Two versions of Tosca

Last month I was in Hamburg at the Cinefest 2010 ‘ cinema transalpino – deutsch-italienische filmbeziehungen’. When I proposed to do a lecture around the film Tosca (1939-1941), begun as a project directed by Jean Renoir but finished by Carl Koch, the organisation was immediately enthousiastic. But they had a problem: the only copy the Roman film archive had of the film was an unsubtitled Italian version. But lo and behold: the Bundesarchiv in Berlin proved to have nitrate copy of a German version of the film, and by special request this version was preserved and shown in Hamburg at the Metropolis Kino. I introduced this version without having seen the copy, so I was quite astonished to see some striking differences. During my lecture the day after, all conference participants could see the differences, as I had brought some clips of the Italian version with me.

First of all, in the credits of the German version Lotte Reiniger and Luchino Visconti are not mentioned anymore as assistant-directors of the film, while this is indicated in the Italian version. Reiniger and Visconti were surely present at the shooting of film, as is definitely proven by various photos. In the German version the names of the persons who dubbed the actors’ voices are indicated instead. The dubbing itself also caused a change. When all the courtiers are waiting in the hallway of Palazzo Farnese, the camera tracks along the various men discuting politics. We hear various languages: besides Italian also English and German. The court is an international court; of course only the French are lacking, as they are the enemy. In the German version, the whole court only speaks German. What finally struck my eye was the scene in which Tosca kills Scarpia. In the Italian version she stabs him (shown quickly, some sources say a close up was cut because too grim), he falls down. Tosca is first in shock, then recovers. As we are still in catholic Italy, Tosca places two chandeliers next his corpse, before leaving. Apparently this was a famous gesture introduced in the performance of Sardou’s stage play Tosca by Sarah Bernhardt, and repeated over and over again. We also notice it in the Italian diva film Carnevalesca (1918) when Lyda Borelli’s character places the chandeliers next to the body of her fiancé, whom she has just killed. In the German version the placing of the chandeliers lacks. Did the Germans consider the gesture too catholic? Too French? We don’t know. The quality of the German copy, by the way, was very good and it was well preserved.

Soon my Italian written article on Tosca will appear in the volume mentioned below, but a shorter, German version will eventually appear too, in the volume on the papers given at the Cinefest 2010 conference. ‘Tosca a Tivoli. Jean Renoir a Villa Adriana’, in: Raffaele de Berti, Elisabetta Gagetti, F. Slavazzi eds., Scene di Roma antica. L’antichità interpretata dalle arti contemporanee, II (Milano: Università Statale/Quaderni di Acme, 2010).

~ by Ivo Blom on December 6, 2010.

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