Italy Cinematography From its Origins to the 1920’s

During the Easter holidays of 1897, a French photographer, Henri Le Lieure, opened a screening room in Rome with his Italian partner Luigi Topi, thus starting, after the first screenings which took place the previous year in Milan and Turin, the diffusion of cinema. in Italy. In the space of a few years, numerous producers started a real cinematographic activity; among these, in Turin, Rinaldo Arturo Ambrosio (see film ambrosio) which, after some real life shots of the Susa-Moncenisio car race shot with the operator Roberto Omegna, produced, starting from 1906, comedy and drama films that would have enjoyed great success also abroad. But Turin, with the other important production house, the artistic film ‘Gloria’, was only one of the capitals of the nascent Italian cinema: there was in fact Rome, where Filoteo Alberini and Dante Santoni’s Cines competed with Film Ambrosio, who made their debut in 1905 directing The Taking of Rome, an impressive reconstruction of the events of 1870, perhaps the first Italian feature film; there was Milan, where Luca Comerio opened his factories at Bovisa, albeit to sell them soon to a group of aristocrats who would go bankrupt with the ambitious Excelsior (1913, directed by Comerio himself); there was Naples, enthusiastically applauding – and the echo had to reach New York – the films of Elvira Notari for Film Dora, modeled on the popular theater form of the scripted song. Already in 1908 – while the comic genre with the character of Cretinetti was also about to establish itself – an international success such as The Last Days of Pompeii, produced by Ambrosio under the direction of Luigi Maggi, who anticipated the blockbuster genre by exhibiting large three-dimensional sets, masses imposing, sophisticated tricks and a very accurate photography (the operator was still Omegna, the greatest of the time, with Giovanni Vitrotti and Comerio). From that moment the production of historical films inspired by events from remote times or the Risorgimento had great development, treated with omnivorous indifference from adventure novels and classic works: Homer (L’Odissea, 1911, by Francesco Bertolini and Adolfo Padovan), Dante (L’Inferno, 1911, by Padovan, Bertolini and Giuseppe De Liguoro), T. Tasso, W. Shakespeare, F. Schiller, A. Manzoni, A. Dumas, ER Bulwer-Lytton (again with a version of The Last Days of Pompeii, directed in 1913 by Eleuterio Rodolfi, lasting almost three hours), H. Sienkiewicz, who provided the text for the Quo vadis? directed in 1913 by Enrico Guazzoni, a worldwide success that provoked the first discussions on cinema as art. But to take the decisive step in this direction was Giovanni Pastrone, great character of the Italian cinema of the time. After The Fall of Troy in 1911 Pastrone elaborated an even more daring project, and for Cabiria (1914) he asked for the collaboration of Gabriele D’Annunzio for the screenplay, he built impressive sets and, with the collaboration of Segundo de Chomón, he resorted to movements of daring modern machine using systematically artificial lighting with aesthetic intent.

According to, the colossal film, together with female stardom (Francesca Bertini, Lyda Borelli, Diana Karenne, Italy Almirante Manzini, Dora and Pina Menichelli, Maria and Diomira Jacobini), but also male in particular in genres (the Maciste by Bartolomeo Pagano, who made his debut in Cabiria, the Za la Mort by the mysterious Emilio Ghione), would have been the strong point of Italian cinema until the irreversible crisis of the first post-war period, when it was overwhelmed by US competition, the lack of new ideas and the exorbitant costs for stars and divine. However, in the course of the decade – during which the advertising sector also grew and in production the Italian Film of art, a subsidiary of Pathé’s Film d’art (see pathé frères) – there was no lack of other highly suggestive works, in the context of a universe still partially to be investigated, such as Assunta Spina (1915) by Gustavo Serena, with a remarkable Francesca Bertini, to a film whose traces have been lost, Sperduti in the dark (1914) by Nino Martoglio and Roberto Danesi, who reveal the dominant realist trend of Italian cinema, with the use of en plein air scenes; from Satanic Rapsodia (1917) by Nino Oxilia to Malombra (1917) by Carmine Gallone, where Lyda Borelli’s poses and attitudes are a precious and intelligent anthology of a pictorial taste ranging from Pre-Raphaelism to Art Nouveau. And again a comic-fantastic work such as Saturnino Farandola (1913), a four-episode film directed by Marcel Fabre; melodramas like But my love does not die! (1913) by Mario Caserini, which marked Lyda Borelli’s film debut; Il fuoco (1915) and Tigre reale (1916) both by Pastrone and with Pina Menichelli; Mariute (1918) by Edoardo Bencivenga; the only, but very intense, cinematographic test by Eleonora Duse, Cenere (1917) by Febo Mari and Arturo Ambrosio Jr; up to La Serpe (1920) by Roberto Roberti. A cinema apparently more of actors than authors, yet certainly not devoid of interesting personalities, if we consider, in addition to the aforementioned, also the cases of R. Omegna with the documentary La vita delle farfalle (1911) and another documentary filmmaker such as L. Comerio, up to the first films by Augusto Genina which already denoted the competence and the figurative clarity evident in his most famous works of the Thirties and Forties. A machine, that of the cinema, to which everyone seemed to be attracted: the futurists at the forefront (see futurism), complete with a special poster, La cinematography futurist (1916), with some short films by the Corradini brothers, in art respectively Bruno Corra and Arnaldo Ginna, and also with a work, external to the group of the manifesto but born in the bosom of futurist moods such as Thaïs (1917) by Anton Giulio Bragaglia, with sets and costumes by Enrico Prampolini.

Italy Cinematography From its Origins to the 1920's