Italian Muscle Abroad in Pordenone

•September 30, 2015 • Leave a Comment
Der unuberwindliche NL affiche De Boeienkoning

Der Unüberwindliche (1928). Dutch poster by Dolly Rudeman. Courtesy Haags Gemeentarchief.

While previous studies have focused on the Italian strong men and their careers in Italy itself, such as Monica Dall’Asta’s Un cinéma musclé (1992), Gli uomini forti (1983) by Alberto Farassino and Tati Sanguineti and the booklet Maciste & Co. by Vittorio Martinelli (1981), little is known about the careers abroad of these strong men after their films made in Italy. In her recent (2014) publication on ‘Maciste abroad’, Dall’Asta mainly focuses on international reception. While fleetingly mentioning the German productions by Maciste-actor Bartolomeo Pagano and also briefly mentioning the German careers of Luciano Albertini and Carlo Aldini, Dall’Asta calls Albertini and Aldini epigones of Maciste, which to my opinion doesn’t do justice to the quite different characterization of Aldini and Albertini. Neither does it recognize their enormous success in Germany and elsewhere, in contrast to the less successful German productions with Pagano as Maciste.The most extensive study hitherto was Vittorio Martinelli’s older article ‘I Gastarbeiter fra le due guerre’ (1978), though this comprised not only the strong men but also actors and actresses working in the dramatic and comic genres and mostly consisted of long filmographies.

For one decade the Italian action heroes Luciano Albertini and Carlo Aldini made dozens of German films, which catapulted them into international stars and made them household names all over Europe and beyond.  This can be traced not only in the context of trade press and historical programming databases, but also in existing film prints in European archives: more films remain than you expect, though still many need to be restored, confirming the same domination of auteur cinema over genre cinema today. The best films of Albertini c.s. had exactly the right combinations. Commenting on Der Unüberwindliche, German press praised its script without improbabilities, the tempo of the action, the surpassing of obstacles, and this all done with smiles and grace: “Few German comedies have the technical perfection, and the filmic art, of this sensation film. Which possesses one ‘fugato’, one continuous flow of moving pictures.”


Poster for Rinaldo Rinaldini (1927). Source:

This gap has made me design the film programme Italian Muscle Abroad for the 2015 edition of the renowned silent film festival Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone. In particular at the Bundesarchiv in Berlin and the Brussels Cinematek preserved prints are available, while rare and unique prints of other films are e.g. in Amsterdam, Munich and Vienna. Because of restrictions only four feature films will be shown this time, of which one film is a two-part film, the lavish German epic Helena (Manfred Noa, 1924), shot at the Emelka studios in Munch at the time, parallel to Lang’s Nibelungen in Berlin (shown in Pordenone last year), and with impressive cast, set design and special effects. Carlo Aldini, who already had done a quite unimpressive German film, Die narrische Wette des Lord Aldini (1923) – even if with an introduction equaling the Eugen Sandow early displays of muscle – would have his German and international breakthrough with this film as the tormented muscleman Achilles, who is madly in love with Helena, with an affair on the side with his buddy Patroclus, played by a young Carl/Karel Lamac, the future film director and husband of Anny Ondra. Filmmuseum Munich did a terrific job in digitally restoring this film, while Günther Buchwald and Frank Bockius will provide the live music to it. I would have loved to add one or two adventure films with Aldini too, to get an idea of his typology in the adventure genre, but alas we didn’t have room for it. A small comfort is a rare, unique trailer for Aldini’s fast-paced adventure film Der Kampf gegen Berlin (Max Reichmann, 1925). Perhaps in the future we can show the full film in Pordenone too, as it exists and has been preserved. If so, then it would also be nice to show other Aldini adventure films like the Agatha Christie adaptation Die Abenteurer GmbH (Fred Sauer, 1928), in which Carlo is a honest, optimist, poor and strong sailor, mixed up in a sordid spy affair, together with a clever, bright young woman, played by Eve Gray.

Aldini RossCarlo Aldini0001

Instead, this year’s Pordenone will show three brand new restorations of films with Aldini’s countryman Luciano Albertini. He already had had a long career in circus, vaudeville and Italian silent film before moving over to Berlin in 1921 and getting an even bigger career there. Unfortunately Albertini’s earliest German films lack in Pordenone, such as the preserved films Julot der Apache (Joseph Delmont, 1921) with a fascinating plot element of the apache’s stardom represented by merchandise and a film career, and Die Schlucht des Todes (Albertini, 1923), with Lya de Putti as co-star and involving literal cliffhangers in Germany (supposedly Argentine) but also location shooting in Italy. Instead, three new restorations of films with Albertini are presented:  the new colour restoration of Mister Radio (1924) by the Austrian Filmmuseum, the new colour restoration of Rinaldo Rinaldini (Max Obal, 1926/1927) by the EYE Filmmuseum, and the new restoration of Der Unüberwindliche (Max Obal, 1928) by the Bundesarchiv Berlin. All three films with breath-taking stunts and intriguing location shooting in the city centre of Genoa, Berlin, or the Southern-German Alps, but also shot on massive sets such as the circus in Der Unüberwindliche. The latter is a worthy successor to Albertini’s earlier circus film I’d have loved to include, Der Mann auf den Kometen (Alfred Halm, 1925). In return both refer to Albertini’s earlier Italian films Sansone, acrobata del kolossal and the yet unrestored La spirale della morte, but also Albertini’s original career as acrobat and circus artist in circuses like Busch in Germany.

In his 2010 dissertation Der Zirkusfilm Matthias Christen has wonderfully described the representation of the circus in film as microcosm on one hand, but also transgressive alternative to the world outside. Incidentally, the films with Albertini and others are highly self-reflexive and self-promoting, constantly referring not only to former films, but also preceding careers of circus, ‘poses plastiques’, artist models, gymnasts and athletes. In their pedigree, physique and performance, and thus their creation of star personae, they are different from the more robust strong men coming from the worlds of wrestling (Raicevich) or the docks (Pagano/Maciste), as they are romantic heroes, gifted with speed, wit, charm and understatement, not only pecs and biceps. They don’t have to be only go-betweens between lovers, they are lovers themselves. The films in the programme offers additional treats such as some animation shots by Oskar Fischinger, Hans Albers as bad guy, comical sidekicks like ‘factotum’ Herman Picha, the overdressed ‘bad woman’ (delicious Vivian Gibson), and the powerful legs of circus girls.


Luciano Albertini’s visit to Amsterdam 91927)

Koos Bosma

•September 10, 2015 • 4 Comments

Today I heard the very sad news that my VU University colleague Koos Bosma, Professor in Architecture and Heritage Studies, died last night because of complications after a heart attack last Friday. It is so very sudden it is hard to imagine, also because Koos was mailing from his hospital bed and it all seemed that very soon he would be back in shape again. As homage a series of photos of Koos and the various courses we did together.

Koos Latina detail

Latina 2010

First our Romanità master course Koos and I did with then staff member Hans de Valk of the Royal Dutch Institute in Rome in 2010. I have good memories of the mutually complementary skills we offered: media studies, architecture, and history. We combined 1930s architecture at e.g. EUR, the Olympic Stadium and Latina with ancient Rome (the real one at the Forum and the fake one at the Museo della Civiltà Romana) and the then brand new MAXI modern art museum. Koos enjoyed the trip and the field work very much.

2010 Romanità course MAXI

MAXI, Rome 2010

2010 Romanità course, Museo della Civiltà Romana

Museo della Civiltà Romana, EUR, Rome 2010

2010 Romanità EUR Palazzo della Civiltà

Palazzo della Civiltà, EUR Rome 2010

This courses and other courses I did in Rome in 2007-2012 spurred the joint venture of my master course Cinematic City, which I taught with Koos and our endowed professor Bert Hogenkamp. First, in 2012, on the new EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, Amsterdam cinemas and European film museums, thus visiting the Filmmuseum Dusseldorf and of course the new EYE. From 2013, we focused on the representation of Amsterdam in film (fiction/nonfiction), both in the inner city (e.g. Oudezijdskolk, Dam, Groenburgwal, Reguliersbreestraat, Magere Brug) and the outer ring (e.g. Zuid-Oost/ Bijlmer, RAI and Olympic Stadium). Again we had complementary skills to offer: Koos as expert on Amsterdam (which he always expanded with Schiphol, his own research project and ‘love baby’), Bert as our documentary expert and me as the fiction film man. We had a good team and enjoyed the interdisciplinary approach. In 2013 we already experimented with tablets, but as stand alone version. In 2014, thanks to Sylvia Moes (UBVU), KPN and Surfnet, we had a 4G experiment with tablets on loan, which was fascinating, and in 2015 it was again a more modest version, still with iPads on loan. Koos often helped us getting inside various fascinating buildings. such as the Harbour Building, and the Citroën garage next to the Olympic Stadium (which enabled us to look inside the stadium when the management there refused us, despite the VU having an office there). Every year we had good, enthusiast input by Koos during discussions, presentations, and the lecturer’s assessment sessions, the latter often with beer and ‘bitterballen’, as Koos liked to mix work and refreshments. Koos was hesitant about our use of new media in education. Sometimes he was right: experiments in innovation of education sometimes fail, when e.g. sunlight blinds the image of your iPad or when cameras registering students discussions fail to work. Still, he was curious to see how these new things worked. Koos was never afraid of strong opinions, but he also was very open to what students said and took them serious, especially if they proved to be eager to debate with him, or would read texts sharply. Good students gave him a kick. Koos was also a networker, who seemed to know everybody, and gave me valuable advice on research proposals. Lastly, he was a very generous man, who treated colleagues and students out of his own pocket and was always ready to help in whatever way.

2012 Cinematic City city walk Beurs van Berlage

Cinematic City, city walk, Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam 2012

2013 Cinematic City, RAI Europahal

Cinematic City, RAI Europahal, Amsterdam 2013

2014 Cinematic City, Cineac Reguliersbreestraat

Cinematic City, Cineac Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam 2014

2014 Cinematic City, Havengebouw-001

Cinematic City, Havengebouw, Amsterdam 2014

2015 Cinematic City, Amstel

Cinematic City, Amstel, Amsterdam, 2015

Cinema Ritrovato 2015

•June 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Sotto il sole di Rome. Left Liliana Mancini (Iris).

Coming up is the 2015 Cinema Ritrovato festival in Bologna. For years it is no news that the programme gets fuller and fuller, just like the Sala Mastroianni. Also the dilemmas get bigger and bigger: what to drop? is there a second screening? when to sleep or eat? This year several retrospectives in which I am interested. Of Renato Castellani I only saw Due soldi di speranza and Un colpo di pistola, but not a film like Sotto il sole di Roma (1948) with e.g. a young Alberto Sordi and the girl Iris (Liliana Mancini). She would return in a small part in Visconti’s Bellissima, basically playing herself: a pretty face, but no steady career, so ending up in the editing room in Cinecittà. Cinema Ritrovato also contains a retrospective on Ingrid Bergman‘s early Swedish films which I never saw. Her daughter Isabella Rossellini will introduce the films. I met her other daughter Ingrid at a Fellini conference some years ago in Jerusalem. There are the Leo McCarey films of which I also missed many. There is a lot of buzz around the recently found second reel of his film The Battle of the Century (1927), the famous pie fight comedy with Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy. Will we see it in Bologna? Special screenings in the night time such as the restored version of Rocco and His Brothers (1960) by Visconti, with some reinserted censored scenes (recently premiered in Cannes).

Sotto il sole di Roma. Piazza S. Giovanni in Laterano.

Of course I am looking forward at the 1915 programme, including Assunta Spina (which will also be released on DVD!), Rapsodia satanica (at the Teatro Comunale, with Mascagni’s music played by the orchestra of Timothy Brock) and Il fuoco. So the Italian divas Francesca Bertini, Lyda Borelli and Pina Menichelli all in one festival. EYE will be present with various attractive titbits, including a film with Maria Jacobini, and a fragment of one of the few lost Lyda Borelli films, Dramma di una notte/Una notte a Calcutta (Mario Caserini 1918). I saw the nitrate which even if damaged and short looks very nice. Attached a postcard for the film. The story deals with Guido, a navy officer (Alberto Capozzi), who, returned to Italy to assist to his brother Riccardo’s (Livio Pavanelli) wedding, recognizes Nelly, the future spouse (Borelli), as a former adventuress he has met before in a den of iniquity in Calcutta.  Nelly, though, had worked in the brothel just to gain money for her mother and little sister and had stopped her job after her mother died. Returned to Italy she met and fell in love with Riccardo. Guido feels obliged to warn his brother. Nelly implores him not to do this, even tries to kill him, then surrenders and leaves on condition he won’t tell his brother.  But once alone, she scratches herself with her nails dripped in a deadly Indian poison she always carried around.

Lyda Borelli in Il dramma di una notte. Spanish postcard.

Crossmedial Exhibitions and Cinematic City

•March 5, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In a little over three weeks we’ll start again with our course The Cinematic City, on the representation of the city of Amsterdam in fiction and non-fiction cinema. Last year we did a fascinating pilot with KPN and Surfnet with use of 4G and IPads, which results where recognized by Surfet as Best Practices. See for this the Dutch spoken film on YouTube. We hope to repeat the experiment this year.

This year we will also work with so-called knowledge clips, in which my colleague prof. Bert Hogenkamp and I explain two basic texts, which students need to read before the course starts. Thus our course starts already on a higher level. For the knowledge clips, made by the Audiovisual Service of VU University, I was filmed before a greenscreen and also had my first experience of autocue.

At this moment we are in the fifth week of our yearly master course Crossmedial Exhibitions, this year dedicated to two exhibitions the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam: Anthony McCall Solid Light Films and Other Works, and Jean Desmet’s Dream Factory.  For the Crossmedial Exhibitions course we had interesting meetings with various collaborators of EYE, involved in the two exhibitions mentioned: Mark-Paul Meyer, Claartje Opdam, Sanne Baar and Marnix van Wijk. We were toured around the two exhibitions in the Fall and last month. We also visited the interior of Desmet’s last cinema Parisien, now at the Filmhallen cinema in Amsterdam-West, and viewed Peter Delpeut’s delightful, operatic compilation film Lyrical Nitrate (1990). I indirectly collaborated to the Desmet exhibition by writing an article on the film posters in the Desmet collection and also gave a lecture on this. Lately, I was interviewed by Dutch television (NPO2) for the popular history program Andere Tijden [Other Times], which organised a special issue on Desmet. In addition to Desmet’s relatives and collaborators of EYE, I was interviewed as the ‘film historian’. Which I am. Apart from other jobs, that is. Such as the coordinator of the MA Comparative Arts and Media Studies. If you understand Dutch, here is a link to the program:

afscheid Wilbert, McCall met studenten CAMS 016EYE en Haghefilm 004 (2)Paul Utrecht en visite EYE bibliotheek 013EYE en Filmhallen CrossEx 001EYE en Filmhallen CrossEx 007EYE en Filmhallen CrossEx 019

Roger Hanin (1925-2015)

•February 11, 2015 • 1 Comment


This morning the man died whose back is visible in the permanent header on top of this blog. French actor and director Roger Hanin passed away. Since 1953, he appeared in more than 100 French and foreign films, often crime films playing tough guys. But he was best loved in France as TV Commissioner Navarro. In 1960 Hanin played in Luchino Visconti’s Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers, 1960) the boxing impresario Morini, who first promotes Simone (Renato Salvatore) and looks at Simone and his brother Rocco (Alain Delon) while they are in the shower. When Simone, the eldest and the strongest but psychologically the most instabile brother,  has become an alcoholic wreck, Morini takes him home, defies him and they start a fight, while a television set shows a caroussel of masterpieces from the Italian Renaisance. Morini switches off the television and the darkness suggests sex, but we don’t see or hear anything. The scene was daring for its time and caused controversy. Soon after, Morini claims to Rocco and his brother Simone stole money. Rocco agrees to release Simone from his contract by paying up, signing a ten year contract for boxing matches. In vain, Ciro tries to hold him back. Looking at the wealthy interior you ask yourself whether Morini needs so much money. Yet, despite all of Simone’s despicable behaviour, Rocco considers family honour above all. He proves to Morini he agrees by ringing the boxing trainer Cerri to tell him of the agreement.

The picture above shows Hanin from left, while Ciro back left tries to withhold Rocco back right. Down, the reverse shot, Morini offering the phone to Rocco, defying him to keep his word.


Francesco Rosi (1922-2015)

•January 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

La terra trema (Luchino Visconti 1948). The grandfather dies.

Yesterday, renowned Italian film director and screenwriter Francesco Rosi (Naples, November 15, 1922 – Rome, January 10, 2015) passed away. Rosi, who started out in Italian neorealism, was one of the most important politicised post-neorealist Italian filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s. For over two decades he was the critical consciousness of Italy.

Francesco Rosi started as assistant-director for e.g. Luchino Visconti (La terra trema, 1948; Bellissima, 1951; Senso, 1954) and as screenwriter. In 1952 he took over direction of the film Camicie Rosse when director Goffredo Allessandri was disabled after a car accident. His breakthrough came in 1958 with La sfida (The Challenge), a film about Camorra boss Pasquale Simonetti (José Suarez) and Pupetta Maresca (Rossana Schiaffino). The film shocked for its allusion to the mafia controlling the government. Also in his later films such as Salvatore Giuliano (1962), Le mani sulla città (Hands Over the City, 1963), Il caso Mattei (The Mattei Affair, 1972), Tre fratelli (Three Brothers, 1981), and Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1979), based on Carlo Levi’s autobiographical novel, Rosi fiercely protested against a number of abuses in Italian society, either in the past or in contemporary times, or among Italian immigrants in Germany (I magliari/The Magliari, 1959). This social criticism was also present in his masterpiece Cadaveri eccellenti (1976), an adaptation of the novel Il contesto by Leonardo Sciascia. All this forced him to depart temporarily to Spain.

In the 1970s, Gian Maria Volonté was his regular actor, from the First World War drama Uomini contro (1970). Although Rosi filmed in unconventional locations and sometimes with unknown actors, he also made more conventional cinema such as the opera film Carmen (1984) with Placido Domingo and the Gabriel Garcia Marquez adaptation Cronaca di una morte annunciata (Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 1987) with, again, Volonté, plus Alain Delon and Ornella Muti. Later followed the thriller Dimenticare Palermo (The Palermo Connection, 1990), starring James Belushi and based on the Prix Goncourt winning novel by Edmonde Charles-Roux. Finally Rosi filmed the historical drama La Tregua (The Truce, 1997, based on the eponymous autobiographical by Primo Levi, told by Holocaust survivors returning from Auschwitz, and with John Turturro as Levi himself.

In 1962 Salvatore Giuliano won a Silver Bear for Best Director. Le mani sulla città won a Golden Lion in 1963. Il caso Mattei received in 1972 a Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. Tre fratelli was nominated in 1982 for an Oscar. At the 2008 Berlin Film Festival Rosi was honored with a honorary Golden Bear. In 2010 Rosi won a lifetime Golden Leopard at the festival of Locarno and in 2012 a lifetime Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Personally, I had once briefly contact with Francesco Rosi during my research on Luchino Visconti. He told me modestly he had forgotten so much, I’d better ask someone else. Instead, I discovered at the Bibliothèque du Film (BiFi) of the Cinémathèque française four very detailed working registers by Rosi made during the sheer endless production of La terra trema. They were a wealth of details. Rosi kept four working registers for La terra trema. The first contains the entire daily schedule for everyone’s task, including Visconti himself. The second contains the bulletin: the record of all lenses to be used per shot, the focal length(s), the camera movements, the camera heights, the metrage of the used up negative, and the annotations. The third has the shooting script, in which each shot is described and narrated. Finally, the fourth register contains the continuity (the raccordi). Every shot was storyboarded so that each shot could be resumed immediately in case of interruptions (e.g., bad weather). Visconti had apparently learned from the bad weather that plagued the shooting of Une partie de campagne. The continuity described not only scenography and costumes but also gestures and actions. In short, Visconti maintained total control. Lino Miccichè also refers to these sources in his 1993volume in La terra trema. See also Anton Giulio Mancino, Il processo della verità. Le radici del film politico-indiziario italiano (2008) and Letizia Bellocchio, ‘Identificazione e straniamento in Ossessione e La terra trema’, in: Letizia Bellocchio, Mauro Giori, Tomaso Subini eds., Guarda bene, fratello, guarda bene. Kubrick, Pasolini, Visconti (2005), 53-67. Visconti had originally intended La terra trema as a trilogy on fishermen, miners, and farmers, but only the first episode was filmed. When discussing the never-filmed third episode of the massacre of the farmers at Portella della Ginestra by Salvatore Giuliano and his gang (1947) in La terra trema, Gianni Rondolino in his biography of Visconti (2006) refers to the end of Bertolucci’s Novecento (1976), to Russian revolutionary cinema, and to the painting by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo: Quarto stato (1901, Museo del Novecento, Milan), which functioned as opening image for Novecento. Francesco Rosi, assistant-director, reworked the episode in his own film Salvatore Giuliano (1962), and shot it in 1961 on the exact location.


Salvatore Giuliano (1962)

Two older publications now online

•December 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Two of my German publications can be found online now, see Publications. I hope to publish them in English as well, eventually.

‘”Mit nur einem Blick perfide sein”. Carl Koch, Jean Renoir, Luchino Visconti und Tosca, in: Francesco Bono, Johannes Roschlau eds., Tenöre, Touristen, Gastarbeiter. Deutsch-italienische Filmbeziehungen (München: edition text & kritik/Cinegraph, 2011), pp. 80-92. Courtesy edition text & kritik/Cinegraph.

Cinematographer Ubaldo Arata and director Carl Koch during shooting on the Palatine in Rome. Tempo, 5, 16-23 January 1941.

‘Exkurs: Spionage und Propaganda im Ersten Weltkrieg. Das Beispiel Niederlande.’ in: Uli Jung, Martin Loiperdinger eds., Geschichte des Dokumentarischen Films in Deutschland. 1. Kaiserreich 1895-1918 (Stuttgart: Reclam/Haus des Dokumentarfilms, 2005), pp. 468-479. Courtesy Reclam/Haus des Dokumentarfilms.

Rembrandt Theater, Amsterdam. From 1919 to 1943 the main Amsterdam cinema for German films and property of Ufa.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 313 other followers