Giovanni Enrico Vidali: “Spartaco”

Spartaco
R: Giovanni Enrico Vidali. B: Raffaello Giovagnoli (novel). D: Mario Guaita-Ausonia, Cristina Ruspoli, Enrico Bracci, Maria Gandini, Luigi Mele, Verdi Giovanni, Luciano Albertini, Alberto Capozzi. P: Pasquali e C. It 1913

“Spartaco is considered to be the first film adaptation of this known material about the leader of the slave revolt against the Roman oppressors around seven decades before the birth of Christ. The film found its first screenings in Italy and Spain in 1913. On February 13, 1914, Spartaco could be seen for the first time in Austria-Hungary (Vienna), and in May 1914 the German premiere took place in the Cines on Nollendorfplatz in Berlin. In Germany, the eight-stroke was around 120 minutes long. Spartaco was shown in British and French cinemas in January of the same year. The later sensational film and sandal film star Luciano Albertini allegedly made his film debut here.”
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“The 1900s saw the Italian production houses making tentative experiments in the cinematic reconstruction of Roman history, such as Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei (1908), and Nerone (1909) of the Ambrosio production house, Itala’s Giulio Cesare, and Latium’s Spartaco (1909). By the time Giovanni Enrico Vidali‘s Spartaco or Il gladiatore della Tracia was released by the Paquali film company in 1913, the Italian film industry was in a state of extraordinary expansion, fueled by its own nationalistic agenda and the huge commercial success of the historical Quo vadis? (1913). The constant flood of historical films onto the national and international markets had coincided with the entry of Italian aristocrats into the financial backing of the Italian studios. Film production was viewed as an instrument for the enhancement of the new nation’s prestige both at home and abroad, and historical reconstructions of Italy’s glorious past seemed highly appropriate vehicles for the acquisition of that prestige both for the Italian nation and its film companies. Extravagant cinematic reconstructions of Italy’s past allowed for ambitious and spectacular themes, the exploitation of complex literary narratives, and the display of the production houses’ own technical virtuosity in, for example, the construction of huge, often sumptuous set designs and exotic costumes, and the movement of vast crowds of extras in a newly developed cinematographic space that vastly exceeded the bounds of the proscenium stage.
Furthermore, films set in Italy’s Roman past were perceived and deployed as instruments particularly suited to the moral, civic, and patriotic improvement of their mass audiences. The Italian state born from unification in 1861 continued to view itself as the legitimate heir of its Roman past. Only two years before the release of Spartaco, Italy had celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of unification, still nourished by the myth of continuity with ancient Rome, and the nation’s imperialistic ambitions which had recently been fired by the Italo-Turkish war 1911-1912 were being legitimated by recourse to a vision of historical continuity with an ancient Rome which had once been the mistress of the Mediterranean. Rome could therefore supply the Italian film companies with a repertoire of illustrious precursors through whom audiences could read their present as the crowning epoch of a long, glorious and communal history.”
Mary Wyke: Spartacus: Testing the Strength of the Body Politic. In: Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome, Cinema and History. Routledge 1997, p 34-72, here p. 41/42

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