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Cinema Classics on DVD Curated Collection


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"[Martin Scorcese, the most passionate film historian among active directors, said] that Pastrone invented the epic and deserves credit for many of the innovations often credited to D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. Among those were the moving camera; Pastrone helped free movies from a static gaze."

"What we are now beginning to realize, as more silent films are rediscovered and restored, is that no one film was a breakthrough but excitement and innovation were everywhere in the air; since films from all nations could play anywhere just by changing the languages of the title cards, what directors learned from Sweden tonight was in the films they were making tomorrow in Italy or America."

In his novel 'The Book of Illusions', Paul Auster has a remarkable passage about the appeal of silent films:

"'They were like poems, like the renderings of dreams, like some intricate choreography of the spirit, and because they were dead, they probably spoke more deeply to us now than they had to the audiences of their time. We watched them across a great chasm of forgetfulness, and the very things that separated them from us were in fact what made them so arresting: their muteness, their absence of color, their fitful, speeded-up rhythms.'"

"I felt that way watching Cabiria. The film was made with limitless scope and ambition, with towering sets and thousands of extras, with stunts that (because they were actually performed by stuntmen) have an impact lost in these days of visual effects. Hannibal's elephants actually cross the Alps in this movie."

" 8-year-old Sicilian named Cabiria (Carolina Catena), who survives an eruption of Aetna but is kidnapped, and after various adventures becomes a slave in Carthage. She originally was rescued from the volcano and earthquake by a traveler from Rome named Fulvio (Umberto Mozzato) and his slave Maciste (Bartolomeo Pagano), and they discover her again as a grown woman (Lidia Quaranta). Together they plot to free her."

"Maciste, who was chained for years to a grindstone, breaks his chains, is imprisoned, forces apart the prison bars, hurls his enemies to their deaths, and in the process becomes one of the first Italian movie stars. Pagano, discovered by Pastrone, was a Herculean giant who changed his name to Maciste and went on to star in 24 more films, always playing the same North African slave, always in blackface, which alas was conventional at the time. His charisma and screen presence are undeniable, and in a film where one character in a toga and helmet looks much like another, he suggests the movies invented the star system because they needed it."

"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."-------Roger Ebert

Curator's Comments:
Read Roger Ebert's essay on this DVD Classic.

Director: Giovanni Pastrone
Black & White
123 minutes
Released: 1914
Rated: NR

Country: Italy
Language: silent with English intertitles
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Silent


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