Friday, August 25, 2006

XI. MACISTE ALL'INFERNO (1926)



Maciste all'Inferno


Year;
1926

Director & Writer; Guido Brignone
Country; Italy
Duration; 66 minutes
Available; DVD-R Region 1 Grapevine Video
Silent * Black & White/Tinted*Full Frame
Alternative;
Maciste In Hell (USA 1931 Theatrical Release)

The Players;
Bartolomeo Pagano (Maciste) , Franz Sala (Barbariccia) , Elena Sangro (Proserpine, Pluto's Wife),Lucia Zanussi (Luciferina,Pluto's Daughter), Umberto Guarrancino (Pluto), Domenico Serra (Girorgio) , Pauline Polaire (Graziella).

After the phenomenal success of Cabiria, Maciste returned to the Italian screens in 1915. In the movie ‘Maciste’ a young girl in trouble runs into a cinema. There she wishes for Maciste's help that appears on screen in Cabiria, he obliges and thus makes his entry into modern society where he continued to right wrongs.

In the last ‘clutch’ of Pagano’s reign as the muscular hero Guido Brignone directed one of Maciste’s most influential spectacular outings Maciste All’ Inferno’ (Maciste in Hell). Such was its’ impact that it influenced such groundbreaking directors as Mario Bava and Federico Fellini. Fellini remarks in an interview that he saw the movie as a young boy and so enamoured was he, that on leaving decided to direct movies and never really looked back.

Maciste all’ Inferno is loosely attributed to Dante Alighieri's seminal literary poem ‘Inferno’. What is worthy of note is the similarities between the film imagery and a 1906 lithographic illustrations by Gustave Dore in the book of Inferno. I found this book at a boot sale in the early 90’s before I had even heard of Maciste and this recent discovery was delightful and even more so too share. Parallels can be drawn in one of Brignone's evocative images, the behemoth demon Lucifer is seen digesting people, see how similar they are, litho compared with screenshot.

Perhaps this book influenced more than is ever mentioned in other articles about this film.

The epic tale begins with a group of demons visiting Earth to cause mayhem and despair wherever the option arises. One ‘top’ demon called Barbariccia has the duty of visiting Maciste in order to get him on side. This falls on deaf ears, despite an immense show of pleasurable possibilities and the destruction of a fresh cut rose, Maciste goes to bash Barbariccia who promptly vanishes before being clouted.

The film ‘dips’ a little in pace at the half stage as we seem to have a mixture of Maciste making a prince do the honourable thing of getting back together with his relative and a plot involving a stolen baby.

Maciste manages to find the child but it is a trap, as the child is reunited with his mother Barbariccia appears to Maciste and taunts him. Maciste acts foolishly and charges in rage at Barbariccia and bingo! Maciste enters a mediaeval hellscape complete with little devils, she-demons, dragons and other fantastical images as he tries to free himself from eternal damnation.

The second error our faulted hero makes is kissing Pluto’s wife, if a man remains in hell for 3 days without kissing a she-demon he is a free man. Maciste falls for the bewitching charms of the Queen and is turned into a demon.

Macistes’ strength increases ten-fold as consolation and he fends himself and others from the evil inhabitants, eventually the unstable demon society is lead into revolt by Barbariccia, Maciste overpowers him however. He earns his freedom as he has saved Plutos’ kingdom but is ambushed then kissed again by the Queen and trapped in hell chained to a rock. Only a pure act of innocence can save Maciste from his eternal fate and his mortal soul……………………

Blending the jagged, craggy but warm flames of Hell from Christian mythology with pantomime Bosch and a small amount of Melies works exceptionally well. Although ones’ attention span does wander off during the middle of the film it is well worth the brief wait to relish such visual gusto for the remaining half of the movie.

Brignone's use of light and the manipulation of visional sizes gives the director a canvas of smoke and mirrors; it’s well crafted and prosperous in design and where necessary pure unadulterated lavishness. Maciste all’ Inferno is magic - pure and simple.

I picked up a DVD-R version available here. This seemed the only source available and I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and the overall clarity. The soundtrack is predominantly a variation of Saint-Saens ‘Danse Macabre’, which is most fitting and doesn’t hinder your enjoyment in anyway.

Maciste all'Inferno was released in the United States in 1931, despite the talkie 'emergence' around this period the film was a success at the box office.

Eventually Maciste was resurrected as 'Ercole' where he had all the colours of the rainbow when Peplum began its' B Movie Cult invasion, calling Mr.Reeves......

Why this is not available in a definitive version is beyond me.











Wednesday, August 23, 2006

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



CABIRIA

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 .