Archive for Cabiria

11) Udine – Pontecorvo

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , on April 19, 2022 by dcairns

For Pontecorvo’s episode of 12 REGISTI PER 12 CITTA’, he has Ennio Morricone return to the fold, though Morricone was born in Rome and Pontecorvo in Pisa. The subject, however, is Udine.

The two men had a closer than usual collaboration, actually sharing the composition credit on BATTLE OF ALGIERS. When Pontecorvo visited Edinburgh International Film Festival I asked him, at the q&a, how this came to be, unknowingly triggering one of his favourite anecdotes. I will retell it in comments upon request, but you can hear the great man retell it on the extras of the Criterion disc.

Pontecorvo — who gets a bad rep over that tracking shot in KAPO, which isn’t, to me anyway, particularly offensive — but I can understand the principle — spends a surprising amount of time on the landscape OUTSIDE Udine, but this is worthwhile stuff.

The VO begins with Boccaccio’s Decameron, so that our journey to the city seems to cover time as well as space — from the timeless drives and mountains the author might have seen, past vineyards and villas, to the city itself, which we reach via a long pan across conjoined 19th-century illustrations.

The tracking shot in Udine, the first anyhow, occurs along a portico, looking out at Roman statuary, pulled along by the flow of traffic in the intervening street. It seems unlikely that it would offend either Rivette or Daney, who took such exception to GP’s earlier move.

Mostly, however. Pontecorvo prefers to pan sedately. Once bitten.

The VO is a touch touristic — though it does more than just dole out facts and dates, it doesn’t aspire to poetry. We learn that there’s “an unusual Tiepolo” which tries out new painting techniques, but not what those techniques are. No time? Then why bring it up? Sometimes you just need to FIND time.

Another tracking shot, a nice one, passing through the galleries of the Archbishop’s Palace — frescoes by Tiepolo. Like a number of his fellow directors, Pontecorvo is moved to MARIENBAD-like glides here — but we should note that such explorations of screen space are an Italian invention, dating back to CABIRIA (though we could also note that the first camera dolly was constructed for that film by a Frenchman Spaniard, Segundo de Chomon).

We learns that the Archbishop’s library contains a collection of heretical and sorcerous texts — I wish we had time to leaf through a few volumes, preferably illustrated. But we do get to gloat at some gargoyles.

“Udine, a city made for man,” concludes the VO, a touch weakly. It’s one of the results of a piece being uninspired: you can’t think of any solutions that would pep it up. But when you see a work like the Antonioni, Bertolucci or Zeffirelli shorts, the solutions seem obvious. It can’t just be because they had better cities. Udine looks pretty nice.

Old Gods

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2021 by dcairns

Here’s the statue of Moloch in CABIRIA, big old god to whom human sacrifices are rendered.

Joe May obviously admired Giovanni Pastrone’s film, and also Griffith’s INTOLERANCE which was influenced by its gigantism and its mobile camera. For years, cinematographers referred to “Cabiria shots,” meaning any camera move designed to show off the dimensions of a big set. May copied the sets but didn’t pick up on the tracking shots until years later.

MISTRESS OF THE WORLD is May’s super-epic adventure film. Eight episodes, each something like three hours long, I think. In episode three, the heroes journey to the lost African city of Ophir, as you do, and discover the benighted natives worshipping Baal. Although May built super-colossal sets for his super-epic, his Baal is fairly tiny compared to Moloch.

All I’ve been able to see of the possible day-long saga is a few shots excerpted in Brownlow & Winterbottom’s Cinema Europe documentary. I would like to experience the whole thing, which apparently contains revenge, white slavery, science fiction rays, media satire, exotic travel, and tits.

Fritz Lang worked on MISTRESS as an assistant director.

And here’s Moloch again, for the machine age, in Lang’s METROPOLIS. But the way the workers shuffle robotically into his maw is directly lifted from the May film. Although, since it’s a crowd scene, Lang could have been the one who thought of having the extras move that way, in which case he’s only SELF-plagiarising.

I feel like METROPOLIS, which HG Wells thought a “foolish film,” may have also influenced George Pal’s film of Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE, where the Eloi are hypnotised by a mechanical siren song into walking robotically to their dooms beneath the statue of a sphinx. Tastefully, Pal avoids making his Morlock Moloch a copy of Lang’s. The sphinx DOES appear in Wells book, but Pal and screenwriter David Duncan seem to have developed the really good idea, never spelt out, that the air raid siren that makes everybody go below during WWII and WWIII, seen earlier in the time traveller’s travels, has become a race memory, evoking a Pavlovian response in the poor Eloi. And maybe the whole thing was developed subconsciously from the euphony of the names Moloch and Morlock? And it leads to a really brilliant notion, that of an air raid siren functioning like a mythical one.

Stronger Than Sherlock Holmes!

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2021 by dcairns

Another crazy Italian silent. Hmm, was Holmes known for being particularly strong? Maybe in Italy he was.

Like Enrico Guazzoni, Giovanni Pastrone seems to have alternated between the super-epics for which he is best known (exemplified by CABIRIA) with smaller, quirkier fare. At least from what I can see of his oeuvre, which is a limited selection.

PIU FORTE CHE SHERLOCK HOLMES (1916) is a Melies-style trick film, but with interesting stylistic variations. It may originally have had intertitles — the IMDb gives the two leads character names, but doesn’t make it easy to work out which is which. I’m going to assume that the comic copper is Emilio Vardannes, who made a bunch of short comedies as the recurring character Bonifacio, and then as Toto (but not the one we’re thinking of). He’s Toto Travetti here, apparently. He also plays Hannibal in CABIRIA, though, which doesn’t fit that image. The smooth criminal would be, by elimination, Domenico “Childish” Gambino, but he had his own series of later comedies, as Saetta. I may have the two muddled.

The film is photographed by the legendary Segundo de Chomon, who had been making his own Melies knock-offs in France, and did special effects on some Roman epics in Italy, also building the first custom-made camera dolly. He and Pastroni would co-direct the extraordinary WWI animation LA GUERRA ED IL SOGNO DI MOMI the following year.

In photographs, Segundo looks EXACTLY like I imagined him.

We begin with Toto (I think) nodding off while looking at the Italian version of Illustrated Police News — a double page spread opposes a crook type on one side with a Keystone Karabiniero on the other. Mrs. Toto (I think) is also present. Fiona thinks she’s played by a man but I’m not even 100% sure of that.

Lapsing into a dream via double-exposure and a double taking his place (before SHERLOCK JR did a variation on this trick), Toto (I think) is tempted to pursue Saltarelli (I think – Gambino) who emerges from the fallen newspaper and keeps winking in and out of existence as he passes through the wall. Might be a double exposure but might also be Pepper’s Ghost — all done with mirrors.

Things get even more interesting as the chase goes al fresco and the fleeing criminal starts doing handstands on the surface of a lake, a sportive Jesus. Then, by reverse motion, the twosome scales a high building, and there’s a striking bit of chiaroscuro in a dimly-lit room. The exploitation of locations and dramatic lighting are very unlike the greenhouse exploits of M. Melies.

Lots more hi-jinks, lo-jinks and med-jinks. Strange bit where Saltarelli (I think) wipes a roomful of people away by pressing a button, causing a black vertical bar to pass across the screen like the eraser of an Etch-a-Sketch™. Also some inexplicable business with levers to be pulled, their purpose a mystery, shades of ERASERHEAD.

Toto has trouble with magic sacks which keep embracing him in their hessian grasp.

Another roomful of respectable-seeming people dope Toto (I think) with a funny cigarette, and then there’s a wrestling bout in which one opponent is squashed paper-thin and another explodes into fragments, the limbs and torso reuniting by stop-motion (and I believe Chomon was the first to combine live action with animation on the same set).

Surprisingly, for an adventure so random, it has a pretty satisfying conclusion, or as satisfying as “it was all a dream” ever gets.