On 13, 14 and 15 November I was in Rome to attend the screening of Enrico Guazzoni’s 1913 version of the film Quo vadis? (Cines 1913) and the conference Quo vadis?: Inspirations, contexts, and reception. On Sunday night, 13 November, we first had the opening of the exhibition “Quo vadis?” la prima opera transmediale. Da caso letterario a fenomeno della cultura di massa, hosted at the Polish Institute, situated in a monumental Roman Palazzo in Via Vittoria Colonna. The exhibition contains all kinds of paratexts related to the various film adaptations (1901, 1913, 1951 etc.); but of course also highlights the different versions of the novel, each with different illustrations; plus hints to other media appropriating Sienkiewicz’s classic novel, such as theatre and opera. After the opening and various introductions Guazzoni’s Quo Vadis? was presented with modern live music by Michele Sganga.
The following two days were filled with many presentations, Mondays at the Casa del Cinema, situated at the Villa Borghese park, and Tuesdays back at the Polish Institute in Prati. We started on Monday with the 1901 Pathé Quo vadis? film, introduced by myself, and a comprehensive, attractive keynote by Maria Wyke, the expert in Antiquity films, but also well aware of all the transmedial ties between films, literature and the arts. While a first section of Polish speakers focused on the pluriform qualities of Sienkiewicz’s novel, related to archeology, ideology, costumes, and original draft and notes in the sidelines, Jon Solomon, Jonathan Stubbs, Monika Wozniak and Anja Bettenworth deepened our insights in the various cinematic adaptations, related to e.g. branding and merchandising, runaway productions, crossnational comparisons, and film versus television. In the night time Martin Winkler gave a challenging keynote, relating the 1951 Quo vadis to e.g. post-war Italy, Riefenstahl, and McCarthyism, before the film itself was screened, in an in Italian dubbed version.
On the second day, we first started with a section on visual arts and opera. I particularly liked Renata Suchowiejko’s speech on the opera by Jean Nouguès and Felix Nowowiejski’s oratorium, illustrated by sound clips. In addition, I presented my own paper on Alma-Tadema, Gérôme and Guazzoni’s Quo vadis?, which well matched the subsequent paper by Jerzy Miziolek on the painter Henryk Siemiradzki and Sienkiewicz. Next followed a section on popular culture: Raffaele de Berti and Elisabetta Gagetti on book illustrations and postcards, Giuseppe Pucci on comics (including some quite nasty ones), and Katarzyna Biernacka-Licznar on children books. The last section was unfortunately the least interesting for me, on literary connections and reflections. As a film and arts man, I am probably too visually focused. But I also think that even when papers deal with topics related to literature, visuals are essential to keep us focused.
All in all, this was a very interesting conference, and when organizer Monika Wozniak announced she is planning a publication, I was very interested the texts by others. I can imagine some texts will improve when read instead of being heard. Some were already available by the intriguing Italian publication Quo vadis? Da Caso letterario a fenomeno della cultura di massa (Ponte Sisto, 2016). The conference was well organised, with excellent catering, also after the closing words, and before the projection of the final film, Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Quo vadis from 2001. The exhibition will stay open till 5 January 2017. For an announcement in the Italian daily Repubblica, look here. See also the articles in AgenPress.it, YouMovies.it, Funweek.it. For an interview by RAI with organizer Monika Wozniak, look here. Ponte Sisto also did a re-edition of the novel by Sienkiewicz.