The Rolling Roadshow Leone Edition 2008 in Almeria, Spain: An exclusive report
(this article might also be published in Westerns... All'Italiana!)
By Phil Hardcastle
Leone's first three westerns shown outdoors, on a big screen, over a long summer weekend in Almeria. Sound too good to miss? I certainly thought so. So along with a few cyber buddies from the Spaghetti Western Database I made the trip to southern Spain hoping that the reality lived up to the idea. I needn't have worried. The combination of great films in a spectacular location amongst enthusiastic people was a recipe that just couldn't fail and this event proved to be one of the highlights of the thirty odd years I have been a fan of Spaghetti Westerns.
The event was masterminded by Tim League and his team from the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas. Tim has been running the Alamo Rolling Roadshow tours every summer across the United States for the past four years; presenting outdoor screenings in locations relevant to the films being shown. On the first tour they screened Once Upon a Time in the West in Monument Valley and from that, the idea of doing an Almeria tour with the first three Leone westerns was born. Getting the idea off the ground was not quite such an easy task. League put together a proposal but was unable to secure sponsorship and had just about given up on the idea when an old friend, Anthony Timpson, who runs similar events to the Roadshows in New Zealand, passed the idea on to MGM New Zealand. They passed the proposal on to MGM Spain and out of the blue League got a call saying â€˜We want to fund it.'
Next up was choosing locations, at which point Richard Monteith and Veronica Fox from Tuco Tours became involved. "It was Richard's website that made me think this was possible." League told me. "Because he had the best specific information and he was like, OK, here's the address, I'll meet you. So we did a scouting trip three months ago and we wound up getting our first choice on everything."
These locations turned out to be the Cortijo el Sotillo (the small house from A Fistful of Dollars), the stone circle in Los Albaricoques (the final duel scene from For a Few Dollars More) and the Cortijo del Fraile (Tuco's brother's monastery from The Good, the Bad & the Ugly). The last of these locations proved to be the most problematic to secure. Problems with safety and the owners of the site meant that an agreement was only finalised two and a half weeks before the event. The back up plan for the third screening was Mini Hollywood (now renamed Oasys), the western theme park which is home to the iconic Bank of El Paso sets and was the town used in both FAFDM and GBU. "I like Mini Hollywood, but it would have been kind of cheesy in a spot like that." admitted League. "I like the raw, you know? Cortijo del Fraile felt right."
It certainly did feel right. As did all the locations used and when the sun started to set on the first night and we all settled down to enjoy the first screening the genius of the concept really sank in. As Clint Eastwood drinks from the well outside the two small buildings in the opening scene from FOD we were looking at the exact spot we were all seated on and a visible shiver ran down our collective spines. A truly memorable moment and one that I know will stay with all of us lucky enough to have been present at the event.
The prints shown during the weekend were of variable quality. The FAFDM copy (loaned for the occasion by Quentin Tarantino) was the most impure and the GBU copy supplied by MGM the most pristine. But in a way the rougher prints added an extra edge to the experience. Or as Tim League expressed it, "They have a certain charm." Spaghetti westerns have always had a long tradition of presenting a low cost, seat of the pants kind of product and I, like many spaghetti fans, have come to be quite fond of the rough edges of the genre. So these prints actually fitted the occasion very well and probably added something to the experience rather than diminishing its appeal. There were a couple of unfortunate jump cuts during FAFDM but nothing was going to put us off here.
In fact, it was the people, above all else, which made this event so special. The location was spectacular, as any visitor to Almeria will confirm. And of course the films were excellent. But the people who, like us, had flown in specifically to enjoy these films in this location were a breed of their own and exuded an enthusiasm and camaraderie that was both infectious and exhilarating. Spanish, German, British, Danish and American fans forged instant friendships and the after show parties (held at the Cortijo el Sotillo on the first night and the Hostal Alba on the following two) became as enjoyable and memorable as the films themselves. Moreover, with total attendance over the three nights exceeding 1100 people, the Alamo Roadshow proved that these films still have a lasting international appeal more than forty years on from their original release.
This was an event designed to be a celebration of Leone, his films and the magnificent landscape of Almeria; a landscape which became the backdrop to an entire genre. It succeeded on all fronts.
Special thanks to: Richard and Veronica from Tuco Tours, Tim and Karrie League from the Alamo Drafthouse, Manuel from the Hostal Alba as well as all those who made this weekend the most fantastic time ever for a fan of these films.