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This Music Brings Me Back To My Days In Sunny Spain And Running With The Bulls

Kevin Gordon (left) in Pamplona with American bull-running legend Matt Carney in the early 1980s after Kevin's first bull run.
Kevin Gordon
Kevin Gordon (left) in Pamplona with American bull-running legend Matt Carney in the early 1980s after Kevin's first bull run.

"Books to Movies" week on Flix@5 starts on September 13th, and the music from two of the films we're featuring remind me of sunny days in Spain back in the 1980s, and delightful hours-long lunches in Sevilla with American matador John Fulton. Living in Spain off-and-on during that period offered me the chance to fulfill a desire to try my hand at the most Spanish of spectacles.

Kevin Gordon with Philadelphia-born matador John Fulton in Sevilla, Spain, 1985.
Courtesy of Kevin Gordon
Kevin Gordon with Philadelphia-born matador John Fulton in Sevilla, Spain, 1985.

I had caped my first bull in Mexico some years before, but in Spain I made the acquaintance of, and studied informally with, several of the top matadors, including Antonio Ordonez, who along with Luis Miguel Dominguin, was the protagonist in Ernest Hemingway's non-fiction book The Dangerous Summer. I gave bullfighting my best shot, but realized that while I was an amateur, the bulls were professionals.

So it was one afternoon, between bites of paella and sips of vino tinto, I asked John why he, a kid from Philadelphia, had become a bullfighter. “When I was that kid, I saw Blood and Sand," I remember him saying. There’s more, of course, and you can read about John’s journey into the bullring in James Michener’s Iberia, but it’s startling that a movie could be so powerful that it shaped a man’s career.

Blood and Sand, the 1941 film starring Tyrone Power as matador Juan Gallardo and Rita Hayworth as his mistress, was originally a book by Vicente Blasco Ibanez, which traced the rise and fall of Gallardo.

“And the music!” John said. “It carried me into a whole other world!”

The music for Blood and Sand was written by Academy Award-winner Alfred Newman. Having already scored heroic films such as Gunga Din, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Mark of Zorro, Newman was the perfect choice to orchestrate the life-and-death drama of the bullring.

Newman’s approach was to take traditional Spanish themes and weave them throughout the film, heightening the already exciting and colorful visuals. He sprinkles in everything you’d expect to hear in a movie about a matador; trumpets, castanuelas and guitars. The two main themes in Newman’s Blood and Sand Suite which we’ll hear this week, are the stirring bullfight pasodoble “La Virgen de la Macarena”, and the gentle and aptly named “Romanza Anonimo”, attributed by some to Spanish guitarist Antonio Rubira.

Watch and listen to this scene in a tavern as Gallardo’s rival, played by Anthony Quinn, seduces Hayworth to Newman’s version of flamenco:

The other movie, 1957’s The Sun Also Rises, is pure Ernest Hemingway, based on his 1926 novel set during the “running of the bulls” in Pamplona.

This also hits close to home, knowing first-hand the heart-pounding thrill of running with the bulls during the abandon of the festival of San Fermin several years in a row. My account of that first run appeared both in Travel and Leisure magazine and a book called Travelers' Tales: Spain.

The Sun Also Rises again stars Tyrone Power along with Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn. The film score is by Hugo Friedhofer, also known for the music to The Bishop’s Wife, The Blue Angel, and TV shows including I Spy and The FBI.

Friedhofer’s music borrows only sparsely from traditional Spanish themes. His economic score, reminiscent of Hemingway’s bare-bones writing style, is the perfect accompaniment to the on-screen problems of the “lost generation."

Watch the trailer to The Sun Also Rises:

Here’s a clip from Ken Burns’ documentary on Hemingway, which explores the inspiration for the novel:

For some, bullfighting is barbaric, cruel and indefensible. It is also exciting and dramatic and the stuff of literary and cinematic life-and-death conflict and heroism.

While the music may not stir you to flash a cape in front of a charging bull as it did John Fulton, it may carry your thoughts away to the Spain of brave men, beautiful women and el toro bravo.

A veteran broadcaster, Kevin garnered a wealth of experience in radio before taking the weekday classical host position from 2 to 6 PM at WRTI, where he was on the air until his retirement in March 2023.