Archive for June 3rd, 2019

Director: Giovanni Pastrone
Screenwriter: Gabriele d’Annunzio

By Roderick Heath

This essay is proudly presented as part of the Allan Fish Online Film Festival.

What impact it must have had in some muddy Apennine town where the twentieth century had barely arrived, to file into a jostling, steamy town hall and fight for a seat to watch Cabiria as the days ticked down to the start of the Great War. An experience that would link such hardy viewers with the residents of the White House half a world away, when Cabiria became the first film screened there, albeit out on the lawn. Cinema on the grandest scale, a point of gravity so much of the still-fledgling art form would orbit, taking on a form that undeniably laid to rest any notion film was just another carnival novelty. Giovanni Pastrone’s film, with storyline and titles written by the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio, expanded the scope of what cinematic narrative could encompass and how. Although it wasn’t the first film to run over two hours or to offer grand imagery and sophisticated directorial techniques, it was one of the new art’s great synthesising moments. On some levels, the weight of such historical importance can seem misaligned, as Cabiria is, in essence, a rip-roaring adventure story, replete with straightforward archetypes and heady melodrama. It stands as far more entertaining than any movie over a century old has the right to be. But it’s also a relic from a time when the new power of cinema was remaking our ways of seeing the world, even in ways that provoke misgiving in retrospect.
Compared to The Birth of a Nation (1915), its chief rival as a landmark in feature film development, Cabiria seems much more comfortable to a modern audience with its historically remote setting, outsized, almost science fiction-like recreation of that past, and broad portrait of decency versus depravity as embodied by long-vanished civilisations. And yet aspects of its ultimate meaning and context are just as thorny. Pastrone, who also worked under the professional alias Piero Fosco, had been a precocious kid who made his own musical instruments, developing a talent for finely observed form and function that would serve him well as he turned to filmmaking. He made his directing debut with La glu (1908), and set up the production company Itala in 1909. The same year, he began his string of historical epics with Julius Caesar (1909), following it with The Fall of Troy (1911) and then Cabiria. Pastrone’s directing career ran out of steam in the mid-1920s and he decisively put the business behind him long before his death in 1959. Cabiria meanwhile has a title attributing its vision more loudly to D’Annunzio, who was paid a fat sum to loan his prestige and following to the film. D’Annunzio was greatly acclaimed at the time as a writer and whose life and career say much about the bizarre and worrying twists of Italian social and political life at the time.

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by Sam Juliano

The third annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival will run until Wednesday and thus far this noble venture founded by James Uhler has yielded stupendous posts by accomplished writers.  Many thanks to the writers, readers and lurkers and to those who have responded in the comment sections.  The page view totals have been impressive.  Roderick Heath, John Grant and Yours Truly will be posting after Jamie Uhler, Sachin Gandhi, Adam Ferenz, Robert Hornak,  and Shubhajit Lahiri published this past week.

I thought Dexter Fletcher’s ROCKETMAN was largely an excellent biopic of Elton John. Wonderful song to theme integration, sexual honesty and kaleidoscopic visuals. Taron Edgerton is a splendid fit for the iconic star and Jamie Bell is equally superb as the masterful song writer Bernie Taupin. Bryce Dallas Howard is also first-rate as Sheila. Really takes off the gloves in examining John’s flamboyant lifestyle which of course descended into debauchery and how as in real-life John battled his demons and has been sober for about 30 years. The great musical legend purportedly oversaw much of the final product and approved. 4.5 of 5. (seen Saturday evening in Secaucus). (more…)

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