Valentino Filmography: “Blood and Sand”

Of all the channelings I’ve done on the films of Rudolph Valentino, this one, I think, is perhaps the most poignant. Rudy revealing some parts of self in a very personal way and, at the same time, providing us with an in-depth analysis of his character, and this film….

Let us take a good look at “Blood and Sand” (Paramount, 1922) perhaps the gutsiest of my films ~ in more ways than one. My character is Juan, an everyman lost in the woods of his own making. He has certain dreams which involve escaping the abject poverty of his clan and their chosen profession, “zapateros,” shoemakers, as you call them in Spanish. His father is deceased so that firm hand is nowhere to be seen. His mother does her best with a slightly recalcitrant, devil-may-care son. But Juan, like so many men, puts women on a pedestal, more perhaps than he ought, and this is both his salvation and curse. He uses the male energy of his being to interact with nature, with brute force represented in the person of the bull, a literal dance with death though it’s really a metaphor for life, a dance for all time.

In the course of the film, Juan pursues his dreams which, in some cases, need to be refined. He is confused by his attraction to a woman of the world, Doña Sol, yet he perseveres with his wife, that all-too-angelic soul, as depicted in the film. Most men do not have contrasts drawn so sharply in their lives but this is a morality play. That is how I saw it at the time and the way that most in the audience perceived it too, a medieval morality play with the options writ large. The obsession, the blind obedience, the unquestioning nature of my character, Juan, leads to his destruction. And he still lives on, in the hearts of too many in the body. There are women with his qualities also so this film was not just instructive for one sex. He does not really see the consequences of his behavior and in the end suffers from a lack of insight.

Juan is a man of instinct. Good as a rule but, dear Readers, our instincts must also be refined, expanded, thought-upon and, at times, released when they no longer serve. Instinct can be confused with the vagaries of personality. We speak of them in metaphysical circles as guide posts which they are but then comes the necessary reckoning with the big picture, what the soul needs to have happen in a given situation. Sometimes we have contracted to play things out in such a way as would be considered a ‘bad’ end. Juan’s case was one of those. His dream was cut short by his untimely death, a foreshadowing of what occurred in my own life. I, too, like Juan, was stubborn in that I reveled in the realm of the senses, regaled myself with them everyday, sometimes imbibing or satiating myself a bit too much. I loved to eat, also a bit of the grape and, of course, all of the things of the body, the electricity of sex perhaps above all. But these things, while wonderful in and of themselves, can sometimes become a means to an end, literally and figuratively. Juan and I in some ways were like peas in a pod. I loved that portrayal, having the opportunity to step into that role. Tailor-made it was for me.

I became immersed. I was the letter, it was the envelope. We fit together like hand in glove. Juan Gallardo was one of the most salient parts I had as an actor, and this film, though a fable of Spain, continues to be relevant to all times and places. The lesson implicit in the script is that just about any form of gluttony does not pay. It is a perverse instinct that really must be tamed and we can only effectively work on it while in the flesh, where we can see its effects in all their glory. Juan worked with bulls but in a way was a pig, never knowing when to stop, to call a halt to his liaison with Doña Sol, to end his obsession with his virginal wife, to re-assess his over-reliance on physical prowess. If it felt good once, let’s do it again; that was his motto. There are times to walk away or change tunes and Juan did not avail himself of those opportunities. And, in a way, neither did I when I inhabited the body known as Rodolfo Valentino

Juan was also a love, sweet beyond belief in his roguish ways and therefore very attractive to both women in his life. The character presents the parable of saint and sinner.

This script, like all movie scripts, like all definable situations, is a dream, Juan’s dream; at least, that is how we are perceiving it in this discussion. We can look at it from many angles including, of course, from the points of view of the other characters and why they chose to participate.

 Again, I was perhaps more in sync with this role, both with the broad strokes and little flourishes, than with any other of my relatively brief career in front of the camera. Juan is I and I am Juan ~ not entirely of course, but there are remarkable congruencies.” ~ Rudolph Valentino

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