Gaston Velle

Sog.: Gaston Velle; Prod.: Cines 35mm. L.o.: 220m

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Between 1905 and 1906, with the nickelodeon boom in the United Sates and the capillary spread of permanent theatres in Europe, the demand for films increased exponentially, and the unexpected opening of markets attracted to cinema production new and rich investors, determined to exploit an industrial sector of such promising potential.

Italy was not exempt from this phenomenon, and 1906 saw the debuts of two companies destined to play a fundamental role in the history of Italian and international cinema. On 31 March 1906, the Società Anonima Cines was constituted in Rome, emanating directly from Alberini & Santoni, the first Italian cinematograph “manufacturer”, while in August of the same year, in Turin, Ambrosio and Co. began its activity.

Also in France in 1906 there were two important foundations, the Société Générale des Cinématographes Eclipse, born of a rib of the Urban Trading Company, and the Société Anonime des Phonographes et Cinématographes Lux, headed by the French cinema pioneer Henri Joly. In Denmark, in November of the same year, the entrepreneur and cameraman Ole Olsen founded Nordisk Films Kompagni, a future colossus of the international cinema.

From the start, the new-born production firms assaulted the market without reverential fears, demonstrating some common characteristics: entrepreneurial dynamism, tension towards foreign markets, economic prudence in the choice of genres. The point of reference remained the production of Pathé, and the new subjects imitated, with some distinctions, their entrepreneurial politics and artistic choices. If Eclipse, continuing the documentary tradition of the Urban Trading Company, favoured “views” of foreign places and films of a scientific character, Lux specialized in comedy and drama, while Nordisk, beyond notable production of actuality, excelled in the comic and dramatic genres. Distinctions are relative, since, in 1906, differentiation in the supply was without doubt a fundamental priority for every production house, since the variety of the genres within every single programme remained the essence of the cinema spectacle of the time.

In 1906 in Italy 76 story films were produced; the production leader was Ambrosio, with 48 titles. That same year Alberini & Santoni ended its short-lived activity, distributing four films, among them the acclaimed Romanzo di un Pierrot, which marked the directorial debut of Mario Caserini. As well as a film directed by Luigi Roatto, the remaining Italian production came from Cines, which from the very start did not conceal its own international ambitions, poaching from Pathé one of the most prestigious directors of the time, Gaston Velle; the French metteur en scène made 23 titles for the Roman company, ranging from the comic genre to the dramatic and to féeries, six of which were remakes of Pathé films.

Cines’ production enjoyed immediate success in Italy and abroad, thanks to films like Othello, a drama in 12 scenes by Mario Caserini, and some of the best films directed by Velle, including Nozze tragiche, La Gitana, and the magnificent Un viaggio in una stella, a film in 10 scenes which is a masterpiece of the fantastic genre. If Cines specialized in the production of fiction, Ambrosio without doubt excelled in the documentary genre, which in 1906 remained very popular. Thanks to the experience and skill of cameramen like Giovanni Vitrotti and Roberto Omegna, the Turin firm could boast in its catalogue films “from life” such as Tor di Quinto, La scuola di cavalleria di Pinerolo, and Eruzione del Vesuvio, as well as a vast production of more commercial fiction films, largely of the comic genre. With the contemporary appearance of new subjects, 1906 was a moment of transformation and change for European production. The choice of titles presented in this programme aims to document some particularities of the European production firms which were established in this year, inviting a comparison with the coeval Italian production, in large part the work of two other illustrious “debutants”. Despite the meagre number of films viewed and available, thos presentation seeks to respect the variety of genres that was essential in every cinema show at the beginning of the century, with an attempt to reconstruct a hypothetical programme of the period.

Giovanni Lasi

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