, ingenuous and silent, but in France there rapidly appeared films like “Cinderella” (1900) and “Journey to the Moon” (1902). In 1911 “Quo Vadis” appeared, which took up nine rolls and lasted more than two hours. The cinema achieved its deep sense of humanity with the figure of Charlie Chaplin - “Charlot” - author, actor and director, who artistically combined the grotesque and the sentimental of the human persona. But it was in 1920 when the cinema came of age with sound cinematography for the masses.
According to our fellow-countryman Juan Manuel Muñoz, the first cinema in Alcalá was the Gazul Cinema, constructed by Antonio Serrano in 1928. It was run by Dominguito Romero Valdivia and had a single projector. Ownership subsequently passed to Francisco Caro. The cinema was situated on the main road near the Electricity Works, on the site where the Transportes Comes bus garage was later constructed. The cinema was a big chamber divided into two areas – a patio with wooden seats for the elderly and the well-to-do, and a tiered gallery for the hordes of children and the general public. The walls were lined with cork to contain the sound, and it smelt of burnt cork.
The cinema immediately became one of the wonders of the world. To go to the cinema was, for all Alcala's children at that time, essential entertainment on Sundays and festival days. Occasionally it led to disappointment because a film was flagged as unsuitable for children and we couldn't see it. Censorship in general was expounded by the young people of Catholic Action in the patio of la Victoria, where they had their meetings. At that time, moralina affected everybody, including children.
Nevertheless the cinema was always full, because there was no other diversion to compete with it. We bought our admission, some hazelnuts and pipas [sunflower seeds] and lined up ready to be first in and occupy the best seats in the gallery. During the film's projection the only additional sound was the crunching of pipas. The show was usually quite short, an hour and a half including the NO-DO1 review and the interval. We came out with frightened eyes and a headful of fantasies. When the film was over we would go the Paseo de la Playa and play chase with the girls. The Playa was a delight which used up all our time on Sundays until the lights went out.
I didn't know any other cinema in Alcalá but that one. In 1944 I moved to Jerez with my family and the cinematic panorama changed. We went to Villamarta, a splendid theatre where they showed the latest releases. According to J.M. Muñoz, in the summer of 1946, the Cine España opened in Alcala's old bullring, known as “Paco Gallego's”, which lasted until 1950. It was run by Andrés Pastor, the ticket-seller was Encarna Martos, and the projectionist, Eloy Cerejido. The brothers Gabriel and Francisco Almagro acquired bits of damaged film from Cerejido and shared the “little squares” with their mates like precious treasure.
They also say that on a plot of ground on the Santo Domingo hill, where the supermarket is now, another open-air cinema opened, as well as the two mentioned above. It was known as the Cine Canuto [tube] because of its narrow configuration.
Muñoz describes how, with the closing of the Cine España, José Maria Sánchez bought the equipment and opened the Cine Maravillas in the patio of his family home. It ran from 1953 till 1960, with Eloy Cerejido as projectionist. The ticket-seller was his daughter Pilar, and Francisco Jara, Andrés Armario and Francisco Almagro took turns on the door.
1957 saw the opening of the Cine Andalucía on the Santo Domingo Hill. For the first time Alcalá had a cinema with two projectors, to avoid interrupting the film while the reels were changed. In addition, it had the special glasses you wore to watch films made in CinemaScope2. The projectionist was Juan José Pérez Benitez, assisted by Manolo García Pazos and Manuel Cabrera Toro. The ticket-seller was María Guillén and the doormen were Manolo “Finisterre” and José “El Pelúo”. The Cine Andalucia was maintained until 1970, when it was leased to a company in Los Barrios, closing its doors a few years later.
It still stands there today, proudly bearing its name “Cine Andalucia”, the place on Santo Domingo hill where the best films of the 1970s were shown in Alcalá. Television put an end to the cinemas when the small screen was introduced into everyone's home. Nevertheless in the big cities the cinemas have stayed open, because the new releases with their movie stars are highly valuedby the public.
Translated by Claire Lloyd
1. The colloquial name for Noticiarios y Documentales, (News and Documentaries), A state-controlled series of cinema newsreels.
2. Films in this format were shot using anamorphic lenses to produce an image almost twice was wide as the standard format. They were produced between 1953 and 1967 when the format was made obsolete by technological developments.