Friday, July 05, 2013

Spartaco ovvero il gladiatore della Tracia / [Spartacus, Or, the Gladiator from Thrace] (2013 Bologna restoration)


Espártaco, o Rei des Gladiadores Romanos [the title of this version]. IT 1913. D: Giovani Enrico Vidali. Dal romanzo Spartaco di Raffaello Giovagnoli. SC: Renzo Chiosso. AD: Domenico Gaido. C: Mario Guaita-Ausonia (Spartaco), Maria Gandini (Narona). P: Pasquali. /18 fps/ 2K DCP. 90'. Col. Portuguese intertitles. Based on a nitrate print preserved by Cinemateca Brasileira. Da: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna. Cinema Lumière - Sala Officinema/Mastroianni (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna), accompagnamento al piano di Antonio Coppola, earphone commentary in Italian and English, 5 July 2013

Restored at L'Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in 2013.

Presenta Ivo Blom.

Ivo Blom: "Film history is all about being a Doubting Thomas. For years we believed that Bartolomeo Pagano's Maciste in the epic Cabiria (1914) set the tone for the new genre of the strong men or forzuti films, which florished in Italy in the late 1910s and early 1920s. In Maciste (1915), the first film that exploited him as a separate leading character, we identify with a girl who on a film screen sees the strong man bending an iron grill to liberate himself and his friend. But one year before Cabiria, exactly this scene of the hero bending iron with his bare fists had been a major moment in Spartaco ovvero il gladiatore della Tracia (Enrico Vidali 1913), a Pasquali production starring Mario Guaita aka Ausonia (1881-1956) as the legend­ary Spartacus, who rebels against the spoiled Roman patricians. The Italian film journal "La vita cinematografica" praised Guaita for "the plastic beauty of his appearance, the attraction and at the same time the power and swiftness of his perfect body, his penetrating glance, and his perfect acting". In American publicity he was described as "a celebrated Italian wrestler and fine actor, whose physique and finely chiseled face make him an extraordinary prototype of the ancient gladiator". Actually, in Spartaco the camera is often focusing on Ausonia's naked torso, his muscular arms and his stern look into the camera. Apparently, American distributor George Kleine was so smitten with the film, that he coproduced a second epic with Ausonia in 1914, Salammbo. Over the past years we had to do with a bad dvd of the American version of the film, but luckily now a pristine nitrate print has been restored by the Cineteca di Bologna." Ivo Blom

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

Mariann Lewinsky told that the 2K DCP we saw had been made yesterday, and the speed of 18 fps was based on just a guess. - The speed was fine.

Ivo Blom told that the version of this film hitherto generally known is the US version which is in bad shape and has a happy ending. This Brazilian version was discovered by Gian Luca Farinelli and Vittorio Martinelli on their trip to Cinemateca Brasileira in São Paulo. The leading role of Mario Guaita-Ausonia was one of the important steps leading from epics to strongman films.

There are endless parades in this epic with a large cast, shot in early cinema style with long shots and long takes. The gladiators are not yet played by musclemen who have been training for months in body-building gyms. Even Spartacus does not overwhelm with muscles. The battle scenes have been directed without talent. Crassus has given Spartacus his freedom. Now, in turn, Spartacus saves the life of Crassus. But there are machinations behind the back of Spartacus. Norico is busy vilifying him.

In 1913, the strongmen Spartacus and Ursus (Quo vadis?) both led the way to Maciste in the next year's Cabiria.

The beginning of the show was so much delayed that I was able to see only an hour of this film.

The visual quality is quite ok. There are blue and yellow tints. The sepia toning is beautiful.

1 comment:

Donald Sosin said...

Thanks for all this, Antti, missed it in Bologna but playing for it in Rhode Island as part of a 3-day series with Bologna's Guy Borlée presenting a number of wonderful films.