Monday, June 27, 2011

A Hundred Years Ago: Programme 3: Decadence and Progress. Antiquity Before Quo Vadis?

Cento anni fa: Programma 3: Decadenza e progresso, verso Quo Vadis?. Programme by Marianne Lewinsky and notes by Pantelis Michelakis, Maria Wyke. Monday, 27 June 2011 at 16.00 Cinema Lumière - Sala Officinema/Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). Grand piano: Antonio Coppola. Presentano Pantelis Michelakis, Maria Wyke e Mariann Lewinsky.

1911 - Antiquity before Quo Vadis?

Catalogue: "Historical accounts of the relation between silent cinema and antiquity often begin with the first feature-length blockbusters: Enrico Guazzoni’s Quo vadis? in 1913 and Giovanni Pastrone’s Cabiria in 1914. However interest in the ancient Mediterranean has been one of the most distinctive features of cinema since 1896, when the Lumière brothers first brought Nero on the screen trying out poisons on slaves (Néron essayant des poisons sur des esclaves). Hundreds of films related to antiquity were made before Quo vadis? which are today largely forgotten, overlooked or taken for granted but which, taken together, constitute an enormous field of research that awaits sustained, integrated exploration. If films such as Quo Vadis? (literally: 'where are you going?') invite us to look forward toward the impact of antiquity films on film history and historiography, another important question that needs to be addressed is where such films are coming from (Quo venis? as it were)."

"Short-length and medium-length films about antiquity made before 1913 range from historical and mythological epics to adaptations of classical drama, burlesques, animated cartoons and documentaries. Produced and circulated in numerous countries across Europe and North America, they demonstrate a preoccupation with the ancient world which competes in intensity and breadth with that of Hollywood’s classical era from the 1930s to the 1960s. What is it about the ancient Mediterranean that makes it such a popular topic for silent cinema? Early cinema sought cultural legitimization by flirting with the canonical status of the ancient world in other arts: painting, sculpture, dance, theatre and opera. Equally important, however, is that early cinema, in the process of seeking cultural legitimization, redefined the look of classical antiquity. It brought back to life what was thought to be dead, it set in motion what was thought to be immobile, and presented in all its glory what was thought to be in ruins and decay. Early cinema turned to classical antiquity as a source for ethical, political or sexual models to be emulated or for antitypes to be confronted. In the process of doing so, it reaffirmed escapist visions of a remote and exotic antiquity. Yet it also presented antiquity as a world in which modern concerns could be played out, often in the most extravagant terms."

"Agrippina displays the genre’s indebtedness to the stage. Masks of tragedy and comedy adorn its opening intertitles. The players are introduced one by one (including the celebrated divas Gianna Terribili Gonzalès and Maria Gasparini). The plot picks up the schemes of the Roman empress from where Händel’s opera had left off. Directed by Enrico Guazzoni for Cines, the film momentarily looks back to the French origins of antiquity films when it briefly restages Nero’s experimental poisonings. It also looks forward to the director’s landmark Quo Vadis? both in its subject-matter and in its elaboration – of narrative, costumes, sets and processional choreography. Films such as Feuillade’s Roman Orgy indulge fantasies about classical antiquity that break down the world of the spectators and reassemble it as a spectacle of absolute power at once exotic and transgressive: an effeminate emperor, a Senate of women, oriental opulence, and gratuitous acts of violence including a disruption of a banquet by lions. Antiquity films are not contained by the borders of the Roman Empire. La Regina di Ninive offers a taste of the many other places and times of antiquity. The book of Jonah had described Nineveh (the capital of the ancient empire of Assyria) as a wicked city fit for destruction. Where better to perform modern concerns about marital relations, the authority of fathers, the vulnerability of masculinity, and the defiance of women? Location shots of simple pastoral innocence are juxtaposed with the adultery of the exotic royal court and the dark mysteries of its temple rituals. In the end, frustrated by the cowardice of her lover, the queen pulls off her pretty collar of pearls and decorative headband to take up helmet and breastplate. Only she is man enough to fight her husband’s avenger."

"The films in this programme provide a brief glimpse of the diverse aspects of antiquity in 1911. The programme is the first part of a three-year series which traces some of the artistic, stylistic, thematic, generic and technological developments in films related to the ancient world that made possible the emergence of the epic blockbusters of the mid 1910s. It also focuses on the fabulous potential of early cinema that later, feature-length narrative cinema developed only selectively, and on the value of the ‘number of roads not taken’ for contemporary conceptualizations of antiquity. The other films included in this programme provide a small taste of the modernity of 1911 in and against which its antiquity films are best understood."

"These comments arise out of a research project we have launched that investigates The Ancient World in Silent Cinema. The project began with screenings in London, Los Angeles and Berlin of some of the most rarely seen antiquity films (dating as far back as 1903) and has continued with the investigation of prints that survive in archives across Europe and the United States. An initial collection of essays will be published in 2012, and further plans include establishing a network of interested scholars and film archives, the preparation of a database for documentation of the films, restoration and digitization of selected films and further screenings accompanied by new scores." Pantelis Michelakis, Maria Wyke

[not shown: ROBES DE SOIR. FR 1911. 35 mm. 25 m. 1’30'' a 16 fps. Col. Intertitres français. From: CNC Archives Françaises du Film.]

[not shown: AMOUR D’ESCLAVE. FR 1907. D: Albert Capellani. T. it.: Amore di schiava; T. ol: Verleiding; Cast: Georges Dorival, Amyot, Salvat, Rose Ridde (la danzatrice); P: Pathé Frères. 35 mm. 203 m. 11’ a 16 fps. Pochoir. Nederlandse tussentitels. From: EYE Film Instituut Nederland.]

VOLVOX – QUELQUE PETITS HABITANTS DE L’EAU STAGNANTE / [the title on the print:] Volvox. FR 1911. D: Jean Comandon. P: Pathé (Scène de Vulgarisation Scientifique, No. 4558). 35 mm. L. or.: 180 m. 54 m. 2’30'' a 16 fps. B&w. No intertitles. From: CNC-Archives Françaises du Film. - AA: Scientific film. This film was included because its title is in Latin! Images shot through the microscope revealing the microbes in stagnant water. Like avantgarde.

ORGIE ROMAINE / [the title on the print:] Héliogabale. FR 1911. D: Louis Feuillade. P: Gaumont. 35 mm. 200 m. 11’ a 16 fps. Pochoir. Deutsche Zwischentitel. From: EYE Film Instituut Nederland. - AA: A historical view from the Roman Empire. Scenes from the reign of the most bizarre Roman emperor. The female reign of courtesans. Pedicure for the lions. A charming print.

AGRIPPINA / [the title on the print:]  Keizerin Agrippina. IT 1911. D: Enrico Guazzoni. SC: Carlo Muccioli, Walter Rinaldi; co-SC : Enrico Guazzoni; Cast: Maria Gasparini (Agrippina), Amleto Novelli (Britannicus), Sig.ra Sturla (Locusta), Giovanni Dolfini (uno schiavo), Cesare Moltini (Aniceto), Carlo Muccioli, Walter Rinaldi, Adele Bianchi Azzariti; P: Cines. 35 mm. L. or.: 380 m. 347 m. 19’ a 16 fps. Col. Nederlandse tussentitels. From: EYE Film Instituut Nederland © 1911 Cines © 2003 Ripley’s Film. - AA: A historical tragedy from the Roman Empire. Primitive but powerful. The refined, limpid cinematography can be appreciated in this print.

EUPLOTES, COLEPS, STYLONYCHIA – QUELQUE PETITS HABITANTS DE L’EAU STAGNANTE. FR 1911. D: Jean Comandon. P: Pathé (Scène de Vulgarisation Scientifique, No. 4558). 35 mm. L. or.: 180 m. 120 m. 6’ a 16 fps. B&w. No intertitles. From: CNC-Archives Françaises du Film. - AA: Scientific film. Also this film was included because its Latin title! Images shot through the microscope revealing the microbes in stagnant water. Light microbes against a black background.

[I fell asleep during this movie: LA REGINA DI NINIVE. IT 1911. D: Luigi Maggi. SC: Arrigo Frusta; DP: Arrigo Frusta; Cast: Gigetta Morano (Tamari), Mirra Principi, Oreste Grandi, Giuseppe Gray, Luigi Maggi (re Sennacherib), Dario Silvestri, Ernesto Vaser, Ercole Vaser, Mario Voller Buzzi, Serafino Vité; P: Ambrosio (serie d’Oro). 35 mm. L. or.: 320 m. 280 m. 15’ a 16 fps. B&w. English intertitles. From: BFI National Archive.]

IL CLARINO DI TONTOLINI. IT 1911. Cast: Ferdinand Guillaume (Tontolini), Matilde Guillaume (la fidanzata); P: Cines. 35 mm. 110 m. 5’ a 18 fps. B&w. From: Cinematek (Brussels). - AA: Comedy. Topic: Romulus and Remus.

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