t is difficult to imagine making a film about Tango without love and passion, not only as components of the story, but also as key ingredients in the actual creative process. The very essence of Tango rules out any reticence: from the outset, the opening strains of music, sensuous preliminary steps and tauntingly enigmatic look on the dancers' faces grip one with throbbing intensity. Never before has "Tangomania" reached such heights of world-wide popularity...
So it hardly came as a surprise when, approached by producer Juan C. Codazzi with the idea to make a motion picture about Tango, Carlos Saura, a master of the musical genre and foremost Spanish director, responded with unreserved eagerness. Saura's love of Tango goes back to his childhood: "I was brought up on Carlos Gardel," says the filmmaker.
The task, however, was not an easy one. Saura started by making the rounds of Tango bars and milongas in Buenos Aires, purchasing records and watching dozens of films. "It wasn't worth doing unless I was able to go further into the soul of Tango: there was no point in making just another musical film," says Saura. In order to achieve this aim, he sought to combine a number of elements: Tango as a popular dance as well as a highly stylized choreographic number; its symbolic aspect coupled with its immediate earthiness; its importance as urban music and extremely contemporary feeling; its stark minimalism side by side with a dazzling complexity.
"I knew the essential ingredients had to be choreography and light: visual impact was paramount. I needed a very evocative setting; excessively naturalistic or realistic spaces were liable to draw attention away from the music and dancing." Likewise, Saura started off without a screenplay. At the same time, it was obvious one was needed. In the case of Carmen, the story was already there. For his film Flamenco, he shot with a three-page script. "But though a plot was required here, it had to be straightforward so as not to prevail over the essential musical narration. Apart from the choreographer, photographer, corps de ballet and musicians, there are basically only three simple characters."
Easier said than done. In order for all this to fall into place, other expertise was called for. Though predominately steeped in jazz and classical music in recent years, the Argentinean composer Lalo Schifrin, originally Astor Piazzolla's pianist and musical advisor and creator of the famous Mission Impossible theme, definitely seemed cut out for the job. "We knew the general direction we were taking, but had no idea how it would all end. This was an exciting challenge; we made research, picked each other's brains, exchanged ideas and opinions," recalls Schifrin.
The soundtrack includes traditional Tango scores written by Pugliese, D'Arienzo, Canaro and other prominent Argentinean Tango tune writers, as well as all the new pieces specially composed by Lalo Schifrin. "I don't know to what extent I was able to escape the influence of musicians I admire like Piazzolla or Salgán, but I tried to produce something more personal, using the sound - though not the style - of orchestras in the 40s and 50s. Apart from traditional instruments, I also used full philharmonic orchestration and a choir of eighty singers. It's not the usual thing for this kind of music, of course, but it is still Tango. And the result is very powerful."
The triangle of talent was completed by none other than the Italian virtuoso of light and image, Vittorio Storaro. Who else could so accurately transpose to the screen what Saura was visualizing in his mind's eye?
Storaro's first trip to Buenos Aires was also a journey into a realm of senses. "I find Tango deeply moving, and I wanted to understand why it had such a strong mythical side, where it stemmed from and when it all started." The project was just up Storaro's street: "Stories are mostly told in words, to the detriment of music and image. The art of screen-telling is to narrate through light and movement," says the master cinematographer, and then quotes his own father: "From the moment cinema learnt the language of words, it lost its poetic dimension." He then adds, "I use light as the expression of awareness and shadow to represent the unconscious mind."
But more than a triangle, this production is like a many-sided figure. Though Saura, Schifrin and Storaro, following Codazzi's initial cue, provided the main building blocks, none of it would have been possible without Juan Carlos Copes, Ana Maria Steckelman, and Carlos Rivarola's superb choreographic creation, Oscar Cardozo Ocampo's musical direction and the participation of Horacio Salgán's Nuevo Quinteto Real and other outstanding musicians.
The world famous ballet star Julio Bocca's special guest appearance is yet another crucial element. "I always wanted Julio, one of the world's most gifted dancers, to take part in the film," says Saura. As for Bocca, although nervous at the beginning about his screen debut, he is satisfied with his performance. "I know my acting skills are limited. I am a dancer, and as such found it challenging to dance the woman's part, the complexity of which I was not fully aware of. But with a partner as experienced as Carlos Rivarola, it was not too hard." Bocca was less sure of himself regarding his lines, but under Saura's unerring guidance, he came through with flying colors.
Completing this rich tableau are Miguel Ángel Solá, a veteran on the local stage and film scene, in the role of the protagonist; screen newcomer Mia Maestro, a promising young dancer, singer and actress selected by Saura among two hundred candidates; and Cecilia Narova, a well known actress and dancer whose dancing possesses a charismatic uniqueness.
TANGO was shot in ten weeks, starting on June 19, 1997, partly on location but mostly on a spectacular set built in Don Torcuato, outside Buenos Aires. The producers insisted on using state-of-the-art technology: 3 Arri Technovision cameras were imported specially for the occasion, with impressive lighting and sound equipment and high-tech control boards weighing in all over 6 tons. The Baires Studios sets in Don Torcuato include a brand new 1,200-square-metre stage. Direct Sound was recorded on two 8-track Tascam DA 88 Tape Recorders. Post-production took place in the Technicolor Laboratory in Rome, while optical digital processes and sound mix were carried out in Pinewood Studios in England and EXA in Madrid.
It is the most costly movie ever produced in Argentina. The Argentine production company, Argentina Sono Film, was created in 1931 and produced in the same year the first talkie made in the country, also called Tango. A further proof, should any doubts remain, that sixty-five years later, Tango is alive as ever...
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