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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Even more question marks in Italian silent film advertising

Over the course of my research, I’ve noticed on a delightful quirk of Italian silent film advertising: a prominent and often repetitious use of question marks to build anticipation and enthusiasm for future film releases.

I’ve shared examples annually for the last couple of years, but the well is not yet dry, my friends. So, for the third excursion into this phenomenon, I’ve looked for examples that combine punti interrogativi with other punctuation. Andiamo!

Question marks and exclamation marks are a match made in heaven in this advert for Dollari e fraks, a four-part serial in Emilio Ghione’s long-running Za La Mort series.

La vita cinematografica no. 5-6 of 1919

What about Chaplin? Stefano Pittaluga has the goods, advertising Charlot falso Barone (Caught in a Cabaret, 1914), Charlot ortolano (The Tramp, 1915), and Il pianoforte di Charlot (His Musical Career, 1914).

La vita cinematografica (December 1918)

Tiber Film in Rome aren’t sure what to do with Maria Jacobini:

La vita cinematografica no. 31 of 1918

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A rainbow of silent film

Regular readers will have noticed that things have been pretty quiet around Silents, Please! for the last year or so. Partly, this was because I channelled a lot of energy into researching, writing and drawing my Feminist Media Histories article: a very absorbing process, about which I’ll write more soon. Another reason was because I was putting a lot of energy into writing code rather than writing about film.

On occasion, these hobbies have intersected. Some months ago, I wrote a Bash/Python script that generates a rainbow grid from a film: it takes regular frame grabs from a video file, determines the dominant colour per image, then outputs a mosaic of images ordered by hue. Of course, I had silent film on my mind as I wrote the script – what better way to showcase the vibrant colours of this era? I revisited my code recently; so, it seems like a good time to present a few of my favourite outputs from the program. Enjoy! (And you can click on each picture to view the full-size image).

The Blue Bird (US 1918) lives up to its picturesque reputation:

Der Student von Prag | The Student of Prague (DE 1913), with Paul Wegener in the title role, is an excellent film that also scores highly in the rainbow stakes.

A range of jewel tones from L’Homme du large | The Man of the Open Sea (FR 1920):

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Queer film history: Diana McLellan’s “The Girls: Sappho goes to Hollywood”

garbo-dietrich-photoshop-sml2

Photoshop by Edith Prestegaard; found on YouTube.

At this point in time, it’s by no means a revelation that a number of Hollywood actresses in the 1920s and 1930s loved women, including major stars like Alla Nazimova, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich. The private lives of these women take centre stage in Diana McLellan’s book The Girls: Sappho goes to Hollywood, in which the author promises “a rich stew of film, politics, sexuality, psychology, and stardom”.

A heady mix indeed. First things first: this book is tremendously entertaining. I’ve read it a couple of times before, and it’s fun and breezy, with McLellan generally doing a good job of weaving different characters in and out of her narrative, and animating various figures in an engaging manner. The major caveat is that The Girls is, at best, highly speculative. McLellan was a gossip columnist for many years, and it certainly shows in the resulting work. The reader is apprised of this from the very start, when in the foreword, McLellan states a principle that guided both her former work in newspapers and her research for The Girls: “One big, proven lie reveals far more than dozens or widely reported ‘truths’—once you understand why it was told”. Well, then. QED?
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