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Inspired by grand opera and Italy's imperialist victory in the Libyan War (1911-12), the Italian movie industry produced dozens of historical epics in the period just before World War I. The most influential and successful of these was Cabiria, the visually spectacular film which set the standard for big-budget feature-length movies around the world and opened the way for D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. De Mille. The story concerns a girl - Cabiria - who is separated from her parents during the Punic Wars in the Third Century B.C. In her odyssey through the world of ancient Rome, she encounters the eruption of Mt. Etna, capture by pirates, the barbaric splendor of Carthage, human sacrifice and Hannibal crossing the Alps. With meticulous care given to costume and set design, Cabiria was shot in North Africa, Sicily and the Italian Alps. This Kino on Video edition was mastered from a premiere quality 35mm print at the correct projection speed. The piano soundtrack, performed by Jacques Gauthier, is adapted from the original 1914 score.
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The story follows the odyssey of a young girl, Cabiria, during the Punic Wars of the Third Century B.C. when the Roman Empire ruled the world. From the violent eruption of Mt. Etna to the barbaric ritual of human sacrifice, Cabiria emerges a survivor.
The meticulous attention to costuming and construction of massive sets became the standard for all such future productions, and it was CABIRIA that inspired Griffith to make INTOLERANCE (1915). The Temple of Moloch, in particular, is nothing short of spectacular - especially when one considers that this level of expertise was already being put into such an early work. But Pastrone's film is noteworthy for more than it's big scale, it also made innovative use of lighting and moving camera techniques that helped shape cinematic language. It showed that epic films can still offer intimate characterization - the actors aren't buried under all the lavish splendor.
Kino's edition of CABIRIA was transferred from a beautiful 35mm print, which is the most complete in existence. The wonderful piano score is adapted from the 1914 original, and is performed by Jacques Gauthier.
CABIRIA shows us most magnificently that movies from a century ago aren't the primitive, awkward flickers most people like to think they are, but they still have the ability to move and mystify us with their power and eloquence.
Highly recommended; especially for anyone who appreciates film history.
Cabiria takes place during the Punic Wars a couple of centuries before Julius Caesar. The film begins when a Roman town is destroyed by a volcano. A little girl named Cabiria and her nurse escape the volcano's destruction only to be captured by pirates and sold as slaves. Cabiria is sold to the priests of Carthage who intend to sacrifice her to the god Molech. The girl's nurse finds two fellow Romans and begs them to find and rescue Cabiria before she is sacrificed in the fire. One of the Roman heroes is a strong muscle man. (When this film was made in 1914 it was decades before the birth of modern bodybuilding. One may wonder how our hero was able to bulk up so much.) Muscle Man and his sidekick rescue Cabiria from the fire only to get caught up in the Roman-Carthaginian war. The heroes entrust Cabiria to a mysterious woman just before they are captured by the Carthaginian army. The heroes spend the next 10 or 20 years in a continual cycle of getting captured, doing forced labor, escaping, looking for Cabiria, getting captured again, spending time in prison, escaping, and continuing the search for the little girl.
Meanwhile there is the constant war, cities laid seige, political alliances, and mass destruction. To be completely honest after my first viewing I do not understand many of the finer points of the plot. The film was made for an Italian audience whose history involves the Punic Wars, a subject which I desperately need a refresher course in. The movie has a LOT of characters (most of them admittedly minor) who can be difficult to keep straight. The title cards have some verbose exposition. There is a lot of political intrigue, and many references are made to various deities of different nations. All of this worked together to make it difficult for me to follow what was going on at times. BUT PLEASE DON'T CONSIDER THAT A FLAW OF THE MOVIE BECAUSE I THINK IT IS A PLUS. I think that this film is so rich that one can enjoy the action/adventure aspect on the first viewing and watch it later to get a better understanding of the plot and historical details.
This film looks amazing. It is famous for inventing new camera styles including medium shots, panning, and different kinds of staging - but I am not qualified to talk about that. What I can tell you is the detail of the sets. There is ALWAYS stuff happening in the background. There are always people way in the background going about their business, something you don't see much of in early silent films. The sets are HUGE and incredibly detailed. Costumes and buildings are beautiful. (Although I admit that swords usually look REALLY cheesy!) The visual effects hold up even today. The volcano looks real. I love the seamless double exposure (I think that's what it is) where you see a big city or something being destroyed in the background while lots of people are running around in front at the bottom of the screen. The most amazing thing about this movie in my opinion is the sense of very real danger. I honestly believed that the actors were actually in danger of personal injury from cities falling on them or from them falling. No, they weren't in as much danger as Buster Keaton in the General, but I still had the sense that in every action scene the actors took their lives into their hands. I tell you THAT MAKES FOR AN EXCITING MOVIE!!! I'll give you two examples. In one scene the volcano is destroying the town. People are running up and down, back and forth, like headless chickens trying to escape the destruction as the city collapses around them. Walls fall. Ceilings fall. And they barely miss the actors' heads. Sure the falling rock is probably made of some sort of foam, but it looks dangerous. The second scene actually IS dangerous. The Roman army is trying to scale the wall of Carthage to invade the city, but apparently nobody brought any rope. The soldiers form a huge human staircase by getting in formation, holding their broad shields above their heads, and letting their comrades climb up on their shields and do the same thing. This must have been a 50 man formation trying to get over this wall. There were no CGI effects. These were men holding up other men with their shields! Any moment you're expecting Charlie Chaplin to come and knock the whole thing over, but the threat of injury to the actors is no laughing matter.
This movie has some great characters too. The muscle man, his sidekick, the nurse, the priest of Molech, and especially the Queen of Carthage who actually helps Cabiria and her rescuers while she is at war and forming political alliances against their country. The Queen's palace is one of the most beautiful sets in the movie, and the Queen is twice seen petting a real live adult leopard. (Any cat lovers out there?) The Musclebound Hero is a character with true charisma and some apparent wrestling prowess. If he had a sword and suit of armor he could probably conquer Carthage by himself, but he prefers to run around wearing nothing but what looks like wrestling shorts, showing off his bronzed muscles, and fighting with his bare hands like Hercules. That's probably why he keeps getting captured. Although this movie has no nudity (and only one implied but not seen sex scene in which the priest takes Cabiria into his chamber to -we assume- rape her), anyone who likes to admire the bodies of their on-screen heroes and heroines will not be disappointed. The hero's bronzed muscles take center stage, and the gorgeous Queen wears a beautiful, revealing dress that shows off much (including her sexy Italian underarm hair for those who are into that).
I could keep writing, but it would be redundant. Cabiria is pure excitement from the first scene to the last, and you would do yourself a favor to see it. Then do your friends a favor and tell them about it.