Cabiria (1914) dir. Giovanni Pastrone. Italy.
[As we work our way through our film history docket, we’ll post (very) short write-ups of each movie, along with a piece of insight.]
“The movie feels old, and by that I mean older than 1914. It feels like a view of ancient times, or at least of those times as imagined a century ago. We are looking into two levels of a time machine. Silent films in general create a reverie state for me; sound films are more realistic, more immediately gripping, but in a silent film I find myself dreamier, more drawn into meditations about the nature of life and time. These people are all dead, but here they are as they were on that day in 1914, boldly telling a story in a new medium, trusting it would reach audiences all over the world, and little suspecting that 92 years later moviegoers would still be climbing to the top of another palace, the one at Cannes, to see them.”
Abigail: I was incredibly impressed with this film. It was such an amazingly massive endeavor. And almost all of it really worked well. I was really amazed at Pastrone’s vision. He seemed to understand that he was shaping a brilliant art form, in a way that lots of the directors even a decade later didn’t seem to grasp. He didn’t seem to be experimenting so much as building. I loved the cuts between locations. I loved that I basically knew where the characters were at any given moment. The sense of space was magnificent. I really enjoyed this movie, and though the ladder phalanx was awesome, my favorite moment was meeting Sophonisba, the queen of Carthage. She stared straight at the camera, and stroked her leopard and we knew that she was powerful, important and would sway nations.
Forrest: I had a certain amount of trepidation sitting down to watch a 103 year old silent epic, but needn’t have. This was awesome. There are certain set pieces and images that sear their way into your consciousness. The ladder of soldiers was incredible. The scale of the whole thing is unreal — it’s just huge, and it’s all (obviously) practical. No digital trickery here. The actors are fascinating, too. Bartolomeo Pagano’s Maciste leaps off the screen. All told, this felt shockingly alive, despite the century remove. Enjoyable and impressive.