Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Today I watched Cabiria, directed by Giovanni Pastrone in 1914. It's a silent epic - probably the first epic ever made. It's sort of hard to follow. The intertitles are really complicated and strange, and there are a lot of characters to keep track of. It really requires you to work with it, which I was not so up to doing today. No fault of the movie, though. Really, what I loved about it was that it was from 1914 and it had incredible sets, huge amounts of extras, and a lot of cool costuming. It was a really ambitious project, and I have to respect it for that. It might not have fit my mood, but it really is an interesting film.
The summary on Wikipedia is nice considering I'm almost asleep already. "Set in ancient Carthage during the period of the Second Punic War, it treats the conflict between Rome and Carthage through the eyes of the title character, who is kidnapped by pirates, sold as a slave in Carthage, and rescued from being sacrificed to the god Moloch by a Roman nobleman and his muscular slave Maciste (who would later become the protagonist in a whole successful series of films on his own). Hannibal and his war elephants fit into the plot of this epic film." The plot sounds a little boring, and frankly, it is. I always say that silent movies sort of require you to put in some work to watch them, and this one takes quite a bit of work. It doesn't help that the intertitles are really long and odd.
As much as I didn't go crazy for the plot or anything like that, I really thought it was a cool movie to watch. I think this sounds impossible, but that's how it was for me. I wasn't too interested in what was going on, but I was interested in the sets, the stunts, the actors, the costumes, and the project as a whole. The sets were huge, and so elaborate. It was really neat to see them and know that they were handcrafted. The labor and time that went into this film is just shocking. It's almost hard to imagine having the patience to create something so big. And then the huge sets are filled with scores of extras. It really does feel epic. It's not like when you watch a movie today and know it's just a handful of people on a soundstage in front of a green screen. This all had to be created, and all of the extras had to be wrangled and directed. It's so impressive. For me, I like the movie just based on this. I might not watch it again, but I'm glad I saw it, to experience how difficult and ambitious the film was. It's really cool to see something like this because of how much you learn about film history. I was able to understand what viewers liked in movies in that era, and how patient and creative many of the early directors were.
I always say that silent film feels so dreamy to me. It always just has some other-wordily quality to it for me, and I find it so engrossing. Even being as tired as I am, I still was really interested in just looking at the movie. It's amazing how movies are glimpses back in time, and exist now as little snapshots of the past. Ebert writes that this effect is two-fold in this film, that not only do we see 1914, but also another time, the ancient time of the epic. I sort of agree. There's something about silent film that just makes it easier to embrace the world that the film sets up. Like, it somehow seems like it's really a glimpse into that historical era. It's not, but it's somehow easy to believe that it might be. I don't know why I'm always fascinated by silent films, even when I don't really love them. I think it's a combination of my interest in the historical aspects, but also that it just has such a different feel to it than regular films.
I don't know. I wasn't a huge fan of the film's plot, and I wasn't really in a mood to focus on it too much, but I still really liked it, because it was actually really epic. I like knowing that the stunts are real, the sets are real, and the mass of extras is real. The whole film is a really amazing feat, and it's so cool to see something like that. I might not like the story, but I certainly like seeing a film like this. I respect it so much, and I just find it interesting to watch in so many ways. I don't know if I can really recommend it, but it might be neat to check it out, even just some parts of it. It's pretty amazing to see how impressive movies could be in 1914 - I think we don't often realize how elaborate they really were and often think of them as simplistic, and this does a great job of showing that they were really ambitious, huge projects for an audience with a big appetite.
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Cabiria
Buy it on Amazon