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June 20, 2005


Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan, Giuseppe de Liguoro - 1911
British DVD

I saw this film listed at Nicheflix and decided to check it out. In general, I like seeing silent films with contemporary music scores. The music commissioned by Turner Classic Movies for some of their silent films is as good as anything on the big screen and certainly more interesting than the stuff John Williams grinds out for the likes of Lucas and Spielberg. In terms of rock scores for silent films, I have to admit to being somewhat more ambivalent. I'm pretty confident that Fritz Lang wasn't dreaming of the day that Bonnie Tyler would be wailing along with Metropolis. I haven't bothered with version of Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera with the goth rock soundtrack. Still, if it gets more people to see a silent movie and get a tidbit of film history in their life, I say more power to you Giorgio Moroder, et al.

In my case I was baited by Tangerine Dream. The music is OK but nothing as good as the score they did for Thief. Mostly the music could be described as stately and spiritual, very similar to the kind of music Hans Zimmer does in collaboration with Lisa Gerrard as in Gladiator.

The movie itself is sort of interesting. Visually taking cues from Dore, the film is a series of full shots of Dante and Virgil exploring the circles of Hell. The film is very much pre-Griffith with only a few panning shots. Most of the the time the camera doesn't move. From what little information I could find, this was the first feature length made in Italy and took three years to produce.

In some ways Inferno illustrates that while the technology has changed, the essence of block buster filmmaking has remained the same. The special effects are pretty much at the low tech level established by Melies. There are a lot of superimpositions and combination shots using masking to make it appear that giant demons are appearing with the mortals. Angels fly in and out with the use of wires. We know all the camera tricks because some of us have used them ourselves in our own amateur or student movies, making objects appear and disappear . . . LIKE MAGIC! Sure, the special effects in Inferno look pretty hokey in the age of computer generated effects, but really it's not too different from, for example, Constantine, except it has more literary source material.

What amazed me about this film was the amount of nudity. This was in keeping with the visual inspirations of Dore, Blake and others who have illustrated Dante. I'm sure Cecil B. DeMille was envious of what the Italians could do. According to one source, Inferno made two million dollars in the U.S. This was when top admission prices were ten to fifteen cents. Some of the images of hell reminded me of the scene of hell in Lucio Fulci's The Beyond. I'm sure that Fulci was inspired by the same material as his predecessors.

Not having read Dante, I was taken aback by one bit that is very timely. One of the condemmed is Mohammed, apparently for being a disruptive influence. Dante may have written a parable about his time, but once again we see that some things haven't changed.

Posted by peter at June 20, 2005 04:43 PM