I act, therefore IAM: Italia Almirante Manzini in Notte di tempesta (1916)

Italia Almirante Manzini was a major diva of the Italian silents who has, so far, been mentioned on this blog only briefly. I like her a lot—she’s always fun and engaging to watch. Despite a stately appearance, I perceive a certain gentle wryness to her smile; it seems both that she is enjoying herself and that she is in on the joke.

A little background: Almirante Manzini began her acting career on the stage, and entered films in the early teens, but it was the mighty Cabiria (Itala-Film, 1914) that established her as a cinematic star. As is well known, Cabiria was groundbreaking both formally and narratively, and it’s still highly enjoyable; in my opinion, it’s one of those classics that wholeheartedly deserves its critical reputation. Almirante Manzini is resplendent as the Carthaginian noblewoman Sofonisba (a character based on the historical figure Sophonisba), living in luxury, complete with pet tiger.

As Sofonisba in Cabiria.

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Lina Cavalieri in Sposa nella morte! | The Shadow of Her Past (IT 1915)


Known as “the most beautiful woman in the world”, opera singer Lina Cavalieri starred opposite Caruso, was fêted by D’Annunzio, and was painted by Boldini. She began her career singing in the café-chantants of Rome, Naples, and Paris; rising to international stardom, she toured Europe, was beloved in Tsarist Russia, and performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Along the way, she launched her own perfume (‘Mona Lina’), and married and divorced several times. Indeed a great beauty, Cavalieri was extensively photographed, her face and fashionably corseted figure published on many postcards. The proliferation of her likeness certainly helped establish Cavalieri as a defining icon of the Belle Époque.

Cavalieri also appeared on the silver screen, though unfortunately almost all of her films are now lost. The sole exception is her second film, Sposa nella morte! (literally Wife in Death, released in the USA as The Shadow of Her Past), which she made at Tiber-Film in 1915.

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Diva ‘December’ returns – Fabienne Fabrèges in Signori giurati … (1916)

Welcome to (the now well-misnamed) Diva December! In this series, I look at examples of the Italian diva film, a genre that proliferated in 1910s Italy—for an overview, click here. This first instalment is devoted to a relatively obscure title, Signori giurati … | Gentlemen of the Jury …, starring French actress Fabienne Fabrèges, who also wrote the screenplay.

Advertisement in Film, no. 21 of 1916

Advertisement in Film, no. 21 of 1916

Signori giurati is a classic femme fatale story, in which Fabrèges plays Julienne Santiago, a woman with her eyes on the prize. Julienne has two main goals: to break as many hearts as possible, and to open a fancy drug den. Well, we all have to make a living, no?

Fabrèges in her character introduction shot.

Fabrèges in her character introduction shot.

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Diva December delayed!

Regular readers will know that in December, I usually publish a series of articles on the films of the Italian divas. Due to a heavy workload right now, I have to postpone this until early next year – so please check back then! In the meantime, here is my introductory article to this genre, and the diva film archives can be found here.

I leave you with this adorable picture of Maria Jacobini in the interim.


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More question marks in Italian film advertising of the teens

Late last year, I published a post of adverts I’d come across in silent-era Italian film journals that prominently used question marks. But there is a lot more material where that came from—so now, I present a sequel. Enjoy some more interrogative punctuation … …?

Oh Ambrosio, why do you tease me so?

La cinematografia italiana ed estera 02 del 1916 inferno smlLa cinematografia italiana ed estera 02 del 1916

Preferisco l’inferno! | I prefer Hell! starred frequent collaborators Gigetta Morano and Eleutorio Rodolfi, the latter of whom also directed.

What is Léontine Massart up to next?

Cinemagraf 09 del 1916 smlCinemagraf no. 09 of 1916

The answer: a few titles in 1916, and then not a whole lot else.

Jupiter-Film seem unsure about their lead actress, Diana Karenne.

Cinemagraf 09 del 1916 Karenne question smlCinemagraf no. 09 del 1916
Cinemagraf 10 del 1916 Karenne question smlCinemagraf no. 10 del 1916

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Varieté at the NZIFF: An interview with composer Johannes Contag


Varieté (also known as Variety, Vaudeville and Jealousy) is one of the most prominent works of the Weimar cinema. Directed by E. A. Dupont for UFA in 1925, it is as famous for Karl Freund’s freewheeling cinematography as for the performances of its leads, Lya de Putti and the ubiquitous Emil Jannings. Recently been restored by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation in collaboration with the Filmarchiv Austria (Wien), Varieté has been touring the festival circuit over the last year or so.

For Varieté’s presentation at the recent New Zealand International Film Festival, the NZIFF and the Goethe-Institut commissioned Wellington-based composer and musician Johannes Contag to create a score for chamber orchestra. Jo’s previous musical projects include his score for King Vidor’s The Crowd (1929) at NZIFF 2013, as well as work with groups like Cloudboy and The Golden Awesome. I spoke with Jo about his work on Varieté.

Hi, Jo! I really enjoyed your score when I saw Varieté in Wellington. Can you give a brief introduction to your work on Varieté, and how you became involved in this project?

Hi Katherine, thanks for inviting me to talk to you, and I’m glad you enjoyed the performance! After working on The Crowd for NZIFF with the SMP Ensemble, we were all keen to do another project together. Bill Gosden from NZIFF and myself brainstormed potential films for about a year until we settled on Varieté. Like The Crowd, it presents a detailed and convincingly authentic milieu, and there are great actors carrying a story that still seems topical today (Berta-Marie is a boat refugee from the Middle East!) – although in this respect Varieté is full of expressionist swagger compared to Vidor’s gentler and more sober realism. To me, this seemed like a good progression to build on musically; I could get a little more lyrical and follow some extremer tangents, and there is more dramatic tension to tap into. Continue reading

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Casa Lyda Borelli in Bologna


Lyda Borelli was already a celebrated theatrical actress and fashion icon when she burst into film with the seminal Ma l’amor mio non muore! (But my love will never die!; 1913). Her cinematic career was relatively sparse—over six years, she only made 16 films—but enormously successful. Her elegance and unique screen presence were greatly admired, and she gave rise to the noun borellismo and the verb borelleggiare (to ‘Borrelli-ize’, i.e. to emulate the appearance and poses of Borelli).

In 1918, Lyda Borelli married the industrialist and aristocrat Conte Vittorio Cini, and retired from acting altogether, thereafter devoting herself to raising the couple’s four children. While in Bologna for Il Cinema Ritrovato, I learned of Casa Lyda Borelli, located on the via Saragozza, and decided to take a look.

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