Live musical accompaniment by Daniele Furlati (piano), François Laurent (guitar) e Guido Sodo (voice and mandolin)
In 1918, Enrico Caruso, a curious media experimenter, signed a contract for the incredible amount of $200,000 for two films to be produced by Jesse Lasky of Famous Players, My Cousin and The Splendid Romance, which is now lost. In My Cousin Caruso plays the double role of the tenor Caroli and his cousin, a sculptor/statuette-maker in Little Italy, and his acting is not as histrionic as contemporary silent film performance styles. The premiere was to be held in October but was delayed to November, officially due to the Spanish Flu. A series of mishaps occurred during the delicate launch of such an expensive star for the production company that had ‘invented’ the star system, which explains why this picture does not appear in any film history book.
In a “Moving Picture Stories” novelisation dated 15 November, the names of the characters are not the same as in the film. Two film stills were retouched to restore the sculptor cousin’s moustache and their catalogue numbers date to a point after the lost film Splendid Romance. So there was a reworking in the film. Moreover, the first novelisations depict the ‘poor’ cousin as a stereotypical immigrant, all spaghetti, jealousy and knives. Irritated by this negative representation, Caruso intervened, transforming the jealousy scenes into pranks and expanded the sculptor’s role into a good-natured, artistic character, using his own charisma against anti-Italian prejudice.
A stereotypical plot that undermined the audience’s empathy and a botched publicity drive that created an expectation that the tenor would sing in the movie explain why My Cousin proved to be, as Lasky himself admitted, a flop. It was pulled from distribution despite reviews acknowledging the singer’s acting talent. Deep cultural issues were at the heart of the unexpected ‘failure’ of Caruso’s film debut, but Lasky also had to take responsibility: unable to exploit the tenor’s magnificent voice, he should have put his money on his exceptional acting ability with a good story. My Cousin is about the aspirations of Italian immigrants, but it was the Met tenor that the American middle class wanted to see, and that was the audience Famous Players hoped to win over.
Although late, Lasky understood his mistake: the last film he produced was The Great Caruso (1951).
For the restoration of My Cousin five elements – preserved by MoMA – The Museum of Modern Art, BFI National Archive, Gosfil’mofond and EYE Filmmuseum – were inspected, digitised and compared. The restoration used a duplicate negative preserved by MoMA, produced from a nitrate print with Swedish
Cast and Credits
Sog., Scen.: Margaret Turnbull. F.: Hal Young. Scgf.: Vincenzo Trotta. Int.: Enrico Caruso (Tommasso Caroli/Cesare Caroli), Carolina White (Rosa Ventura), William Ricciardi (Pietro Ventura), Henry Leone (Roberto Lombardi), William Bray (Ludovico), Salvatore Fucito (il pianista), Bruno Zirato (il segretario). Prod.: Jesse Lasky per Famous Players-Lasky Productions. DCP. Bn.
If you like this, we suggest:
Pauline Saint-Hilaire (StudioCanal), Roy Menarini (Università di Bologna) and Anna Masecchia (Università di Napoli)
Pauline Saint-Hilaire (StudioCanal) and Roy Menarini (Università di Bologna)
Music composed and directed by Maud Nelissen, performed by The Sprockets:
Daphne Balvers (soprano saxophone), Frido ter Beek (alto saxophone), Peter Keijsers (trombone), Marco Ludemann (banjo, jazz guitar, mandolin), Alexander Vocking (contrabass), Rombout Stoffers (drums, effects, accordion) and Maud Nelissen (piano)