RIP Vito Annichiarico (1934-2022)

•August 8, 2022 • Leave a Comment

On 6 August 2022, Vito Annichiarico died in Rome, age 88. He became famous as the boy Marcello, the son of Anna Magnani’s Pina, in Roberto Rossellini’s film Roma, città aperta/ Open City (1945).

closing shot from Roma, città aperta (R. Rossellini, 1945)

Born in 1934 in Grottaglie, he was selected for the role in Rossellini’s famous neorealist film. In 2016, he won a special prize for this at the Nastri d’Argento: ‘Shooting Roma Città Aperta,’ he said on that occasion, ‘was for me like going from the stables to the stars, on the set the necessities were never missing, I felt very comfortable, I was always walking around everywhere. Where I lived, on the other hand, there was no well-being’. The famous scene of Magnani’s death, ‘the most moving’, had ‘upset him. I thought Magnani was dying for real and I was determined: I didn’t want to play in the film any more’.

After Rossellini’s masterpiece film, Annichiarico performed, again alongside Magnani, in Abbasso la miseria! (1945) and in Abbasso la ricchezza! (1946). Vittorio De Sica then wanted him for the role of Coretti in the film Cuore (1948), based on the novel by Edmondo De Amicis, while in the same year Annichiarico also acted in Domenico Gambino’s last film Un mese d’onestà. After a revue performance again with Aldo Fabrizi and Magnani, he worked in the theatre with Aroldo Tieri and Carlo Ninchi in L’uomo, la bestia e la virtù (1949). In 1950 he played in Domani è troppo tardi / Tomorrow Is Too Late by Léonide Moguy, starring Pier Angeli. By 1950 his acting career stopped he and he started to work for a multinational until his retirement. In 2005 and 2011 he took part in two documentaries revisiting the places and events of Roma città aperta: I Figli di Roma Città Aperta, by Laura Muscardin, and Voi siete qui by Francesco Mattera.

Source: ANSA <a href=”https://www.ansa.it/…/morto-vito-annichiarico-piccolo…” rel=”noreferrer nofollow”>http://www.ansa.it/…/cultura/2022/08/05/morto-vito-an…</a>. See also <a href=”https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vito_Annicchiarico” rel=”noreferrer nofollow”>it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vito_Annicchiarico</a>. Reproduction of original still from the closing shot of <i>Roma, città aperta/ Open City</i> (Roberto Rossellini, 1945). Collection Ivo Blom.

4000 downloads Visconti book

•March 18, 2022 • Leave a Comment
Giancarlo Giannini and Luchino Visconti during the shooting of L’Innocente. Photo Mario Tursi, collection Ivo Blom.

Since the upload of 30 August 2019, my book Reframing Luchino Visconti: Film and Art (Sidestone Press, 2018) has been downloaded about 4000 times from this site. If you haven’t downloaded it yet, feel free to do so, see https://ivoblom.wordpress.com/research-visconti-visual-arts/.

Grenzüberschreitende Licht-Spiele: Deutsch-Niederländische Filmbeziehungen 

•February 3, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Check out the new and very rich German volume Grenzüberschreitende Licht-Spiele. Deutsch-Niederländische Filmbeziehungen (Hamburg/ Munich: Cinegraph/ edition text + kritik, 2021). This is the result of the film historical conference accompanying the Cinefest 2020 manifestation Kino, Krieg und Tulpen. Deutsch-Niederländische Filmbeziehungen. I wrote the article ‘Panorama, Academia, Archiv: Deutsch-niederländische Filmbeziehungen’, on the themes of the Cinefest program and conference, on developments and changes in the historiography, and on three collections of Eye Filmmuseum as cases for change. This publication was my keynote at the conference. Thanks to Google Books you can read the table of contents, preface and my entire article right away. If you want to read more, please order the book at the publisher’s site. I was also co-curator of the Cinefest film program and contributor to the festival catalog. The catalog is still for sale with the same publisher or with the usual internet book sellers.

Tontolini wishes you a Happy New Year (in Russian)

•January 2, 2022 • Leave a Comment
Tontolini augura buon anno (1911). Courtesy Gosfilmofond, thanks to Tamara Shvediuk and Federico Striuli. See https://www.facebook.com/gosfilmofond.

Marguerite Engberg (12 June 1919 – 26 December 2021)

•December 30, 2021 • Leave a Comment
Marguerite Engberg fylder 90 | Det Danske Filminstitut
Photo Det Danske Filminstitut

When in the early 1990s I was working at the nitrate film archive of the Netherlands Filmmuseum, the present Eye Filmmuseum, one of our major reference books was what we called The Registrant, fully Registrant over danske film 1896-1930, a five volumes series on Danish silent film (1977-1982), which we also nicknamed after its author: The Engberg. While many reference books on silent cinema were still absent, or were being made during my five year work at the film archive (those were really pioneering years), there was already The Engberg. In a time when other foreign archives and academicians were not yet ready for it, the Registrant already contained foreign release titles for Danish silent films, making identification easier. Through my work I also met the woman behind this magnum opus, a witty but also resolute Danish film historian, and the doyenne of Danish film history: Marguerite Engberg. Yesterday, I read that Marguerite Engberg has quietly passed away at the extreme high age of 102.

As Peter Schepelern wrote in Filmmagasinet Ekko, Marguerite Engberg was the first teacher of Film Studies at the University of Copenhagen when the subject was established in 1967. In the mid-1960s, when the film medium had finally gained recognition as a medium (almost) as culture-bearing as the “old” arts, Denmark passed a new film law to protect the medium now that it was being overtaken by television. A Film School was set up and an initiative was taken – for the first time in Scandinavia – to introduce film as a university subject. It was the Film Fund, the predecessor of the Danish Film Institute, which initially funded a so-called amanuensis position at the University of Copenhagen for three years. It sought an academically trained person with an interest in film and appointed the sole candidate, Marguerite Engberg, who in 1967 was entrusted with the task of establishing film as an academic discipline. As Schepelern writes, who became her colleague, she hated burocracy: “Marguerite brought her own form to the academic environment, characterised by a general no nonsense attitude and an often benevolent spontaneity. If some tedious query came from the University’s management on some bureaucratic subject, Marguerite could resolutely tear the letter out of its binder in a flash, throw it in the wastepaper basket – and we’d talk no more about it.”

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Engberg continued her pioneering work exploring Danish silent film. She managed to interview pioneers such as Robert Dinesen and Alfred Lind and wrote the script for an 11-episode series on Carl Theodor Dreyer. She kept her distance from theoretical matters, but devoted herself with great tenacity and cheerful enthusiasm to both fact-gathering and historical research, and obtained a Swedish doctorate from Stockholm University in 1978. The result of her research was a two-volume historical account, Dansk stumfilm: de store år (Danish Silent Film: the Great Years), and her massive five-volume register of all Danish silent films from 1896 to 1930 (mentioned above). Later she wrote books about some of the most important personalities of the era, Fy & Bi (Pat & Patachon/ Long & Short, known in the Netherlands as Watt & Halfwatt) and the film star Asta Nielsen, whom Marguerite had interviewed back in the 1960s, and who was her great inspiration. After her retirement in 1989, she continued the restoration work for Cinemateket of great classics such as Den hvide Slavehandels sidste Offer (The Last Sacrifice of the White Slave Trade) and Atlantis by my namesake August Blom (we’re not related), and Dreyer’s first two films, Præsidenten & Blade af Satans Bog (The President, Pages of Satan’s Book) – some of which you now can enjoy online for free in new digital restorations on the site of the Danish Film Institute.

Marguerite Engberg received an Honorary Bodil Award, A Women in Film and TV’s Golden Mermaid and, in 2004, the Jean Mitry Award from the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Indeed, she was a regular visitor of the Giornate del Cinema Muto and we often met there, where she joined in and enjoyed copious lunches and dinners with my fellow Dutchmen Karel Dibbets and Nico Brederoo – in Pordenone or nearby Porcia. Marguerite also visited the Eye archive in the 1990s where she learned me how to pronounce “Asta Nielsen” in Danish – which was quite something different from any pronunciation I had known within and outside of the Netherlands. I fully adhere to Schepelern’s closing words in his necrology: “With her great and dedicated efforts, she stands as the founder of academic film research in Denmark, the grand old lady of Danish silent film research, a veteran and pioneer in the dissemination of film history.”

Enfin le cinéma

•December 23, 2021 • Leave a Comment
Enfin le cinéma! (Musée d Orsay)

Over the past few years, together with Camille Blot-Wellens and Benoit Turquety, I have been member of the advisory board of the exhibition Enfin le cinéma! at Musée d Orsay in Paris, still on show until 16 January 2022. Our close collaboration with the curatorial team, composed of Dominique Païni, main curator, and Paul Perrin and Marie Robert on behalf of the museum, has resulted in an innovative, multilayered exhibition. When in 2009, I co-organised the exploratory workshop Intermedialities: Theory, History, Practice of the European Science Foundation, we asked ourselves: how does intermediality operate in practice? Antonio Somaini already then proposed to look at exhibitions, such as the exhibition The Gift which he had co-curated in 2001. I was captured and introduced a course Crossmedial Exhibitions in our master Comparative Arts & Media Studies, which after years is still a draw. Somaini, by the way, curated in 2020 an intriguing exhibition, The Time Machine – Cinematic Temporalities, which I missed because of Covid and work (it closed halfway its run, and before that I had teaching obligations). I do have the wonderful catalogue, though, which by the way Somaini immediately and generously made open access when the plague started early 2020. And within my exhibition course, Païni’s exhibition Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences, which I saw at the Centre Pompidou in 2001, remains a point of reference, but so does it for me personally. It is possible to combine cinema and art in intelligent but also appealing ways, which challenge both the museum and the audience to open up, draw new inter-relations between space and object and between objects & other objects, discover unknown art works and re-discover objects we thought we knew.

Exactly this was my sensation when viewing the exhibition Enfin le cinéma!. Of course we had several brainstorms, for which the insights, knowledge and suggestions by the advisors were taken at heart, partly similar to an experience I previously had with the making of the 2016 Alma-Tadema exhibition at the Fries Museum Leeuwarden (even if there I was co-curator, after having being in the advisory board). We departed from a vast territory, gradually the focus became sharper, the framework smaller: France and in particular Paris as the city of spectacle, movement in time & space, light & darkness (including the figural dark sides of the city), the expression of the immaterial in motion (wind, smoke, etc.), a time span between the start of photography and the earliest films, and a certain Lumière-like perspective. And then, at a given moment the curatorial team goes its own way, makes its selection from the bigger picture and the suggestions of the advisors. Sure, even if the space is big and we are at the museum of the 19th century, you cannot do a Salon-style exhibition, filling it up to rim. And lo and behold, when I saw the finished exhibition for the first time, just before the official opening, I did recognize themes and objects we had talked about but I was equally surprised and enchanted by the richness, the colourfulness, the variation and alternation of means (call it multimodality), the sizes, and the interrelations between objects, between objects and spaces, and between motion and stillness. Many of the suggestions Valentine Robert and I had given for the history section were taken up, with the film clips resonating with the paintings, but also with each other, confirming the recycling of sets at Lumière, but also enabling to compare four different versions of Les dernières cartouches. The basis for them, De Neuville’s painting, was prominently displayed left of them, and in-between several examples of the second lives of the painting were also expressed in postcards, a lantern slide, cigarette paper, and a huge poster for a play based on it (see also my blogpost from the time of the opening on these parafernalia). I also wrote a small text for the catalogue on Les dernières cartouches.

At the opening, the richness and novelty of the exhibition was confirmed by many present, and afterward by several others too. Early this month I visited the exhibition a third time, with Dominique Païni kindly touring us around and pointing at details I may have overlooked in my first visits, such as the introduction of lamps in the public space in order to light the workers, but for the onlookers thus turning the city into a spectacle. Also, Monet‘s series of the cathedral of Rouen makes no sense if seen as individual works. Only in succession, they make clear Monet was only interested in the passing of time and the changes it causes in light and color. It therefore perfectly matches with Daguerre’s diorama changing from day to night and back, just left of the four Monets. Outside the exhibition, in the big hall of the museum, a giant screen shows clips from many early films (beyond the time span of the exhibition, so rather 1907-1913), split up in a Pathé and a Gaumont compilation – once a month accompanied live.

After the exhibition closes, it will travel to the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), where on February 20, 2022, it will open as City of Cinema: Paris 1850–1907. You will have until July 10th, 2022 to see it there. For an impression of the French exhibition and statements by Dominique Païni (in French), see this film on Vimeo. For a presentation of the big screen presentations by Païni, look here.

Desmet Encore!

•October 29, 2021 • Leave a Comment

The German Desmet programme that I composed for the 2020 Cinefest edition in Hamburg you can find now at the Eye Media Player. Piano accompaniment by Daan van den Hurk.

Ein neuer Apparat zur Verhütung von Kinobrände (Germany, 1912 [?])
A demonstration film of a self-closing projector that can prevent cinema fires.

Ein neuer Erwerbszweig (Messter Film, Germany 1912). Director unknown. With Curt Bois.
Short comedy with tricks. A marriage bureau sends women the man of their choice in a tube. However, when the tubes are transported, not everything goes as planned.

Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen (Dekage Film, Germany 1912). Director: Christoph Mülleneisen. With Lissy Nebuschka.
Romantic silent film about a merchant ship that illegally transports gunpowder. The mate and a sailor compete for the hand of the captain’s daughter, with fatal consequences. Exteriors shot in Italy and in Volendam, Netherlands.

Buona sera, fiori! (Ambrosio, Italy 1909)
Director: Giovanni Vitrotti. With Mary Cléo Tarlarini.
Sweet early trick film about a lady with a basket of flowers. The flowers form figures and spell the words Gute Nacht.

Many thanks to Elif Rongen, Rommy Albers and Daan van den Hurk

Online German and Dutch films (Cinefest 2020 extension)

•May 21, 2021 • Leave a Comment
Hurrah! Ich lebe! (Wilhelm Thiele, 1928), starring & staring Nicolas Koline

As of yesterday 20 May, and partly as of 27 May, a series of films and film programs within the framework of Cinefest 2020 ‘Kino, Krieg und Tulpen: Deutsch-niederländische Filmbeziehungen’ can be watched online for just a few euros, while two programs are entirely for free: Nah am Wasser – Filme aus Rotterdam, and Feuer, Schiffbruch und Folklore – Deutsche Stummfilme aus der Desmet-Sammlung.

There is something for everybody: the Dutch 1930s Jordaan comedy De Jantjes, Dutch actor Frits van Dongen in Die Reise nach Tilsit, a rare WWII German biopic of Rembrandt (shot in Dutch studios), a Dutch exploitation movie involving voyeurism (the recently restored Obsessions) starring German actor Dieter Geissler, who also coproduced the film, the European coproduction Charlotte by Frans Weisz, a documentary on the Filmverlag der Autoren (Gegenschuss – Aufbruch der Filmemacher), and the hilarious silent comedy Hurra! Ich lebe!, set and partly shot in the Netherlands.

Nah am Wasser shows Dutch documentaries on Rotterdam, both late silent ones by Andor von Barsy and Friedrich von Maydell, as well as Herman van der Horst’s 1952 Houen zo!, marking the post-war Reconstruction era. Feuer, Schiffbruch und Folklore contains shorts on prevention of nitrate fires, a comedy on a mail order husband service, and a dramatic feature starting in Spain (actually shot in Italy) but then evolving in Urk (actually shot in Volendam).

A large share of the film prints come from the Eye Filmmuseum, while others stem from German archives such as the Bundesarchiv. Music to the silent films is provided by Daan van den Hurk and Marie-Louise Bolte. For several programs or films we provided introductions, in German. The Dutch films have German or English subtitles. Permission to show these films online has been given only for a few days, so don’t miss it.

The Second Life of Alma-Tadema

•April 30, 2021 • Leave a Comment
Exhibition Alma-Tadema: Klassieke Verleiding, Fries Museum, Leeuwarden 2016-17

In 2016 I was honored to be part of one of the major projects in my career: the exhibition Lawrence Alma-Tadema: klassieke verleiding [classical seduction] at the Fries Museum [Frisian Museum] in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. Together with American expert of 19th century art Peter Trippi, Tadema-expert Elizabeth Prettejohn (University of York), and a team of the museum led by Frank van der Velde and Marlies Stoter, we worked for years on this wonderful exhibition, and also helped by the subsequent stages of the exhibition at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna and the Leighton House in London. Along the road, I learned a lot on exhibition making, museum policies, communication, but I also often went back to my initial studies in art history. The exhibition in Leeuwarden was an enormous crowd puller and also widely attracted the Dutch and foreign press. The element of cinema within the Leeuwarden exhibition – my own contribution – was paramount and greatly contributed to the cross-medial approach of the curatorial team. I greatly invested in research on the topic of Tadema’s afterlife in cinema, going from Italian silent cinema of the 1910s to DeMille, and to finally Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000). When entering the exhibition, comparisons of art works and film clips were already shown to set people in the mood. And in the last hall, as a gran finale, the film clips were shown in slow motion, above the large paintings, enabling audiences to admire the paintings without the film flicker taking away their attention. But just one step back, they could make the connections, not only with the art work underneath, but also with other artworks nearby. I was thrilled with this design. Moreover, we were very lucky to have only film clips in color: either tinted or stencil colored silent films, or the color prints of Cecil B. deMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) and Scott’s Gladiator. In addition to pictorial citations, it was also about similarities in e.g. use of furniture and costume, and staging in depth.

Silver Favorites (Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1903). Russian pre-revolutionary postcard

Our team also greatly invested in connecting Tadema’s painted works with his own houses, as they were a kind of labs in his plays with space, his fascination for – mainly Roman – Antiquity, and his archaeological search for detail and authenticity, combined with a romanticized and domesticated vision of the past. It was so unlike a painter I had previously invested in because of his connections with Antiquity films: Jean-Léon Gérôme, more involved with the public, violent image of the Roman past. Through the project I also did telephone interviews with the production designer and costume designer of Gladiator: Arthur Max and Janty Yates. Max was one of the guests of honor at the opening in Leeuwarden and gave a witty dialogue together with Peter Trippi. Yates I met in person in 2017 while in London during a conference at the Leighton House show. Both were filmed while visiting the Leeuwarden or the London exhibit.

Quo vadis? (Enrico Guazzoni, Cines, 1913)

Today, I can finally present you the digital version of my article, ‘The Second Life of Alma Tadema’, as it appeared in the English-written catalog, re-baptized: Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity. Even if not only dealing with Italian silent film, it will become an important stepping stone of my forthcoming monograph on Italian silent cinema, within a crossmedial and transnational perspective. I already reworked part of the catalog article in an Italian-written, more historiographical article on Tadema and Guazzoni’s Quo vadis?, while I continued my research into ‘intervisuality’ and ‘antique props’ in a paper given on Guazzoni’s Antiquity film Fabiola (1918). This Fall I will be working on all this, thanks to a Fellowship by the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS).

Morte a Venezia

•April 23, 2021 • Leave a Comment

In 2013 (but really in 2014) the volume Morte a Venezia appeared, edited by Francesco Bono, Luigi Cimmino and Giorgio Pangaro. In this very rich and multifaceted volume on Luchino Visconti’s classic film Death in Venice/ Morte a Venezia (1971) I included an article on links with painting an photography. You can read it online now: ‘Morte a Venezia fra fotografia, pittura e cinema’, in: Francesco Bono, Luigi Cimmino and Giorgio Pangar in: Morte a Venezia (Cosenza: Rubbettino, 2013), pp. 129-148, courtesy of the editors. For me this publication was a stepping stone towards my monography Reframing Luchino Visconti: Film and Art.

Mario Gallo (1924-2006), producer of Death in Venice/ Morte a Venezia. Photo by myself after I interviewed him in 2004.

The volume received raving reviews in and outside Italy between 2013 and 2015. Check out: Alessandro Tinterri, ‘Morte a Venezia. Thomas Mann/Luchino Visconti: un confronto’,  Annali d’italianistica, 33, 2015, pp. 527-530. Valerio Furneri, ‘Morte a Venezia. Thomas Mann/Luchino Visconti: un confronto’, Rivista di studi italiani, 33, 1, June 2015, pp. 849-854. Hermann Dorowin, ‘”Was hätte Thomas Mann dazu gesagt?” Ein interdisziplinärer Sammelband untersucht das Verhältnis von Der Tod in Venedig und Luchino Viscontis Morte a Venezia’, IASLonline, 10 December 2015. Matthias Bürgel, ‘Morte a Venezia. Thomas Mann / Luchino Visconti: un confronto’, Arcadia. International Journal of Literary Culture / Internationale Zeitschrift für literarische Kultur, 50, 1, 2015, pp. 199–203. Andre Furlani, ‘Morte a Venezia. Thomas Mann / Luchino Visconti: un confronto’, Modernism/modernity, 21, 4, November 2014, pp. 1033-1036. Thea Rimini, ‘Un corpo a corpo tra libro e film. Morte a Venezia, tra Thomas Mann e Luchino Visconti’Incontri. Rivista europea di studi italiani, 29, 2, 2014, pp. 105-107. Simone Brioni, ‘Morte a Venezia. Thomas Mann / Luchino Visconti: un confronto’Forum Italicum: A Journal of Italian Studies, 49, 1, May 2015, pp. 259-261. Jelena Reinhardt, ‘Morte a Venezia. Thomas Mann/Luchino Visconti: un confronto’, Il Confronto Letterario, 63, June 2015, pp. 182-186. Carmela Citro, ‘Morte a Venezia. Thomas Mann/Luchino Visconti: un confronto’, Sinestesie. Rivista di studi sulle letterature e le arti europee, XI, 2013, pp. 290-292.