Sog., Scen.: André Deed. F.: Alberto Chentreni. Int.: André Deed (Modestino detto Saltarello), Valentina Frascaroli (Mado, l’avventuriera), Gabriel Moresu (prof. D’Ara), Mathilde Lambert (Elena D’Ara), Ferdinando Vivas-May (Ramberti), Giulia Costa. Prod.: Milano film · 35mm. L.: 740 m. (incompleto, l. orig.: 1821 m.). D.: 40’ a 18 f/s. Col.
In 1921 André Deed shot L’uomo meccanico (The Mechanical Man), 1821 meters long according to its censor certificate; he was the author of the film’s storyline and screenplay, its director and actor (alongside Valentina Frascaroli). L’uomo meccanico was not, however, a film in its own right but the second episode of a ‘Cine-Romanzo’ following the trend of the French and American serial. Three episodes were planned for the project: Il documento umano, now lost; L’uomo artificiale (later L’uomo meccanico); Gli strani amori di Mado, which was either left unfinished or never made. L’uomo meccanico is the only surviving work of the trilogy, or rather a fragmentary copy of it. Its incomplete and narratively incoherent state is not only due to the damage of time: censors also saw to shortening it. (Luck saved the scene of the giant robot carrying Mathilde Lambert – unconscious, bare-breasted and no less erotic than the girl in King Kong). Based on the first draft of the screenplay, Jean Gili helped reconstruct the film’s plot (in André Deed, Le Mani, 2005); even when reconstructed, the story seems improbable. In any event, the inconsistencies do not spoil the film’s originality nor its extraordinary inventions. L’uomo meccanico is a hybrid of three genres: burlesque, adventure serial and science fiction.
André Deed, acting here as ‘Saltarello’, provides the burlesque.
The adventure serial comes with the character ‘Mado, the adventuress’: Valentina Frascaroli peeking through a triangular opening of her black cloak. Pearl White’s and Musidora’s Italian sister. She embodies the modern urban woman in juxtaposition with the divas burned by D’Annunzio’s sacred fire, flowery imagery and a declining aestheticism.
Science-fiction: there is a screen that heralds the arrival of television (at the time just a loose experiment), but more importantly there is a gigantic robot remotely controlled by a TV set. This mechanical man with his stove-like appearance is without precedent. It soon became a theme of the most important instances of the avant-garde ‘mechanical aesthetics’, and thirty years later it would become an icon of American science-fiction. André Deed, who had already made his appearance as a body that can be dismembered and multiple man (Cretinetti che bello!, Too Much Beauty, 1909), leaves the screen after the electric and explosive showdown between two robots.
Spoiler alert: Mado (Valentina Frascaroli) is the head of a criminal gang. It is not something you would immediately understand from what remains of the film. So I am treacherously revealing the secret here. As punishment Mado will be in my dreams tonight.