Valencian ventriloquism on film

This evening I saw a bunch of early C20th Spanish silent films with live piano accompaniment at the Filmoteca. The best by far was Sanz y el secreto de su arte, a documentary made by Maximiliano Thous in 1918 about Francisco Sanz, a virtuosic Valencian ventriloquist. I don’t know much about his art, but the dummies employed in the film are stunning. All full-body, and including a commedia dell’arte-type cast as well as a parrot (“El Cid won battles after his death. This parrot talks better now it’s stuffed”), a dog, and a blackboy, their biomechanics are considerably better than contemporary androids I know. Sanz’ use of valve, key, pedal and bellow systems to provide convincing body and facial movements (including smoking, with fumes exiting via the nostrils, rather like a dragon) for a number of mannequins simultaneously suggests to me that Sanz (or his engineer, but I rather think he made them all himself) had at some stage worked in a musical instrument factory building Boehm-type systems. Unfortunately I know nothing else about him.

The storyline included in the film has one of the characters tiring of an artiste’s life and returning to his native village, where he is given a hero’s welcome (complete with the local band) and then forgotten, leading to a dream sequence featuring past and future glories (a day at the races, gambling, love), followed by his return with donkey and cart to Sanz, who with open arms welcomes back the prodigal puppet. The texts are excellent, but my favourite bit is when one of the pert young ladies sticks out her tongue, confirming that people do it differently here, opting for downward as opposed to outward displacement.

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