Prod.: Cines 35mm. L.: 127 m. D.: 7′ a 16 f/s
Italy, 1908: History in the Horizon
For the Italian film industry 1908 was a year of tumultuous and conflicting events: on the one hand, the leading production companies laid the foundations for their later international success, while, on the other hand, a badly managed and unchecked over-production (Italy produced 115 films in 1907 and 267 in 1908) was the sign of the sector’s first real crisis, which would fully surface the following year.
1908 saw an adjustment across the board in production with the consolidation of the better organized companies, the gradual decline of small artisanal companies that had survived despite not having an industrial structure, and the appearance of new production companies with ambitious intentions but uneven results.
Over the course of the year two new companies were set up in Milan: Adolfo Croce & C., which would discontinue production three years later, and S.A.F.F.I. – Comerio, which by the end of 1909 would be taken over by a group of wealthy aristocrats due to financial problems and become Milano Films.
Better luck was had by Pasquali & Tempo, established in Turin in December of 1908 by Ernesto Maria Pasquali and Giuseppe Tempo, and especially Itala Film, which sprang up the same year from the ashes of Carlo Rossi & C. and immediately climbed to the top of Italian production. Itala’s sudden rise was mostly due to the efforts of a man who represented the future of the film industry: Giovanni Pastrone. Some pre-existing minor companies did manage to survive, such as Aquila Film and Pineschi, and continued production despite being outshone by the two most powerful Italian production companies: Cines and Ambrosio.
In fact, it was Ambrosio that first received international recognition in 1908 with a film directed by Luigi Maggi, Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei (which will be presented as part of the program curated by Luigi Virgolin for this segment of the festival). Based on the extremely popular novel by Bulwer-Lytton, Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei, a real period epic film, foreshadows all the characteristics that would later be the hallmark of the most successful Italian films: considerable length, historical setting and using subjects from literature. Ambrosio was not the only production company interested in turning historical or literary subjects into films. In 1908 Cines produced Giuditta e Oloferne, based on the famous biblical episode, and La rivale – Scene di vita di Pompei in addition to bringing the Shakespearian dramas Amleto and Giulietta e Romeo to the screen with the work of Mario Caserini. Luca Comerio & C. (later, as of June 1908, S.A.F.F.I. – Comerio) with the help of artistic director Mario Morais put together ambitious works such as Francesca da Rimini, based on a scene from Dante’s Inferno, and Manzoni’s masterpiece I promessi sposi.
Even though historical and literary themes were one of the leitmotifs of 1908 production, Italian studios did not give up their interest in documentaries: in shooting “from life” two notable companies were Ambrosio, involved in documenting military exercises and maneuvers (making films with titles such as I “Centauri”: esercitazioni dei cavalleggeri a Pinerolo and Le manovre navali italiane), and Luca Comerio, tireless observer of major national events such as the arrival of Kaiser Wilhelm II in Venice or the earthquake tragedy in Messina.
Similarly, dramas and comedies also continued to be a priority of Italian production companies for all of 1908. Itala was particularly prominent in producing dramas as was Cines, which offered cruel, heartbreaking stories of love and death, such as Abbandonata or Storia di amore. Works by Itala, such as Il duello dei paurosi, stand out among the year’s most brilliant comedies; the focus that the Turin company put on the comedy genre was further attested by Giovanni Pastrone’s consistent contact with André Deed, the famous French comic who would become part of Itala’s permanent staff in 1909.
In 1908 Italian production proved it was able to successfully compete in every field. However, by the end of the year the Italian film scene already showed the first signs of problems related to the sector’s precarious organization and to an international economic crisis, which would sweep across the fragile Italian industry. Sinister creaking sounds, almost a distant echo of the disastrous terrestrial movements that would rock Southern Italy: an appalling tragedy for Messina and Calabria, for the Italian film industry powerful, serious but productive tremors of adjustment.