Saturday, July 06, 2013

A Hundred Years Ago: The Irrestible Fascination of Ancient Rome III

IL FASCINO IRRESISTIBILE DELL'ANTICHITÀ (terza parte). Cinema Lumière - Sala Officinema/Mastroianni, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, Accompagnamento al piano di Donald Sosin. Earphone commentary in Italian and English, 6 July 2013

QUO VADIS? IT 1913. D: Enrico Guazzoni. Dal romanzo di Henryk Sienkiewicz. SC: Enrico Guazzoni. C: Amleto Novelli, Gustavo Serena, Carlo Cattaneo. AD: Enrico Guazzoni. P: Cines. 35 mm. 1944 m. 94' a 18 f/s. Col. English intertitles. Da: Fondazione Cineteca Italiana e EYE - Film Institute Netherlands per concessione di Ripley's Film. Cinema Lumière - Sala Officinema/Mastroianni Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna - AA: See separate remarks in the next blog entry.

COURSE PROVENÇALE / Een komische Stierengevecht [the title on the print]. FR 1913. P: Gaumont. 35 mm. 101 m. 5' a 18 f/s. B&w. Nederlandse tussentitels. Da: EYE - Film Institute Netherlands (Desmet Collection). - AA: A thrilling bullfight movie with several extremely dangerous stunts: jumping over the bull, and so on. A fair print with occasional sprocket marks.

KRI KRI GLADIATORE / Julius als Gladiator [the title on the print]. IT 1913. C: Raymond Frau. P: Cines. 35 mm. 151 m. 8' a 18 f/s. B&w. Deutsche Zwischentitel [not Czech titles as announced]. Da: Národní filmový archiv. - AA: In the kitchen Kri Kri falls asleep over a shaslik skewer and dreams of gladiator feats. The little but energetic Kri Kri precedes Chaplin in roles such as Don José in Burlesque on Carmen. A slave is in chains, a maid is thrown to the lions, Kri Kri enter the arena, and at the same time in the kitchen a cat attacks Kri Kri's shaslik skewer. Funny. The print is soft and out of focus at times.

Giovanni Lasi: "Quo vadis? revolutionized all former notions of the scope and power of the motion picture", declared George Kleine, the American distributor for Cines Films. Quo vadis? marked a radical turning point in the history of Italian and international cinema. The film by Guazzoni, paving the way for a season of historical-mythological "colossals", affirmed Italy's place in the international world of cinema. Besides reaching epic levels of commercial success, Quo vadis? immediately became the definitive model of the genre: lavish sets, thousands of extras, the management of vast locations, the spectacular nature of the action scenes all became trademarks for successive Italian productions of the "sword-and-sandal" genre, which would have reached its pinnacle the following year with Cabiria." Giovanni Lasi

Giovanni Lasi: "From the late 19th century, as neoclassical currents held sway in art and literature, Greek and Roman history also grew in popularity, but it was viewed through the aesthetic and philosophical lens of mythology and tinged with romanticism. The ancient world was seen as some kind of paradise lost, a golden age, tantalizing but irretrievable: a world we yearn for but which, by its very nature, can be revisited exclusively in the realm of fantasy. It is no wonder, then, that this distant era, remote and legendary, persisted as one of the main subjects of mainstream, popular literature even into the beginning of the 20th century, with tales set in ancient Greece or Rome being published, graced with il­lustrations inspired by the vast production of 19th century neo-classical painting. The same visual and narrative model was soon adopted by the new medium of cinema, where its potential could be further expanded. A filmmaker does more than just reproduce reality on the screen; he also needs to be able to bring history to life, bridging the gap across space and time. Even more: thanks to the medium's ability immerse the spectator fully in the events taking place on the big screen, the members of a cinema audience have the miraculous opportunity to lose themselves, body and soul, in the splendors of antiquity. If it is true that cinema has been, since its inception, nurturing a biding interest in the archeological past, it is equally true that the canons which determined the success of the mythological/historical genre were set in the 1910s: lavish sets and costumes, spectacular action scenes filmed on vast studio lots with thousands of extras. While certainly the entire internation­al film industry caught the Epic Classics bug, Italy surely dominated the scene with such films as Quo vadis?, Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei, Cajus Julius Caesar, Cabiria, all produced between 1913 and 1914, which were destined to become milestones in the history of silent film. The measure of the success of these films is evident in the effect they had on other genres: from the proliferation of dal vero made at archeological sites around the world, to the irreverent comedies set in ancient Greek or Roman times. The road from Quo vadis? to Kri Kri gladiatore is very brief." Giovanni Lasi

Mariann Lewinsky: "Alongside the Italian epics Quo Vadis? and Spartaco, the programme includes a selection of shorter (and in some cases earlier) films. When and how did the ancient world make its first appearance in the cinema? Even before 1900, Pathé was offering risqué scenes, their Greek setting legitimising the nudity, then there were scènes bibliques, ambitious quests for "historical truth, local colour and richness in costumes and sets" (Pathé catalogues of 1900 and 1902) and in 1901 the first film version of Quo Vadis? appeared, a three minutes scène à grand spectacle. The French antiquity films of the following years are all conspicuous for their mag­nificent stencil-colouring. Around 1913 the ideal of antique beauty and sensuality took everyday fashion by storm and this is documented in many films: at home the ladies wear Fortuny pleated negligés, and at soirées creations by Poiret, Doucet and Drécoll, with high-girdled tunics over the finest fabrics draped in plentiful folds, all topped off with coiffures à la grècque." Mariann Lewinsky

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