Wednesday, August 23, 2006

X. C A B I R I A (1914)


Year; 1914

Director & Writer; Giovanni Pastrone
Country; Italy
Duration; 123 minutes
Music; Piano score performed by Jacques Gautier, based on original 1914 accompanying score by Manilo Mazza
Available; DVD Region 1 Kino on Video
Silent * Black & White*Full Frame (1:33:1)

The Players;

Carolina Catena ( Cabiria, as a Child) Lidia Quaranta ( Cabiria, also called Elissa) Gina Marangoni (Croessa, Cabiria's Nurse ) Dante Testa Karthalo ( The High Priest) Umberto Mozzato ( Fulvio 'Fulvius' Axilla) Bartolomeo Pagano ( Maciste, Axilla's Slave) Raffaele di Napoli (Bodastoret, the Innkeeper) Emilio Vardannes( Hannibal) Edoardo Davesnes (Hasdrubal) Italia Almirante-Manzini ( Sophonisba, Hasdrubal's Daughter) Alessandro Bernard (Siface 'Syphax', King of Cirta) Luigi Chellini ( Scipione 'Scipio', the Consul) Vitale Di Stefano (Massinissa, the Numidian King ) Enrico Gemelli ( Archimede) Ignazio Lupi( Arbace)

Cabiria - the first milestone for Maciste and cinematic history alike. Cabiria was made for a million lira and directed by Giovanni Pastrone (1883-1959). This monumental and lavish spectacle with its’ decadent sets and heady fusion of Tunisian, Sicilian and Alpine landscapes, Pastrone wanted this to be an absolute triumph for cinema goers to witness – and he succeeds admirably.

This was the first ‘action’ and decidedly more ‘animate’ change to the previous ‘tableaux/vague action’ successes of earlier Italian outings. Pastrone created a mini-renaissance that influenced Cecil B. Demille and D.W Griffiths’ similar style technique.

The innovative use of camerawork and pioneering lighting brings all the daring escapes and colossus rescues in Cabiria to life. The acting is ‘magnified’ and appears overtly theatrical but anything less would possibly be swallowed up by the opulence if any lesser. Traits of Grand Opera can also be witnessed in episodes of sweeping gesticulation.

This fits in admirably with the characterisations of Italia Almirante-Manzinis’ portrayal of Sophonisba, Hasdrubal's Daughter and Umberto Mozzato as Fulvio 'Fulvius' Axilla, a roman spy. These are delightful portrayals bringing mythology to life and with Bartolomeo Paganos’ magnificent ‘gusto’ as Maciste, Axilla's slave also has the propensity to create memorable ‘legends’. These legends are also represented on screen as ‘animate’ works of mythology as Waterhouse and many other pre-raphaelites’ represented on canvas.

The plot itself is intricately woven and spans a lengthy period of time set against the backdrop of the Punic Wars but due to the stunning, engrossing action and historical adventure passes by like a short typhoon blasting the senses and accentuating high. Cabiria leaves the viewer fulfilled on all levels and despite the lack of verbal benefits delights audibly too, the version I had the privilege to view features the piano score based on the 1914 Manlio Mazza accompanying soundtrack. This works well representing a delightful marriage to Pastrones’ delineation.

The movie focuses on the adventures of the titular heroine ‘Cabiria’ around 3 years before Christian mythology began. Young Cabiria and her charge Croessa are separated from their household in Sicily, when Mount Etna erupts. In the pandemonium they are then kidnapped by Phoenician pirates and whisked off to Carthage, there Cabiria is separated from her nurse and is primed for a sacrifice to the temple of Moloch. In a remarkable sequence tiny naked children are flung into the gaping jaws of the Hebrew god’s effigy, embraced by flames as a purification rite takes place.

Cabiria is saved by a Roman Spy Axilla and his slave Maciste. The three escape and Cabirias odyssey and adventure during Rome’s battle with Carthage begins. We are then treated to view her involvement in many key stages of the period. Memorable sequences have to be Hannibal crossing the Alps via Elephant and, my favourite sequence, Archimedes setting fire to an entire naval fleet from Syracuse via an ‘organic’ laser and a wonderfully ‘pretentious’ suicide rounding off the proceedings is all bloody remarkable stuff indeed.

Cabiria was a huge, huge success and was exported overseas where it achieved just as much praise and celebration. Cabiria was also the first film to be shown on White House grounds exacerbating its already ‘golden’ status.

Giovanni Pastrone left the movie business in 1923 to pursue his medical interests leaving a legacy that would set the blueprint for things to come.

The version under review is the exquisite region 1 Kino on Video release. The print is pristine and at times seems incredible you are watching something over 90 years old.

The best version currently available can be procured, cost effectively, from DVD Pacific .


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