Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rediscovering "Conquista!"



Our personal influences are immeasurable.  They pour in through our senses every day, constantly shaping who we are and the choices we make.  There are also those subconscious influences, akin to the Butterfly Effect, which is a belief that any event, including the waving of an insect wings are said to be enough to shape human behavior.  If true, that would also apply to mosquitoes.

When I was in high school, I watched a television special that depicted the first meeting between a horse and a Native American.  The story took place in the 1500s when the Spanish arrived, bringing horses to North America for the first time.  I was interested in the program as I had been riding horses since I was 12 at a summer camp in central Missouri called Camp Crystal Creek.  The camp honored Native American culture and history, and a network TV program that showed the Indian’s point of view was just new in mainstream media.

The story begins on a western prairie. A young Native American encounters a horse, an animal he has never seen before.  Over a single day, the horse and man struggle for dominance, in some of the best stunt riding scenes I have ever seen.  In the end, the horse accepts the Indian as a rider and companion.

I recorded the audio of the broadcast on an old reel to reel tape recorder.  During my final year in high school, I listened to the soundtrack over and over.  A few years ago, I began searching for the film, for which I had forgotten the title.  I had no luck until very recently.  In a dated blog post, several fans of the film were asking about the program and what it was.   Replies appeared, and with details.  It turns out the film was a BBC production made in 1970, filmed in Spain and directed by author/filmmaker Michael Syson.  It was called “Conquista”.  The music was by composer John Scott.  The acting and stunt riding work was Jose Maria Serrano.

Apparently there were several versions of Conquista, beginning with the original 40 minute theatrical release in London, followed by a U.S. network broadcast with actor Richard Boone’s narration, and finally an abridged version, distributed for schools. 

Finding the movie wasn’t easy.  Aside from a reference to an out of print VHS, few people I wrote to had even heard of the film.  After weeks of failed leads, I found a film collector who was liquidating his inventory of 16mm school films.  To my amazement, he had the film, and was willing to part with it. 

I watched the movie for the first time in three decades.  I wasn’t shocked that the movie didn’t live up to my memory, but I wasn’t disappointed either.  Conquista may not have been a big budget production, but the director certainly delivered on his unique vision.  John Scott’s music is still inspiring.  Surprisingly modern, his orchestrations have a classical-Spanish flare, much like Ennio Morriconne’s spaghetti western scores from the same period.  I reflected on Conquista’s hidden influence in my own music.  I could see why it had such an impact on me as a teenager.  The setting, the discovery, and the struggle, along with the physical adventure, is a great coming of age story.

Here is a few minutes of “Conquista”, Including the Indian’s first successful ride.



Conquista! (The first ride) from Rotoscope on Vimeo.


UPDATE 10/15/14: Conquista Update!


After many months, a classroom version of Conquista  has undergone restoration to color and sound from a surviving 16mm print.  Some scratches remain, and the color is still muted with a slight cast, but the picture is much cleaner than the original.  My thanks to all the Conquista fans who have written in!  If you have any questions, post a message with your email.  Here is the restoration preview.



11 comments:

  1. When I saw it, years ago, there was absolutely no commentary with it -- all silent, the interaction only between the Native American and the horse. It remains one of the most beautiful memories and I've never forgotten that film. I'm sad it's never been re-distributed (particularly in the version I saw)

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  2. I saw in the UK on the 12th Dec. 1977 it was on BBC 2 Program called The world about us and the film was called " The Horse from the Gods " and it was all silent, but fantastic.

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    1. oh my gawd! I have been looking for this for years and remember watching it around christmas time when ill with flu. Parents went out and I was on my own and it was magical and Ive never forgotten it. As you say, silent throughout. Ive tried online a few times over the years but closest Ive had prior to this is someone else having seen it but not remembering any more about it. Praise the gods of the internet! thank you all!

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  3. I've been looking for this forever! Is there any chance you might post it in its entirety since It's so difficult to come by? That would be awesomes.

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  4. I remember a sillouette of the horse slowly coming over a hill with the sun rising behind it. The horse was bearing a dead conquistador riddled with spears. The horse was saddled. I always thought the subtitle was "Sun Dog" because of this scene. I interpereted it that the Native American was seeing a god. Same movie? It was a LONG time ago! ;-)

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    1. I remember this movie the same way you have, and I don't remember any narration. Like his counter part in Mexico the Plains Apache probable didn' know that the rider was a separate animal. I also got the feeling that the horse was near going mad with the armored corpse riding it and was relieved to have it removed even if it was by ambush. I also think the director meant the horse to enjoy the chase by the Apache Warrior and it actually taunted him. In other words,"Earn your ride." In the end there was mutual respect and comradery.

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  5. Add my voice to Catmac. Post the whole thing please. I remember watching it many years ago, when I first became aware of what we did to our native population.

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  6. I remember this film - I saw it at Malvern cinema as a short (remember those?) before something like the Pink Panther, or a Carry On film... who knows? I've never forgotten it, and was just telling my daughter about it...

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  7. Hello, my name is keith Lord, I live in England and have been a student of native American culture for over 50 years. You may be interested to know that I helped to make this film. Mike Sysons contacted me in 1970 as I had just been to Pine Ridge reservation. He came to the house and we discussed the costuming and the language. He had already employed the stunt rider and horse and they were training. My role was to help make the 'indians' regalia, based on what we knew of 16th century museum peices. We made several outfits and over 20 pairs of soft soled moccasins. The filming took place over about a month in Spain I think. When we looked through the rushes Mike asked me if I would overdub the soundtrack when the indian takes his first ride and the shouting and whooping and lakota words were overdubbed at the De Lane Lea sound studios in London. I'm glad you like the film, unfortunately I only have a recorded copy taken from when it was aired on Anglia TV in the late 70's.

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  9. Hello Keith, Thank you so much for writing. I would like to hear more about your experience regarding Conquista! Can you please respond here, or contact me at: rotoscope66 (at) yahoo (dot) com. --Carl

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