Archive for The Last Days of Pompeii

The Sunday Intertitle: Parsifal Guy

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , on February 5, 2023 by dcairns

PARSIFAL or, in this Dutch-titled copy, PARZIVAL, is a 1912 Italian super-production running a whole fifty minutes. Mario Caserini is the director, who would make THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII the following year. Sadly he died in 1920, which is early, though it might be possible to judge whether he was adapting along with the newish medium if one were to view his later films.

But this one is impressive — it begins with odd things on sticks, which I always think is a smart way to start off. A parade of knights, monks, and such — and they just keep coming. Caserini has found the ideal camera placement — high up and from the back, so these characters keep passing into view, each a delightful surprise in his odd vestments and his own individual odd thing on a stick, and they just keep coming. He manages to keep this shot going for a minute and a half. It’s like how you don’t get bored of the imperial destroyer passing overhead at the start of STAR WARS: you just get more and more impressed. I hate pageantry, normally — God, how I hate it — and this is certainly pageant-adjacent, but it honestly wowed me.

Then, since it worked once, Caserini does it again, to slightly less effect since we’ve already seen these blokes, but this time their passing into the castle or chapel or whatever it is where the Holy Grail is on permanent display. The gang crowding into the doorway put me in mind of the end of Keaton’s COPS.

As the film goes on, we get mysterious disappearance by both dissolve and jump cut, an angel, some barbarians executing a hoax, lovely depth compositions and mismatched left-to-right business where a knight exits screen right then enters a new shot screen right again, as if he’d somehow turned his horse around in an instant. So much to enjoy.

I’m playing it with Wagner as soundtrack, and I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Peplum Pudding

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2023 by dcairns

Anne Heywood is an inflection point of cinematic eroticism. Like the late Catherine Spaak. Nudity had only just gone mainstream in 1968, and immediately Spaak was being full-frontal, and getting up to all manner of kinky BDSM stuff in THE LIBERTINE. And she had just made a bland Hollywood movie, HOTEL. How did she know this was a good idea? How did she know it wouldn’t hurt her career, as actors have found in the years since, when they go just a little bit too far?

Heywood has always been saucy. She made her debut as a beauty contestant in LADY GODIVA RIDES AGAIN, spent most of FLOODS OF FEAR soaking wet and some of it barely clothed, and then here she is in CARTHAGE IN FLAMES, a hokey peplum, apparently about to be be human-sacrificed in a blatant riff on CABIRIA (our old friend Moloch). Since, unlike Cabiria, her character’s not a little kid, someone’s decided she might as well play it in diaphanous veils and a thong. So she does. In 1960. The nudity is fleeting, but it basically kept me watching to the end of the movie in (vain) hopes she might do it again.

She still has to look forward to THE VERY EDGE (nudity, rape), THE FOX (nudity, lesbianism), I WANT WHAT I WANT (nudity, gender reassignment), THE NUN AND THE DEVIL (nudity, sadism), GOOD LUCK, MISS WYCKOFF (nudity, rape, interracial), RING OF DARKNESS (nudity, satanism)… probably some more outstanding sexual deviations lurk in her filmography.

A number of the sword-and-sandal flicks were piloted by old timers — Viktor Tourjansky, who had made his name in Russia and France, ruined it in Nazi Germany and wound up in Italy playing traffic cop on Biblical, classical and other historical epics, With committed leftist Damiano Damiani as co-writer on most of them. They were churned out with unbelievable speed, with a thrifty reuse of sets and even footage from one to the next, whether the setting was Ancient Greece or Tsarist Russia. But this one, intriguingly, is under the control, barely, of Carmine Gallone, whose career stretched back to 1913. He made the original AVATAR in 1916 (no relation to Cameron’s movies), MALOMBRA with Lyda Borelli the following year, and the 1926 version of THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII.

By now I’d say he’s pretty exhausted, but he has a surprisingly good multinational cast — Daniel Gelin, Pierre Brasseur, Paolo Stoppa, Terence Hill when he was still using his birth name, Mario Girotti, before he was a NOBODY, and of course la Heywood, whose own birth name is Violet Pretty, which I guess everybody decided was altogether too much of a good thing.

It’s not exactly GOOD. But it trumps the Wyler BEN-HUR by staging its sea battle full-sized. I’ve seen this goofy ship before, in a Hercules movie I think. Oh no, my mistake, a MACISTE (pronounced McChesty). This one. The design throughout is good camp fun.

It’s evidently been dubbed in London, and I kept expecting to be able to recognize the plummy tones emerging airlessly from the flapping lips onscreen, but I never could. Everybody sounds very proper and distinguished, like they assembled a roomful of Leo Genns of various sizes and pitches. You can’t quite believe these sounds emerging from a callow Terence Hill. Imagine Matt Berry dubbing a man in a skimpy tunic. It’s the world’s plummiest peplum.

It’s a shame to be missing Pierre Brasseur’s mighty voice, but whoever’s dubbing baddie Gelin, the best character, does a decent job. An oily purr with a bit of gravel thrown in.

The most interesting choice is Sarepta the Black maidservant, played onscreen by Edith Peters and on the soundtrack by some anonymous interloper. Her dialogue suggests she’s been intended as a somewhat comic character, an opinionated and backtalking figure in the Hattie McDaniel mode. Yet all the offensive possible approaches the dubbing artiste could have taken are somehow skirted, and the character speaks in moderately posh, extremely wooden tones with very occasional hints of a northern English accent. Flat, awkward and ridiculous, but at least not stereotyped. And she gets a below-stairs interracial romance with Paolo Stoppa.

The writers have tried to concoct some characterisation, so everyone’s in love with the wrong person. It’s like The Seagull with short swords.

Big fire at the end — only five minutes worth, but mostly full-scale and quite impressive.

CARTHAGE IN FLAMES stars Frédérick Lemaître; Louis Bernard; Roy/Wendy; Giraffa; Don Calogero Sedara; Inspector Alberto Bassano; Dr. Frankenstein; Inspector A; Oedipus – King of Thebes; and Trinity.

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

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , on July 30, 2017 by dcairns

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…