Film production of 1918 is marked by the last year of the Great War and the apogee of the Italian Diva film. Admire Francesca Bertini, Pina Menichelli and Lyda Borelli at their best. Wonder why avantgarde poet Vladimir Mayakovsky in Bolshevist Russia adapted a novel by Edmondo De Amicis and get to know counter-revolutionary cinema activities in Europe. Rediscover the immensely popular Hedda Vernon and the Czech filmmaker and actress Olga Rautenkranzová, and be happy that fragments of Âmes de fous by Germaine Dulac, Der Fall Rosentopf by Ernst Lubitsch and of films with Bela Lugosi and Douglas Fairbanks have been found and restored. A treat for the eyes will be the art direction of Ben Carré and the exotic studio settings in adventure films, the genre on the rise.
Science and fiction, religion, news and music hall sketches: film production in 1898 presents an highly entertaining diversity. A key figure of that year was William Kennedy Dickson who shot many films for the British Mutoscope and Biograph Syndicate, established studios and branch companies in France, Holland and Germany and filmed, in wonderful 68mm, beaches, boats, queens and even the real Pope blessing the camera. The Lumière Brothers’ The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ in thirteen scenes began the journey towards features films; while Geoges Méliès, juggling with his four laughing heads, saved the business of itinerant cinemas. And from Prague, ‘in new restorations, the first Czech movies filmed in 1898 by Jan Krizenecky.
This small section is as a tribute to two important figures of Neapolitan cinema. Ten years after his death, we remember Vittorio Martinelli with great affection and esteem; he passionately studied the cinema of Naples, writing one of its most compelling histories. Elvira Notari is an icon of Neapolitan films of the 1910s and ’20s, and her pictures are extraordinary examples of how cinema grabbed hold of Neapolitan popular culture, of which singing is the most emblematic expression. So it is music that guides this programme offering significant silent movies set in Naples with film concerts and the brand new – supported by The Film Foundation – restoration of Carosello napoletano, a unique Italian musical movie with, not surprisingly, Naples as its star (and an impassioned young Sophia Loren).
In the effervescent Turin of the 1910s, Arrigo Frusta (1875-1965), born Augusto Sebastiano Ferraris, was the director of Ambrosio’s “Screenplay Office”. An eclectic figure, Frusta was an intellectual, a bon vivant, a would-be notary and a journalist by vocation. The nascent film industry won him over with its new technology and the monthly salary of 300 lire that working for a movie company could guarantee him. Schiller, Virgil, Balzac, D’Annunzio and Shakespeare, no adaptation was too mighty for Frusta’s pen. With over 250 screenplays and scenarios, he made a decisive contribution to establishing the practice of writing for cinema. This year Il Cinema Ritrovato is offering a sneak peek into the world of stories that this prolific screenwriter created, starting with a restored version of Nerone (1909). Peopled by emperors and Risorgimento martyrs, romantic heroines and amazons, psychopathic killers and depressed fairy-tale princes, Frusta’s universe provides a kaleidoscopic view of Italian silent film.
“Keaton did cooperate with the universe, a trait that continues to distinguish him from his fellow comedians – wrote Pulizer prize Walter Kerr – most clowns regarded the physical world as an obstacle to be overcome or evaded, by ingenuity or by grit. Keaton felt otherwise. He knew all about obstacles, of course. But treacherous as the universe might be, Keaton trusted it.” Whether in the middle-of-nowhere-Alaska fishing with Eskimos, in a cattle ranch or in a deep-sea diving suit among cannibals and submarines, it’s precisely the encounter between Keaton’s characters and the physical world that produces, at best, a masterpiece, at worst, endless, hilarious gags. The Keaton Project, launched in 2015, is jointly promoted by Cineteca di Bologna and Cohen Film Collection.