Friday, July 01, 2016

Workshop: Antiquity in Cinema: The First Twenty Years (1897-1916) / 2: 1897-1909: I primi Neroni

Quo vadis? (1901, Ferdinand Zecca, Lucien Nonguet). Please notice "the Roman salute", a recent invention of D'Annunzio, soon to be adopted as the Hitler salute. Please click to enlarge the image.

Workshop: Antiquity in cinema: The first twenty years (1897-1916) / 2. 1897-1909 I primi Neroni
Introduce Maria White
Accompagnamento al piano di Stephen Horne e alla batteria di Frank Bockius
Cinema Lumiere - Sala Officinema/Mastroianni, 1 July 2016

Neron essayant des poisons sur des esclaves (1897) 1’. - AA: Nero tests poisons on slaves. Maria White introduction: Inspired by paintings. The intensity of Nero's look. The interest in death. The sadistic pleasure in death and suffering.

Quo vadis? (FR 1901) D: Ferdinand Zecca, Lucien Nonguet. 1’. Did. francesi. - AA: A hand-painted tableau. The duel of the slaves. The women dance for Nero. - The first of the many film adaptations of Henryk Sienkiewicz's novel is a one minute tableau. - Might this be the first appearance on the screen of "the Roman salute" (see image above), a recent invention of Gabriele D'Annunzio, soon to be adopted as the Hitler salute?

Nerone (1909).

Nerone (IT 1909) D: Luigi Maggi. 13’. Did. italiane. - AA: PC: Ambrosio. Tableaux, long takes, long shots, b&w print. A touchingly stiff representation. A histrionic acting style. Marks of decomposition on the print. Il trionfo di Poppea: Poppea incites Nero to slaughter. From a low contrast, worn source. Octavia is killed without further ado with a sword in the back. The people rise into mutiny. To quench the mutiny Nero lets burn Rome. Nero sees the people flee in horror. Nero sings while Rome is burning. Nero's remorse. He sees visions. The people demand revenge. Amore di libertà.

AA: In the introduction we learned that the first topic of antiquity in the cinema was Emperor Nero.

We remember André Bazin's remarks about "the Nero complex" in the cinema: the fascination of catastrophe. And Susan Sontag's essay on The Imagination of Disaster. Those observations are still valid.

Now we learn that they are among the cinema's earliest preoccupations.

I have been recently reading Seneca's essays and letters. Seneca was Nero's tutor and adviser, and as long as Nero was under-age, probably a key influence in Roman affairs. But when Nero came of age he turned out not to have been an apt pupil to the Stoic philosopher. Accused of conspiracy, Seneca was forced to commit suicide. Nero has been a warning model of mad autocracy ever since.

Let's observe that in the Nero story there has been little or no interest among film-makers to the wise part of his reign (the Seneca influence). And in filming Quo vadis? the interest in the Christian message is tamer than in the sadistic excess of Nero, and in the cinema's very first Quo vadis? the focus is solely on Nero. Let's also observe that Seneca belongs to the pre-Christian philosophers that have been among the most highly regarded during even the most purist stages of Christianity.

Quo vadis?, the novel of the Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz, was about the triumph of the spirit over the sadistic atrocities of Nero. In the first film adaptations the triumph of the spirit was ignored, and only the atrocities were displayed.

It would be interesting to learn whether Hitler had seen Enrico Guazzoni's film adaptation of Quo vadis? (1913).

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