Monday, October 05, 2015

La grande guerra: Luca Comerio

Dans la tranchée. Photo: Cineteca del Friuli.
LA GUERRA D’ITALIA A 3000 METRI SULL’ADAMELLO (IT 1916) Photos: La Cineteca del Friuli
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter A. Buchwald, 5 Oct 2015


Sergio Germani (GCM catalog and website): "Luca Comerio – European Cinema in the First World War Chance aside, the fact that many of Luca Comerio’s films are conserved in non-Italian versions in foreign archives or collections (particularly French and American) reflects something significant about his filmography. He personally produced and edited versions of his works with intertitles in other languages, especially French and English. For some of these the only remaining Italian content is the intertitles, and starting from them it is possible to reconstruct some variants of the footage and its editing. In the light of some of the regulations imposed by Italian state propaganda, especially the order not to show scenes with corpses, some foreign versions may be presumed to have broken the rules better than the Italian editions. Comerio’s cinema, including the films produced on preceding wars in which Italy was involved (especially the so-called “Italo-Turkish war”, which led to the Italian colonization of Greek territories and Libya), even though he was officially appointed as the only – or as a privileged – film-maker with access to war zones, was always characterized by the freedom of his gaze. In that regard Comerio (1878-1940) is perhaps the first pure and absolute film-maker in Italian cinema – his previous relationship with Lumière was certainly influential – and the founder of the line of great directors who were always able to preserve the deeper cinematic values irrespective of political commissions. Following him in this respect were Augusto Genina, Roberto Rossellini, and Vittorio Cottafavi."

"For a proper appreciation of the power of Comerio’s films about the Great War, of which this opening programme presents four, they should be seen in the context of his work as a whole. Before shooting moving pictures, at the end of the 19th century Comerio was a photographer, and as such was appointed official photographer to the King of Italy. In this role he produced a number of photo-series which gave birth to the basic account of important historical events, such as the 1898 massacre of Milanese demonstrators by an army unit under the command of General Bava-Beccaris. This was the first sign of how the official battlefield film-maker would subsequently perceive the slaughter and death of bodies as the fundamental story of war, whereas only a few titles and intertitles highlight the official patriotic line."

"It is significant that among these photographs of popular protest in Milan, that Comerio, not yet a film-maker, produced one of a walk-out of female workers from a tobacco factory, and that this was subsequently followed by other depictions of sortie des usines scenes: still shots in 1905 at the Pirelli factory and, after he started working with a Lumière cine-camera in 1907, footage filmed at the Mirafiori Fiat factory in 1911. Through his linking of the dimension of industrial disputes with that of the events of warfare, Comerio, though always apolitical (presumably with right-wing leanings), may be seen to fit in with the most radical school of thought (which included anarchists such as Malatesta and Marxists like Bordiga) on war as a killing machine. His films on war (or even only army manoeuvres) emphasize the strenuous efforts sustained by bodies, their vulnerability and their mortality."

"Images of corpses in his films, in contravention of the censors’ orders, are a sign of reality. Some of his works contain re-enactments; “false” though they are, they impose an awareness of reality on fiction, and “acted” battle scenes become a sign of the consumption of bodies. In this sense cinema itself, as later made clear by Cocteau and Dreyer, becomes a machine of death."

"Only passing mention can be made of the fact that Comerio’s early film-making also involved distinguished work in comedy. Before the First World War he used the conquest of Libya to combine comic fiction (Cocciutelli in guerra) with documentary cinema."

"The films presented in this programme (two in French versions and one in English) were found by two of the youngest Italian film libraries (Bologna and Gemona) in foreign collections, while most of Comerio’s work in the oldest established Italian archives (Milan, Rome, and Turin) consists of the Italian versions."

"Les Annales de la guerre no. 8 (which presumably includes re-edited footage from La battaglia di Gorizia) and Dans la tranchée contain what may be considered the best and most ferocious images of the First World War: soldiers “going over the top” (of the trenches, but also of life, which becomes death), passing beneath the tombs in Gorizia’s cemetery; soldiers entering Gorizia and coming across a funeral procession which advances towards the camera (and the audience, as in Lumière’s seminal shot of a train); the shot of a crazed horse bolting in panic through the deserted streets of the town."

"An interesting recent documentary (Folco Quilici’s Animali nella Grande Guerra) unfortunately ignores this Munchian scream from the animal world, just as Ermanno Olmi’s masterpiece Torneranno i prati has the one drawback of relying upon a somewhat ready-made repertoire rather than Comerio’s more apocalyptic images. "

"Today we see them not only as great documentary images, but as profound signs of the power of Comerio’s cinema, which (among so many centenary initiatives of the Great War) really reaches out to our present of vulnerable survivors."
– Sergio Mattiassich Germani

LA GUERRA D’ITALIA A 3000 METRI SULL’ADAMELLO (Luca Comerio, Milano – IT 1916) D, ED: Luca Comerio; DP: Luca Comerio [+ Paolo Granata, for scenes in the long version]; rel: 4.6.1916; 35 mm, 204 m, 12' (16 fps); titles: ITA; print source: La Cineteca del Friuli (Fondo Ripley’s / Cinemazero).
    [Also existing in a long version, measuring 2237 m, as yet untraced.]
    AA: A giant cannot is being hauled to the top of the Alps. Long lines of men are marching, zigzagging in the snow along the mountain slope. They are carrying heavy equipment. There is a thick steam from the soup kitchen. Barbed wire. A snow cross. Remarkable views of Alpine war, of winter war. Trenches in the snow. Casualties being hauled in toboggans. Red Cross action. Visual quality: from a partly decomposing source, yet impressive, toned and tinted in blue, lila, etc.

LES ANNALES DE LA GUERRE NO. 8 (Luca Comerio / Pathé – IT/FR 1917) [With segments from La battaglia di Gorizia, 8.11.1916, the filmmaker’s French version of Giornale della guerra d’Italia, 1.9.1917] D, DP, ED: Luca Comerio; 35 mm, 192 m, 10' (16 fps); titles: FRE; print source: Archives françaises du film du ECPAD, Ivry sur Seine.
    AA: A motorcar column. Red Cross vechicles. Official parades. Clearing ruins. Defusing German traps. Abandoned trenches. Refunctioning German trenches. The supreme suffering in Rheims. Winter war. A look-out point. Epic views. Visual quality brilliant.

DANS LA TRANCHÉE (Luca Comerio / Regio Esercito Sezione Cinematografica / Pathé – IT/FR, 1917) [The filmmaker’s French version of In trincea, 24.3.1917] D, DP, ED: Luca Comerio; 35 mm, 264 m, 13' (16 fps); titles: FRE; print source: La Cineteca del Friuli (Fondo Lobster / Ripley’s / Cinemazero).
    AA: A long pan on the huge river Isonzo / Soča. A cable railway over the Isonzo. The highest peaks. The glaciers. The road to Trieste. Slow pans. The "corridor" to Gorizia. The shelters of our soldiers. Men creeping in the trenches. A gigantic cannon. A machine gun. The trenches are extended towards the direction of the enemy. The handheld camera catches the devastation. A long take of soldiers crawling in the trenches. Grenades incendiaires. En avant! A long take on casualties. Mount Nero. An epic long shot. Men ascending in the snow. Even using a ski lift. Nos lignes 3000 m en hauteur. A snow castle.

//THIS I MISSED DUE TO OVERLAPPING PROGRAMMING// THE BATTLE BETWEEN BRENTA AND ADIGE (Luca Comerio – IT 1917) [fragment] [The filmmaker’s English version of La battaglia tra Brenta e Adige, 1.12.1916] D., DP, ED: Luca Comerio; 35 mm, 983 m (from 1900 m), 49' (16 fps); titles: ENG; print source: Cineteca di Bologna.//

AA:  These Luca Comerio films are essential documentation on the White War on the Alps. The winter war imagery is interesting for a Finnish viewer. These films confirm that even Maciste alpino, seen here in Pordenone two days ago, has a partly documentary quality. The footage of men ascending mountain slopes while transporting giant pieces of artillery is similar in both. Günter A. Buchwald played the piano and provided sound effects.

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