Archive for Enrico Guazzoni

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: Faust Person Singular

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , on October 24, 2021 by dcairns

Having enjoyed Enrico Guazzoni’s quirky UNA TRAGEDIA AL CINEMATOGRAFO of 1913, I decided to check out some of his epic or quasi-epic work. FAUST is from 1910, a year when epics ran short and small to modern eyes: Goethe’s play, credited as the source, is compressed into eighteen minutes here.

Time, that interfering studio executive, has wrought its adjustments to Enrico’s work, adding a weird cyclone of whirling white and black scratches or streaks, roving over the action and occasionally obscuring it completely. Fortunately we can still see the backdrops and costumes — Mephistopheles sports not so much horns as insectoid antennae, and has great fun swirling his cape like a serpentine dancer — and the performances which are certainly vigorous. These, after all, are not just early silent film performers, but Italians. However, they don’t perform their ebullient mimes outward, at us, Keystone-fashion, but at each other. I approve.

Guazzoni uses the story as an excuse for stage-magic puffs of smoke and jump-cuts in the Melies fashion, but his most interesting effect is when, as stated in the above intertitle, “Mephisto shows Faust an image of Marguerite in a magic mirror.” To accomplish this, Guazzoni alternates between two shots:

First, a wide shot of the scene, a cave. Mephisto holds up the magic mirror, which currently reflects nothing but bright light.

Then E.G. cuts to another shot, closer but still pretty wide, with different (dimmer) lighting, and now we can see Marguerite (cast details are sketchy but this may well be Fernanda Negri Pouget) genuinely reflected in the mirror. Once she’s made her impact, we cut back to the earlier angle and she’s gone.

It feels like getting her to appear and disappear in one shot was too difficult, so the director resorted to an unconventional angle change. The interpolation of closeups was barely established as part of film language (Griffith would get into it a year later), so he uses a rather spacious wide, which cuts jarringly with the shots either side of it, especially since the image gets markedly darker too. It feels like we’ve been transported to a whole other cave, though it’s probably the same backdrop from an angle to the right of the original.

But none of the clunkiness matters because it doesn’t feel exactly like an attempt at continuity cutting — it is, after all, a piece of magic Mephistopheles is performing here.

Guazzoni gets up to some other neat business — soon, the painted scenery gives way to real locations, allowing the actors to move from silhouette in an archway to brightly lit in the sun. The transitions from studio to reality are pretty smooth, in part because the sets aren’t always just flats and furniture, but sometimes have real chunky architectural heft to them. It’s actually hard to be sure sometimes if the action is outdoors, or indoors-pretending.

The French intertitles are still spoiler-heavy: the idea that it might be more dramatic to set up, say, the duel with Marguerite’s brother, via title card, but let the outcome be a surprise revealed by the action itself, has not occurred to anyone, or at least not anyone who got listened to. But there might even be a reluctance to shock the audience that way, a feeling they might need a bit of a warning of the impending death. Contains mild peril.

The image of the brother lying prone outside his house resonates peculiarly with me since I just collapsed in my own back yard while taking Momo out for his daily walk. It looked just like this. Low blood sugar seems to be the cause rather than anything more serious, an indication, however unpleasant, that my attempts to reverse my diabetes with a low-carb diet may be succeeding only too well.

Drink plenty of water. I don’t know if that advice would have helped Dr. Faustus, but what the hell, it couldn’t hurt.

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.