First Cinema in Iran

The first Iranian cinema spectator (1897 AD). and the first Cinematograph theater in Iran: 21 November to 20 December 1903.

As such eminent scholars as Farrokh Ghaffari and Jamal Omid have shown in the past, an Iranian‘s initial acquaintance with the cinema is first mentioned in Ebrahim Sahhafbashi‘s memoirs.

Ebrahim Sahhafbashi (Mohajer) Tehrani was born around 1858 and died in 1921 or 1922, at the age of 63, in Mashhad His full name has been copied from a note of his reproduced below his portrait in Name-ye Vatan, and his birth and death dates are approximations provided by his son, Abolqassem Reza‘i. He was fascinated with new technologies and inventions and his trade of eastern Asian goods took him several times across the world. He was a liberal-minded modernist and rather nonconformist in his clothing. Undoubtedly, following the first cinematographic representation in Paris in 1895, and soon after that in London, Iranians living in Europe at the close of the nineteenth century were able to see various films, but since no writings from them remains—or has come to light—the first spectator (as he is called today) must be considered to have been Ebrahim Sahhafbashi, in London, seventeen months after the first public representation in Paris.

He writes in his memoirs:

Yesterday, at sunset I took a walk in the public park… [In the evening] I went to the
Palace Theater. After song and dance performances by ladies [… and a show of acrobatics, etc., I saw] a recently invented electric device by which movements are reproduced exactly as they occur. For example, it shows the American waterfalls just as they are; it recreates the motion of marching soldiers and that of a train running at full speed. This is an American invention. Here all theaters close one hour before midnight.

Sahhafbashi was mistaken as to the cinema‘s country of origin, perhaps because the film he saw was American, as his reference to the Niagara Falls seems to indicate. There is no reason to believe that Sahhafbashi‘s interest in cinema, during his first encounter with it, went beyond that of a mere spectator, but it is also probable that the thought of taking this invention to Iran crossed his mind, although this is never mentioned in his writings.

According to sources known to the present, he was the first person to create a public cinema theater in 1903, eight years after the invention and public appearance of the cinema in France, six years after Sahhafbashi‘s seeing the cinema in London, and three years after the arrival of cinema equipment to the Iranian court.

Sahhafbashi perhaps held glass plate shows (akin to present-day slide shows) before making his career in the cinema. These were performed with the lanterne magique, known as cheraq-e-sehri in Iran. In good shows of this kind, a succession of black and white—or, even better, color—glass plates depicting a story (as in today‘s comic strips) was projected on a screen. The lanterne magique was used in Mozaffar-ed-din Shah’s court and a couple of such color plates have been identified in the Album House of the Golestan Palace. Viewing was affected with one or another type of jahan-nama, including the stereoscope, in which a pair of almost identical pictures were used to achieve a three-dimensional view. It consisted of a small (or large) box equipped with two viewer lenses and a slot in which the glass plates bearing the image pairs were inserted. Examples of this type of jahan-nama, for example of Verascope brand, existed in Mozaffar-ed-din Shah’s court and in the hands of private individuals, because I have seen glass plates of this type, both processed and unprocessed, in the Album House of the Golestan Palace. Another type of jahan-nama, the Edison Kinetoscope, was completed in 1891. It was a large, hefty machine in front of which the viewer stood to watch a very short cinema-like film through a pair of lenses on its top. Other types of jahan-nama, namely Mutoscope, Kinora and Théoscope, also existed, in which cinema-like moving pictures could also be seen. The Théoscope, for example, was small and could readily sit on a foot.

As concerns lanterne magique shows, Nazem-ol-Eslam Kermani writes in his Tarikh-e Bidari-e Iranian:

The (lanter majik) cheragh-e sehri appeared in Tehran in the sixth year of the reign [of Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah]‖, which corresponds 10 April 1902–29 March 1903. What Nazem-ol-Eslam Kermani means by (lanter majik) cheragh-e-sehri is unclear. If he means the kind of shows current at the time, which consisted of projecting a succession of various scenes depicting a story (as in today’s comic strips), these had certainly―appeared‖, even if they had not yet achieved wide popularity, before this date. But, if he means the onset of private and semi-private film viewing with the lanterne magique and then the jahan-nama, then the date does not conflict with that of Sahhafbashi‘s film screenings. It is conceivable that, following the warm welcome given at the court to various types of lanterne magique, jahan-nama and Cinematograph, and perhaps after a second travel to the West in 1902, Sahhafbashi brought together a collection of such devices, together with X-ray equipment, electric fans and probably phonographs, etc., which he sold to the rich or used to hold shows. Therefore, Nazem-ol-Eslam Kermani‘s allusion to him—whom he says he knew well and with whom he was involved in underground political activity points directly to Sahhafbashi and his first public lanterne magique, jahan-nama and later Cinematograph shows. It was not rare at the time to refer to the Cinematograph as lanterne magique, and Khanbaba Motazedi, at the age of fifteen (1907), heard his father say that Russi-Khan had―brought a lanterne magique… which showed moving pictures‖ to Arbab Jamshid‘s residence.

The first reference to a theater (public cinema) is found in the absorbing memoirs of Nasser- ed-Din Shah‘s protégé. He wrote about the evening of Sunday 22 November 1903

I went to Sahhafbashi‘s shop. On Sundays he holds simifonograf shows for Europeans, and in the evening for the public. When I arrived there was no one; just me, a secretary of the Dutch embassy and a few of Taku‘s personnel. Taku was a European goods shop on Lalehzar Avenue. Apparently, on this occasion Malijak went to see a session for Europeans, because he adds: It was two and a half hours past sunset when I called for a landau. Accompanied by the supervisor [his teacher], I went to Sahhafbashi‘s shop to watch the Cinematograph.‖ Malijak. Taking the season into consideration, the cinema session began around eight o’clock PM. Malijak was interested by the cinema, because he again went to a session on the next evening. He wrote in his memoirs: “I called for a landau and we went to watch the simifonograf.”

Having watched for a while, we returned home.

This was probably no more than one or two days after Sahhafbashi had begun holding public film shows, because, had other films been shown earlier, Malijak would have certainly paid a visit or made an allusion to it in his memoirs. The study of Malijak‘s memoirs clearly shows that, fortunately for the history of Iranian cinema and photography, he truly was a full-fledged professional sloth. From morning to night, he paid visits to the court and the houses of different people, poked his nose into shops or wandered in the streets. Malijak‘s life and the style of his memoirs, particularly concerning everyday events, hunting, music, gambling… and social visits, are such that it is hardly conceivable for a public film show to have taken place without him noticing it.

Moreover, in those early years of the twentieth century, Malijak was also keenly interested in photography and music. He took piano lessons and was well aware of the existence of the Cinematograph. He had seen films at Mozaffar-ed-Din Shah‘s court at least as early as 1902, a year before the first public cinema was created. Although opposed with his political views, he was acquainted with Sahhafbashi and had paid him visits even before seeing films, mentioning the novelties he had seen in his memoirs. At first Malijak misjudged Sahhafbashi as an ignorant liar, but after seeing his X-ray equipment at work on the next day—Thursday 22 May 1902—he wrote extensively about it.

Unfortunately, as Malijak‘s memoirs begin on 20 March 1903 / 29, they hold no indication concerning the first four years of filmmaking in Iran. The first Iranian cinema, or tamasha-khaneh, was located in the yard behind his shop on Lalehzar Avenue.

Jamalzadeh writes about Sahhafbashi‘s estate: He had a building at the crossroads and avenue known as Comte, on the northern stretch of Lalehzar, on the left hand side, and he and his wife had transformed their home into a hospital… [and] they had [also] built a functional water cistern on the street side of their garden … The type of goods that Sahhafbashi had in his shop indicates that his customers came from among the aristocracy. Among the films shown there, Qahremanshahi mentions one in which a man ―forced more than one hundred [?] men into a small carriage and had a hen lay twenty eggs. Such comical or extravagant films were very popular at the time and lasted about ten minutes, as did most other films made in that period.

The history of the activity of Sahhafbashi‘s cinema must be limited from 21 November to 20 December 1903, because Malijak makes no other mention of its activity, Sahhafbashi having apparently traveled to America in the meanwhile. The month of Ramazan, which occurred in autumn in that year, was undoubtedly chosen on purpose, because spectators could easily use the long evenings to go to the theater after breaking their fast.

Financially, Sahhafbashi‘s venture seems to have been rather unsuccessful. For example, as we saw, only a few spectators were present at the first session attended by Malijak. And this was probably why Sahhafbashi moved his cinema to a new address on Cheragh-e Gaz (later Cheraq-e-Barq, and now Amir Kabir) Avenue after returning from America around 1905 and not later than 1908 in any case. If this change of address actually took place, it was not any more successful, and this time Sahhafbashi‘s theater closed its doors for good.

The only document on Sahhafbashi‘s travel to America is a bust photograph that shows him in European attire and which was reproduced by Jamal Omid together with the caption: “The picture] shows Mirza-Ebrahim-Khan Sahhafbashi (Mohajer) Tehrani [in] San Francisco.” Of course, the picture does not bear a date ―one must conclude that Sahhafbashi was away from Iran at least during 1904, and that the reopening of his cinema can therefore not have taken place before 1905.

The reopening of Sahhafbashi‘s theater is obscure and no contemporaneous written source concerning this event and the subsequent activity of this theater has yet come to light. As the present article does not intend to enter a long discussion on this reopening, we limit ourselves to a description of it as it was narrated by the late Abdollah Entezam, who attended Sahhafbashi‘s theater in his childhood, and another by Jamalzadeh, which may be related to
the same cinema. Neither Entezam nor Jamalzadeh gives any date, but Farrokh Ghaffari‘s inference from Entezam‘s description was that it was situated around 1905.

Entezam recounted his memories of Sahhafbashi‘s cinema to Farrokh Ghaffari in Bern, Switzerland, in October and November 1940. To his relation of this event to the author, Ghaffari added that Entezam had repeated these words in Tehran in 1949-1950), in the presence of the late Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh and himself, and that Jamalzadeh had confirmed to them. Jamalzadeh himself has been more cautious in his interview with Shahrokh Golestan, believing it ―very, very likely‖ that the cinema to which he had gone in his childhood was Sahhafbashi‘s, and adding that he could no more be sure about it See the full text of Jamalzadeh‘s account, reproduced a few lines below. He also spoke of Sahhafbashi‘s house on Lalehzar Avenue in a brief article he wrote on him in 1978 on the occasion of the reiterated notice of the sale of his chrome plating factory and theater equipment Jamalzadeh, but made no mention of the theater‘s reopening on Cheragh-e-Gaz Avenue or its connection with Sahhafbashi. Neither did Sahhafbashi‘s son, Jahangir Qahremanshahi, or Malijak, that professional sloth, ever mention any such reopening.

Despite these obscure points, doubting the reopening of Sahhafbashi‘s theater on Cheragh-e Gaz Avenue is not justifiable either, and for the present, in view of Entezam‘s solid testimony, the reopening in question should be considered as having taken place, and Jamalzadeh‘s memories of going to that cinema should be taken into consideration. Of course, it is much more probable that Jamalzadeh visited another, lesser, cinema on the same avenue. During the chaotic days of Mohammad-Ali Shah’s reign, others had begun setting up cinemas. They included Aqayoff, whose film shows were also held on Cheragh-e-Gaz Avenue but in the coffee-house of Zargarabad, and Russi-Khan, who had contrived a small cinema next to his photo shop.


Shahryar Adle (1944-2015) was a noted French-Iranian historian and art historian, who is recognized as one of the foremost scholars of Iranian studies. This article is an extract from a much larger study.


Being a Superhero: A Conversation with Ian Jacklin

Ian Jacklin is documentary filmmaker, concert promoter, actor, and kickboxing champion. He has produced three films and holds one world kickboxing title. He is in conversation with Grégoire Canlorbe.


Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): You are ranked number two in the world by the World Kickboxing Association. Please tell us about this incredible accomplishment.

Ian Jacklin (IJ): Like many young men, I saw a Bruce Lee movie and was hooked. Especially when on the first day of grade 9 high school I had to watch a buddy of mine get beat up while being held back. I went home that afternoon and told my mom to put me in Karate at 14 years of age; and the rest is pretty much history.

Ralph Chinnick was my master at Professional Self Defense Studios in London, Ontario, Canada. His early instruction was to learn the technique. To just keep coming to every class and learn the technique. Which I did and did well.

Ian Jacklin.

By the time I was a yellow belt I was kicking like black belts. By the time I was a green belt I was beating black belts in sparring. And the great thing about Kenpo karate under the Ed Parker system was we actually kickboxed. No point sparring. Real fighting. And I heard then that Bruce Lee said that you learn to fight by fighting.

So it was a natural progression to go to other dojos and spar their best guys, which I did in Kitchener Ontario at Sifu Ron Day’s Kung Fu Academy, where was the future PKA lightweight champion of the world, Leo Loucks. He became my idol; and I learned from him. on his rise to the top, when he beat Cliff Thompson.

Our trainer Jimmy Fields was the best in proactive, positive mental instruction, while in the deepest and darkest moments of battles in that square circle.

I had other trainers that would try to scare you into being better. But that never worked for me. Militant instruction may work for some, but it didn’t work for me. I needed love and light, and Jimmy gave me that. I truly believe that if he and Ron Day were to be my handlers for my career I would have not only fought for the world title but would have won it and kept if for a long time. But alas… it wasn’t meant to go that way. Apparently, the universe had bigger plans for me.

I won the Canadian ISKA title by beating Conrad Pla in Montreal, when I was 18. I fought Mark Mongo Longo for the North American title in Gleasons Gym Brooklyn, which went to a draw. Many including myself thought I won that fight but it was in the US and I was Canadian, so… it was what it was.

Not long after that Lennox Lewis won the Gold in the 1988 Olympics, and he was from Kitchener Ontario Canada; so, it was only fitting for his pro debut to be in Toronto. They trained in our Kitchener Kicks/Ron Days Kung Fu Academy for that fight, so they got to see me in action. They saw a white boy that could fight and took me back to England with them.

I actually started in boxing, before karate, as a kid hanging, out at the Boys and Girls Club, London, Ontario, Canada. And although my kicks were my best weapon, my hands weren’t too shabby either.

But being in the Lennox Lewis pro boxing stable really improved my hands, and I had a lot of fun living in London, England for a while. John Davenport and Harold “The Shadow” Knight were my trainers.

After about 4 months, I decided I didn’t like where I was. I mean Lennox and the guys were cool, but London just rained every day and it was really depressing. My high school sweetheart was back in Canada and I really missed her and my family, so I eventually quit and headed home.

The main thing was, I couldn’t believe how many shots to the head I was taking in boxing compared to kickboxing. I mean my legs were wicked, so most guys never got the chance to punch me in the head; but in boxing that’s all you do. I knew if I stayed in that sport I’d be punch drunk and ugly within a few years. Besides, I had been watching Bay Watch on one of the 4 channels England had on their TV and had been California-dreaming.

Back in Canada, I worked the summer, continuing my electrical apprenticeship with Gordon Electric in my hometown of London Ontario, Canada. I had no plans. I just knew that I wasn’t done fighting and still had my dream of fighting for the world title as Leo did.

And then it happened. With 3 days’ notice, I broke up with my girlfriend, quit my job and packed up my motorcycle with a tent and sleeping bag, and headed to Hollywood, California.

Although heartbroken due to making that decision to follow my dreams, which didn’t accommodate a girlfriend whom I dearly did love… I also felt more alive than I ever had been, knowing I was going to take a shot at not only pursuing my dream to fight for the title, but maybe even get into Hollywood as an actor. After all Jean Claude Van Damme was there making all his martial art movies. So, I figured it was worth a shot.

It was such a dilemma leaving your girlfriend, family, friends, and career on a whim for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I sped through the mountains in various areas on the way to Cali with abandon. So much so that I even crashed once and almost fell off a cliff, if it weren’t for that 3-foot-high cement barrier. It was like I wanted to die for what I left, but wanted to live for what lay ahead… hard for me to put into words. But apparently, somebody up there likes me. And after picking the rocks out of my flesh and a quick stop at a local motorcycle shop, I was back on the road. It was the summer of 1990. It wasn’t my time to die yet. Hollywood here I come.

I stayed in Whittier, California with Les Sickles, the brother of one of my home boxing trainers. Jack Sickles was my mentor in Canada and his brother became that in California. He was 85 when I first met him. We became fast friends and I truly had some of the best years of my life with him as a newbie in Southern Cal. He was now a widower and had been a pro boxer when he was young, so just loved tagging along with me to the gyms.

I fought and won the North American WKA championship and eventually went to fight Javier Mendez for the world ISKA Cruiser Weight title fight in 1993. I fought him a few years earlier and beat him. Then he beat me this night and took the title. But the point is, my dream was to fight for the world title and I did that! Also, I wanted to star in a Hollywood movie, which I quickly achieved, thanks to befriending legend, Don “The Dragon” Wilson. He became my sparring partner which elevated my fighting skills and put me in a bunch of his movies like Ring of Fire II where I played the lead bad guy.

My film career included Kickboxer 3. The bad guys of the Kickboxer movies. I remember the night my agent told me I got the role. It was about a year to the date of me arriving in Tinsel Town. I was working as the VIP bouncer at the Roxbury which many know was the Studio 54 of the day. I babysat more drunk actors and rock stars than I could count in those days.

And sure enough, Jean Claude Van Damme was in the Roxbury that night. I asked Elie Samaha, one of the owners, to introduce me to him, which he did. I thanked him for doing Kickboxer the movie, so I was able to get the lead bad guy role in Kickboxer 3. He looked at me and squeezed my cheeks and said with a face like that you should be the star! I laughed and said maybe someday, man! Maybe someday! And sure enough, that did happen. I ended up being the good guy in Expert Weapon and Death Match down the line.

Many of you have heard that to make it in Hollywood you have to sell your soul. I’m not 100 percent on that, but I was offered a multi-picture movie deal if I would have slept with a gay producer. I said no thank you and left Hollywood. I had put 10 years into that place and was tired of the rat-race—and if that was the only way I was going to make it, I knew it was time to leave.

Long story longer… I went to NYC and became a filmmaker.

GC: Which leads me in to my next question. How did you move from being a kickboxing-champion to championing holistic medicine and alkaline?

IJ: So, Hollywood wasn’t a total waste of time. While doing a play I met an actress, J. Cynthia Brooks, who like myself had been on Days Of Our Lives among many other shows and movies over the years. We actually had met at the Roxbury years earlier, and now working together on a play, called Spoiled Women, I found out she had just cured herself of terminal cervical cancer. I overheard this at a rehearsal one day, and it lit a fire under me like few other things have.

I said, “What?! You can’t cure cancer. What do you mean, you cured yourself of cancer?”

And as I’ve said before the rest is history. Turns out instead of doing the usual chemo, radiation and surgery she followed a friends advice and did holistic medicine and dropped meat, dairy, sugar. Used a “Rife” machine and meditated a lot. Cured her terminal cervical cancer (of which she was given one year to live, if she did the western medical treatments) in 8 months.

I had thought cancer ran in my adopted mom’s family, so worried for her. I dove deeper. It was when the internet first started, so I researched others that claimed they too cured their cancers with holistic methods; and then I would call them too, so I could validate via their voice if they were real or not. And they were.

So, I decided to make a documentary about it, and called it by the name of the website I also started, ICureCancer.com.

Thanks to doing that I learned a lot about health and wellness, and have been a cancer coach ever since. The key is to drop the acidic lifestyle from what you eat, drink, think, breath, and these days the wifi radiation you sit in. You can book a health coaching session with me at IanJacklin.com, if interested.

GC: I must say that your fight with Sasha Mitchell at the end of Kickboxer 3: The Art of War easily ranks among the dramatic highpoints in the Kickboxer saga.

IJ: Wow! Thank you for that compliment. My favorite bad guy of the series (me included) was Tong Po! He was the best actor. The original kickboxer film with Van Damme was shot so well, too. Edited well. But for a sequel I thought KB3 was done quite well too. And we had Shuki Ron as the choreographer, who let me be the pro kickboxer I was, to make it, what I thought, one of the most realistic fight-scenes in the series, for sure.

I mean, I was actually still fighting pro kickboxing in the ring in between movies, and I don’t know how to movie fight. Just fight. And luckily by the time Sasha Mitchell and I worked together, he had been training as a kickboxer for a few years, so he was much more believable for Kickboxer III: The Art Of War.

GC: How did it feel to play a good guy (and leading character) in Death Match?

IJ: I loved being the good guy! I mean I’ve always said in real life I’m not an actor, I’m a super hero. But they don’t pay super heroes, so I have to moonlight as an actor.

GC: Do you believe a great action-movie could be made about what you call the “scamdemic?” Would you be ready to act in such movie?

IJ: Lol. Yes, that would be great! It would be me and a bunch of human beings fighting the reptiles like in They Live! I have the power to decipher who is one and who isn’t and boom we take out the ones that are. Finally, planet earth will be run by human beings, not Draconians!

GC: Thank you for your time. Anything else that you would like to add?

IJ: I’d just like to say for everyone that wants to be a hero in real life, start local. Go to your board meetings and vote out the leftist demoncrats. Watch the movie, 2000 Mules to see the truth. Trump won. End of story! Not saying he’s perfect—but come on… Biden? What a joke the bankers played on us!

Get to know your cops and sheriffs, and band together. We cannot let the Illuminati scum run us anymore. The whole scamdemic thing must never happen again. They just rebranded the flu and turned on 5G. That’s it!

I wrote my 3rd book, ConVid 1984: Antidote, which explains the hows and whys humanity got raped and pillaged by the bankers. I explain how to detox, for anyone that got suckered in to the shots. Or just wants to be healthy. You must get Alkaline, as explained in both my earlier books I Cure Cancer and Alkaline: Dr. Robert O. Young’s pH Diet & Mindset. Take good supplements: Whole food supplements. Grow your own organic food year-round.


Featured image: “Asian martial arts beauty,” by Phung Wang of Vietnam; painted in 2018.

Nosferatu: A Hundred Years Later

Directed by Murnau in 1922, Nosferatu is one of the great masterpieces of German expressionist cinema. Contrary to what some may have believed, it has no connection with the rise of Nazism, but undoubtedly reveals the trauma of the Great War and the Spanish flu.

In 1838, in the northern port of Wisborg. Thomas Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim), a young real estate agent, is happily married to the beautiful Ellen (Greta Schröder). Without worrying about her dark premonitions, he leaves for Transylvania to sell a residence to Count Orlok (Max Schreck). In a tavern, locals tell him that the Count’s castle is possessed by dark forces. Nevertheless, he goes there. But as soon as he crosses the bridge, ghosts come to meet him.

When he arrives at the castle, he is welcomed by the sinister Count. During the negotiation, Orlok sees an engraving of Ellen and decides to buy the building near the couple’s house. At midnight, Hutter cuts his finger:

“Blood! Your precious blood!” exclaims Orlok before sucking his finger.

At night, the Count prepares coffins of Transylvanian soil, to take to Wisborg. Hutter then understands the true nature of his host: a vampire who, at night, feeds on the blood of his victims.

Nosferatu, after a long sea voyage, during which he exterminates all the crew, spreads in the city of Wisborg an epidemic of plague. He takes possession of his new house, located opposite the Hutters’. At night, he watches and covets his next victim: Ellen.

Ellen learns that the only way to defeat a vampire is to expose him to sunlight. To save the plague-stricken town and ward off the curse, Ellen lures the vampire into her room and sacrifices herself. The sunrise catches her there. The vampire Nosferatu crumbles to dust.

Nosferatu (Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens [A Symphony of Horror]) is a German silent fantasy film, directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, was released on March 4, 1922.

The limited budget of this film did not allow for the acquisition of the rights to the novel Dracula by the Irish writer Bram Stoker, which was published in 1897. However, Henrik Galeen’s screenplay was strongly inspired by it, while taking several liberties: the action takes place in the imaginary city of Wisborg (instead of London), the names of the characters are changed from the novel, Dracula becoming notably Count Orlok (Nosferatu). Galeen also adds to the original work an idea that will mark the myth of Dracula: daylight can kill the vampire.

Nosferatu was the subject of a lawsuit brought by the writer’s widow. In 1925, a judgment was passed, requiring the destruction of all illegal copies. However, several copies remained in the United States and in France.

Nosferatu was filmed in real settings, which was rare at the time. The filming took place in Slovakia, in the Carpathians, for the scenes that were supposed to take place in Transylvania. The castle of Orava is used as a set for the castle of Count Orlok. The interpretation is uneven. It is regrettable that Gustav von Wangenheim plays Hutter with an enthusiasm that borders on the ridiculous. Greta Schröder is more convincing when she plays Ellen resigned to sacrifice herself.

A century after the film’s release, the actor Max Schreck continues to leave his mark. Long and rigid, with long, hooked fingers, a pale and frightening face, a bald head, thick eyebrows, and an obsessive gaze, he plays a particularly horrific vampire. Murnau’s vampire is different from the character of Dracula portrayed in later adaptations, notably the 1931 adaptation in which Bela Lugosi plays a mysterious and refined vampire.

Expressionism is evident in Nosferatu’s oppressive close-ups and the play of light and shadow, as well as in the hues Murnau used to color the film, giving the illusion of alternating day and night. The soundtrack, composed by Hans Erdmann, further accentuates the dramatic tension.

The acting of Max Schreck and the expressionism make this film one of the great masterpieces of silent cinema. Thus, according to Jacques Lourcelles, it is “one of the five or six essential films in the history of cinema, and without doubt the most important silent film… Nosferatu is above all a metaphysical poem in which the forces of death have a vocation—an inexorable vocation—to attract to themselves, to suck in, to absorb the forces of life” (Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinéma). Murnau thus shows evil in its purest form, Nosferatu living in darkness and sowing plague behind him. Of course, this film was not conservative at the time, since it was devoid of any religious connotations. But Ellen’s sacrifice to eradicate evil is in line with such meaning.

Many film historians have believed that they can make a connection between this terrifying Weimar-era film and the rise of Nazism. In his book, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (1947), Siegfried Kracauer attempts to show that Nosferatu, by showing Ellen’s attraction to the vampire, helped bring Hitler to power in Germany! Anton Kaes even sees “anti-Semitic motives” in the images of rats spreading the plague, or the fact that Nosferatu comes from Eastern Europe, like the “Eastern Jews” who migrated at the end of the 19th century! Bardèche and Brasillach saw in Siegfried Kracauer’s essay “a strange desire to politically distort the facts” (Bardèche and Brasillach, Histoire du cinéma).

Indeed, since this film dates from 1922, it is simply an allegory about the collective fears caused by past traumas—the First World War and the epidemics in Europe at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, such as the Spanish flu (from which there were 426,000 deaths in Germany).


Kristol Séhec writes about culture, film and comic books. This article appears courtesy of Breizh-info.


Featured image: “Nosferatu,” one sheet poster by Albin Grau (1922).

The Flow Of Music: An Interview With Paul Hertzog

Having composed music for films, such as Bloodsport and Kickboxer, composer and teacher Paul Hertzog reflects on his work and on writing music for film. He is in conversation with Grégoire Canlorbe.


Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): Please tell us about the creative process that led you to compose those masterpieces that are “The Eagle Lands” and “Finals-Powder-Triumph.”

Paul Hertzog (PH): My greatest inspiration has always been the film itself, so I feel (strangely enough) that the action on screen told me what to do. Both of the cues you mention are final fights, the climax of each film. Since I like to compose in film order, these cues were also the last I wrote in each film. As a result, I already had melodies and rhythmic feels developed. All I had to do was find a way to fit them to picture. Since the emotions of each film had been building up to these climactic moments, I simply tried to tap into those emotions to find correspondence in music. This may not sound logical, but that’s the point. Logic has nothing to do with it.

When I compose, I have to shut off the logical part of my brain and let my emotions find the music that underpins the scene. I think, also, I was helped by the fact that the villains (Chong Li and Tong Po) in both films were so well portrayed. They gave me the opportunity to develop the conflict between good and evil that creates that emotional tension in my music.

GC: Your soundtracks for those scenes in Kickboxer in which Kurt Sloane (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is training in ruins haunted by the ghosts of ancient warriors, while an eagle is watching him, are full of spirituality. How did you find this mystical inspiration?

PH: Again, I must reiterate that the source of my inspiration was the film itself. I watched those scenes over and over until I felt (and I do mean “felt” rather than “understood”) the emotions that needed to be conveyed by the music. I’m not sure I can truly explain the source of musical inspiration, but, as I have already said, for me it is not a logical process. I have to shut off my conscious thinking and let the music flow as if it were pure emotion. That’s when I write my best music. Does this process involve spirituality or mysticism? I don’t know. We humans often try to explain the inexplicable with these terms, but I don’t worry about explanations. I simply go with the creative flow.

Paul Hertzog.

GC: As a musician, do you share the Pythagorean belief that the proportions ruling the distances between the celestial bodies are a sort of music?

PH: In a word, no. This seems like a rather spurious analogy to me, an attempt to ascribe logic to a process that is, as I have already said, not logical at all.

GC: Let us speak about Waking the Dragon. What does the creature that is the dragon mean to you? What is the plot, universe, you wanted to convey though this musical work?

PH: The dragon is a part of me, the part of me that is a composer. After I left film and music behind in 1991 to pursue a career as a teacher (due to a number of setbacks in my career, in my financial state, in my mental state), the composer part of me essentially went to sleep.

I attempted to wake up that aspect of my character nearly 20 years into my teaching career by writing the music of this project. I worked on it during vacation times since I didn’t have time while teaching. I also had obligations to my family, so I couldn’t immerse myself in it completely. It took probably 4-5 years to complete, and even now I’m not sure that it is fully satisfying to me, but it’s something I needed to do to get my juices flowing again. And now, in 2022, nearly 3 years since I retired as a teacher, I am writing music constantly, and some of it is the best I’ve ever done.

And, yes, I also had a story in mind when I wrote this project. I envisioned a typical martial arts sort of plot. A corrupt and evil faction has taken over a city, a province, a region, a country, whatever you’d like, and the forces of good that might countermand that corrupt faction are essentially asleep. Meanwhile, out in the countryside, an ancient master of the martial arts is retired and quiet. However, a young admirer of the ancient master finds him and attempts to enlist his help in regrouping the forces of good. In other words, he wakes the dragon. The rest of the story should be fairly obvious.

GC: I was wondering. What do you think of David Bowie’s music, especially his albums in Berlin? As you know, his Berlin album Low inspired a symphony by Philipp Glass.

PH: I listened to Bowie some in the 1980s but not since, as I am more likely to listen to classical music these days. I am not familiar with the Berlin albums, though I may have heard some back in the day. I remember liking what I heard.

GC: Thank you for your time. Please tell us about your ongoing projects.

PH: I am currently in discussion with people about scoring two new martial arts films. Both projects want the sort of music I composed for Bloodsport and Kickboxer. However, in this time of international pandemic, getting the films made has been challenging. All I would say is to keep an eye on my website or on Facebook for any news.

Additionally, I am planning to release some new music soon, starting with a long composition entitled, “Legends.” When you hear it, you will know who the legends are. Also, Perseverance Records has just released my score for Breathing Fire, the final film I scored before leaving the business. It is available as a CD or download on Amazon.

Of Heart And Action: A Conversation With Sheldon Lettich

We are greatly honored to present this interview with Sheldon Lettich, American screenwriter, film director, and producer. He is notably known for his work in the action film genre—and his collaborations with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, Mark Dacascos, Dolph Lundgren, and Daniel Bernhardt. Besides co-writing Bloodsport and Rambo III, Sheldon Lettich directed and co-wrote Lionheart, Double Impact, and Only the Strong. He is in conversation with Grégoire Canlorbe.


Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): What is the situation with regard to your long-anticipated movie-project about Vietnam?

Sheldon Lettich (SL): Well, I’ve written a lot of scripts about Vietnam, but none of them has been made. I wrote a script called Firebase. And it was kind of like that movie called Zulu. It was kind of like that. Basically, a small group of Americans on a hilltop firebase, and they get attacked by a huge number of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong. That was the screenplay I wrote a number of years ago. And Sylvester Stallone read the screenplay, and he liked it. And that’s how I ended up working with him on Rambo III, because he had read that screenplay. I’ve written a few other Vietnam screenplays, but none of them has gotten made, yet.

GC: You collaborated with Sylvester Stallone on Rambo III. How did your team come up with the idea of the tank-versus-helicopter scene? Or the idea of colonel Trautman’s “In your ass!” line?

SL: The tank-versus-helicopter scene wasn’t my idea, that was Stallone’s idea. And I thought it was not a plausible idea, but it seemed to work. You liked it, right? A helicopter versus a tank just makes no kind of sense at all because a tank is not designed to shoot at something moving fast like an airplane. A tank versus an airplane or a helicopter makes no kind of sense at all. You’d have to be very lucky. It takes some time to aim that cannon on a tank. So for a tank versus a helicopter, I didn’t believe it, but it seemed to work. There we are; it was Sly’s idea. As for colonel Trautman’s line in the interrogation scene, that was Stallone’s idea as well. That wasn’t mine.

Sheldon Lettich.

GC: What kind of movie could be done about the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan? Perhaps a new Rambo installment, in which Stallone rescues a group of hostages once again abandoned in Afghanistan and, in the process, decapitate his former Taliban allies turned into despots of the region?

SL: I don’t see a good action movie coming out of that because everything about that was very disappointing. That really shouldn’t have happened the way that it happened. I don’t think anybody would want to see a movie about that. And Stallone is in his 70s, now. He’s a little old to go back into Afghanistan. And I think he’s had his—I think Rambo has had—his Afghanistan adventure and doesn’t really need another one. So, I don’t see that happening at all. I’m 70 years old. Stallone’s even older than me. I don’t know, he’s like 72. I don’t think he’ll want to do some crazy action movie where he’s running around firing a gun and killing all kinds of Afghans. It’s just not going to happen again.

GC: Jean-Claude Van Damme served as an editor on Bloodsport, which you co-wrote. How much did he change the story with respect to the original screenplay?

SL: The first cut was very bad, so Jean-Claude got involved. And he basically recut the fight scenes because he was involved with those fight scenes. He knew how the fight scenes should work. And there was another editor that Cannon brought in to recut the movie and to restructure it. And so they fixed it up. But Jean-Claude basically worked on the fight scenes, and he made those work really good. In the meanwhile, they got some other writers involved who made some changes. Most of the changes, I thought, were very good, actually. What I mostly did with Bloodsport is I came up with the idea. I structured it. I came up with the three-act structure where the beginning is that everybody’s getting ready to go to the fight. The middle is the tournament, and the movie ends after Gong Li is defeated and Jean-Claude goes home. So, that’s the structure that I came up with.

GC: Before Bloodsport, were you involved with Karate Tiger?

SL: No, I had nothing to do with that. That’s the first movie that I saw Jean-Claude in, here in the US. It was called No Retreat, No Surrender. And that was the movie—when we were looking for an actor for Bloodsport, that movie came out in theaters. It was playing in theaters here, in Los Angeles. So, the producer, Mark DiSalle, told us, “We found this new actor, Jean-Claude Van Damme. Go see his movies in the theaters, right now.” And that was No Retreat, No Surrender. And we were very impressed with him. And that’s pretty much that helped him solidify the role in Bloodsport.

GC: After Bloodsport, did you get involved in Kickboxer?

SL: Well, I was involved just in that Kickboxer was the project that Mark DiSalle approached me with. When I first met Mark, he was looking for a writer, and he had an idea for a martial arts movie called Kickboxer. And so, he pitched me the idea, and I thought I had a better idea, which was Bloodsport. Bloodsport had not been written, but I’d been talking with Frank Dux about his experiences. Turned out that they weren’t real experiences. He had made all that stuff up.

GC: Please tell us about your partnership with Jean-Claude Van Damme in writing Full Contact, which is known as Lionheart in the US, if I’m not mistaken.

SL: Yes, Lionheart. Actually, I got together with Jean-Claude and he came up with the basic idea. That was his idea. It was called the Wrong Bet, at first. We sat down in a coffee shop, one night on Sunset Boulevard to talk about it. We were in that coffee shop for about three hours, and the manager wanted us to leave because we were taking up room—it was kind of empty, but he still wanted us out of there. He thought we were there for too long. And we told him to leave us alone. “We’re working on something, right now.” And then, he called the cops. So actually, we had some sheriff’s deputies come in there and tell us to leave. But in those three hours, we came up with the basic story line for Lionheart. But it was Jean-Claude’s original idea, that whole thing about… I think I came up with the Foreign Legion idea, but he came up with that idea about his sister-in-law; and she’s got a little daughter, and he has to fight in order to make money to take care of them. That was Jean-Claude’s.

GC: The fight between JCVD and Bolo Yeung at the end of Double Impact is quite an epic moment. How was it shot?

SL: Actually, it was shot in two different locations because we shot part of it in Hong Kong. I’m just trying to think about it. We were on a ship in Hong Kong. No, the exterior of the ship was in Hong Kong, the interior of the ship was in Los Angeles. That was in San Pedro. And so, we actually shot on this ship, and then we looked at the footage later. We were kind of rushed that day. We didn’t have enough time to really do it right. And so we had a set built in Santa Clarita, also in Los Angeles, to shoot some additional shots. So it was basically like, it looks like it’s all done at the same time, but it was actually done in two different locations at two different times. We cut it all together, and it looked really great.

GC: Why did JCVD never act with Bolo Yeung again after Bloodsport and Double Impact? After all, three is a magic number, as they say.

SL: Well, he made two movies with Bolo. Bloodsport has Bolo, and Double Impact has Bolo. It’s hard to just keep using the same villain over and over again.

GC: Are you concerned for the future of the cinema of Hong Kong as the Chinese Communist Party will be extending its grip on the city?

SL: I’m not an expert on that, but obviously, we’re not going to see Hong Kong movies like the old ones. It’s all going to change now because the Chinese have taken over. So there are certain things you can say, certain things you can’t say. The Chinese government controls whatever is going on in Hong Kong. So you’ll never see those Hong Kong movies like we saw before, the Jackie Chans. Oh, Jackie Chan, of course, is doing movies in China, also. But they’re not going to be quite the same as those John Woo movies. I don’t think he’ll be able to make movies anymore in Hong Kong with corrupt police officers.

Basically, the way that the Chinese government sees it, there are no corrupt police officers in China. There are no gangsters in China. So, basically, everything has to change. They’re up to do a lot of historical stuff. So, you’re probably not going to see any contemporary stories like in those Hong Kong movies where you’ve got good cops, bad cops, gangsters, all kinds of stuff like that. I think that’s going away. And all they’re going to see out of Hong Kong and China is stuff that takes place hundreds of years ago in earlier eras in China, but not contemporary. Because contemporary means that you’ve got to have good guys and bad guys. And in China, they want everybody to believe that China is a perfect country. There are no gangsters, there are no corrupt cops. So everything is wonderful in China, which means you can’t have much drama for a contemporary movie. So, that era—the era of the John Woo movies and Ringo Lam and all of that—that’s pretty much over, for now.

GC: Please tell us about The Hard Corps, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Vivica A. Fox. How did such great movie with such great cast end up as a DTV?

SL: Well, we were hoping it was going to go to theaters. And the problem was that the producers just didn’t want to spend the money to get other actors that we needed to make it a theatrical movie. Because originally, it was supposed to be Jean-Claude and Wesley Snipes. So the boxer was supposed to be played either by Wesley Snipes or Cuba Gooding, which would have made it a much bigger movie.

Basically, they said, “We’ve got Jean-Claude Van Damme. We’re paying him a lot. If we get Wesley Snipes, we’ll have to pay Wesley Snipes the same amount of money we’re paying Jean-Claude, and that’s going to make the budget too big.” Now, in my opinion, it would have helped the movie. We would have had a bigger name in there. We would have had three big names. We would have had Jean-Claude, Wesley Snipes and Vivica A. Fox. And I think for sure, it would have been a theatrical movie. And that’s why it didn’t go theatrical because we just didn’t have the money we needed to get the right cast.

GC: I’d like to hear you about The Order, which easily ranks among your best collaborations with JCVD. The scene in which Van Damme is dressed as a Hassidic Jew is just exceptional.

SL: I made another movie in Israel—I did a movie there with Dolph Lundgren, The Last Patrol. So I got to know Israel pretty well. The cops trying to catch Van Damme, it was basically my idea. But I didn’t write the original script for The Order. It was written by this guy, Les Weldon. I wanted to make it more like an old Hitchcock movie. Hitchcock made a movie called North By Northwest and another one called The Man Who Knew Too Much. And that’s what I wanted to do with The Order. You’ve got the bad guys and the cops all after Jean-Claude. So, basically, he’s in trouble with everybody. And that’s how all those Hitchcock movies worked.

I rewatched North By Northwest just recently. It was on TV. And I realized there were a lot of ideas that I took from North By Northwest. And I even forgot that I took the ideas, like this one scene in North By Northwest with Cary Grant. He’s trying to disguise himself, so he puts on some dark sunglasses. I did the exact same thing in The Order. We got the cops looking for Jean-Claude, and he’s putting dark sunglasses on to disguise himself. So that’s the kind of movie it was supposed to be. And Hitchcock put a lot of humor into those movies, too, and I put a lot of humor into The Order.

There was a Jean-Paul Belmondo movie called The Man from Rio. It was in the 1960s. I saw it in the theater. And so I wanted to make it a little bit like that. The same thing where everybody is chasing our hero. The cops and the bad guys were all after him. And then, there was another movie I saw. It was a French movie. So those two French movies, right there. It was called The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, where some guy was anti-Semitic. He’s got the mafia after him, and he disguises himself as a Hasidic Jew. And then, the bad guys and the cops are all chasing him. So that’s another part of that idea that I had. And then, just being in Jerusalem and just seeing these guys walking around, I just thought that would be a good disguise for Jean-Claude to have if he was trying to get away from the cops. So that was what pretty much led to that. And I really wasn’t sure if Jean-Claude would go for it, if he would actually do that. And he did. He totally went for it. He put the beard on and everything, and that’s my favorite sequence in the entire movie. I really love the way that whole sequence turned out. So that’s my favorite part of The Order.

Our producer was Avi Lerner. And one thing Avi told me before we did the movie, he said, “l want an action scene every 10 minutes. Lots of action.” And he paid for it, too. They had the budget. We did a lot of crazy stuff in The Order. We were at the airport. Can you imagine shooting—nobody else has done that in Israel, but Avi had some connections. He had a cousin who was a pilot for El Al. That was how he got that jet where Jean-Claude was trying to get around the jet and just coming through. That was Avi’s cousin in the cockpit. And then, Avi was a good friend of the Prime Minister of Israel at the time, Ehud Olmert. And that’s how we got permission to shoot in Jerusalem. I mean, can you imagine? We’re doing this crazy chase scene, and we’re really on the streets of Jerusalem for most of it.

It was very hard to shoot there. It’s very crowded. And the people who live there, it’s divided between Jews and Muslims. And they disagree on just about everything, but they all love Jean-Claude Van Damme. All of them are Van Damme fans. So we had a hard time getting away from them because they’d be surrounding us and chasing after us. They were like, “Van Damme! Van Damme!” They wanted him to sign autographs. It became very difficult to shoot in Jerusalem, so we ended up building sets in Bulgaria to look like Jerusalem. Half of that chase scene was shot in Jerusalem and on the real streets, and then the other half we shot on a recreated version of Jerusalem in Bulgaria. And what I find interesting about this is that even people who are from Israel or who’ve been in Jerusalem many times don’t realize that we shot in two different places. They think that we shot the entire thing on the streets of Jerusalem. So we did a pretty good job recreating that Jerusalem look.

GC: Before Mark Dacascos acted for Christophe Gans in Crying Freeman and Brotherhood of the Wolf, he was in Only the Strong. Please tell us about your collaboration with Dacascos.

SL: Well, he had a manager named Katherine James, and she was the one that was pushing Mark. She got in touch with me, said, “You need to work with my client, Mark Dacascos. He’s going to be the next big action star.” And so I met Mark and I liked him very much. And one thing I found out about him was that he was very good with gymnastics. He was a good acrobat, and I think he’d already been studying some capoeira at the time. And that was an important part of the movie. It was all about capoeira.

So Mark was willing to go to classes with this real capoeira master from Brazil. So he learned all that stuff and was very willing to do anything I asked him to do. And it ended up working out great for the movie because he was able to do so much stuff that Van Damme can’t do, for example. Like Mark was good with the gymnastics. He could do flips. He could jump in the air. Jean-Claude can’t really do that kind of stuff. He’s good with the kicks and the punching, but if he has to do something gymnastic, we generally have to get a stunt double to do it for him. And also, Jean-Claude was not good with weapons, like martial arts weapons. He can use a gun. Of course, anybody can fire a gun, but he couldn’t do like the sticks and poles and all that kind of stuff, and Mark could do all of that stuff. We realized that in the movie, we’ve got him having fights with people using sticks and everything. And with Jean-Claude we couldn’t do that.

GC: Scott Adkins is sometimes thought to be Jean-Claude Van Damme’s spiritual heir. How do you assess his performances?

SL: I think he’s great. I met him a few years ago, and I knew he was going to do great as an action actor. And he’s been doing terrific. He’s been doing a lot of great action movies. Unfortunately, we’re in a different era, now. Had I met Scott in the 1980s, he probably would have become a much bigger star because those kinds of movies were popular back then, in the 80s and 90s. By the time Scott came on the scene, those kinds of movies were not happening, anymore. And now, it’s become superhero movies. So superhero movies have kind of taken over as far as action movies. And Scott has certainly done a number of action films, and he’s been great in them; but that’s just not the kind of movie that’s getting the big theatrical releases, nowadays, which is unfortunate.

GC: Do you share Martin Scorsese’s, Ridley Scott’s, and Denis Villeneuve’s recently expressed reservations about Marvel movies?

SL: Well, personally, I’m a Marvel Comics fan. From a long time ago, I was reading all those comic books in the 60s when they came out. I would go down to the store. The day that they put the comic books on the stands, I would go down to the store and get them. So I had all the originals. I had the first Fantastic Four and the first X-Men, the first Spider-Man. I had all those. I was a big fan of Marvel comic books back then.

And then, when they started making the Marvel movies, I thought the first few were really great. I loved the first Iron Man movie, for example. And the first Captain America movie, I thought that was terrific. But then, they just started getting just too big for my taste. They’re too big, too many characters. And I started losing interest in those Marvel movies. They’re well-made, but there’s a sameness to them. They have the same kind of structure. They all end up with these huge action scenes with lots of special effects, lots of CGI. And personally, CGI is great, but I prefer action films that have some real stuff going on screen where people are actually fighting. They’re not relying on CGI.

I was a big fan of the earlier James Bond movies, the pre-CGI James Bond movie. I was a big James Bond fan for many years. But with some of these more recent ones, once they started getting into too much CGI, and I wasn’t seeing real stunts anymore, I started losing interest in those. Although the Daniel Craig ones, I think are really good. They basically made some real changes with those Daniel Craig versions. But even so, I’m just not the Bond’s fan that I used to be many years ago. And the Marvel movies, Scorsese says they’re not real movies. Well, they really are more like just an assembly-line product. There’s a sameness to all of them, now. It just feels like you’re watching the same movie: lots of CGI, lots of explosions and crazy weapons, crazy flying machines. But they just don’t have the same kind of heart that they had in the earlier ones, the first few that they made.

GC: Do you share the commonly heard criticism that Christopher Nolan’s action scenes are as bad and poorly shot as his screenplays and concepts are astute?

SL: Christopher, I think he’s great. See, his action scenes feel fresh and original to me because he’s basically running the show. He’s coming up with these movies. He’s not recycling some comic book characters. He’s doing original movies, coming up with original action scenes. Whereas with the Marvel movies, the producers are pretty much hiring directors who are basically traffic cops and telling them, “This is what the movie is going to be. This is what the action scenes are going to be. And you get out there, and you just tell the actors what to do.” They just move the characters around.

And with Christopher Nolan, it’s not like that. He’s basically making Christopher Nolan movies. He’s doing action scenes that are fresh and original and doing them the way he wants to do them. And I really admire him for that. And James Cameron, too. James Cameron is another example. I love the Avatar movie. I’ve watched it a number of times. The action scenes are great. Everything about Avatar is fantastic. But James Cameron, basically, he’s calling his own shots. He’s basically saying, “I want to do this movie called Avatar. These are the actors I want.” And he goes and makes the movie. And he’s got no studio executives telling him how to structure his movie, what characters are going to be in it. It’s basically his show. And that makes a big difference.

GC: How do you explain that Hollywood, which used to be somewhat conservative and patriotic in the Reaganian era, has become so woke in the last few years?

SL: No, it wasn’t really conservative in the eighties. It was not Hollywood. That was Stallone. That was Stallone’s own point of view. Stallone was somewhat patriotic. He was a big supporter of Reagan, America. Reagan was, I don’t know—I wouldn’t call him a close personal friend, but he knew Reagan. He voted for him. I’m not sure if he campaigned for him, but they were very closely aligned in their politics. The rest of Hollywood was not. Stallone was kind of an outlier when it came to Hollywood. Oliver Stone, for example, has a completely different point of view. So that was Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Both of them were Republicans. Schwarzenegger even ended up being the Republican governor of California. So that was really their point of view, but that was not Hollywood. Hollywood was actually much more liberal during that period.

And that’s why the Rambo movies got such bad reviews, too. Like Rambo III, I mean, we got a Golden Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay, Worst Movie because most of the press was very liberal. And so they were not really voting their conscience about the movie. It was all about politics. “Because Stallone is a conservative Republican, we’re going to say that his movie is shit.” But actually, Rambo III, I think, is a pretty damn good movie. I like Rambo II even better. But basically, that was not the Hollywood attitude at the time. That was Stallone, Schwarzenegger—Bruce Willis also ended up being a Republican.

So a lot of these action stars had a different point of view from most people in Hollywood. Like even Van Damme, he’s very conservative. He’s not an American. I think he is an American citizen now, actually. And he was a Trump supporter. Even Stallone and Schwarzenegger were not Trump supporters but Van Damme was. We’re not talking about Hollywood in general, we’re talking about action stars who, for the most part, tended to be more conservative and lean towards the Republicans more than the Democrats.

GC: Please tell us about this recent movie of yours whose main character is a soldier dog, Max.

SL: Well, that brought me back to Afghanistan because the beginning of the movie takes place in Afghanistan? So rather than Rambo in Afghanistan, Max was really Rambo with four legs instead of two. He was basically a Rambo character. Max, he’s a soldier in Afghanistan. He gets sent back to the States. And then, when some bad guys are threatening his family, well, then he uses all his skills to defeat the bad guys. So it was really Rambo with four legs and a tail. That was basically Max.

And I got the idea for that because I got some puppies a number of years ago at the pound, and supposedly, they were German Shepherds. They were little, so it was hard to tell. So I got these two puppies, and months later, I discovered that they were not German shepherds, they were Belgian malinois. And so I did some research on Belgian malinois, and I found out that the army and the police are using these dogs because they’re the best dogs for that kind of work.

So I was doing my research, and I saw that there were a couple of dog-handlers that died in Afghanistan or Iraq. And then, their families asked, “Well, my son is dead, but can I have his dog? Can his dog be part of our family because that’s all we have left of him from his time in the military?” And so these families ended up adopting the dogs, and that was the basis for Max. Basically, this dog-handler gets killed, his dog survives. And then, the family back in Texas wants to adopt the dog. And the dog ends up being their protector, coming to the rescue.

GC: Thank you for the opportunity to do this interview.

SL: You’re welcome. That’s funny, I was just exchanging text messages with Brian Thompson. And Brian is in The Order. And Brian is a real expert with swords. He was in the Conan Show at Universal Studios. So he used to work with swords all the time. He’s really good with them. And then, our stunt-double for Jean-Claude in The Order was David Leitch. Well, David is also really good with weapons, so Brian and he worked out a great sword fight sequence. And David, by the way, has now gone on to be a director. He directed Deadpool 2. He did that one, I forgot the title of it, the one with Dwayne Johnson. He did this really huge movie with Dwayne Johnson [Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw]. And he was our double for Jean-Claude.

So, we were supposed to have a sword fight at the end of The Order. But Jean-Claude, like I said, he’s not good with weapons. We tried doing a few things with him. He wasn’t comfortable with it. He’s comfortable with what he’s good at, with the kicks and the punches and all of that. So he said, “Guys, let’s not do this. I can’t do this scene.” And basically, Brian and David were going to do most of the scene with the swords. And we were just going to need some close ups of Jean-Claude just swinging a sword or something. And he just didn’t feel it was going to work. So we went away from that whole sequence. And it’s a bit disappointing because I thought we needed a really good sword fight at the end of The Order, but we ended up not getting it. It’s kind of a disappointing scene.


Spirituality And Action: A Conservation With Abdelkrim Qissi

This month, we are so very delighted to present a discussion with actor and film-maker, Abdelkrim Qissi, who speaks of his life-long involvement with film and his long association with Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Mr. Qissi sits down with Grégoire Canlorbe, writer and philosopher, to reminisce, explain and encourage. His words of wisdom derive from the many rich experiences that he has lived through, and the cast of interesting people that he has met.

Mr. Qissi is a Belgian-Moroccan actor and boxer. A close collaborator of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mr. Qissi notably played the antagonists, Attila and Khan, in two cult Van Damme films: Lionheart and The Quest. He is the brother of Mohamed Qissi, the actor who portrayed Tong Po in Kickboxer and Moustafa in Lionheart.


Grégoire Canlorbe (GC): Could you start by telling us about your up-coming co-directed movie Lopak l’Envoûteur [Lopak the Enchanter], which will be released in April 2022?

Abdelkrim Qissi (AQ): Originally, I was called upon to act in a scene from a movie whose story revolved around a cannibalistic killer. The script was largely non-existent and the shooting improvised. Abel Ernest Tembo, who was in charge of directing, asked me to appear in a few more sequences, which I accepted to do, on the condition that we rework the story thoroughly and give the film a script worthy of the name. Ernest immediately accepted. I went into production and we agreed to make the film together. The camera-work, the imaging, lighting and grading would be his responsibility, while developing the story, playing the lead role, directing the cast and writing the script mostly mine.

During the Covid period, an entirely new story was created, and a new film was born. Only the title stayed the same. Then, a year ago, we started shooting what was now a feature-length film. The shooting has nearly wrapped up. I want to salute the work of Abel Ernest Tembo, a man excellent with imaging.

Abdelkrim Qissi.

GC: In the Lopak trailer, the character you play, Molosse, there are a lot of bees, busy yet mysterious. Could you satisfy our curiosity and tell us what is going on with these bees?

AQ: I cannot say too much about the plot of the film at the moment, but Molosse in the script is invested with a mission – that of “healing” humanity, which he considers corrupted by greed and which he hopes to turn into bees devoted to the common good. To that end, he uses hypnosis and a serum that, annihilating consciousness, leaves only the subconscious and the unconscious. In this way, he hopes to put an end to borders and to all that divides humanity; and change the Earth into a perfectly balanced hive where everyone in their cell perfectly knows their place, their mission, and selflessly work for the hive’s well-being, where no one encroaches on anyone and where everyone supports everyone. In his quest, Molosse will be led to do things that will trigger a whole storm around him—both for his family and his old friends.

But I don’t want to reveal too much about the film. But to the young and not so young who have the desire to shoot their own feature films and who, nevertheless, are reluctant to run to fill out files, submit requests to commissions, receive financial aid – to all these people, this film sends the following message: “Do not wait to be supported, taken seriously, introduced to big names. Take your camera and shoot. Let the big names come to you as you build your own success.”

To those young and not so young who have the desire to shoot their own film, who have the talent and the passion but are not particularly well-known to the general public, nor are really involved in the right networks, I am hoping that Lopak the Enchanter will prove that no matter what resource they might have at their disposal when they first begin, the people they surround themselves with from the very beginning, will make it possible for them to achieve their goal and make the film of their dreams.

GC: Alongside Mohamed Qissi and Kamel Krifa, you also played in Lionheart (also known as Full Contact). How did the three of you end up on the set?

AQ: Jean-Claude I have known since his childhood. I met him in a sports center where both my brother Mohamed and I came to train, and where Jean-Claude practiced karate (with Claude Goetz). I was training for boxing. I also met there, among others, Jean-Pierre Valère, who was kind enough to agree to appear briefly in Lopak. When they met, Jean-Claude and Mohamed became more than friends. They were inseparable, joined at the hip. They were truly brothers. It was not uncommon for Jean-Claude stay our home.

One fine day, sharing the same dream of breaking into the cinema, they both left for America. After long years of hardship and adventures, they made this dream come true by playing in Bloodsport, then Kickboxer. I can’t really relate the circumstances that led to my participation, at the age of 29, in the filming of Full Contact. But briefly, it all boils down to the fact that I was Mohamed’s brother (who had just played Tong Po in Kickboxer), and that he and Jean-Claude Van Damme asked me, and the producers as well, that I take on the role of Attila. I was very happy with that offer and jumped at the chance. As for Kamel, he’s a friend that we met in Brussels. That is how he too found himself by our side, on the set of Full Contact.

GC: Lionheart’s final fight pits Lyon Gaultier, a character played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, against a brutal fighter, who is nonetheless affectionate towards his cat. Even though Lyon is suffering from a broken rib, and lets himself be dominated at first. But nearly at the point of death takes over Attila, the character you play. How did the idea for such choreography come to the film crew? What the filming of that idea like?

AQ: Contrary to the idea of the white cat, which was an improvisation during the shooting, the idea that Lyon takes the upper hand over Attila when everyone (including his trainer) thinks him to be losing is an idea in the script. It was not improvised when the choreography was being designed. Jean-Claude nevertheless participated in the writing of the screenplay; just as the choreographies of Lionheart are all his doing. Both ideas sound good to me—and crucial to what creates the film’s aura, now more than thirty years after its release.

The touching affection that Attila has for his pet, which he shows by taking advantage of Lyon being momentarily on the ground to stroke his cat, contrasts with what is, besides, the brutality of the character. A contrast that the film emphasizes in its visual symbolism by making Attila all dressed in black, while his cat s entirely white. The cat in question, which, again, was not intended in the script (if I remember correctly), belonged to a member of the film crew.

The inner strength that manifests itself in the character of Jean-Claude just after his trainer, Joshua, confesses to him that he does not trust him and that he himself has bet on Attila. There is rage inside Lyon, then, to overcome himself in order to triumph over his opponent and prove to Joshua that he made the “wrong bet” (which is also at the very origin of one of the film’s titles). And that desire, coming from the depths of his heart, allows Lyon to overcome the pain and to defeat Attila even though the latter, in plain view, was largely dominating him until then, gives the film one of its most beautiful scenes.

GC: You play Khan, a Mongolian champion with whom the character of JCVD fights at the end of The Quest. JCVD directed that film; but years before he had already served, unofficially, as an editor to Bloodsport. What makes the two films so different despite their partly similar plot? How did you work with JCVD to come up with a final fight that is even more impressive than the one between JCVD and Bolo Yeung [at the end of Bloodsport]?

AQ: A major difference between Bloodsport and The Quest is, it seems to me, that Jean-Claude had the opportunity to work with professional fighters in The Quest; while the tournament participants in Bloodsport were played by people who were a bit less pros in the field of martial arts. Another major difference is that in The Quest, Jean-Claude had matured since Bloodsport and was then at the peak of his physical and mental form. The exotic landscapes in The Quest, the richness of the animal cast (including the elephant and the horses), the beauty of the imaging (including the care given to the colors), all that contributes to what makes Jean-Claude’s film so different from Bloodsport, released almost ten years earlier. However, I would regret that the human relations in The Quest were somewhat put in the background during the filming; I believe, because of a timing problem or a problem arisen in production.

Jean-Claude is an excellent choreographer; and in Full Contact, like in The Quest, trusted himself for the design of the fights. Also, in Full Contact, like in The Quest, he adapted the choreography for the final fight to my martial style, to what I’m best able to do in an arena. Whether it is the confrontation between Attila and Lyon Gaultier in Full Contact or the one between Khan and Christopher Dubois in The Quest, for which the fight at the end of Lionheart was ultimately the prelude – no stand-in, or any special effect; nor any stunt carried out by someone else was required.

Shooting the choreography was for Jean-Claude and me an easy, joyful, and quick exercise. If I remember correctly, on the set of The Quest, Jean-Claude and I worked only nine hours—three times three hours, over three days—developing our choreography from Jean-Claude’s general idea. A German Steadicam operator on the set of The Quest said of Jean-Claude and I that we were “like the fingers of the hand,” given how we knew each other, understood each other, and had blind confidence in each other in the choreography’s execution; given how our moves, with meticulous precision, were easy for us and resembled a ballet; given how our blows espoused each other without ever hurting or touching each other.

Grégoire Canlorbe with Abdelkrim Qissi.

GC: You traveled to Israel for the filming of The Order, by Sheldon Lettich (who years before had directed and co-written Lionheart). What do you remember from your stay in the Holy Land?

AQ: I had great times with Sheldon. He’s a very nice guy, just like Peter MacDonald. I believe that Jean-Claude, by offering me a sort of cameo in The Order, wanted to acknowledge my previous performances in the roles of Attila and Khan, two characters united into one in “the Big Arab” whom I briefly interpret in The Order.

Regarding Jerusalem, what struck me about that city is the conjunction of holiness and violence that reigns within it, the spectacle of both beauty and injustice that it offers. All the more as our subconscious associates Jerusalem with the battles and bloodshed of which it has been the theatre throughout history.

The little Palestinian people are a brilliant people who have gone through very hard times over the centuries. Does the Israeli government really have a stake in peace—given that Israel would then no longer be in a position to continue its nibbling on territories? Do Fatah, in power in the West Bank, and Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, really have a stake in the war’s ending – given that the financial rent they get from the military conflict would suddenly cease if there is peace? For the Palestinian Authority, wouldn’t stopping the attacks, reprisals, and rocket fires be the best weapon against Israel—given that it would deprive Israel of any justification for its settlement policy and force nations in the whole world to take the side of the Palestinians against the Israelis?

Being not in the know, I do not want to make any assertions, but only to raise a number of questions that, in my opinion, are worth asking. Let me add that a religious government, as is the case of Hamas, is, in my eyes, a foolish and disastrous thing; since such a government could never represent the entire population, some individuals being firmly religious, others not so much, or even not at all. It is much wiser for a government to refrain from imposing any dogma or rite regarding religion; and to recognize in everyone the freedom to practice or not some spirituality, and the freedom to practice it in the way that suits him personally. That would be one of the pillars of my policy if I were to find myself at the head of the Palestinian Authority. But being not a man of power, I no more aspire to occupy such a position than I would be able to hoist myself into it.

GC: With regard to the Quran, do you believe that it should be taken literally—or that it contains an allegorical meaning that should be deciphered with the help of ancillary knowledge?

AQ: First of all, please know that I am in no way claiming that what I am telling you is the truth; it is only my conception of the truth. I am submitting it to you in the framework of an exchange, not of a debate. I don’t just deny myself the status of teacher or preacher; I see it as an incompatibility with well-understood spirituality, which is a personal, intimate affair. What I understand about the Quran is that a huge gulf exists between the word interpreted and taught by men and the WORD drawn directly from the source (the Book itself).

Allah, I understand Him as the source of all that exists; so that God is both present in His creation and located upstream from it. It is impossible to love God without loving His creation. It is impossible to love Allah, He who is in the trees, if the wood is cut without moderation; impossible to love Him, He who is in the human, if one hurts one’s neighbor. The words of the Quran (which it is customary to recite by singing it) are not only made to rock and cuddle the ears of the devotee. That is the lowest, most superficial, level of listening there is, the furthest from what is attentive listening to what the Quran seeks to communicate to us and make us understand.

I didn’t learn Arabic at school. I learned it late, when I applied myself to reading a comparative edition of the Quran, including the original text in Arabic and a French translation. The main words of the Book, what I call the catchwords, resonate differently from anything I have been taught. Often they are not even translated.

Here are some examples of those words: Allah, Islam, Muslim, Quran, Jihad. Those words have very precise and deep meanings, characteristics and specificities. I’m not going to teach you what they mean, because that is research unique to each of us. What I can say and repeat is that there is a huge gulf between what you have been taught and what the Quran can teach you. Many counterfeiters have seized the content to use it for their own ends. Such is what created the innumerable religions, themselves divided into different sects, schools and currents of thought.

To conclude my answer: from my reading, I do not see any contradiction in the Book. I do not see any violence. I perceive only love for God in it; and it goes without saying, for His creation as well.

GC: Tell us about your meetings with Roger Moore (on the set of The Quest) and Charlton Heston (on the set of The Order). And what is your favorite James Bond?

AQ: The shootings of The Quest and The Order were effectively the occasion of magnificent encounters: Pjetër Malota (who played the Spanish fighter in The Quest), Takis Triggelis (who played the French fighter), Cesar Carneiro (who played the Brazilian fighter), Stefanos Miltsanakis (who played the Greek fighter—and who passed away two years ago, God rest his soul!), Janet Gunn (who played the journalist), Roger Moore (God rest his soul!), and many others.

The four and a half months that The Quest team spent in Thailand allowed me to closely interact with Roger Moore, to the point where he became a friend; as well as his wife, with whom I have had long discussions about spirituality, being myself sick of spirituality as you must have noticed. Moore was an extraordinary man; of unparalleled kindness, simplicity, and humanism, he warmly encouraged me, as well as young people in general.

Unlike Roger Moore on the set of The Quest, Charlton Heston remained somewhat aloof, withdrawn, on the set of The Order; and had a very small role, so he didn’t stay long on the spot. Being then of a very advanced age already, I think he was a little tired. He nevertheless gave me the impression of a respectful and respectable gentleman, of great kindness.

As for my opinion on the evolution of the James Bond, it seems to me futile to want to compare them, given how the historical contexts, perceptions of the character, filmic means, are each time different. It would be like pretending to compare Mohamed Ali, Mike Tyson, and Joe Louis! Roger Moore in James Bond evoked Simon Templar, alias “the Saint,” and Lord Brett Sinclair, the sidekick of Tony Curtis’ Daniel Wilde in The Pretenders.

Moore played a gallant, charming, light Bond, devoid of the slightest hint of violence, though no less strong and talented. Sean Connery and Roger Moore are the only James Bond that we can almost classify in the same category – by the finesse, the tact, which they have in common and that is ultimately lacking in the others (all the more, as the more recent episodes highlight action). Some say Daniel Craig is the best James Bond. I don’t agree. Pierce Brosnan, for example, was not bad at all, as well as a Timothy Dalton who had a more violent register as would be, nearly twenty years later, Daniel Craig.

GC: Who from Tong Po or Chong Li [antagonist in Bloodsport] would win if they fought with each other? Same question for Attila and Khan

AQ: Regarding Tong Po versus Chong Li: If we talk about the actors, I think that my brother, a professional boxer, would win against Bolo Yeung, who, to my knowledge, is an accomplished actor without really being an experienced martial artist or boxer.

Now, if we talk about the characters, it seems to me that, by comparing the performances of Tong Po and Chong Li in their respective films, the former is clearly more dangerous, more gifted, more powerful, in Kickboxer than the latter is in Bloodsport; so that, if they were to come face to face, Tong Po would win hands-down over Chong Li.

Regarding Khan versus Attila, it seems to me that the former’s power (including mental) in The Quest is without comparison with that of the latter in Full Contact; and that the Mongol would be the big winner in a hypothetical confrontation with Attila.

GC: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add anything further?

AQ: We talked about thriller and action movies. But I must confess that my personal preference as a spectator goes to contemplative, spiritual films. So, I haven’t seen most of Jean-Claude’s films (including Legionnaire, which everyone spoke highly of, especially the opening boxing sequence). There are certainly thrillers and action films with a contemplative, spiritual dimension, and that I particularly appreciate such films. Among these are Gladiator, by Ridley Scott, or Heat, by Michael Mann.


The featured image shows the poster for the film, Lopak l’Envoûteur.

A Mockumentary About General Franco

I.

A few weeks ago, I saw a National Geographic documentary about Franco, in their series about dictators. They had just shown one on that channel about Mussolini, which was simplistic, but acceptable. When they announced this one about Franco, I stuck around to watch. I started perplexed, I continued indignant, and I ended hilarious with laughter – because it is actually quite difficult to put together so many inaccuracies, lies, misrepresentations and nonsense.

But as this type of product is precisely what forms the consciences of the semi-enlightened population, which is the scourge of our time (you only have to see a session of the Congress of Deputies), the matter must be taken very seriously. After all, the little that most Spaniards today know about our own history is what they tell us there. And even worse – it is precisely the version that the Spanish left wants to impose on us by law. Interesting, this convergence of the media-financial oligarchy and the cultural left. But let’s get on with Franco.

Something that was surprising as soon as the documentary began was the limited number of specialists who contributed their knowledge and insight. The only historian with a known work on Franco was Paul Preston, which is not exactly an example of balance. The rest of the specialists turned out to be, if Spaniards, people linked to the groups of the socialist “historical memory,” and if foreigners, likely notable professors at home, but completely unknown in the extensive bibliography on Franco and the Franco regime. Plowing with such oxen, it could already be assumed that the furrow was not going to come out very straight.

Right off the bat – National Geographic informed us that Spain is the second country in the world, after Cambodia, with the highest number of mass graves, which is attributable to Franco, naturally. Source of authority: Amnesty International. But this, as everyone should know by now, is a lie. And the author of this whopper is Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Arias, who has confessed his falsehood (by the way, he did not tell Amnesty International, but a group of people working for the UN).

Within those non-existent graves more than 114,000 disappeared. But this, which the National Geographic piece gives as fact, is also a lie. This figure corresponds to a highly debatable estimate of forced disappearances of children and adults between July 1936 and December 1951, and no doubt many of them were victims of postwar repression. But there is no documentary evidence of the fate of the vast majority of them. From here, however, the narrative framework of the documentary is established – what they are going to tell us is the life of a criminal named Francisco Franco.

A Morocco That Did Not Exist

A veritable criminal – a self-conscious subject, clinging to an intransigent Catholicism, who found in war a channel to give way to his psychological problems. What war? That of Morocco, in whose savagery Franco acquires a taste for “killing his own people,” as we are repeatedly told in this documentary. It is interesting to note how the National Geographic depicts the war in Morocco – as a barbarous exercise of cruelty upon the civilian population, where Franco’s soldiers cut off ears and noses and raped wildly. Is that true?

That war, as every Spanish should know, was not a war of Spain against Morocco, but of Spain (and the Sultan of Morocco) against the rebellious tribes of the Rif. Spain acted there as a “protective” power, and, consequently, had in its ranks thousands of Moroccan soldiers. That is the origin of our troops of regulars, with their red hats, their white capes and their majestic marching formation.

The only function of our army in that Morocco was to control the territory and, therefore, to dominate the Kabyles in Rif who occasionally rose up here and there, so that, in effect, the civilian population was frequently crushed, with the caveat that, equally frequently, in an “irregular” war like that one was, it is rarely possible to distinguish the civilian population from combatants.

But what about all those mutilations and ears and cut-off, and so on? First of all, there is a single photo of legionaries displaying the heads of Riffians. But this photo must be put in context. After the Annual disaster (1921), where the Rif Kabyles annihilated some 11,000 Spaniards (3,000 of them of Moroccan origin), the rebels indulged in a savage orgy of blood.

When the Spaniards recovered places like Monte Arruit or Zeluan, they found that their companions had been tortured, mutilated and burned alive. From then on, it is true that certain units did practice an eye for an eye. But the implicit message of the documentary – raised in such a terrible “school,” Franco became a kind of bloodthirsty beast. But, despite all that, what was Franco’s real part in this story?

Franco – National Geographic tells us – had arrived in Morocco as an officer of the “Regiment of Africa,” where he remained for his entire military career. The fact is Franco was only in a regiment called “Africa” at the beginning of his stay in Morocco, under the command of Colonel Villalba Riquelme, and he did not last more than a year, as he immediately asked to be transferred to the Regulars, and then by 1920 to the newly formed Spanish Legion.

However, the name “Regiment of Africa” remains unchanged throughout the documentary to designate the entire Army of Africa. And thus, we are informed that in 1936, the 30,000 “Moors” of the “Regiment of Africa” came over into Spain. With such figures, it must have been the largest regiment of all time. The documentary, however, is not characterized by the love of accurate detail.

By the way, in that Army of Africa (which is its real name, and not that of “regiment”) there were more Spaniards than Moroccans: 19,624 of the former, 15,287 of the latter. But all that is not of interest for a story like that of National Geographic, where the only objective is to show Franco as the criminal leader of a horde of murderous Moors, looters and rapists, in the same way that established the war propaganda of the Popular Front. Yes, the story oozes blatant anti-Moroccan racism. Is there a progressive lawyer in the room who wants to file a hate crime complaint? A guaranteed win.

The Imaginary Republic

There’s more. It is very funny to see how the documentary next moves to tell us about the advent of the Second Republic. Basically, we are told that the people were not against the Crown, but against Alfonso XIII. As an argument to explain historical change, it is astonishingly frivolous.

Then we are told that, with the fall of the monarchy, a democracy with constitutional guarantees and freedom of the press dawned in Spain, a democracy voted by “men and women all together.”

Let’s see now. First, men and women could not vote “all together,” because until 1933, there was no female suffrage in Spain for legislative elections (and this was because of the opposition of a large part of the left that did not want to grant the vote to women). As for the “constitutional guarantees,” the truth is that during almost the entire Second Republic, such guarantees were suspended, first by the Law of Defense of the Republic and later by the Law of Public Order of 1933, both arising from the imaginings of Azaña.

The Constitution of the Second Republic was only really in force for more than a few months, in the period from its approval in December 1931 to the end of the Civil War in 1939. Preston knows that, but he doesn’t care. And we know you don’t care. I’m afraid National Geographic doesn’t care either. But that reality doesn’t spoil a good story for you, right? Even if it’s a documentary.

And what did happen during that Republic? The National Geographic speaks, yes, of the furious anti-Catholic wave that shook the left, and does not mute the shock of the burning of convents in 1931. But Preston explains it all to us immediately: “In the churches there were golden altars while the people were starving.”

So those people, deep down, deserved what happened to them, right? It is the only time that the documentary talks about religious persecution. It does not say a word about the genocide – which was perpetrated by the Popular Front at the beginning of the Civil War. It is not interested because that might mean that Franco actually had some valid reason to revolt.

More grist in the mill: the documentary talks about the 1934 revolution in Asturias and presents it as a trade union conflict. Not a word about the involvement of the PSOE in the matter, nor about the failure of the uprising in other places (Madrid, for example) nor about the simultaneous separatist uprising in Catalonia.

Of course, it tells us immediately that Franco and “his Moors” were sent to quell the “union protest,” and they did so with the bloodthirsty spirit that characterized them. Not a word about the army of 30,000 armed men that socialists, communists, and anarchists had fitted with arms taken from the Trubia factory and who intended to march on Madrid.

For all that, Franco, did not set foot in Asturias. He was in the capital, on the General Staff, summoned by the (legitimate) Government of the Republic. But that, once again, does not matter. What matters is to blare out the message that Franco massacred “his own people.” The victims of the revolutionaries were not people, apparently.

Thrown at full speed into the void, the National Geographic script informs us that 30,000 prisoners of the Asturian revolt were deported to Africa. Nothing less. I confess that it is the first time in my life that I have heard such a thing. I knew that in 1932 a hundred anarchists were confined to Africa, but that was obviously for other crimes, and also by order of Azaña.

In fact, no one knows exactly how many people were arrested and kept in prison after the 1934 revolution. Why? Because the figures of the repression were exaggerated by the left for propaganda purposes; and then, when the left won in 1936, it was the left itself which obstructed any commission of inquiry. And the fact is that the repression of 1934, although it endured and in some cases was even savage, was far wide of the legend that the Popular Front created. But exactly that is the legend that National Geographic assumes to be historical truth. The way in which the documentary leads us to 1936 is just hideous.

II.

While some charitable soul might want to keep count of the consciences affected by this monstrosity, let’s continue gutting the documentary that National Geographic (via Movistar) has dedicated to Franco in its series, Dictator’s Playbook. We have already seen that its version of the war in Morocco and the advent of the Republic is simply fallacious. The rest of history is yet far falser.

Basically, what the documentary tells us is that Spain was a full democracy that the left had won – not a word about the proven electoral fraud of February, nor about the violence of the spring of 1936-, to the chagrin of the landowners, the bishops and the generals. What was that left like? The documentary doesn’t tell us. The only thing that it does tell us is that the new government did not trust many generals and chose to remove them. From that moment on, the documentary speaks of the “exiled generals” as the main engines of the conspiracy. Wait… Exiles?

As far as I know, only Sanjurjo was exiled after his failed coup in 1932 (which Franco, by the way, did not join). The rest had been taken to distant destinations (Franco to the Canary Islands, Goded to the Balearic Islands). But exiles? Perhaps in the National Geographic they ignore the fact that the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands are Spanish territory? So this is geography, according to the National Geographic…

But let’s continue with the generals. Because the reality is that, at the time of the Uprising, the majority of the generals preferred to join the Popular Front. Nor does the National Geographic documentary say a word about the murder of Calvo Sotelo, which was decisive for Franco – like many others – in joining the uprising. The story limits everything to Franco’s concern for the threats looming over the Church. It is not a lie, but obviously it is not the whole truth either.

Ruthless Butcher

More caricature… the National Geographic version of Franco’s proclamation as head of the national camp is, quite simply, hilarious. It is difficult to gloss a version in which nothing is true. Therefore, let us limit ourselves to summarizing what actually happened. In a militarily precarious, politically uncertain and economically desperate situation, and seeing the damage that the division of power was causing on the other side, the rebels decided to choose a single leadership. It should have been Sanjurjo, but he died in a plane crash.

Against the opposition of the generals, most closely linked to the republican order, such as Queipo and especially Cabanellas, the majority of the leaders chose Franco as their political and military leader. Why? For his service record and for his good external contacts. Franco’s supporters also made sure that the leadership included command over the entire nascent state. Not everyone liked it, but they all folded. And everything else is literature.

The documentary says that Franco deviated from his route to Madrid to liberate the Alcázar of Toledo, instead of dedicating those troops to the capture of the capital. For what reasons? For propaganda purposes. Old story. It has always caught my attention that, when this episode is recounted, no one realizes that, besieging the apparently irrelevant Alcazar, there were also a good number of Popular Front troops (15,500 militiamen), and that they did not come to Madrid either, but stayed around their goal.

The Alcázar was so important to the Popular Front that Largo Caballero had himself portrayed disguised as a militiaman, at the head of his hosts, marching against the Toledo enemy. Of course, it was a propaganda goal. Everyone wanted to take it.

And the war? Well, the fact is, Franco won it. The documentary admits only once that Franco was effective, but immediately adds the qualifier “ruthless.” It just won’t do that the “evil general” was a good professional. As Preston and his boys tell us, the Popular Front lost the war because the Soviet Union withdrew its military support.

But the truth is that this did not happen until the fall of 1938, and in fact it would not be fully verified until February of 1939. By then the war was already over, after the collapse of the Popular Front at the Battle of the Ebro.

In any case, the National Geographic account has little interest in any of this – its narrative focuses on explaining that Franco (and “his Moors”) went from city to city murdering people. “Massacring his own people,” which is the “heart-rending” message of the documentary. Of the people who died on the other side, not a peep.

Tons Dead And Stolen Children

The documentary gives as fact the figure of 450,000 victims of the Civil War. It is very reckless. To date, no one is in a position to say with total precision how many people died in our war, either in combat or as a result of repression, and only by approximation can we get an idea of the victims of the subsequent repression (this one, yes, attributable to the Franco regime). Why is it so difficult to get the exact number of victims? For multiple reasons.

At the time, no one had a national ID card, which is an invention of 1944. Many of the censuses and registers were burned by the “revolutionary justice” during the first months of the war, both in official buildings and in churches that burned completely (because in the churches there weren’t just the “golden altars” that Preston talks about). There are also numerous examples of people who changed their identities after the war, of people who appear repeatedly in several lists of victims, even of people who appear as victims of one side and on the other at the same time.

Approximate and provisional figures? Some 140,000 fallen in combat, to which must be added around 60,000 victims of the Red Terror and around 80,000 victims of the repression of the victors (until 1959). Those are the ones that more or less generate some consensus. No, not 450,000 deaths. And the once famous “million dead,” as everyone should know by now, does not refer to the actual dead, but adds up the number of births that would have occurred under normal conditions and that the war situation thwarted.

Regarding figures, the documentary supports the thesis of the 300,000 “children stolen” by the dictatorship, a completely absurd thesis that, once again, has been objectively refuted by reality: the case of Inés Madrigal, decided in court in July 2019, showed that this woman, as a child, was not stolen, but voluntarily given up for adoption. And it is relevant because it is the only case – the only one – that has come to trial. The others have not even passed first muster. But this also does not matter. What National Geographic tells us, in the approach inaugurated by former judge Garzón, is that the Franco regime designed a system to snatch their children from pregnant Republican prisoners and give them to families addicted to the regime. Is this true? Is it a lie?

Let’s see. The Franco regime, after the war, chose to give up the children of female prisoners for adoption, but that was a common practice at the time and continues to be so today in many countries (the United States, for example). The same happened with war orphans. In addition, there is the issue of the “children of war” who were deported by the Popular Front to other European countries to keep them away from the war and who immediately found that the war was reaching them. These children were returned to Spain and in many cases their parents were not found.

And then there is, finally, the issue of children given birth by mothers with problems (or without them) and given up for adoption in an irregular way. It is these cases that fed the suspicion of a plot, but, in general, these are events that happened long after the end of the war, happened even in the post-Franco era. If we mix everything with everything and dispense with documentary support, the hypothesis that the Franco regime set up an organized plot to abduct children can emerge, but that falls as soon as one asks for proof that such a plot actually existed. So far, the proof has not been shown and is not likely to be shown. So, everything is a lie. But trying telling that to the National Geographic.

And So We Come To Delirium

For the audacious makers of the documentary, this matter of the supposed “stolen children” serves to establish a surprising thesis, namely – Franco – they say – implemented a system of social engineering (sic) to raise young fanatics who were those kids stolen from their mothers. Any Spaniard who has lived at the time knows that this is an invention (and also very recent). But there are fewer and fewer compatriots who can attest to it, so, once again, National Geographic does not care. And so it goes.

Naturally, and to ensure that nothing is lacking in the repertoire of topics, the documentary tells us that the Valley of the Fallen was built with “slave labor” of political prisoners (Republicans). It is suggested that they were sentenced to forced labor.

As this is a fallacy that no longer holds water, in the same documentary an archaeologist from the CSIC shows up immediately afterwards, and without fear of contradiction, to explain to us that it was actually a penalty redemption system that allowed the inmate to reduce five years of condemnation for each year of work, and that is why many asked for such voluntarily labor. “But not because they liked it, but because the other was worse,” adds the archaeologist immediately, in case we had not understood. Nor does the National Geographic tell us, of course, that in addition to reducing sentences, these prisoners received a salary, and that the inmates were only a small part of the personnel who worked in the Valley. But the script could not put up with any more contradictions.

Is there more? Of course. The learned scriptwriters at National Geographic maintain that Franco froze (sic) Spain for forty years, and they illustrate this assertion with strident images of an eighteenth-century float going around a bullring. It is remarkable because, however you look at it, those forty years were the time of the greatest socioeconomic transformation that Spain has experienced in its entire history, including the last four decades in democracy. Here’s data from the National Statistics Institute on productive sectors:

At the height of 1940, the primary sector (agriculture) occupied 50% of the population, the secondary (industry) 22% and the tertiary (services) 28%, proportions very similar to those of ten and twenty years ago.

But on Franco’s death, in 1975, these proportions were, in approximate figures, 22%, 37% and 36% respectively.

So, Spain had become an industrial country. That is not to mention many other changes that any Spaniard over 55 years of age may remember as part of their own life: the impressive growth of GDP in the 1960s, home ownership, paid vacations, Social Security, the practical disappearance of illiteracy, etc. Or the nationalization of Telefónica, Movistar’s mother company, which is the television platform where National Geographic broadcasts (what a world…).

Regarding illiteracy, the National Geographic documentary, to support its own fallacy of a “frozen Spain,” ends by telling us that the first democratic elections after 1975, which were the 1977 legislative elections, were won by “the left wing.” In other words, Spain, as soon as the terrible tyrant died (as an old man and in his bed, in a public hospital), returned to the Popular Front.

The truth is that in those elections between the UCD of Suárez and the AP of Fraga (both, by the way, Franco’s ministers) garnered about 8 million votes, while the PSOE, the PCE of Carrillo and the PSP of Tierno Galván did not reach that figure. In subsequent legislative sessions, in 1979, the proportions were very similar. Where is the “left wing?” Who the hell documented this documentary?

I better stop, because there is no reason to bore nice people. There is only one question: What have we done to deserve this?

One last note: the head of National Geographic is a man named Gary Knell, who ran the Sesame Street production company for many years and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a famous think-tank linked to the Rockefellers and entirely devoted, for over a century now, to providing intellectual ammunition for US foreign policy and what is called “global governance.”

Perhaps it is just coincidence that the general tone of National Geographic historical documentaries always, always conveys the idea of European guilt in all the ills of the world. And how can these people be interested – you may wonder – that the ultra-left version prevails about Franco and the History of Spain? The answer is so interesting that it deserves another article. There’s no room for it now. But maybe you have already drawn your own conclusions.

José Javier Esparza, journalist, writer, has published around thirty books about the history of Spain. He currently directs and presents the political debate program “El gato al agua,” the dean of its genre in Spanish audiovisual work.

The image shows a self-portrait by general Francisco Franco.

Miguel de Unamuno vs. Alejandro Amenábar

After two box office successes, The Sea Inside and The Others, followed by two commercial failures, Agora and Regression, and a series of advertising films, notably for La Loteria Nacional, the Spanish director of Chilean origin, Alejandro Amenábar, returns in cinematographic news with a feature film about the start of the Spanish Civil War. While at War (in French release, Letter to Franco), is a film well put together and remarkably well-served by the performance of the main actor, Karra Elejalde, but whose crippling defect is to claim to be based on works of serious historians when it is pure fiction.

Centered on the figure of Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), an illustrious Basque-Spanish philosopher, linguist, poet and playwright of the Generation of 98, whom some consider to be the most significant Spanish intellectual of the turn of the 20th century, the film strives to show that the rector of the University of Salamanca was unable to understand the military coup of July 18, 1936 correctly, that he lacked foresight, and that he did not understand the real intentions of the insurgents.

According to Amenábar, Unamuno was saved in extremis for posterity, thanks to his late realization and then enormous courage during the critical speech against the national camp given at the Paraninfo (large amphitheater) of the University of Salamanca, in front of Brigadier-General Millán-Astray, the famed founder of the Spanish Foreign Legion, a war cripple (one-eyed, one-armed and lame), and a luminary among university and military officials.

The incident occurred on October 12, 1936, Columbus Day, or Día de la Raza (a day marking “Hispanity”), a holiday that commemorates the discovery of America and the birth of the new cultural identity born from the fusion of indigenous peoples of the New World and peoples of Spain. Miguel de Unamuno was, it should be remembered, the first author to suggest using the word “Hispanity” (Hispanitatem) in an article entitled, “Sobre la argentinidad,” published by La Nación de Buenos Aires, March 11, 1910.

The highlight of the film is obviously the mythical version of the incident when the philosopher and the general met. Amenábar largely, if not almost exclusively, bases his view on the Biography of Miguel de Unamuno that the French Hispanists, Colette and Jean-Claude Rabaté, published in 2009 at Taurus (a publishing house which is part of the Santillana Group, itself close to the newspaper El País, one of the most loyal supporters of the PSOE governments).

From their account of Unamuno’s speech, Amenábar retains, adds or moves a few sentences, no doubt in the name of artistic freedom. According to the two French Hispanists on whose work the film is based, Unamuno declared on this occasion: “We talked about international war in defense of Western Christian civilization; a civilization that I have defended myself on many occasions. But today it is only an ‘uncivil’ war … (between the supporters of fascism and bolshevism, Amenábar here adds).”

Directly referring to the words of one of the speakers, the professor of literature, Francisco Maldonado, Unamuno also said: “I take it personally when it is assumed that the explosion against the Basque and Catalans qualifies as anti -Spain; with such reasoning they could also say the same thing about us… Spain is nothing more than a madhouse.”

Foaming with rage, in particular after Unamuno’s allusion to the Filipino national hero, José Rizal, against whom General Millán-Astray had fought in his youth, the founder of the Spanish Legion (Tercio de Extranjeros) got up, shouting “Long live death! Death to intellectuals!”

And, ever-unflappable, the old philosopher replied at once: “Here, it is the temple of intelligence and I am its high priest. You desecrate this sacred place. You may win because you have the necessary brute force, but you will not win. To convince, you have to persuade, and to persuade you need something you don’t have for the fight: reason and being right… I have said what I came to say!”

This admirable and courageous speech in the film, however, is pure literary invention. Obviously, Amenábar did not bother to read a small footnote included in the book by Rabatés, which says the following: “There is no written or engraved record of this famous exchange. We took the liberty of reconstructing Unamuno’s possible speech from notes scribbled by him.”

The primary source is about thirty words feverishly penciled by the philosopher on the back of an envelope: “international war; western Christian civilization, independence, overcoming and convincing, hatred and compassion, Rice Rizal, concave and convex, struggle, unity, Catalans and Basques, language imperialism, hate intelligence which is critical, which is examination and differentiation, investigative curiosity and not being inquisitive.”

If Amenábar had been more rigorous and better informed, he would have compared the mythical version with the most balanced testimonies of the academic personalities then present. There could also have been a warning before the credits. The personalities present in the audience, such as the writer, José Maria Pemán; the deputy of the Republic, future Minister of Education of Franco, Pedro Sainz Rodríguez; the jurist and political theorist, Eugenio Vegas Latapié; the psychiatrist, José Pérez-López Villamil; and the vice-rector, Esteban Madruga, along with the writers, journalists and historians, well-known throughout Spain, such as, Emilio Salcedo, Ximenéz de Sandoval, Víctor Ruiz de Albéniz, Alfonso Lazo, Luis E. Togores and Guillermo Rocafort, to name a few. All of them stressed the fallacious character of the remarks put in the mouth of Unamuno.

But it is even more regrettable that Amenábar did not deem it useful to refer to the final works of the librarian of the University of Salamanca, Severiano Delgado Cruz, published in 2019, under the title, Arqueología de un mito: el acto del 12 October in el paraninfo de la Universidad de Salamanca. And all the more so since the main Spanish media (including the newspapers ABC and El País in their editions of May 7-8 and May 27, 2018) have largely echoed the filmmaker.

At the end of a long and patient research, Severiano Delgado Cruz was able to clearly affirm that Millán-Astray never said, “Death to the intellectuals” – but rather, “Muera la intelectualidad traidora” (Death to traitorous intellectualism) and that Miguel de Unamuno, who focused his brief speech on compassion, did not answer him in such an indignant and haughty tone.

It was, according to Delgado, a mundane exchange, followed by the usual uproar that accompanied speeches of the 1930s during which people were easily fired up. There was no solemn retort or arms brandished to threaten the rector. “The meeting was dissolved in the midst of shouts and bluster.” Nor were there “the cries of harsh severity” of Francoism, such as, “Arriba España,” (“Spain over all”), “España, grande” (Greater Spain), and “España, libre” (Free Spain). Millán-Astray asked the old professor to go out on Madame Franco’s arm (and not by taking her hand as in the film).

The philosopher and Carmen Polo Franco, accompanied by Mgr Pla y Deniel, Bishop of Salamanca, and three soldiers from the general’s personal guard, then headed for the door. Before getting into the official car, in which Madame Franco was already seated, Unamuno shook hands with Millán-Astray and the two men took leave of one another. (A photo published in El Adelanto de Salamanca dated of October 13, 1936 attests to this fact).

It also appears that Unamuno did not attach any particular importance to this incident because he did not change his routine. As usual, after his meal, he went to the “Casino” for coffee. And it was then that members and adherents of this cultural club – civilians and not soldiers – insulted and booed him.

The legend of the “Paraninfo Incident” came into being, as Delgado demonstrates, in 1941, when Luis Portillo wrote a fictional narrative entitled, “Unamuno’s Last Lecture,” for the London magazine, Horizons. This young teacher from Salamanca, who was employed by the BBC, had worked in Valencia on behalf of the Information Office of the Government of the Spanish Republic.

In his literary recreation, Portillo voluntarily emphasized Millán-Astray’s brutality towards Unamuno, extolling the dignified and courageous attitude of the intellectual, who dared to oppose the infamous military leader. But the myth did not really take hold until later, when Portillo’s account was taken up, uncritically, by historian, Hugh Thomas, in his world-famous book, The Spanish Civil War / La guerre de Espagne (1961).

Unamuno’s enormous international prestige protected him from any repressive or coercive measures. But the brief quarrel was not without consequences. The Municipal Corporation of Salamanca met the same day to propose that his duties as a municipal councillor be terminated. On October 16, the Governing Council of the University of Salamanca asked for his dismissal from the rectorate. General Franco announced his dismissal on October 22.

Ironically, Unamuno had also been successively dismissed from the vice-rectorate for antimonarchism and insults to the king in 1924, then appointed rector by the Republic, then dismissed again by the Popular Front government for joining the national uprising (this was the purge of university professors ordered by the decree of 23 August 1936 by Manuel Azaña) – and then finally he was quickly reappointed by the National Defense Committee, but again dismissed on October 16.

The institutional vacuum having been created around him, Unamuno, whose precarious health became increasingly shaky, then lived on as a recluse, until his death on December 31, 1936, at the age of 72.

At the end of the film, Amenábar suggests that after his acquiescence, even his “redemption,” the old philosopher at last and finally distanced himself from the National Movement, fiercely criticizing the actions of the military and their right-wing civilian supporters. But Amenábar’s expeditious conclusion has nothing to do with historical truth.

The initial enthusiasm of Unamuno for the insurgent camp clearly cooled in the light of information that reached him about the repression exerted in the rear-guard, which was ultimately quite similar to that which occurred in the camp of the Popular Front. Especially since close friends, like Casto Prieto, Republican mayor of Salamanca; José Manso, Socialist deputy; or Atilano Coco, Protestant pastor and mason, had been victims.

But that said, with a spirit that was free, independent, stubborn, rebellious, fond of justice and reason, eager to reconcile progress with the best of tradition, Unamuno continued to oppose, head-on, the government of the Popular Front (and not to the Republic). He criticized very severely the extrajudicial executions of the two camps, the curse of los (h)unos y los (h)otros (the Huns and the [H]others, i.e., both sides), the lack of compassion of the parties of the Right.

But, contrary to what Amenábar suggests, Unamuno supported, justified and legitimized the National uprising until his death. His interviews, letters and other documents after October 12, 1936 leave no room for doubt (see in particular the interviews with Jérôme Tharaud and Katzantzakis on October 20 and 21; then with Norenzo Giusso, on November 21; the letter to his translator, Maria Garelli, on November 21; the interview with Armando Boaventura at the end of December; or, the last lines of El resentimiento tragíco de la vida (the Tragic Bitterness of Life), written three days before his death, which are notes that should not be confused with his famous book, Tragic Sense of Life).

The press favorable to the Popular Front poured out torrents of insults against Unamuno. He was for them the “mad, bilious, cynical, inhuman, mean, impostor, and great traitor,” and even, the “spiritual inspirer of fascism.” The question was nevertheless perfectly clear to the old rector – it was “a struggle between civilization and anarchy… not a war between liberalism and fascism, but between Christian civilization and anarchy. What has to be saved in Spain is Western Christian civilization and national independence.”

Shortly before dying, he described “the red hordes” as “pathological phenomena, criminals and former criminals,” as “ferocious beasts,” who conspired “the barbarity of the Popular Front.” He said, “Franco is a good man and a great general.” He prophesied, “internal or external exile which awaited many intelligent and pure-hearted Spaniards.” And he admitted “his discouragement… I am disgusted with being a man.”

He went on to explain: “In this critical moment of suffering in Spain, I know that I must follow the soldiers. They are the only ones who will bring us order… I have not turned into a Rightist. Pay no attention to what is said. I have not betrayed the cause of freedom. But for the moment, it is absolutely essential that order be restored. After that, I can quickly rise up and get back into the fight for freedom. No, no, I am neither fascist nor Bolshevik. I am a loner.”

There are so many other errors or untruths in While at War, which deserve to be corrected. Here are some of the more egregious:

  1. The red and gold flag of the Spanish monarchy is associated with “fascism,” while the red, yellow and purple flag of the Republic is associated with “democracy.” In reality, in Salamanca, as in most regions of Spain, the insurgents left the barracks waving the tricolor of the Republic (except in Pamplona and Vitoria). The red and yellow flag became the official flag of the National zone only later, under decisive pressure from monarchical, Carlist and Alphonsine circles, and by decree of the National Defense Council of August 29, 1936.
  2. At the start of the film, an officer declares a state of war “with the help of God” which is quite incredible. In the National camp, the combat did not initially have its religious character of a crusade. That only happened after the failed military coup, when civilians mobilized on both sides, and transformed the into a civil war.
  3. Millán-Astray praises a Franco who is supposed to have had the luck to dodge all bullets during the African campaign. That is just ridiculous and grossly ignorant. Franco was seriously injured in the abdomen during a bayonet charge in June 1916. He was picked up from the ground and saved by a Moroccan soldier from corps of “regulars;” and for several days, his death was considered almost certain by his comrades in arms. Astray, who was a hothead and a fanatical patriot, was probably not as uneducated as they say. He wrote the prologue to the Spanish edition of Inazo Nitobé’s Bushido and collected most of the essential samurai precepts to write a code of the legionnaires.
  4. It is not clear if Unamuno gave 5,000 pesetas to finance the coup. The question is not clear.
  5. At Paraninfo, Unamuno was not seated at the far right of the conference table but in the center because he presided over the gathering as rector with Madame Franco and the Catalan bishop on his right and Pla y Deniel to his left.
  6. It was not the daughters of Unamuno who were present in the large amphitheater but his son, Rafael.
  7. The ambiguity of the connection between the Falangists and Unamuno is completely overlooked. The Falangists, rightly or wrongly, believed that the regenerationist theses of Unamuno were close to their own ideas. But the film prefers to emphasize the confrontations between members of the Falange and Unamuno, rather than to show the subtle connections that existed between them. Unamuno severely criticized the “fascism” of the National Trade Unionists or Falangistas and their repressive actions during the Spanish Civil War. Nevertheless, he always held in high esteem the head and founder of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, who was then incarcerated in Alicante (whom he called “a privileged brain; may be the most promising in contemporary Europe,” in a letter to Lisandro de la Torre, August 1936). On February 10, 1935, Unamuno even received José Antonio at his home and went with him to that celebrated Falangist meeting held the same day in Salamanca. Some authors are also of the opinion that the controversies raised by this assistance caused him to be deprived of the Nobel Prize for literature the following year. On December 31, 1936, a young Falangist, Bartolomé Aragon, while visiting the old master, received his last words, his last sigh and who then informed the family of his death. It was also a Falangist intellectual, Victor de la Serna, who organized the funeral vigil at the University’s Paraninfo (because, despite his dismissal, Unamuno was considered by them to have died in the exercise of his office). Finally, during the burial, the coffin was carried by four Falangists.

I understand that these facts are embarrassing for the image of the philosopher that Amenábar wants to give. The filmmaker is convinced that the Spanish Civil War can be reduced to the Democrats’ struggle against fascism, to the people’s struggle against the army, the church and the bank – an interpretation which, after all, is not very different from that of the Komintern of the 1930s. Everyone is of course free to have their opinions.

But was the Spanish Popular Front really democratic? Therein lies the heart of the problem. In truth, in Spain in 1936, no one believed in liberal democracy. And certainly not the Lefts. The revolutionary myth, which was shared by the entire Left, was that of the armed struggle. Liberal democracy was seen by the Bolshevized Socialist Party (whose leader, Largo Caballero, was the “Spanish Lenin” for the socialist youth), by the Communist Party and by the Anarchists, only as a means to achieve their ends – “popular democracy,” or the socialist state. The liberal-Jacobin Left, secularist, dogmatic and sectarian, dominated by the personality of Manuel Azaña, had engaged in the Socialist uprising of October 1934 (against the government of the radical Alejandro Lerroux, whose moderate party was supported by the a large number of Freemasons) – and it did not believe in democracy either.

It is not surprising therefore that the most prestigious Spanish intellectuals of the time, liberals and democrats, such as, Gregorio Marañon, José Ortega y Gasset and Ramón Pérez de Ayala, the “founding fathers of the Republic,” who had founded, in 1931, the “Agrupación al servicio de la República” (a group of intellectuals who defended the Republic), rallied, like Unamuno, to the cause of the National camp.

In conclusion, being a supporter of a politically correct globalism, representative of a technically successful cinema but always more predictable and more conformist, Amenábar declared, during the presentation of his film, that he also wanted to refer to the present and call the attention of the viewers to the dangers of the resurgence of extremism, fascism and populism.

I bet that Miguel de Unamuno, both Basque and Spanish, a Christian philosopher, a liberal, democrat and a man with a big heart, would have called for more measure, nuance, rationality and mutual respect. He could thus have given Amenábar a few lines from his Tragic Sense of Life: “Every individual in a people who conspires to break the spiritual unity and continuity of that people tends to destroy it and to destroy himself as a part of that people… for me the becoming other than I am, the breaking of the unity and continuity of my life, is to cease to be he who I am—that is to say, it is simply to cease to be. And that—no! Anything rather than that!”


Arnaud Imatz, a Basque-French political scientist and historian, holds a State Doctorate (DrE) in political science and is a correspondent-member of the Royal Academy of History (Spain), and a former international civil servant at OECDHe is a specialist in the Spanish Civil War, European populism, and the political struggles of the Right and the Left – all subjects on which he has written several books. He has also published numerous articles on the political thought of the founder and theoretician of the Falange, José Antonio Primo de Rivera, as well as the Liberal philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, and the Catholic traditionalist, Juan Donoso Cortés.

Translated from the French by N. Dass.


The image shows, “Don Miguel de Unamuno (with a View of Salamanca), by J. Solana, painted ca. 1935-1936.

The Films Of Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky made seven full-length films, as well as a few short ones. His work full participates in the grand tradition of Russian film established by people such as Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin.

As such, Tarkovsky’s films have a character that is uniquely visionary, while imbued with history, especially evident in his epic “Andrei Rublev” which portrays the life of the famous monk and icon painter, who strives to create beauty in the harsh brutality of the Mongol invasion of Russia. Given his ability to use history, it is not surprising that Russian authorities saw his films as works of dissent. This led to great hostility to his work and inevitable censorship; and worst of all, neglect. He died in exile in Paris 1986.

Tarkovsky’s films also show a marked use of dream sequences that resonate with deep meaning, and serve as symbolic reference points for the entire film itself.

In one sense the dreams that these films present serve to subvert the entire construction of reality that is being portrayed; and this subversion is made evident by the juxtaposition of the dreams as the ideal, while the mundane is represented as brutal, cruel, and senseless.

As well, there is the important distinction to be made in the conflict that this juxtaposition raises, namely, the very Russianness of the dreams and the prevalence of western ideas in the mundane reality within which these dreams occur.

It is important to bear in mind that Russian culture is replete with this western/eastern conflict, wherein the identity of Russia itself is marked.

The question again and again asked is this – is Russia fundamentally eastern or western. Tarkovsky’s dream sequences in his films address this fundamental question. Thus, dreams in Tarkovsky’s film fulfill two notions: they are a representation of the ideal, and they address the issue of Russia’s identity.

The immediate impression that one receives while watching a Tarkovsky film is the manner in which the quintessential image of Russia is blended with a ready acceptance of everything that is western.

We are presented with actions, faces, words, suffering, and deprivation. This is the mundane aspect of any Tarkovsky film. Against this immediate backdrop is the dream, which in fact is really a memory, a recurrent nostalgia for a way of life that has long vanished, or perhaps never existed.

This is what makes these dream sequences ideal – in that they are mythic, and they partake in mythic structures, in that they present an often “heroic” hyper-reality, which functions as a commentary of the actual reality of the characters in the film.

This is especially evident in Tarkovsky’s early films, such as “Ivan’s Childhood,” and “Mirror,” where he explores the sustaining power of both nature and the Russian tradition.

It is also interesting to note that in these two early films this ideal setting is dominated by the figure of the mother. These films are idyllic pastorales that also expound the ideology of “Mother Russia:” the vast stretches of forests, simple peasants, and domed churches. Thus, dreams are an attempt to capture the lost moment, the perfect harmony that once existed, but is now vanished, and can only be captured in dreams.

This need to dream becomes essential to the verity of the film because there is only bleakness otherwise; and this bleakness is the result of love, either for another person or the land, that is, Mother Russia; and this love is a continual heartbreak.

There is an absurdity to this love, because this love can absorb pain and can also share out joy. In “Ivan’s Childhood” and “Mirror” we see this love being demonstrated in the mother figure that animates both these films with love, sacrifice, as well as vulnerability. Thus, dreams are feminine, just as Russia is seen as the “motherland” rather than the “fatherland.”

The same process is evident in “Solaris” where we meet Kris Kelvin’s mother, who properly has little relevance to the plot of the film, but represents the capacity to dream. It is important, therefore, to bear in mind that dreams are also catalytic – they allow for existence despite the harshness and the unyielding bleakness.

In effect, for Tarkovsky, dreams are akin to memories and reminiscences, and all three crowd his films, and serve as forces of coherence and order. Thus, dreams are also an attempt to bring order to chaos. It is chaos that pervades the characters lives in Tarkovsky’s films. When they dream they seek to fashion this chaos into a semblance of order; and that order is minutely married to the ideal and idyllic Mother Russia.

Dreams, then, become a commentary on the familiar by way of memory, which in turn is an idealized projection. Thus, there is a sense of otherness to the dreams in Tarkovsky’s films. This otherness inhabits the subconscious, which is often ignored, given the demands of daily reality.

However, Tarkovsky uses dreams to bring about self-realization and the possibility of authenticity. Dreams, in effect, bring wholeness and completeness, because they link the fragmented self with the wholeness of the past – and this past can only be ideal because it is complete.

Thus, the characters dream in order to become whole. Similarly, they also remember and hallucinate, which are no more than extended paradigms for the perfected, ideal dream world.

This contrast between reality and the dream leads to a film that does not have a linear plot, nor does a Tarkovsky film fulfill stereotypical expectations. Rather, his films are elliptical and often “intellectual” and are therefore often deemed as obscure.

This is best described by his method of making films in different languages, such as “Nostalgia,” which is partly in Italian, and “Sacrifice,” which is partly in Swedish. This use of different languages also mirrors the nature of dreams – because the mixing of languages follows a process similar to dreams.

Thus, Russian is placed within the context of Italian or Swedish, which is certainly a jarring experience. Similarly, a dream is placed with the context of mundane reality, with equally jarring consequences. What we perceive as normal is in fact informed by the unexpected and the unusual.

People speak Swedish or Italian in a Russian film because they trail a different set of values, cultures, and a different history. And on an individual level, dreams allow us to access different values and cultures, and even history.

Thus, the dissonance is not with the juxtaposition, but it is with the context – what we expect is not what we often get. And this is the jarring fact of modern life.

In effect, dreams become a commentary on modernity itself. Society, which should provide us with solace and comfort, in fact isolates us and therefore fragments us, so that we become little more than individuals who can only respond to what lies outside of us, rather than becoming controllers of our own lives.

It is this process of action and reaction, which is so much a definition of modern life, that Tarkovsky’s dream sequences seek to address and understand.

Given this penchant for using dreams in this way, it is easy to charge Tarkovsky with being too allegorical and perhaps too obscurely moody.

For example, we have the horses appearing at the beginning and the end of “Andrei Rublev; there is the ticker-tape sequence in the last cathedral scene in “Nostalgia;” or the scattering of paper at the end of “Ivan’s Childhood.”

These sequences are exactly what dreams are all about, or why Swedish and Italian are spoken in a Russian film. They are part of the dream world that Tarkovsky wants to create; and this dream world is often irrational, inexplicable, strange, obscure, and at puzzling. But we need to realize that dreams also contain depth of meaning, which can only be recovered by a process of realization.

As well, n “Sacrifice,” Tarkovsky’s last film, Alexander’s lengthy speeches can be construed as verbal dreams, especially since these speeches are placed within the context of scenes such as the fire and the lonely road.

Thus, dreams may complicate reality, but they also lead us away from the process of conditioned responses; and perhaps this is why dreams are difficult to understand, just as Tarkovsky is often difficult to understand.

However, this difficulty is also a very important aspect of dreams for Tarkovsky – for by making things difficult, Tarkovsky emphasizes the process of alienation that we feel in the modern world. Often, we are placed in contexts that we know nothing about. Often we are baffled by life, and what it all means.

Tarkovsky’s films mirror this alienation. His allegories and his wordiness show our own psyches at work – how we handle a complicated reality within which we must live our lives. Dreams attempt to make sense of the vast chaos that stretches before; they serve to integrate ourselves within ourselves.

Of course, they cannot integrate us within society – that is not Tarkovsky’s concern – because to do so would in effect create another dream. When a solution is offered as to how life should be lives, or how happiness, fulfilment can be achieved, we veer into propaganda, where struggle always leads to happiness and fulfilment.

But life is often harsher than that, and Tarkovsky wants to make sense of this harshness, and thereby soften it by cushioning it with memories, dreams and even hallucinations.

As well, dreams provide a metaphysical experience in that we move into an inner world of the characters, within the context of the outer world of history and politics and personal struggles.

This inner world is the realm of dreams, where narrative is subverted and lost time is remembered. This inner world also functions to highlight the perfectibility of the individual. However, whether this perfectibility is available to human beings is a question that cannot be addressed in Tarkovsky’s films because wide gap that lies between the world of dreams and the world of reality.

It is this gap that is the source of tension and lack that permeates and affects the characters in a film such as “Sacrifice,” especially Alexander, whose discourses can only be verbal dreams at best.

And his discourse stands in direct opposition to the flow of reality outside, such as the road, which leads forever onwards, but we cannot know to what ultimate destination. In the same way, the horses that bookend “Andrei Rublev” are allegories of the disruptive force of dreams, which barge into the passive flow of mundane reality with all of their escapism, their visions of perfectibility, and their allure of a pastoral, peaceful, and harmonious past.

As discourse, dreams become the lens through which society and the individual are read. They are not so much as wishful thinking, or repressed desire; rather they are a very real force, which can shed light on the disparity of life, and the process of alienation that is part of the modern experience.

It is for this very reason that dreams function as allegories. For example, “Ivan’s Childhood” is layered with many war stories. These stories do not function to give meaning to the larger plot; however, they do serve as allegories of perfectibility.

Through their lens we confront values such as loyalty, memory, and courage. These stories also serve to create a dream world, which is a combination of hallucination and reality, which is rather typical of Tarkovsky’s method.

This combination is reflected in the narrative as well, in that the mother often intervenes, as the war stories are being told. As well, we have the juxtaposition of Ivan’s child-like innocence and his ability to kill as a guerilla fighter.

Even here we see the particular combination of the ideal and the real – the child-like Ivan is also a seasoned killer. Perhaps this is why Ivan dreams of a hand in the beginning of the film, for a hand can both build and destroy.

In this way, Ivan as a character frequently crosses the boundaries between dream and reality, and thereby he justifies his own life, which is a complex unity of innocence and bloodshed.

Once when we are given perfectibility in dreams, we are therefore also shown a dis-junction between the inner and the outer worlds.

This is well portrayed in “Andrei Rublev,” here the religious fervor of the icon painter Rublev is juxtaposed with a harsh, medieval world that cares little for beauty and art.

The traditional icons underscore the process of perfectibility, where despite the disjunction that one experiences in the world outside, the inner world becomes a complex realm where wholeness and harmony can be achieved and the emptiness of the modern world thwarted.

 

The photo shows “The Former,” by Ivan Vladimirov, painted ca. 1919.