The Founding Of The Seventh Art

Gabriel Thomàs i Juan was born in Llucmajor in May 1831. When he was twenty-seven, he emigrated to Argentina. In the capital Buenos Aires he established two businesses - a cafe and an inn. They were both successful; Gabriel became quite wealthy. Eight years later, he sold the businesses and returned to Majorca. On New Year's Eve 1871, he completed the purchase of a property from one Llorenç Socias i Garau. He paid 1,835 Majorcan pounds for a house on Sa Fira street. The house was converted into a cafe. In Argentina, Gabriel had become familiar with games imported from the US. At his new cafe in Llucmajor - Cas Coix Carro - he introduced billiards and other American novelties.

The property was spacious and it had land. There were orange and lemon trees. The story goes that there was an unusually severe frost. For the trees, the frost was to prove terminal. The meadow in which the trees stood had always been green and lush; it was now dry. Gabriel made a decision. He said to his wife Margalida that, as the frost had killed their trees, the meadow would be used for building a theatre and that the name of this theatre would be Recreatiu.

The theatre opened in 1877. There were dances, zarzuelas, comedies, special events for All Saints and for Three Kings. Gabriel died in 1896. His son was Bernat Thomàs, who took over the family business. In 1912, the theatre was renovated. And among the improvements was the installation of a film projector. It cost six hundred pesetas.

The Recreatiu was an emblematic establishment for different reasons. Chiefly this  was because it housed the first cinema theatre in Majorca; away from Palma at any rate. In 1913, the Teatre-Cine Recreatiu led the way on the island for what was being called the seventh art.

Ricciotto Canudo was an Italian who was a leading figure in the avant-garde movement. Subsequently defined as a film theoretician, it was Canudo who came up with the term the seventh art. Cinema, he said, was a new art, a "conciliation of rhythms of space and rhythms of time". It was a synthesis of the five ancient arts of architecture, music, painting, poetry and sculpture. Five? Where was the sixth? Well, Canudo initially thought cinema was the sixth art, before deciding that this was in fact dance; hence, cinema was the seventh.

This isn't a term widely used to describe the cinema in English, but it was in Spanish; it is still used. The cinema was essentially, therefore, plastic art (painting, photography, sculpture) in motion, and it does perhaps help to explain how Spanish film - under the heavy influence of the avant-garde and the surreal - was able to come up with something like Un Chien Andalou, the silent short-film collaboration between Salvador Dali and Spanish director Luis Buñuel.

Initially, however, the artistic content of films, such as ones produced in Majorca, was limited, not least because of the technology. It is argued that the first movie ever shot in colour was in Majorca. Leon Gaumont and the French Gaumont company filmed In The Isle Of Majorca. It was shot in Chronochrome and was a short travelogue that featured Palma, Pollensa and Valldemossa. Intended as a promotional film to show "all the beauties and idiosyncrasies" of the island, it was - not surprisingly - very basic, while Chronochrome wasn't to be the great invention that Gaumont had hoped it would be.

The early films in Majorca were mainly of a promotional nature, and to the fore in this were two pioneers - Josep Tous Ferrer, who had founded La Ultima Hora in 1893, and Josep Truyol Otero. Tous showed films of the island at his Lyric Theatre in Palma. But in fact it was Truyol, who had got there first before either Tous or the Recreatiu. In 1903, he had started the Cinematógrafo Truyol in Palma. It closed in 1910.

Among other films, the Recreatiu was to show documentaries that were made about the 1918 flu epidemic and one with the title of Nuestra Señora de Gracia: Ferias y Fiestas en Lluchmayor: Año 1926 (Castellano was used rather than the Catalan, e.g. Llucmajor). This was about a major pilgrimage to Llucmajor in that year.

The cinema closed in 2003. Last October, the town hall agreed to buy and restore it, an important venue in the evolution of film in Majorca, this evolution in a sense being recognised by the Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival, which has just concluded and that showed how the seventh art has moved on from the rudimentary days of Truyol, Tous and the Recreatiu.

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