Rocia Dùrcal (1944-206) stopped making films in 1977 with Me siento extraña. Outside Spain she’s probably best remembered as the best-selling female recording artist of her time in all of the Spanish-speaking world, with sales of over 40 million albums. She continues to be venerated in Mexico for her partnership with Juan Gabriel and as an incomparable singer of rancheras. The duet below with Joaquin Sabina on Y nos dieron las diez is a lovely illustration of a ranchera arrangement of Sabina’s pop-rock song, and the difference between Sabina’s singing and Dúrcal’s play with emphasis, tone and notes is as good example as any of ranchera style. It melds beautifully.
In Spain, and over a decade after her death, she’s still beloved as a top sixties female film star, second only to Marisol. Like Lana Turner, how she was discovered is part of her legend. Luis Sanz recounts how he had bought his parents an television set. They were watching a talent show, Primer aplauso whilst he was shaving and he heard this marvellous voice and immediately went out to see who was singing. It turned out to be a pretty adolescent girl with a huge voice. He recounts that when he saw her smile he knew he could make her a star.
Sanz groomed her for stardom; she underwent lessons in various aspects of the performing arts, and Sanz built a starring vehicle for her particular talents, Canción de juventud (Luis Lucia, 1962). It was a hit. She consolidated her stardom with her second film, Rocío de La Mancha (Luis Lucia, 1963) and its success led to her becoming a teen idol on record and a top box office attraction on film in Spain and throughout Latin America. Her last film of the sixties, Las Leandras (Eugenio Martín) was also her biggest box office hit.
Dúrcal, along with Marisol, was one of the few of what in Spain are called ‘Niños prodigios/ Child Prodigy Stars,’ in a cinema unusually driven by them — it was as if through much of fifities and sixties national dilemmas could only be explored through the eyes of children, innocent of the past, hopeful for the future, possibly able to withstand the present. Most of these child stars (Joselito, Pablito Calvo, Pili y Mili) did not survive and their stardom was left back with their childhood.
However, Dúrcal did survive, and part of the reason she did is because she managed to continue to mean and to symbolise. Throughout the sixties, and as she grew from a teenager to a young woman on film, a lot of the ideological struggles the country was undergoing: tradition vs modernity, the foreign vs the indigenous, the old vs the young, the city vs the rural, changing gender roles in a booming economy; all this and more are articulated in her films and via her changing persona.
Two pop-ock numbers in Buenos dias, condesita, both by Los Brincos, sometimes referred to as ‘The Spanish Beatles’, a group whose music has come to signify and evoke this period, illustrate these changes very well (Dúrcal would go on to marry one of its members Antonio Morales aka ‘Junior’ in 1970). See Rocio Dùrcal singing ‘Creo en ti’ in Madrid’s ‘El rastro’ flea-market. She’s previously sung an old-fashioned song, ‘Flores, Flores’ and some young men ask her if she doesn’t have anything more modern.
As the boys ask her if she has something more modern, she answers that it’s all the same and that she has something in all rhythms for all ages and to all tastes. She puts a record on her old-fashioned victrola. She begins to sing ‘Creo en ti/ I believe in you’ in the ye-ye pop-rock dancing style of the era, dancing with the sharp arm and leg movements so characteristic then. She begins singing with two young boys in the frame. She’s now and they’re the future. But later in the song, around the 1.18 minute mark, the then fashionably current drums and guitar of the soundtrack are paired visually against tradition: a lute, a statue of a matador and the old armour of a knight, ie. the new, foreign and modern is foregrounded unproblematically with tradition and españoladas as background. The new as part of the old, an imaginary resolution to then very real contradictions.
In fact the plot of Buenos dias, condesita brings this out even more. Durcal plays María, a young girl who’s helping her grandfather make ends meet by selling music at the flea-market. The grandfather himself is a caretaker at the City Palace of an Earl and his Countess for whom modernisation has brought some hard-times. They’re selling off the contents of their grand Madrid house bit by bit before selling the place off altogether. Meanwhile Ramiro (Vicente Parra) has been cut off by his rich uncle (Antonio Garisa) due to his dissolute lifestyle. Ramiro hires María to pretend she’s his fiancée and fake an engagement so as to have his allowance restored. The party announcing this, and proving to his rich uncle that he’s mended his ways, take place in the Earl’s palace. At that moment the Earl and his Countess drop in unexpectedly but play along with the young couple and fool the uncle. Needless to say, the fake couple turns into a real one by the end of the film.
In the meantime, María is also hired by a television show where she sings a paean to advertising, another song by Los Brincos, ‘Cartel de publicidad’. Here is advertising as the coming of consumer culture, so new and strange in a country that had only recently undergone a decade of hunger. The music, the outfits, the theme, the voicing of desire for a man — all so foreign and yet symbolising all that was new, modern, desirable in Spain. That this takes place in a television show, that it is sung by ‘la novia de España/ Spain’s sweetheart’ which Dúrcal was referred to in this generation as often as Carmen Sevilla was in an earlier one, and that the character she plays is really a street hawker needing to take care of her grandfather only underlines this (see clip above).
There’s an interesting interview with Dùrcal on youtube — filmed a decade after the release of Buenos dias, condesita — where the cameras go to the village of Dúrcal in Cordoba to ask its citizenry how they feel about naming a street after her. And you see people going to work with their loaded mules, the streets unpaved, middle-aged ladies coming out of their houses still dressed in the black one remembers from those days — and one realises that the modernity of the film had yet to hit the village of Durcal in any significant way more than a decade after the film’s release.
Dúrcal has said she was proud of all her sixties musicals, and indeed she should be. They were the bedrock of her impressive subsequent career and they gave her opportunities. In Buenos dias, condesita, aside from the pop songs, she’s given coplas, flamenco music, chotis, and even one of Violeta’s arias from La Traviata so she can dazzle the spectator with her skill and versatility. Also, although the vehicles are built entirely around her skills and her persona, the producers don’t skimp on production values (at least for the Spanish cinema of this period) and supporting cast. In Buenos dias, condesita, Carlos Casaravilla, Antonio Garisa, and other beloved comic actors of the era, as recognised and beloved as the star, bring their own particular charm to the film. Of these the greatest is probably Gracita Morales, who you can see above. She was able to get a laugh out of a simple line reading, one that never resembled the way any real person would speak in ordinary life. She played each character like a turn in a vaudeville sketch. It’s a completely different style than that vaunted by any notion of naturalness yet very typical of the era and still very successful in garnering its effects.
Indeed another reason to treasure these films is because they’re a history of actors and acting styles, often borrowed from the theatre, often adept at particular indigenous forms of comic theatre such as sainete that the films, sometimes lazy as well as low-budget, often lift directly from comic turns on stage and place in the narrative (see example above) thus these films are a repository of acting styles and routines of yore, a whole patrimony of theatrical traditions, one worth investigating.
What was meant to be a short blurb of a teen musical film has ended up way longer than expected, a credit to the film.