Archive for Cabiria

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.

The Sunday Intertitle: The Ineluctibility of Genre

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2021 by dcairns

A break from Chaplin: two silent Italian shorts from the nineteenteens. In both of them, romantic intrigues lead the characters into the dark of a cinema. And in both of them, the films shown comment on the action.

In TRAGEDIA AL CINEMATOGRAFO of 1913, directed by Enrico Guazzoni, a jealous husband follows his wife through the yellow streets — annoyed by a roving band of commedia dell’arte players, like something out of CLOCKWORK ORANGE but with irksome capering replacing the old ultraviolence — finally tracking her to a cinema, where she meets a family friend.

And the film being screened for them is a drama about a jealous husband, who overacts just as badly as the real one.

Meanwhile, a year earlier, in AL CINEMATOGRAFO, GUARDATE… E NON TOCCATE (AT THE CINEMA, LOOK… AND DON’T TOUCH), smarmy comic Enrico Vaser pursues a comely dame to the picture show, and the film showing is a broad farce, much like the one they’re in. Which just goes to show you.

In TRAGEDIA, Guazzoni plays his film within a film as a box inset in the total darkness of a cinema. He even uses a cut to represent the lights going off and the film starting:

Whereas in GUARDATE, director Giovanni Pastrone, soon to be famed for CABIRIA, is more ambitious, superimposing the FWAF into another frame. This causes the occasional silk hat to become translucent as it passes in front of the affected area, but we could just pretend that’s the projector’s beam hitting the hat with a scenic image, couldn’t we? Do try to get into the spirit of the thing.

Surprisingly, TRAGEDIA turns out to be a commedia, and funnier than the more over c. of errors displayed in GUARDATE, which chucks in a pre-Fellini dwarf and lots of mistaken frottage in the dark, growing still more risqué when the girl and her beau swap seats and creepy Enrico, having already rubbed shoes with the maid by mistake, now begins fondling a fellow of the same, or homo, sex.

In TRAGEDIA, the jealous husband is initially frustrated by an early cinema rule: NO ONE TO BE ADMITTED AFTER THE SHOW STARTS. Hmm, must be a Hitchcock or Preminger movie. He presents himself to the manager, who is busy examining small strips of film, which must be what cinema managers do. On the wall is a poster for Guazzoni’s biggest hit.

The husband expresses his fervent wish to assassinate his wife, so the manager makes an announcement, warning the audience that a murderous husband is without, awaiting his faithless partner with a revolver.

And we get a gag about the universality of cheating made famous, in a variant, by Laurel & Hardy and Leo McCarey in WE FAW DOWN (1928). Most of the audience is composed of adulterers, and they sneak out by the side uscita, leaving the auditorium populated by a scattered drib of the lonely and virtuous:

Cinema = sex, preferably illicit.