Cielo Ed Inferno, Fuoco E Ghiaccio
Some years ago the Filmarchiv Austria showed a programme of early lms under the beautiful title “Elemental Cinema”. And in truth this medium, film, was made for portraying heaven and hell, reality and fantasy, fire and snow – and it is the only one that is any match for a rework display. In all this, colour is the crucial element.
Inferno: A “Colossal” Film
On March 1, 1911, the first public screening of Inferno was held at the Mercadante Theater in Naples. The enthusiasm for the film adaptation of the first cantica of the Divine Comedy was unanimous, and shared by the distinguished writers and intellectuals present at the screening, including Benedetto Croce, Roberto Bracco and Matilde Serao.
Inferno, made for Milano Films by the trio Padovan, Bertolini and De Liguoro, marked an important step in the cultural legitimization of film, a process that had begun several years before with major production companies and had been accelerated by the foundation of the French Film d’Art in 1908 and, one year later, its Italian “sister” F.A.I.
The production of the film took almost two years and the cost rose to an unprecedented amount of money: at the time there was talk of the astronomical sum of one million lire. The final result, however, exceeded every expectation: Dante’s Inferno materialized on the screen, and Matilde Serao immediately compared the film to the work of the most celebrated illustrator of Dante, Gustave Doré, an iconographic point of reference for the Inferno filmmakers. The skill demonstrated by the film’s formal construction and the philological rigor of the poem’s transposition are owed to one of the three filmmakers involved, Aldolfo Padovan, an eminent Dante scholar and collaborator with the renowned publishing company Hoepli. The cultural value of the film is demonstrated by the immediate interest of the Società Dante Alighieri, the distinguished association founded for the purpose of promoting the Italian language and literature. It gave support to the film by sponsoring and organizing luxurious “premieres” in the most famous Italian theaters.
Brilliantly launched by the distributor Gustavo Lombardo with a vast promotional campaign, Inferno was an extraordinary commercial success not only in Italy but also abroad; the successful distribution in the United States was unparelleled for an Italian film.