The Sunday Intertitle: The First of the Red-Hot Lavas

The Italians have filmed THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII with such astounding regularity that a film scholar might chart the development of film technique through the in a pretty detailed way, just by watching adaptations of Bulwer-Lytton’s classical disaster novel. This 1908 version, the earliest, still belongs to the painted backdrop school, but the art direction conspires to create a far more vivid sense of depth than is usually found in, say, Melies.

Later versions would showcase colossal sets and elaborate special effects, with camera movement used to explore the architecture. Here, they settle for clever fake perspective and a miniature background volcano that belches smoke and fireworks at the actors. The tableau school of staging means we don’t get the flurry of destruction familiar from later versions, all of which make a point of sporting spectacular effects work. Here, the eruption of Vesuvius is over in about six shots, but to be fair they are quite long shots.

The original titles seem to be lost, so here we get Dutch ones, but the dramatis personae are in French. These particular title cards have people in them. So the must have made a few versions for different territories, but forgot about Holland. And it wouldn’t have been easy to make extra Dutch ones later unless you could get the actors back…

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3 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: The First of the Red-Hot Lavas”

  1. Wonderful stuff! Are these stills of the actors, or moving footage…?

  2. By the way, we’re planning a screening of this and other classical-themed silent films on 26 November in Bristol – more on this soon!

  3. Live action all the way!

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