The Maciste Films of Italian Silent Cinema

The Maciste Films of Italian Silent Cinema

The Maciste Films of Italian Silent Cinema

The Maciste Films of Italian Silent Cinema

Synopsis

Italian film star Bartolomeo Pagano's "Maciste" played a key role in his nation's narratives of identity during World War I and after. Jacqueline Reich traces the racial, class, and national transformations undergone by this Italian strongman from African slave in Cabiria (1914), his first film, to bourgeois gentleman, to Alpine soldier of the Great War, to colonial officer in Italy's African adventures. Reich reveals Maciste as a figure who both reflected classical ideals of masculine beauty and virility (later taken up by Mussolini and used for political purposes) and embodied the model Italian citizen. The 12 films at the center of the book, recently restored and newly accessible to a wider public, together with relevant extra-cinematic materials, provide a rich resource for understanding the spread of discourses on masculinity, and national and racial identities during a turbulent period in Italian history. The volume includes an illustrated appendix documenting the restoration and preservation of these cinematic treasures.

Excerpt

In 1914 the itala film company of turin, italy, released the historical epic Cabiria, a film that was to alter the landscape of early Italian cinema. With intertitles by the renowned poet Gabriele D’Annunzio and directed by Giovanni Pastrone, a frequent contributor on many fronts to Turin’s thriving film industry, Cabiria told the story of the kidnapping and liberation of a noble Roman girl during the Punic Wars in the third century bc. the film’s enormous impact sprang from its many cinematic innovations: the historical accuracy of its elaborate sets, its highbrow literary aspirations, its pioneering tracking and dolly shots, and the extraordinary popularity of its unexpected hero, Maciste – a muscular African slave who, on behalf of his Roman commander, rescues the incarcerated heroine in enemy territory.

The Italian actor playing Maciste, Bartolomeo Pagano, was new to national screens. He had been a dock loader employed at the Genoa ports when discovered by Itala Film to play the role of Maciste. the strongman, however, was a familiar character in Italian cinema’s early years. Historical films set in Ancient Rome such as Quo Vadis? (Cines, 1913) and Spartaco (Spartacus, Pasquali e C., 1913), among others, had featured muscled heroes performing feats of athletic daring. the strongman in these extremely popular historical epics, for which Italian cinema was world renowned at the time, evolved from various cultural practices: the circus, specifically the clown and the strongman’s acts of strength; a new widespread interest in physical culture and the emergence of gymnasiums in cities such as Turin, Bologna, and Milan, where the nascent . . .

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