Workshop early Italian cinema at EYE Film Museum

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Poster for Vittoria o morte (1913), designed by Pier Luigi Caldanzano.

Yesterday night, we finished our workshop in early Italian cinema within the collection of the Amsterdam EYE Film Museum. On behalf of my university, I was co-organizer of the workshop, with Céline Gailleurd (Université Paris VIII, Paris) and Elif Rongen (EYE Filmmuseum). The workshop is part of a large international research project,  Le cinéma muet italien à la croisée des arts, led by Céline Gailleurd, and in which various French, Italian and Dutch universities and film archives are united.

This two-day workshop brought together researchers of different nationalities, in order to explore and comment on the film and non-film collections related to Italian silent cinema, held at the Eye Film Museum. All these topics were introduced and commented upon by a group of international experts, who also acted as moderators for the discussion with the audience. We worked on a corpus of films preselected by the researchers and the organizers, either presented in their entirety or by use of indicative fragments.

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Vittoria Lepanto, in Lucrezia Borgia (Gerolamo Lo Savio, Film d’Arte Italiana 1912).

First, after introductions by Giovanna Fossati (EYE) and Céline Gailleurd, we had two sessions of 35mm screenings of hitherto little-shown prints of early Italian films, not only full films (only one- and two-reelers), but also a fragment of La vita o  la morte, and a weird hodge-podge of nonfiction officially on Rome but in reality, rather showing more of Turin and even the Capitol in Washington. The difference between comic film and comedy became already clear in the difference between the action-driven film Kri-Kri e il tango (which has some weird special effects) and the quite daring situational comedy Acqua miracolosa, starring Gigetta Morano and Eleuterio Rodolfi. The two-reelers were recomposed of multiple original prints. Lucrezia Borgia started as a black-and-white film (due to a part based on an original negative from Paris), and then halfway spurted glorious stencil-coloring (thanks to a nitrate distribution print in EYE’s holdings). Amore bendato combined two incomplete British and Dutch prints in one complete one. We had our share of actors, such as Leda Gys in Amore bendato, and a pre-diva Francesa Bertini in the romantic comedy Panne d’auto.

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Kri Kri senza testa (Cines 1913), poster design by Marchetti.

Our first slots set the tone for the subsequent slots, where discussions were made from the point of view of the close relationship that Italian cinema has with other arts or popular culture, such as visual arts (e.g. with the slot on the Italo-French company Film d’Arte Italiana, moderated by Andrea Meneghelli, Olivier Bohler, and Marion Polirsztok), burlesque (comedy, moderated by Laurent Guido and Emmanuel Dreux), dance (Elisa Uffreduzzi, echoing her fascinating PhD), and theatre (melodrama, moderated by Stella Dagna and Céline Gailleurd). Different acting styles in comedy and drama, and their developments became clear, as well as such topics as recycling in set design, the 1913 tango craze, the role of the family, the monstres sacrés of the stage in film (Ermete Zacconi, Italia Vitaliani), and the discovery of a film like La Madre (Giuseppe Sterni, 1917), considered a counterreaction to Duse’s Cenere, but also a nice pendant to Padre (1912) with Zacconi. A special section was dedicated to Italian non-fiction from the teens, which Luca Mazzei presented with me. Here we had an e.g. fruitful discussion on nationalism and colonialism versus tourism and a craving for beauty, but also on individual cameramen, and on the importance of the Italo-Turkish war for the rise of early Italian non-fiction.

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A scene from La Madre (Giuseppe Sterni, Milano Films 1917). Emmanuele overpaints the portrait of his model, as he needs it to paint his mother’s portrait.

Soeluh van den Berg, finally, gave an overview of the so-called film-related material objects in the EYE Collection, first of all in the Desmet Collection, but also some recently found 1910s posters, discovered under the shelves of a closed down cinema, including e.g. one of Marco Visconti. In a mini-presentation, I highlighted myself the richness, modernity, sensationalism, and originality of the early Italian posters in Desmet’s collection, such as those by designers such as Mauzan, Nicco, Terzi, Caldanzano, Metlicovitz, and others.  Our goal was to rediscover this cinema, through an academic confrontation with several disciplinary fields, but also we widely benefited from the presence of various Italian and Dutch archivists to discuss archival issues as well, and the interconnections between these two fields. In the very end, we had two quick visits to the life of a film within the EYE Collection Centre, which Catherine Cormon kindly showed to us, with all the time constraints we had by then, but a real highlight was Soeluh van den Berg’s showing of the vintage paper objects from the EYE collection, including vintage stills, bills with artistic letterheads, brochures, distribution leaflets, and as coup de theatre, the wonderful posters, such as the burning ship on Vittoria o morte, designed by Pier Luigi Caldanzano.

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Posters for La tutela (Ambrosio 1913) above the entrance of the Rotterdam Parisien cinema (1913).

This workshop served as a basis to open research tracks on e.g. the Film d’Arte Italiana and Italian comedians, as a prologue for future research and a conference to be held in December 2019. The debates have been recorded, and thanks to a subvention of the Research School CLUE+ (Vrije Universiteit), will be transcribed and published. I say thank you to all the persons involved in this workshop, which I consider to have been a great success: all the moderators and workshop participants, all the people of EYE Film Museum helping to realize the workshop (in particular Soeluh, Catherine, Hadley and Martin), transcriber Lexie Davis, and of course, the two co-organizers Elif Rongen and Céline Gailleurd.

 

~ by Ivo Blom on December 22, 2018.

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