CABIRIA (Giovanni Pastrone, 1914, Italy, 148m, BW)
Cabiria, Visione Storica del Terzo Secolo A.C. (1914)
Directed by Giovanni Pastrone
Produced by Giovanni Pastrone
Written by Gabriele d'Annunzio (portrayed as the "auteur" in this poster) and Giovanni Pastrone (from the works by Emilio Salgari, Gustave Flaubert and Titus Livius)
Starring Bartolomeo Pagano
Release dates 18 April 1914
200 min (original)
137 min (1937 version)
123 min (1990 restoration)
190 min (2006 restoration)
Language Silent film
Budget 1 million Lira
Cabiria is a 1914 Italian epic silent film, directed by Giovanni Pastrone and shot in Turin. The film is set in ancient Sicily, Carthage, and Cirta during the period of the Second Punic War (218–202 BC). It follows a melodramatic main plot about an abducted little girl, Cabiria, and features an eruption of Mt. Etna, heinous religious rituals in Carthage, the alpine trek of Hannibal, Archimedes' defeat of the Roman fleet at the Siege of Syracuse and Scipio maneuvering in North Africa. Apart from being a classic on its own terms, the film is also notable for being the first film in which the long-running film character Maciste makes his debut. According to Martin Scorsese, in this work Pastrone invented the epic movie and deserves credit for many of the innovations often attributed to D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. Among those was the extensive use of a moving camera, thus freeing the feature-length narrative film from "static gaze". The historical background and characters in the story are taken from Livy's Ab Urbe Condita (written ca. 27–25 BC). In addition, the script of Cabiria was partially based on Gustave Flaubert's 1862 novel Salammbo and Emilio Salgari's 1908 novel Cartagine in fiamme (Carthage in Flames).
Batto and his young daughter Cabiria live in a lavish estate in the shadow of Mount Etna at Catana on the island of Sicily. Cabiria plays with dolls with her nurse Croessa. When the volcanic Etna erupts violently, Batto prays to the god Pluto for deliverance but receives only a brief respite before his home and gardens are destroyed. While attempting to escape, servants discover a secret stairway leading underground. Taking advantage of the chaos and plundering Batto’s hidden underground treasure, the servants, along with Croessa and Cabiria, flee to the countryside. Batto and his wife mourn the loss of Cabiria, as they believe her to be buried beneath the rubble.
The fugitive servants divide up the treasure (Croessa gets a ring) and make for the sea but soon run afoul of Phoenician pirates who take Croessa and Cabiria to Carthage where the little girl is sold to Karthalo, the High Priest. He intends to sacrifice her to the great god Moloch. Also in Carthage are two Roman spies: Fulvius Axilla, a Roman patrician and Maciste, his huge, muscular slave. The innkeeper Bodastoret welcomes Fulvius and Maciste to his Inn of the Striped Monkey. Croessa tries to prevent the sacrifice of Cabiria by pretending that the child is ill, but Croessa is whipped for her deception. Later, she chances upon Fulvius and Maciste. Recognizing them as fellow countrymen, she implores them to assist her.
The entrance to the huge Temple of Moloch is a gigantic three-eyed head, with the mouth as portal. One hundred young children are to perish as offerings. Inside of the temple are frenzied devotees, and the colossal seated statue of the wingbed god Moloch is a hollow bronze furnace. The great chest opens for each victim, and when a youngster is slid into the inferno, the door closes and the open mouth belches flame. Croessa, Fulvius, and Maciste sneak into the temple and the slave boldly snatches Cabiria away from the priest. Pursued by a frenzied mob, they make their way up to the roof, down the gargantuan façade, and back to the inn. All except Croessa, who pays a fatal price for the rescue.
Meanwhile, Hannibal and his troops make their way across the snow-laden Alps towards Rome. Soldiers, elephants and other animals pick their way through the passes. Learning of the military events, Fulvius resolves to flee back to Rome after further intimidating the innkeeper to ensure silence. The Numidian King Massinissa is visiting Carthage, and Hasdrubal, brother of Hannibal, promises him his beautiful daughter Sophonisba, in marriage. In a great audience hall with two huge elephantine columns, Massinissa dispatches gifts and a message to meet secretly to Sophonisba, who on receiving them is giddy with anticipation.
Bodastoret, the innkeeper, sneaks into the Temple of Moloch and for a reward betrays the Romans’ whereabouts and intentions. Fulvius, Maciste, and Cabiria are ambushed by the Priest’s henchmen as they attempt to flee the city the next morning, but Fulvius escapes by leaping spectacularly from a high precipice and swimming away. Maciste and Cabiria flee with henchmen hard on their heels to the cedar garden of Hasdrubal and encounter Massinissa and Sophonisba just as their secret tryst is commencing. Maciste implores the aristocratic couple – who have both concealed their true identities—to rescue Cabiria. Amid the chaos, Sophonisba, Cabiria, and a servant run away while Massinissa falsely denies to the Priest’s men that he has seen any little girl. Maciste, however, is captured, tortured and chained to a great millstone, which he must turn, but he can still manage to intimidate everyone around him.
The Roman navy has besieged Syracuse, a Greek ally of Carthage, and Fulvius is now participating in the fighting. The Romans, however, are frustrated by a giant array of mirrors, producing a heat ray, which is deployed by the great inventor Archimedes to set fire to the ships’ sails. The Roman fleet is spectacularly destroyed.
Fulvius, still bearing the ring Croessa had given him, is cast adrift and soon rescued. Although his rescuers rob the unconscious Fulvius, one of them recognizes the ring on his finger, and he is carried to Batto’s house which has been rebuilt. The parents are overjoyed to learn that Cabiria is still alive at least when he last saw her. As he takes his leave, Fulvius vows to seek Cabiria if he should ever return to Carthage.
An intertitle relates that Syphax, King of Cirta – a rival desert kingdom—has deposed Massinissa and caused him to disappear into the desert. Hasdrubal now gives Sophonisba to the victor instead to strengthen his new alliance against Rome. Sophonisba is distinctly unhappy, and when she appears in her finery at the betrothal ceremony, she swoons and breaks the ceremonial vessel.
Already in possession of much of North Africa, the Roman general and consul Scipio strategizes with his new ally, Massinissa. They dispatch the resourceful Fulvius again as a spy in Carthage to observe its defenses. Stealthily deploying an impressive human pyramid of Roman soldiers, Fulvius successfully breeches the city walls.
In the elephantine hall, Hasdrubal dispatches the High Priest Karthalo on a mission to persuade Syphax to attack the Romans directly. Karthalo’s camel caravan traverses the vast dunescape. Meanwhile, Fulvius finds time to look for Maciste and Cabiria—now prisoners for 10 years. With a combination of intimidation and bribery, he extracts information from Bodastoret. With Fulvius disguised as a freedman, they secretly observe Maciste still in chains and harnessed to his millstone. That night, Fulvius returns to wake the sleeping strongman who is overwhelmed with happiness at again seeing his beloved master. Back at their hideout at the inn, Bodastoret is overcome with shock at seeing Maciste and dies. Fulvius and Maciste escape down the city walls.
In Cirta, before a palace with two huge feline columns, Syphax is given a formal sendoff by Sophonisba and Karthalo, the latter of whom has an eye for the former’s lovely slave “Elissa”. While the military maneuvers continue, Fulvius and Maciste have fallen into dire straits, exhausted and thirsty in the desert wilderness. Maciste catches sight of a fire in the distance—Syphax’s encampment has been torched by his enemies. The two Romans are soon captured by the mounted Cirtans.
While outside the city King Syphax has been captured, Maciste and Fulvius are swept up with other prisoners within Cirta’s city walls. “Elissa”, who is really Cabiria, takes pity on the imprisoned pair and passes water to them without recognizing who they are. Cirta is under siege by Massinissa’s forces. Soldiers scale ladders outside the walls while boulders, spears, arrows, and boiling oil rain down on them.
Sophonisba dreams of triple-eyed Moloch. Unnerved, she interprets her dream as an omen that Cabiria/Elissa will somehow spell the doom of the city and confesses to Karthalo what happened in the cedar garden so many years ago. Maciste, who has forced open the iron bars of his prison cell with his enormous strength, determines to exact revenge upon Karthalo. He intrudes through a window just in time to save Elissa, whom he now recognizes as Cabiria, from being raped by the priest. Fulvius soon joins the fray, but in the chaos of flight, they lose control of Cabiria and are forced to barricade themselves in a store room. Fulvius is appalled to learn that the girl he just saw is none other than Cabiria.
Just outside the city walls is another appalling sight: King Syphax is in chains taunted by the victorious King Massinissa, who is now dressed in Roman military regalia. The Cirtans have had enough and surrender. In the hall of the gigantic feline columns, Sophonisba grandiloquently surrenders and abases herself before her former fiancé and present husband’s captor—Massinissa. He in turn demurs and, just as elaborately, pledges himself to her. In a ceremonial hall with indigenous deities, the pair further ritualize their solidarity. Sophonisba marries Massinissa and it is resolved that she will not be subjected to being paraded in a Roman triumph.
Fulvius and Maciste enjoy the ample provisions of the store room, until the besieging guards attempt to smoke them out. Massinissa learns of the circumstances of the two “heroes” and—apparently ambivalent about such former Roman comrades—determines to spare them. Fulvius takes the opportunity to implore Sophonisba on Cabiria’s behalf, but in a fit of pique she tells the distraught Roman that Cabiria is dead.
Scipio and his lieutenant Lelius camp near Cirta. Lelius, whose forces have preceded Scipio’s, tells his commander of the royals’ treachery. At first Massinissa arrogantly defies Scipio, dashing the Roman general’s message tablet to pieces, but later he wilts in the face of Rome’s majesty. He implores Scipio, however, to spare Sophonisba the humiliation of being paraded in Rome. Scipio will not relent.
In desperation, Massinissa persuades Fulvius—in reciprocation for having spared him earlier and in anticipation of an unspoken future favor—to lend him his slave Maciste. The slave receives a bracelet, inscribed with a message, and takes it to Queen Sophonisba. Receiving it, the Queen reads the message and understands that she is to poison herself with the powder in the hollow gift. Drinking the dissolved poison, Sophonisba divests herself of her jewelry with great flourishes. Fulvius arrives and, too late, they realize the purpose of Massinissa's request. Sophonisba, writhing in agony, reveals that Cabiria still lives and, as repayment for the gift of death, she will be spared a second time from the fate of living sacrifice. Cabiria is retrieved from her prison cell and arrives in time to see the moribund Queen expire.
Fulvius and Cabiria are crossing the sea on the way to Rome. As Maciste plays the panpipes in the bowsprit, Fulvius pledges his love to Cabiria and festive sea sprites encircle the boat in a giant, diaphanous garland.
Like Birth of a Nation, Cabiria has aroused its share of controversy because of the political nature of its subject matter. It was co-written by Italian ultra-nationalist Gabriele d'Annunzio and was released soon after the Italo-Turkish War, in which Italy conquered the North African Ottoman provinces of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. The film highlights Italy's Roman past and the "monstrous" nature of Carthaginian society (with special focus on the temple of Moloch), which is contrasted with the "nobility" of Roman society. Cabiria was therefore one of several films of the period that "helped resuscitate a distant history that legitimized Italy's past and inspired its dreams" and which "delivered the spirit for conquest that seemed to arrive from the distant past", thereby presaging the "political rituals of fascism" (wars of conquest, the Roman salute, parades and the fasces itself).
Ranking among the most ambitious and influential of all silent films, Cabiria (1914) is a dazzling epic about a Sicilian slave girl's journey during the Second Punic War. Director Giovanni Pastrone (who worked, in this instance, under the pseudonym "Piero Fosco") obsessed over historical accuracy and grand cumulative detail. Not one to cut corners, he built magnificent sets and filmed exteriors in Tunisia, Sicily, and the Alps. At the film's premiere in Turin, Ildebrando Pizzetti's specially-written score was performed by an orchestra of 80, with a backing choir of 70. This groundbreaking picture was truly one of the great spectacles of its time, and it still inspires awe in viewers.
Pastrone's somewhat rambling narrative features the battle between Rome and Carthage, and includes such remarkable sights as the eruption of Mt. Etna and Hannibal's mountain crossing. Several fictional characters (including the aforementioned slave girl, a Roman spy, and a muscle-bound servant) are followed through startling recreations of historic events. D.W. Griffith was obviously influenced by Cabiria when he shot his similarly grandiose historical epic, Intolerance (1916). Pastrone, much like Griffith, would stop at nothing to realize his vision. Before production began, he spent long hours researching period clothing, buildings, and decor, and he set the picture's budget at the then unheard-of sum of one million lire. He shot over 66,000 feet of film for what would become a 14,800 foot final print, another move that set the standard for future directors. This illustrates that Pastrone viewed editing as a pivotal element of the filmmaking process, a belief that would be accepted as gospel in the ensuing years.
Forever pushing the boundaries of the form, he also invented new equipment, including a device he called a "carello", which would come to be known as a "dolly." This enabled him to track his camera through Cabiria's massive sets, thus utilizing the space to its fullest effect. New lighting techniques were also employed to add depth and mood to the shots, a method that had never been fully explored for an entire production. In what would appear to be an odd move, Pastrone enlisted the writer Gabriele D'Annunzio to take co-credit for the screenplay of Cabiria. Though D'Annunzio was an important literary figure who was viewed as Italy's "poet warrior," he actually had very little to do with the creation of the film, outside of writing one or two overtly flowery title cards. But his theoretical involvement was a major publicity coup, one that translated into a larger haul at the box office. If ever a filmmaker was ahead of his time, both as an artist and a showman, it was Giovanni Pastrone.
This could possibly have been the most immediately influential film of the year 1914. Often falsely credited as the “first feature film” or as the “first use of tracking shots,” it most probably introduced those concepts to many audiences and apparently also inspired Fritz Lang and D.W. Griffith at key points in their careers. Viewers familiar with Lang’s “Metropolis” will readily recognize the Temple of Moloch in this film, for example. It also introduced audiences to the Italian hero “Maciste,” who would star in literally dozens of “sword & sandal” films in the following century (many of them have been re-titled to the more familiar “Hercules” for English-speaking audiences). Here, he is cast as a slave, serving a Roman who has infiltrated Carthage during the Punic Wars. It’s also interesting in political/historical terms, for having been written by Gabriele D’Annunzio, the poet who would later inspire the early fascists with his symbolic occupation of Dalmatia. It would be a mistake to see this as a straight nationalist propaganda film, but the action and adventure is certainly steeped in the glory and romanticism of ancient Rome, and includes tropes, such as the salute and the fasces itself, that would later become important symbols. Be that as it may, the translated inter-titles, and especially the pagan prayers, are quite striking in their poetry.
In the period before the Great War, Italy had a thriving film industry. The lavish Italian costume spectacles were bigger and longer than any movies before, and they helped usher in the era of the feature film. Cabiria was the greatest of these - an inspiration to Griffith, DeMille, and the Hollywood industry in general, as well as an important achievement in its own right. The plot is the film's main weakness. The overheated and overwrought storyline supposedly takes place during the Punic Wars, but any relationship to actual history is coincidental. It concerns the girl Cabiria, daughter of a noble family, who is abducted by Carthaginians during the chaos that follows the eruption of Mount Etna. She is taken to Carthage and singled out for sacrifice to the god Moloch. Most of the story doesn't concern her, actually, but focuses on the loves and betrayals of the Carthaginian queen Sophonisba, played by Italia Almirante-Manzini, every inch the diva, whose overacting is in contrast to the general restraint (relative to the time) of most of the cast.
The remarkable aspects of Cabiria are the scope and quality of the production, and the new film techniques pioneered by Pastrone. The set pieces - the eruption of Etna and the destruction of the city, the sacrifice of the children at the temple of Moloch, the battle at the end - are pulled off with great skill and with special effects that had barely been dreamed of in Hollywood. The photography is crisp and beautiful (a great print, as usual, from Kino Video). The costumes and huge elaborate sets are amazing even today. Artificial lighting is employed to good purpose. But the most impressive thing is the use of the tracking shot. The director and his cameraman (Segundo de Chomon) devised special dollies and cranes that allowed the camera to slowly pan across and inside the sets, moving in and out for close-ups and long shots without having to cut. These tracking shots lend a mysterious, sometimes spooky quality to the film. (Griffith learned a lot from watching this, and of course later took the technique to greater heights in Intolerance.)
The intertitles were written by the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio. They really are more poetic than your usual silent film titles (at least they seem that way in translation). D'Annunzio got into the solemn pagan ritual aspects of the story, which resulted in some genuinely incantatory language. Despite this, the picture can't avoid giving the impression of kitsch, and the story does drag quite a bit in the movie's last third. Cabiria is still worth seeing, though, both for its spectacle and its spirit of daring innovation.
To watch Pastrone's seminal film is to understand how the Italian violinist-turned-filmmaker invented grand spectacle cinema with the use of enormous scale and a long running time--it was the first film to be over three-hours long. For "Cabiria," Pastrone pioneered the use of deep-focus filming and the since-ubiquitous "tracking-shot"--two years before D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" would employ similar techniques. There isn't much in a modern director like James Cameron's bag of hi-tech tricks that can take your breath away the way "Cabiria" does. The exotic drama, suspense, and daring stunts on display in Pastrone's film of "12,000 shots" is every bit, if not more effective, than that of modern filmmakers whose use green-screen CGI is frequently used more as a crutch than a meaningful storytelling technique. "Cabiria" sits comfortably alongside such grand scale silent films as Sergei Eisenstein's "The Battleship Potemkin" (1925), Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (1927), and Abel Gance's "Napoleon" (1925). If you ever have an opportunity to view any of these great films in their restored state, don't hesitate to witness the creation of cinema's rich vernacular at its source.
THE TRANSITION TO FEATURE FILMS
By about 1913 the American film industry's strategies for attaining respectability ~
emulating respectable entertainments, internal censorship, and improved exhibition
venues ~ had begun to pay off. Conditions were very different from what they had been
in 1908 when the medium had been the center of a cultural crisis. Now a mass audience
sat comfortably ensconced in elaborate movie palaces, watching the first true mass
medium. And the films they watched were beginning to change as well, telling longer
stories through a different deployment of formal elements than had been the case in 1908
or even 1912. A few years later, by 1917, the situation had changed yet again. The
majority of important and powerful studios were located in Hollywood, by now the center
not only of American film-making but of world film-making, largely as a result of the
First World War disruption of the European industries. Hollywood production and
distribution practices now set the norm for the rest of the world. The films themselves had
grown from one reel to an average length of sixty to ninety minutes, as film-makers
mastered the demands of constructing lengthier narratives and codified into standard
practices the formal conventions experimented with during the transitional years.
The industry called these lengthier films Features', adopting the vaudeville term referring
to a program’s main attraction. They were descended from the multiple reel films
produced by the members of the Motion Picture Patents Company and the independents
during the transitional period, as well as from foreign imports. Although film historians
have characterized the MPPC's business practices as somewhat retrograde, the honor of
producing the first American multi-reeler goes to Trust member Vitagraph. In 1909 and
1910 Wagraph released the biblical blockbuster The Life of Moses; a five-reel film
depicting the story of the Hebrew leader from his adoption by the Pharaoh's daughter to
his death on Mount Sinai. Vitagraph continued to produce multi-reelers, and the other
studios adopted the policy. Biograph, for example, released the two-reel Civil War story
His Trust and His Trust Fulfilled, in 1911. Clearly, then, elements within the American
film industry had begun to chafe at the l,000foot or fifteen-minute limit, finding it
increasingly impossible to tell a story within these constraints.
Existing distribution and exhibition practices, however, militated against conversion to
the multi-reel film. The limited seating of most nickelodeons dictated short programs
featuring a variety of subjects in order to ensure rapid audience turnover and a profit. The
studios, therefore, treated each reel of the multi-reelers separately, releasing them to the
exchanges according to the agreed schedule, sometimes weeks apart, and the
nickelodeons, except in rare instances, showed only one reel in any specific programme,
charging the same admission price as they did for all their other films. For this reason, the
impetus for the transition to the feature film came from the European, and specifically
Italian, films imported into the country. Multi-reel foreign imports were distributed
outside the control of the Trust and the independents, with rental prices keyed to both
negative costs and box office receipts. Instead of playing the nickelodeons, these features
were 'road showed' as a theatrical attraction, shown in legitimate theater and opera-
Films from other countries, such as Queen Elizabeth ( Louis Mercanton, 1912), played a
part in establishing feature films as the norm, but it was the spectacular Italian costume
films whose profits and popularity persuaded the American industry to compete with
longer films of its own. In 1911 three Italian productions, the five reel Dante's Inferno
(Milano Films, 1909), the two-reel Fall of Troy ( 1910,, Giovanni Pastrone), and the four-
reel The Crusaders or Jerusalem Delivered ( 1911), treated American audiences to a
pictorial splendor seldom seen in domestic productions ~ elaborate sets and huge casts
enhanced through the use of deep space. Released in the United States in the spring of
1913, the nine-reel Quo vadis? ( Enrico Guazzoni , Cines, 1913), running for more than
two hours and exhibited exclusively in legitimate theaters, really sparked the craze for the
spectacular feature film. Adapted from the best-selling novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, the
film boasted 5,000 extras, a chariot race, and real lions, as well as clever lighting and
detailed set design. The 1914 Cabiria ( Giovanni Pastrone, Italia) capped the trend. The
twelve-reel depiction of the Second Punic War contained such visually stunning scenes as
the burning of the Roman fleet and Hannibal crossing of the Alps. Pastrone enhanced the
film's spectacle through extended tracking shots (unusual at this time) that created a sense
of depth through movement rather than through set design.
Quo Vadis inspired a host of imitators, not least D. W. Griffith's own multi-reel biblical
spectacular, Judith of Bethulia ( 1913), which was made against the wishes of a Biograph
front office still committed to the one-reel film. But Griffith's own historical costume
drama epic. The Birth of a Nation ( 1915), excelled all previous features in length and
spectacle, while dealing with a truly American subject, the Civil War and Reconstruction.
It was this film that began to establish the feature as the norm rather than the exception.
Prior to the film's January 1915 release, Griffith's publicity department had hyped its
expense, huge cast, and historical accuracy, creating great public anticipation for the
famous director's most ambitious project. Griffith exercised as much care with the film's
exhibition. Premiered in the largest movie palaces in Los Angeles and New York, The
Birth of a Nation was the first American film to be released with its own score, played by
a forty-piece orchestra. The admission price of $2, the same as that charged for Broadway
plays, ensured that the film would be taken seriously, and it was widely advertised and
reviewed in the general press rather than the film trade press. All these factors showed
that film had come of age as a legitimate mass medium. Of course, the film attracted
attention for other reasons as well, its reprehensible racism eliciting outrage from the
African American community and their supporters, and offering an early insight into the
social impact that this new mass medium could have.
The narrative structures, character construction, and editing patterns of the first multi-reel
films, both American and Italian, strongly resembled those of the one-reel films of the
time. This was particularly apparent in terms of narrative structure: one-reelers tended to
follow a pattern of an elaborated single incident or plot device intensifying toward a
climax near the end of the reel. The first multi-reel American films, intended to stand on
their own, adopted this structure but, even after distribution channels became available,
longer films often continued to appear more like several one-reelers strung together than
the lengthy integrated narratives that we are accustomed to today. However, film-makers
quickly realized that the feature film was not simply a longer version of the one-reel film,
but a new narrative form, demanding new methods of organization, and they learned to
construct appropriate narratives, characters, and editing patterns. As they had in 1908,
producers again turned to the theatre and novels for inspiration, not only in terms of
screen adaptations but in terms of emulating narrative structures. Feature films, therefore,
began to include more characters, incidents, and themes, all relating to a main story.
Instead of one climax or a series of equally intense climaxes, features began to be
constructed around several minor climaxes and then a denouement that resolved all the
narrative themes. The Birth of a Nation provides an extreme example of this structure, its
(in)famous last minute rescue, as the Ku-Klux-Klan rides to secure Aryan supremacy,
capping several reels of crisis (the death of 'Little Sister', the capture of Gus, and so forth)
and resolving the fates of all the important characters.
However, the basic elements of the earlier films remained unchanged-credible individual
characters still served to link together the disparate scenes and shots, the difference being
that character motivation and plausibility became yet more important as films grew longer
and the number of important characters increased. Films now had the space to flesh out
their characters, endowing them with traits that would drive the narrative action. Often
entire scenes served the sole purpose of acquainting the audience with the characters'
personalities. The Birth of a Nation devotes its first fifteen minutes or so, before the
outbreak of the Civil War occurs, to introducing its major characters, seeking to engender
audience identification with the Southern slave-holding family, the Camerons. In scenes
that establish the plantation owners' kindly and tolerant natures, we see the pater familias
surrounded by puppies and kittens and his son Ben shaking hands with a slave who has
just danced for Northern visitors.
Feature films also deployed their formal elements to further character development and
motivation. Dialogue interties’ had first appeared around 1911, but their use increased so
that by the mid-1910s dialogue titles outnumbered the expository titles that revealed the
presence of a narrator; the responsibility for narration being accorded more and more to
the characters. Although the standard camera scale remained the three-quarter shot that
had become dominant during the transitional period, film-makers increasingly cut closer
to characters at moments of psychological intensity. In The Birth of a Nation, closer views
of terrified white women supposedly intensify audience identification with these potential
victims of a fate worse than death. Point-of-view editing also became standardized in the
feature films of this time. Although Griffith actually used this pattern fairly sparingly, in
two key scenes in The Birth we get Ben's point of view of his beloved Elsie, the first time
as he looks at a locket photograph of her and the second as he actually looks at her, an
irised shot of Elae mimicking file photograph's composition.
The transition to features served to codify many of the devices that film-makers had
experimented with during the transitional period. This is particular^ related to moves to
create a unified spatio-temporal orientation. Analytical editing became more common as
film-makers sought to highlight narratively important details. In the scene in The Birth
where Father Cameron plays with the puppies and kittens, a cut-in to a close-up of the
animals at his feet emphasizes the alignment of the Southern family with these appealing
creatures. Most features included some parallel editing. The Birth of course being the
locus classicus of the form, not only in the climactic last minute rescue that cuts among
several different locations, but throughout the film where alternation between Northern
and Southern families and the home front and the battlefield reinforces the film's
ideological message. Devices such as the eye line match and the shot/reverse shot became
standard conventions for linking disparate spaces together, and devices such as the
dissolve, fade, and close-up became clear markers of any deviations from linear
temporality such as flashbacks or dreams.
After a decade of profound upheaval, by 1917, the end of the 'transitional' period, the
cinema was poised on the brink of a new maturity as the dominant medium of the
twentieth century. Films, while continuing to reference other texts, had freed themselves
from dependence upon other media, and could now tell cinematic stories using cinematic
devices; devices which were becoming increasingly codified and conventional. A
standardization of production practices, consonant with the operations of other capitalist
enterprises, assured the continuing output of a reliable and familiar product, the so-called
'feature' film. The building of ever larger and more elaborate movie palaces heralded the
medium's new-found social respectability. All was ready for the advent of Hollywood and
the Hollywood cinema.
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