Song of Naples. Tribute to Elvira Notari and Vittorio Martinelli

The Pope is in Rome, but God is in Naples
Jean Cocteau, on Carosello napoletano

This section was created as an homage to two important personalities of Neapolitan Cinema: Elvira Notari (1875-1946) and Vittorio Martinelli (1926-2008). Notari was one of the first and most prolific female Italian directors and producers, and with her production house Dora Film, a family business founded alongside husband Nicola, she represents local Neapolitan film production at its best, which was of great importance throughout the entire silent era. The Notaris started out hand-colouring foreign films and with the production of ‘arrivederci’ – short films projected at the end of cinematic screenings. During the 1910s, they moved on to produce their first ‘dal vero’ (real life) films and subsequently feature films, often adapted from winning songs from the Piedigrotta Folk Competition. In the 1920s, they expanded their activities overseas, targeting Italian emigrant audiences in the Americas. In fact, music has been chosen as the matrix for this programme, which runs from 1898 to the present day and which proposes silent films accompanied by live music – new interpretations as well as traditional performances of Neapolitan folk songs. In addition to the films of Notari – of approximately sixty films, only three (almost) complete films and a selection of fragments have survived –, we will also see a rare cinematic performance by Raffaele Viviani, a maestro of the great Neapolitan theatrical tradition; a cult film starring Neapolitan diva Leda Gys; a Russo-French production filmed in Naples; the new restoration of the unique musical Carosello napoletano; and finally, Gatta Cenerentola, the multi-award winning 2017 animated film, a reinterpretation, with strong political undertones, of the 1976 musical by Roberto De Simone and his Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare, itself inspired by Lo cunto de li cunti by Giambattista Basile (1634-36).
Ten years on from his death, we remember Vittorio Martinelli with great affection and esteem. Neapolitan by birth (and by nature), a passionate historian and researcher, gifted with a prodigious memory and seemingly limitless energy, he wrote numerous works on silent cinema and a fascinating detailed history of Neapolitan cinema. He based his research on original vintage documents, of which he was an avid collector; he sought out and met living witnesses of the past, such as Eduardo Notari, from whom he collected memories of his mother Elvira. The large and extremely rich Martinelli Collection, preserved at Cineteca di Bologna, is an inexhaustible source that on this occasion has offered us some of its many treasures. The programme resumes and continues the work begun last year with a conference and section dedicated to Elvira Notari, curated by the Kinothek Asta Nielsen. We wish to thank all those we met in Frankfurt, who since then have accompanied us with their knowledge and friendship as well as all the film archives that partecipate with their films.
Elena Correra and Mariann Lewinsky

“We’re from Naples and we have to make Neapolitan cinema!”: with this motto, Vittorio Martinelli defines Elvira Notari’s approach to cinema in a 1988 essay on Neapolitan productions in the early days of cinema.
The Notari family production house, named Dora Film after one of Elvira and Nicola’s three children, quickly became one of the most important production houses in Naples. Unfortunately, very few titles have survived, almost all of which are preserved at CSC – Cineteca Nazionale. Specifically, just three feature length films and a small number of fragments. È piccerella (1922), ‘A santanotte (1922) and Fantasia ‘e surdato (1927) have survived in safety prints made in 1968 by the Cineteca Nazionale from nitrate prints, which are no longer available. As was common practise at that time, the films were copied onto black and white film, with the loss of all indications useful for the reconstruction of the original colouration. For example, the preserved elements of Fantasia ‘e surdato present many obvious traces of hand colouration in the grey tones, both on the images themselves as well as on the intertitles. However, in this case, the reconstruction of the colour schemes could only be carried out by conjecture. Only in the case of ‘A santanotte, and thanks to the identification of a tinted nitrate print at the George Eastman Museum, was it possible in 2008, as part of the project Non solo dive. Pioniere del cinema italiano curated by Monica Dall’Asta and Associazione Orlando, to restore the film following the colour scheme present on an original US distribution copy.
Among the surviving fragments, there also exists the beginning of the feature film L’Italia s’è desta (1927), which shows the colouration typical of Dora Film, donated by Eduardo Notari to the Associazione Italiana per le Ricerche di Storia del Cinema (AIRSC), and two ‘dal vero’ shorts: La festa della SS. Assunta ad Avellino and La festa della Madonna della Libera a Trevico, dated back to 1923 and recovered in the United States by Fiorenzo Carullo. These nitrate fragments, with intertitles in both Italian and English, are of particular interest as they offer us rare proof of the foreign distribution of Notari films, aimed at Italian emigrants in the USA. It appears that in the 1920s, this audience was transformed from spectator to client: the Italian-American community commissioned Dora Film to produce short documentaries, depicting the places of origin of the emigrants and rituals familiar to them. According to Vittorio Martinelli, seven hundred of these films were produced, all of which, until now, were believed lost. Vittorio would be pleased to know that two of them have finally been found and restored.
Daniela Currò and Maria Assunta Pimpinelli