Birth of the Italian film industry

The birth of the Italian film industry is generally dated between 1903 and 1909 . It culminates in a “golden age” culminating in 1914 .

The Italy is at the time a country in the forefront of cinema, which appears the feature in its current definition.

This article goes back to the beginnings proper to cover the entire period up to the end of the First World War .

The first production houses

In Italy, cinema was known since the time of the Lumière Brothers , thanks to cinemas created in 1896 and because of a pioneering production of documentaries whose production centers were mainly in Florence and Turin .

From 1903 onward, different film production companies were born, thanks to the perspective of the financial gains that the new means of entertainment seemed to guarantee. The main centers were:

  • Turin , where in a short time were founded at least five production companies: Ambrosio Film , Aquila Films , Itala Film , Pasquali Film and Savoia Film  ;
  • Rome , with the company Cines , the Società Italiana Pineschi , then the following years: Gladiator Film  (it) and Rinascimento Film  ;
  • Milan , with the best equipped studios of the time, built by the producer Luca Comerio who founded a production company initially bearing his name and renamed then Milano Films , followed by Fortuna Film , Genial Film , Proteus Film and Rosa Film  ;
  • Naples , where several film companies were created, some of which became very important: Film Italiana , Napoli Film  (it) and Partenope Film  (it) .
  • Catania  : Etna Film  (it) , Morgana Film  (it) , Katana Film  (it) , Sicula Film  (it) and Jonio Film  (it) .

The different kinds

The first productions of these companies are composed of documentaries as well as films inspired by the theatrical tradition . All genres are part of the more general framework of silent cinema . Italians call filone (vein) each of the themes.

Historical movies and epic films

From 1905 , the Roman production company Cines embarks on the genre of historical costume film, modeled on the first female film director, the French-American Alice Guy . These films, exported all over the world, make the fortune of Italian filmmakers and include in particular the subgenre of the peplum , films taking place in real or mythological antiquity .

The first Italian historical film is titled The Taking of Rome (20 September 1870) ( La Presa di Roma ), directed by Filoteo Alberini . Its duration is about fifteen minutes, it is composed of a series of living paintings directly inspired by the world of art and in particular works of the painter Michele Cammarano .

Are produced then Quo vadis? in 1912 and La Gerusalemme liberata , both made by Enrico Guazzoni .

In Turin, the house Ambrosio Film , encouraged by the success of the genre, produced in 1908 The Last Days of Pompeii , directed by Mario Caserini , high-budget film with visual effects that recreate the volcanic eruption, with scenes of crowds in an atmosphere of terror. Thus is born the genre of the disaster film , always in the form of a series of tableaux vivants.

Their success leads to a proliferation of films of this type, which represent on the screen a little all the great characters of ancient Rome and the Renaissance, whether historical or mythological.

The “Serie d’arte”

In 1908, the success of the French company Le Film d’Art pushed Italians to imitate this type of films with cultural ambitions, spectacular and refined.

It’s home Torino Itala Film of Giovanni Pastrone which launches the first in an “Art Series” with the film The Fall of Troy in 1910 . The average duration of historical films, which is up to ten minutes ago, begins in the 1910s to extend considerably, even if the style remains the same as the first films, with a medium-shot framing or in an overall plan that reproduces the vision of the theater spectator.

In 1911 , Milano Films produced a film of great literary and artistic ambition, L’Enfer , preceded the same year by a film competing with Helios Film  (it) , whose studios were then in Velletri , near Rome.

Pastrone, the visionary of the show

Giovanni Pastrone , of Itala Film in Turin , has already realized in 1911 The Fall of Troy , while fixed framing. Encouraged by the commercial success of his film, he devoted himself to the realization of a more ambitious work, Cabiria of 1914 .

Cabiria’s ambition is manifested both in its duration (more than two and a half hours of film), in the spectacular stagings directly inspired by the tradition of the opera machinery , and in the systematization of a Newly designed technique by American filmmakers 1  : traveling .

For this film, Giovanni Pastrone chooses as collaborators some of the best representatives of the culture of the time, including Gabriele D’Annunzio and Ildebrando Pizzetti . The film receives a triumphal welcome and draws the attention of the American director David W. Griffith who praises in particular the direction of actors. The Italian filmmaker is developing in his film a play of actors, sober and yet very expressive, which inspired Griffith for his masterpiece in filming: Birth of a nation

Comic films

Another worthy production is comic films.

It uses as pioneers actors of foreign origin, like the French André Deed who interprets Cretinetti (“Boireau” in the French version), a character joker, pork and runner. We can also mention the French-Italian Ferdinand William, associated with the character of Polidor , naive dreamer, halfway between man and the child spent in the film Pinocchio from 1911 , in perfect balance between fantasy and reality. The Spaniard Marcel Fabre develops the character of Robinet, and the Frenchman Raymond Dandy the character of Kri Kri.

In addition, Italian actors such as Piedmontese Ernesto Vaser , interpreter of Fricot’s character, are added to the list. Lea Giunchi , from Emilia-Romagna, is the first comic actress in Italian cinema.

His son, Eraldo Giunchi , is one of the first children’s actors in Italian cinema. He interprets the comical character of Cinessino. Among the less important Italian actors, we can also mention the Neapolitan Giuseppe Gambardella and his character Checco; Armando Gelsomini , with Jolicoeur, or Pacifico Aquilanti and Lorenzo Soderini , who interpret one after the other the character of Cocò.

Worldly dramas and movies divas

From 1914 , a new genre asserts itself, that of the “worldly drama”, often taken from texts of Gabriele D’Annunzio or Henry Bataille . These films feature, often in “femme fatale” roles , new star actors ( “divas” ), including Lyda Borelli , Francesca Bertini and Lina Cavalieri . They quickly eclipse the movie-shows and put in fashion melodramatic staging styles and relentless stories of passions.

What really distinguishes these films from others is the figure of the diva , ideal of femme fatale imported from Scandinavian cinema , the vamp , vampire-woman. The divo , his male equivalent, appears soon. The stars of Italian cinema are celebrated by radio and print media.

The genre of diva film culminates between 1915 and 1921 . It is among the best works Thais , Rapsodia satanica or Carnevalesca .

In terms of form, the divas film is inspired by contemporary painting and sensual figures of Art Nouveau . The themes are about more or less troubled love dramas, interspersed with stories of death and moral slavery. Dramatic effects and acting tend to be over-emphasizing and exaggerating. Everything is extravagant and exaggerated. The divas movie has a fundamental influence on the use of the closeup and its infinite expressive possibilities. The scenes are often long and static, with elongated bodies and aesthetic poses, more adapted to the contemplation than to the narration. In fact, the history of these films, of unequal credibility, is often a mere pretext.

The cult of the diva is also a way to promote the movies, creating expectations in the audience. It guarantees a high return on investment, and is quickly exported to the United States, where starsbecome a full institution.

In addition to the aforementioned Francesca Bertini and Lyda Borelli , Pina Menichelli , Italia Almirante Manzini and Leda Gys are famous divas of Italian cinema. Over time, the way of acting comedy specialize between a natural game based on simplicity and distance, and an excessive and exasperated game. The best actresses often know how to play on several registers, like Francesca Bertini who makes a great demonstration of realism in Assunta Spina , to return then to more tormented models. In 1916 , “the” Borelli is noticed with Malombra taken from the novel ofAntonio Fogazzaro . But it is Eleonora Duse who makes the film of divas respectable on the artistic level by interpreting the character of an old mother, weak and abandoned, in 1916 in the film Braises ( Cenere ), taken from a work of Grazia Deledda .

Futuristic cinema

Futurist cinema is the cinematographic component of the futuristic movement that exists from 1904 to 1920 . Wanting a avant-garde cinema, he rejects aesthetic tradition and exalts the modern world, especially urban civilization, machines and speed.

The brothers Arnaldo and Bruno Ginanni-Corradini, under the futuristic pseudonyms of Arnaldo Ginna and Bruno Corra , realize, between 1910 and 1912 , short films by painting directly on the film . Another film was shot in 1914 by Aldo Molinari  : Mondo Baldoria (Monde Bombance ), directly inspired by a futuristic manifesto by Aldo Palazzeschi . In 1916 , Vita futurista ( futuristic life) wants, according to the analysis of Giovanni Lista , a film-performance. On the same date, Thaïsseeks a compromise with the institutional cinema. The post-war projects, signed by Pannaggi, Depero, Viviani, Prampolini, Paladini, Farfa and others, offer multiple ideas and solutions, confirming the plurality of futurism as a global ideology of the spirit of the world. avant-garde, therefore not reducible to a simple formal or stylistic program.

Musical accompaniment

Following the example of Cabiria , the films were broadcast with a musical accompaniment signed by the big names of the contemporary music scene. In 1915 , in Rapsodia satanica , Lyda Borelli played on music written specifically for this purpose by Pietro Mascagni .

Why Italy?

The Italy is distinguished by having spawned a film industry worthy of the name before the countries that invented the cinema, the US and France .

Italy was then a country whose national unity was still recent. In fact, the first major Italian production, La presa di Roma , celebrated the events of 1870 that saw the birth of the nation. The birth of an industrial bourgeoisie and the need to “create” the new nation are all elements that have converged the necessary capital to the new means of entertainment that constituted the cinema.

Italians were able to gain early insight into the economic importance of cinema in the field of leisure and to convey messages to the population. In historical films, we are indeed witnessing the search for a national identity, created by drawing from the inexhaustible source of the myths of the Italian past, so as to cement the nationalism of people who had until then been used to thinking according to the independence of their small regional states.

Notes and references

  1. ↑ The Passing , directed in 1912 by Oscar C. Apfel Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , film grammar , Paris, New World ,, 588  p. ( ISBN  978-2-84736-458-3 ) , p.  397

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