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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Last Days of Pompeii (1913) & Cabiria (1914)



The Last Days of Pompeii (1913)

"The Last Days of Pompeii" ("Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei " ) is an Italian black and white silent film, released in 1913 by Mario Caserini. Based on Edward George Bulwer-Lytton's 1834 novel of the same name, the film is set during the final days leading up to the Mount Vesuvius eruption in Pompeii in 79 AD.

Mario Caserini (November 17, 1874 -- November 17, 1920) was an Italian film director, as well as an actor, screenwriter, and early pioneer of film making in the early portion of the 20th century. Caserini was born in Rome, Italy, and was married to early 20th century Italian actress Maria Caserini. His 1906 film Otello is believed to be the earliest film adaptation of the William Shakespeare play Othello. Pre-World War I Italian pioneer film director (at Cines) of costume dramas, biopics and comedies, often on a grand scale. He frequently featured his wife, Maria Caserini.

"An evil Egyptian priest menaces a young Roman maiden while a blind slave girl shows great courage in attempting to rescue her beloved master, during THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII.

Produced less than two decades after the birth of cinema, this silent film is considered to be the first important historical epic filmed on a truly grand scale. It also heralded the arrival of the Italian movie industry as a force to be reckoned with, however briefly, in the halcyon days before World War One. Produced by prolific director Mario Caserini (1874-1920), it features a completely static camera which has the effect of turning each shot into a living tableau. (The only exceptions are a few pan shots of flowing lava which were inserted in the film's final moments.)

Caserini manages his early crowd scenes very nicely, in which everyone looks like they're actually doing something and have a reason to be in the shot. The use of light & shadow on the large sets is also most commendable.

The final twenty minutes, when Vesuvius blows her top and destroys Pompeii, features special effects which are still quite impressive. After more than an hour of silver toned film, the abrupt switch to red tints at the instant of the eruption is a definite attention grabber.

Much of the acting is very theatrical & overripe, but that was the style back then and was probably much affected by grand opera. Two performers should be noted - Fernanda Negri Pouget is quite touching as the tragic blind girl, and Ubaldo Stefani, as the hero, is unintentionally hilarious in the scene in which he drinks a witch's poisoned brew.

The film's final moments embrace a mature sensitivity and highlight the latent power of the cinematic image."

Review by Ron Oliver

Directed by Mario Caserini, Eleuterio Rodolfi
Written by Mario Caserini , Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (novel)
Distributed by George Kleine Amusements (U.S.)

Release date: August 24, 1913
Running time: 56 min



Cabiria (1914)

Silent movie from the early years of Italy's movie industry, directed by Giovanni Pastrone. Apart from being a classic on its own the film is also notable for being the first film in which the long-running film character Maciste makes his debut.

The movie is based on Emilio Salgari's Cartagine in fiamme (Carthage in Flames) and Gustave Flaubert's novel Salammbo. Set in ancient Carthage during the period of the Second Punic War, it treats the conflict between Rome and Carthage through the eyes of the title character, who is kidnapped by pirates, sold as a slave in Carthage, and rescued from being sacrificed to the god Moloch by a Roman nobleman and his muscular slave Maciste (who would later become the protagonist in a whole successful series of films on his own). Hannibal and his war elephants fit into the plot of this epic film.

Directed by Giovanni Pastrone
Written by Gabriele d'Annunzio (portrayed as the "auteur" in this poster) and others
Starring Bartolomeo Pagano
Release date: April 18, 1914
Running time: 181 minutes
Country: Italy
Language: Silent film
Budget 1 million Lira

Italian author Gabriele d'Annunzio contributed to the screenplay writing all of the intertitles and naming all characters and the movie itself. The film was noted as being the first popular film to use the tracking shot - the camera is mounted on a dolly allowing it to both follow action and move within a film set or location. For years afterward a tracking shot was referred to by both cameramen and directors as a 'Cabiria' shot. However in many cases Pastrone used these shots with no real purpose other than the novelty of camera movement within a location. In some instances the camera rolls toward and then right past what should be the focus of the shot. However, the movement was such an innovation at the time that other film makers quickly incorporated it. The film was a major influence on D.W. Griffith's Intolerance. The famous crane shot moving down and into the festival in Babylon is in a sense a 'Cabiria' shot taken to the ultimate extent.

Film critic Roger Ebert has said that Griffith "moves the camera with greater freedom and has a headlong narrative and an exciting use of cross-cutting that Pastrone does not approach."[1] The film also marked the debut of the Maciste character, who went on to have a long career in Italian sword and sandal films. For many years, Cabiria and Griffith's Judith of Bethulia (1914) were considered the first feature films. However, several earlier examples have come to light in recent years, including the Australian film The Story of the Kelly Gang (1906).

Like Birth of a Nation, Cabiria has aroused its share of controversy because of the political nature of its subject matter. It was produced by Italian ultra-nationalist Gabriele d'Annunzio and was released soon after the Italo-Turkish War, in which Italy conquered the North African Ottoman provinces of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. The film highlights Italy's Roman past and the "monstrous" nature of Carthaginian society (with especial focus on the temple of Moloch), which is contrasted with the "nobility" of Roman society.[2] Cabiria was therefore one of several films of the period that "helped resuscitate a distant history that legitimized Italy's past and inspired its dreams" and which "delivered the spirit for conquest that seemed to arrive from the distant past", thereby presaging the "political rituals of fascism" (wars of conquest, the Roman salute, parades and the fasces itself).

Original Score by Brian Pinette

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