Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Art, Life, and Madrid: Hogs, Dogs, and Chile(i)

During the summer of 2006, the Disney movie Wild Hogs was filmed in Madrid, New Mexico. (Just so you get into the rhythm of this right away, the name of the town is not pronounced Ma-drid', like the Spanish city, but Mad'-rid.) Madrid is a town of about 400, a flower-filled art colony with everything on one main street, and there was a lot of controversy in the community about the filming. Traffic was perennially blocked, and many businesses suffered--especially the art galleries for which the town is currently known.

I feel as if I have been dancing around Madrid and this story since I first heard about the movie filming, which was in June, 2006--before I moved to Santa Fe. My son had driven down from Colorado to spend some time working on a few projects in my house, and one night while he was here in Santa Fe he and his girlfriend went for dinner at Los Mayas. There they spotted a group of movie people which included William H. Macy and Ray Liotta. He recounted this story to me on the phone the next day, I googled Macy, Liotta, and Santa Fe, and read about the movie that was being filmed. End of part one.

Part two--you know this part. The movie comes out, is panned critically, and garners $165 million (to date) at the box office.

Part three--I take a part-time job at a local theatre. In June, 2007, we present a playreading series which includes a play by Carol Carpenter entitled Wild Dogs, set in Madrid during the filming of the movie. In the play, the citizens of Madrid are, by and large, visibly unhappy with Disney and the invasion of the Hollywood types (and their skinny half-caf coffee demands). "The values of the town of Madrid in the movie are in polar opposition to the actual town of Madrid, and that's what rings so false about the film," says Carpenter in a Santa Fe New Mexican article.

Part four--my sister comes to visit me for a few days. Without understanding its significance, she sees Wild Hogs on the plane here. I tell her we have tickets to Wild Dogs and explain about the relationship between the play and the movie. We decide to visit Madrid for an afternoon before we see the play reading--I have not been there yet, and we are eyeing this as research.

Part five--we go to Madrid. It's about a half hour drive from here, and is like a charming little 60s hippie town dropped into the mountains.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Weiser

It has a fascinating history, starting with Native American mining of the local turquoise 1,500 years ago. When the Spanish arrived, they forced the natives to work in silver mines in the area. The modern history of the town, however, started with the development of its coal mines in 1899.

According to the web site, "the story of Madrid is the story of one Oscar Huber. Madrid was a coal-mining town owned and operated by the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company. Huber worked for the company beginning in 1910 and became superintendent after a few years, eventually buying the company. . . He paved the streets, built new homes on lots made vacant by fires, constructed a six room hospital and made arrangements for unlimited use of electricity . . . Its Christmas display of the nativity and other lighted Biblical scenes created a display the like of which had never before been seen in New Mexico. All miners received free electricity generated by the company's coal, and minor league baseball games were played at the first lighted stadium in the West, also built by Huber." During Prohibition, the company even furnished a location where citizens could distill illegal liquor.

But when coal mining declined, so did the town, and it eventually became a ghost town. In the early 1970s, Oscar Huber's son Joe, who owned the land, began to rent or sell a few of the old miners' homes to artists and craftspeople, and its modern day incarnation as an art community was born.

During our visit to Madrid we stop into The Johnsons of Madrid Gallery. My sister buys a hand-painted silk top there, and we have an interesting chat with Diana Johnson, the feisty proprietress. Mrs. Johnson and her husband, an artist, were among the first arrivals in the 1970s, and she says they are the the oldest "Madroids". We tell her about the play reading, and she decides to come with her granddaughter.

Part six--we put on two performances of the playreading. The "black box" theatre in which we perform seats 90. We sell out for both performances, with about 25% of the adult population of Madrid in attendance. During the talk-back with the author, director, and performers after the show, we learn that a new controversy has overtaken Madrid.

Part seven--a Connecticut real-estate investor by the name of Ron Phillips has planned his so-called Madrid Chili Festival for July 7. If you saw the movie, you'll recall that John Travolta et al arrive in town during such a festival. But there has never been a chile festival in Madrid, and the townspeople are quick to point out that the town is known for turquoise, silver, coal, and art--and never for chile. According to a report in the Santa Fe New Mexican, "We're all totally against this," says Madrid resident Gail Snyder. "Apparently this is all fallout from the Disney movie last summer."

And Carol Carpenter, author of Wild Dogs, adds: "Now we're seeing the outgrowth of that leading directly to this festival which is inauthentic in that it's coming from the film, inauthentic in the sense that Madrid doesn't have chile and never has grown chile, inauthentic in a sense that it's even spelled chili, as in Texas chili."

While the Madrid Landowners Association reluctantly allowed Sharp to rent the ballpark (remember, first lighted park west of the Mississippi!), they limited him to one day, instead of his requested three. Our friend Diana Johnson is quoted in the same article: "The consensus was the movie was hard enough on us, and we don't need somebody trying to just make dollars off our town."

Another local business owner concludes: "This is the most obnoxious and regrettable fallout from Wild Hogs, which was probably the worst thing that every happened to this town."

Stay tuned for further updates on this story!!


Peggy said...

If you look at the "official" website - even they can't decide whether it is "chili" or "chile" - or they don't even see that there's a difference!

SantaFeKate said...

And, out of date! The concert that was supposedly taking place in Santa Fe in conjunction with the Madrid event has been postponed until after Labor Day.....

Anonymous said...

As a Madroid, I am very glad that the Chili Festival was such a flop. We have a history of hosting festivals, cheap. Chili is not something Madrid was ever associated with, and no-one appreciated anyone coming into town and trying to capitalize on an event that traumatized the town.