The perilous camera-eye: El sexto sentido | The Sixth Sense (ES 1929)

The camera never lies. This cliché is now so discredited that even its antithesis is something of a truism: images are almost infinitely manipulable, via both technology, context, and human interpretation. Ultimately, El sexto sentido puts stock in both the idea of the camera as truth-recorder and that of the fallibility of human interpretation; as one of the opening intertitles of the film states, “To know [the truth], we must add the precision of mechanics to our imperfect senses.” Yet as the film shows us, images without context are all too easily misunderstood. Continue reading

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Coda to Valentine’s Day: silent film postcards

Flowers and chocolates and clichés, I don’t care, but I really like the idea of reclaiming Valentine’s Day as a time to express your feelings for the important people in your life. I have so many amazing friends, they mean the world to me—and sometimes you just have to say that! So, what better than to send out a bunch of film postcards to my best pals?

Several were silent film-themed: let me share them with you.

Die Asta at her gothic best as Hamlet

Anna Sten in the wonderful Девушка с коробкой | Girl with a Hatbox (USSR 1927)

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Power couples of Italian silent film

It may not be a surprise that the Italian silent film industry was chock-full of couples. Today, for the Feast of Saint Valentine, let’s take a look at these duos with lives spent in film as well as love—sometimes both at the same time.

Soava Gallone (née Stanisława Winawerówna) and Carmine Gallone

Polish-born Soava Gallone was an accomplished and successful film diva. Though several of her films survive, she is today most known for the delightful Maman Poupée | A Doll Wife (Olimpus-Film, 1919), the film of hers which has been most readily available to researchers.

Her husband Carmine, whom she married in 1912, was her key collaborator, directing her in almost all of her film appearances. The productive Carmine was one of the leading directors of the Italian silent era, notably directing almost half of Lyda Borelli’s film appearances. He continued to have a very successful career in the sound era, with a prolific filmography that includes the notorious Scipio Africanus (1937).

Emilio Ghione and Kally Sambucini

Partners in crime

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Pride and passion: Pina Menichelli in Il padrone delle ferriere (1919)

Aristocracy, hubris, and hauteur: these are the main ingredients in Itala-Film’s Il padrone delle ferriere | The Master of the Ironworks (1919), starring the majestic Pina Menichelli. I’d intended to cover another 1917 film in this Diva December entry, but when the Museo Nazionale del Cinema Torino uploaded this film a couple of months ago—for me, a longed-for title—my path was clear. In this tale, the course of true love is never smooth; but the ride is pure, unadulterated melodrama, and therefore a lot of fun.

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The dream and the myth: Il fauno | The Faun (IT 1917)

Do not flee from me, for I am love. In his character’s introduction, Febo Mari sets the tone for this phantasmic film in which desire and mythology intertwine. In a reverse Pygmalion scenario, an artist’s model, her sculptor-love unfaithful to her, dreams a faun into lifethe two fall in love, and escape to their own pastoral world, living outside civilisation. Yet they cannot remain undisturbed in their garden of Eden foreverthe outside world intrudes, as well as the messiness of human emotion. Can love be stronger than myth?

The model and the faun

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Diva December begins with a rainbow

It’s that time of year again! In Diva December, now in its fourth edition, I look at examples of the ‘diva film’, or the genre of decadent female-led melodramas that were a mainstay of Italian cinema of the 1910s. I’ve outlined the diva film genre here before—take a look, if you’d like the basics!

I’ll be covering two or three specific films, but first: some eye candy. A few months ago I posted some rainbow mosaic images I’d made, using a script I wrote that takes screencaps at regular intervals throughout a video file, arranges them in hue order, and then outputs a combinatory grid of the results. Well, I couldn’t resist to give diva films the same treatment – so here are a few of the best results.

The great Carnevalesca (Cines 1918), starring Lyda Borelli, makes a true rainbow:

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Reflections on writing and research: Fluffy Ruffles, women in silent cinema, and gaps in film history

Earlier this year, I posted about a film/media history article I’d published in the journal Feminist Media Histories, entitled “From the New York Herald to the Italian screen: Fluffy Ruffles, la donna americana”. The article traced the history of 1907-9 comic strip character Fluffy Ruffles, feminine type and pop culture phenomenon, and how she was the subject of two films in Italy in the 1910s. I also illustrated the article with hand-drawings and collages. It was a large piece of work, and an extremely rewarding project for me. Now that some time has passed, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on the process of working on the article. Continue reading

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