Intertwining lights and shadows
Speaking about genre cinema in our country always gives me the impression of being a freak, only interested in second class movies. It is something I can never comprehend, when we include unashamedly foreign genre films among the most renowned in History. Legendary directors such as Donald Siegel, Martin Scorsese, Jacques Becker or Jules Dassin have laid the foundations of their place in Olympus precisely for their mythical genre works, especially in one as brilliant, atmospheric and personal as the crime thriller. Personally, I point part of the blame for not taking genre cinema seriously in our country to the difficulty, quite obvious, of developing plots and films in the rhythm and editing style required by this kind of stories. But, even so, in my poor, short-spanned memory, few genre movies can be considered prominent in Spain, outside The Crack.
This situation has changed a lot recently, especially since the beginning of the new century and the arrival of filmmakers as Enrique Urbizu, Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Daniel Monzón or Alberto Rodríguez. The latter’s spectacular work in Group 7 managed, in a single stroke, to not only create a true modern genre classic, but also a film completely ours (Spanish), incorporating wisely all the traditional crime film elements, mainly those of the Seventies. One of the film’s finest traits is Julio de la Rosa’s brilliant work. His soundtrack provides rhythm and atmosphere ripe with tension and fury, taking advantage of the story’s lights and shadows. The music combines modern elements with sound and rhythm experimentation, sharing, somehow, the tone and spirit developed by their Seventies counterparts.
Julio himself told me how he held dearly all the creative process for Group 7’s original soundtrack. After all, the film was his third time putting music to an Alberto Rodriguez’s movie-before came After and Seven Virgins-, so it was important. Third time lucky, as the saying goes. The quality of his work didn’t go unnoticed, however. Eventually, he got his first Goya nomination, something that meant a small milestone in the close-minded soundtrack universe, hardly used at that time to something not smelling symphonic enough. As Julio explained to me, he took the opposite direction: …after all, the film was a sewer story. Corrupt policemen cleaning off Seville of junkies and prostitutes before the 1992 Universal Exhibition. Sewers. Police brutality. Corruption. Hypocrisy. So, when it came to set it to music, I needed to be at street level too. All the characters, in one side or the other, are thugs at the end of the day. To transform the soundtrack into a character I had to be one of them…
Luckily for Julio, Alberto and Rafa Cobos are used to involve him in the story since the beginning stages of each project. Always bit by bit, well before the last draft of the script is finished. Even before reading it, Alberto had showed him photos of that period, the characters, the junkies, the rooftops…in short, of the way Seville was then, which besides he had known closely, as those years he was there studying in the University. I remember the first time I read the script my heart was pounding fiercely, moved by the words and outraged by the story. But I never set anything to music until I don’t see the work of the rest of the team. I can have my point of view, but during the production process each team manager has imposed his or hers. At the end, the film is always the project of a good bunch of people. It wasn’t until José Moyano handed me the first editing (more than two hours long, polished afterwards) that I started composing.
The first thing Julio started to work on, as he usually does, was thinking about the instrumentation that could accompany all those emotions. The final decision was to use a wild percussion, representing perfectly the story’s brutality. So I took a steel drum and I started to pound at it in the wrong place (that is, at the sides) with two drumsticks (not the steel mallets).The sound a steel drum emits when played that way goes right into your eardrum and can even make you deaf if you are not careful… That sound is completed with some elements of smaller percussion, and also with pans and giant drums. That set, when accompanying the action, doesn’t need anything else. That’s the reason why some of the pieces are exclusively percussion. If anything, the melody accompanying the score can support it lightly in certain moments. Because, obviously, it needed a melody.
One of Group 7’s best traits is how their main characters, Angel (Mario Casas) and Rafael (Antonio de la Torre) evolve. Both of their lives make up two lines intertwining in a sort of big X. In one side, we have an ambitious young man’s descent into hell, deciding to use dubious means to advance his career, mainly because of the rage produced by his helplessness to get there any other way. In the other side, the rise of people we really care for, as Lucía, Joaquín and La Caoba, who realise the said means are useless. In spite of that, these characters, (as all of them) show two very different faces. It was necessary then to draw a line expressing powerlessness, the dregs of sadness in the outrage. But, at the same time, it needed to push the plot forward in, say, the thriller way. After much pianet improvising (an electrical Seventies piano, where the key’s hammers knock on metal pieces, and not on strings, as in the piano), Julio found the three base notes he would be repeating in different ways. Sometimes it was on the pianet, but also with certain sounds and noises he manufactured himself, and with low pitches or even an electric guitar.
I experimented a lot with sound to get to vague, undefined textures, so that there are times you don’t know which instrument is playing, or even if what sounds is music or just ambience. The soundtrack’s instrumental repertoire is quite important. From the tongue drum, which helps Los Canarios humiliate the policemen, providing that funeral touch and bringing sound images almost Sevillian Semana Santa-like, leading to a Martinete-like anvil (palo flamenco) and some thumping on a microphone stand. Without forgetting the brutal, meticulous electric noise springing suddenly when violence and rage are at their extreme. The waterphone and the way it is used in Amador’s death scene to create suspense and surprise throughout. Or the santoor, though an instrument from the Middle East and India, played mechanically in several scenes to create nervousness and, at the same time, erase its ethnic sound, which could have spoiled the story’s careful geographical location. All this is mixed with the percussions and the electric guitar effects, which can degenerate into pure, harmonious noise. The idea was, ultimately, to create a distressing atmosphere, contrasting with the brutal, earthy percussion, and that way reach a music which could be exclusively this film’s.
The result is an incredible, varied, propulsive music, which knows how to take advantage of the protagonists’ intertwined evolution to produce a sound for the lights and the shadows of this harsh, dull Seville where it takes place. A music as complex as the personality of its many characters’, and as full of rage and regret as the spirit of a human being taken to the brink. A music as telling as the protagonists’ silence in the wonderful final scene. I was lucky to have Dany Richter as a sound engineer, to put a
little bit of order in my plot, and to have Alberto Rodríguez directing me as any other actor. This is the result of several months of work. Now the only thing left for us is to allow ourselves to be dragged back to that Expo 92 Seville, and be flooded by the corruption and powerlessness of those lives.
Fernando Fernández Jimenez
Jewell box with booklet of 12 color pages with photographs