Tuesday, July 12, 2016 at 7:30pm
Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
Cabiria, Giovanni Pastrone, 1914, 16mm, 116 mins
“I will never forget the first time I saw Giovanni Pastrone’s extraordinary Cabiria. It was 20 years ago. I wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer scope and beauty of this film. And I was completely unprepared for having my sense of film history realigned. There are so many elements that we took for granted as American inventions – the long-form historical epic, the moving camera, diffused light. Suddenly, here they were in a picture made two years before Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. And, of course, there was the discovery of Pastrone himself, a major figure in the early history of cinema.
I am struck by the fact that Pastrone, a native of Piedmont, not only studied the violin but made musical instruments before he took over Itala Film. Those of us who grew up with cinema as a fact of life need to remember that it wasn’t just the spirit of mechanical and technical innovation that drove moviemaking forward, but the tradition of fine craftsmanship as well. We forget this – particularly now, when so much is done digitally. We shouldn’t.
I’d always admired the craftsmanship of the Italian-made epics when I was growing up. Even as a boy, I sensed the differences with American-made pictures – I could feel the connection to ancient traditions of artistry and craftsmanship stretching all the way back to the pre-Roman Etruscan era, in the textures, the colors, the set design. As I watched Cabiria that first time, I felt like I was seeing the origins of Italian film craftsmanship. The most famous example would be Pastrone’s invention of the carrello, which, of course, led to the invention of tracks in order to move the camera. But this was not simply a mechanical device. It was an expressive tool. The camera movements in Cabiria do much more than follow the actors: they enrich the sense of space and the drama as well. This is important to remember. Pastrone made the camera itself a presence, and the meeting between this presence and the unfolding action became charged with mystery, possibility.
Of course, there are so many other ways of discussing this remarkable film: the extraordinary use of light, both realistic and poetic, affording greater depth to each scene; the set-pieces, such as the eruption of Etna, and the extraordinary final battle; the sets, particularly the temple of Moloch, and the hand-crafted production design; Italia Almirante-Manzini’s wild, extravagant performance as Sophonisba, Gabriele D’Annunzio’s equally wild and extravagant language in the intertitles; and last but not least, the first appearance of Maciste, Italian cinema’s first action hero. In the end, though, Cabiria is not a collection of great moments or choices, but a magnificent, entrancing whole.” - Martin Scorsese
Tickets - $8, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.