Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Fantasia 2018--L'Inferno (1911) with live score from Maurizio Guarini from Goblin!!

Virgil leads Dante past traitors immersed in a frozen lake in L'Inferno (1911)
Every year, Fantasia has several "special events" that are always a highlight of the festival.  I've seen two Grady Hendrix performances, a presentation on the Jean Rollin book Lost Girls by Spectacular Optical, anniversary remastered screenings of The Reflecting Skin, and last year's epic cinematic experience (pour moi), the 4K remastered screening of Dario Argento's Suspiria.  At Fantasia 2018, festival goers were able to experience a truly unique event--a screening of the very first Italian feature film, L'Inferno (1911) on its 107th anniversary with a live score composed on site by Maurizio Guarini, best known for some of the most amazing soundtrack work out there (including Suspiria and Deep Red).  Not only did we get to watch this remastered silent film, but experience it with this amazing live accompaniment. 

Tinting silent films was a fairly common practice, but they really remastered the film beautifully
I'm going to crib directly from the Fantasia program here: "L'Inferno was directed by Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan and Giuseppe de Liguoro, working with more than 150 cast and crew members over a period of three years. The scale and ambition of its imagery is breathtaking, with primitive special effects that drip raw inspiration and hyper-imaginative interpretations of Hell that continue to impress over a century after they were burned into light. Having made over 2 million US dollars in its original release, it is also very likely cinema's first blockbuster."  I could not have said it better.  Plot-wise, the poet, Virgil, leads Dante through a grand tour of the circles of hell, and it's really a journey to remember.  Supposedly the film is heavily influenced by Gustav Doré's illustrations, so I promptly checked these images out after the screening, and their similarities are startling.

These Gustav Doré's illustrations really blow my mind
So many fantastic images with early special effects and experimental techniques litter this film, I really found it incredibly difficult to tear my gaze away to take notes.  Some highlights:
--carnal sinners bathed in a lavender gel swirl above Dante and Virgil's heads
--the entrance to the city of Dis is barred by demons, and they have the best costumes.  Luckily Virgil and Dante escape by jumping into a pit, to the consternation of the angry demons.

Angry demons helplessly poke at Dante and Virgil below in L'Inferno
--Harpies make their nest in branches known as "the suicides" while a synth riff that echoes Suspiria plays in the background
--A "Rain of Fire" consisting of numerous tinted and superimposed explosions lights up the screen
--Flatterers and Dissolute Women are Immersed in excrement.  Yuk.
--In a red tinted scene, feet wiggle out of pits in the ground, as sinners are buried head first
--A real stand out: fortune tellers with their heads twisted around, walk backwards toward Dante and Virgil
--The poets encounter three giants, and one lifts them down from above.  This effect is quite nifty for its time.
--Embezzlers are transformed into vipers, where they ultimately become lizard puppets
--One man carries around his own severed head, which actually keeps talking!

--but my absolute favorite moment, where the soundtrack really shines, is when Lucifer munches on some poor soul, his feet dangling out of his mouth like some unruly piece of lettuce.  Check out the image at the very beginning of the post to get a master shot of Lucifer with his wings in the background.  Love it!!

Lucifer munching on a human body!
Sure, there were some moments in the screening where the audience emitted a mass chuckle as some of the special effects displayed a certain raw, dated quality.  My favorite is when Virgil and Dante escape the demons by jumping into a pit of snakes, and they just appear to be some random noodles laying around.  Still, those moments add a bit of lightness to a really compelling and imaginatively rendered Hell world, and to think that this film came out in 1911, well before the surrealists were making weirdness like Un Chien Andalou, is simply awesome!  I just barely made it into the screening, since it was utterly sold out, and I'm so glad I did.  L'Inferno with live accompaniment was truly a unique cinematic experience to remember.  Thank you, Fantasia!