Friday, September 28, 2012

Opera, pre-World War One silent film

 For a long time I've had a weird preference for pre-World War One silent films. They were made before they developed the "language of film". They tended to be crude, filmed entirely in long shot.

Then, last weekend, I was in my car. Went out to find a drive-through. The radio was on, some sort of travel show on NPR. Turned out to be Rick Steves. They had guy talking about opera.

The way to enjoy an opera is not to try to get its meaning from the words which you probably won't understand anyway. What you do is you read a synopsis of the thing before you go so you know what the story is. Then you sit back, relax and watch and listen.

It reminded me of a movie I watched, the 1911 Italian version of Dante's Inferno. It was done like every other movie of the era. Shot in long shot, with one long take per scene. And at the beginning of each scene was a long intertitle explaining what was going to happen.

 An example:
Dante imagines himself lost in a dark and gloomy wind. He sees the summit of a mountain lighted up by the sun. This is the hill of salvation which he endeavores to ascent.
We see the actor walking through the woods, lost until he looks up and sees----well, they don't actually show us what he sees. But he seems pleased.
Beatrice, the ideal of Dante, descends from Paradise into Limbo, and asks Virgil, a pious poet, to rescue and guide Dante.
Virgil reveals himself to Dante, delivers him from all danger and bids him to follow him into the portals of the Inferno.
The acting was rather exaggerated as you'd expect. But for some reason, this gave it a far greater feeling of realism than if it had been filmed with sound or in pantomime.

Maybe it's just me.

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