- 1h 30m
Leslie Swayne, an adventurer, in order to obtain enough money to satisfy the needs of his extravagant life, has been bribed to steal the plans of the fortification from the staff officers of... Read allLeslie Swayne, an adventurer, in order to obtain enough money to satisfy the needs of his extravagant life, has been bribed to steal the plans of the fortification from the staff officers of the Grand Duchy of Wallenstein. This undertaking, which at one time would have seemed dif... Read allLeslie Swayne, an adventurer, in order to obtain enough money to satisfy the needs of his extravagant life, has been bribed to steal the plans of the fortification from the staff officers of the Grand Duchy of Wallenstein. This undertaking, which at one time would have seemed difficult to him, becomes very easy, due to the friendship between himself and Colonel Julius... Read all
- Moise Sthar
- (as Giampaolo Rosmino)
One of the most impressive compositions in this one and one of the longest of the film's many long takes from stationary camera positions is set up in a sort of reverse z-axis to that scene in "Citizen Kane," but with the corners occupied by three rooms instead of three characters. Although there are three or more characters in this scene, as well, they wander to and from each room, one of which is even lit rather low-key seemingly to distinguish the secretive nature of the goings-on in it (i.e. The scene involves an espionage subplot). Say what you will regarding the lack of editing and camera movement in early feature-length films--and anyone who has read some of my reviews for other early long films will know that I have--this is a tour de force of blocking, focus pulling and set design.
A common if simplistic dichotomy throughout much of film history, and especially for early feature-length cinema, has been between the American way of quick montage and the slower pace of the European focus on mise-en-scène. "Love Everlasting" may be an extreme example of this as well as of theatrical tendencies in early cinema, where we usually get in-depth staging played out in long, static takes, with focus often being drawn by blocking and actorly gesture instead of scene dissection or tracking shots. Compare it to, say, the often choppy cutting in lieu of pictorialism creating a brisk pacing in the American "Traffic in Souls" (1913), and, of course, there is the usual example of D. W. Griffith's Biograph pictures, especially the frantic crosscutting in the last-minute-rescue genre. Regardless, the point is that "Love Everlasting" is one of the best of its kind that I've seen.
There is a bit of camera panning to follow figures in exterior scenes, although it's worth noting that these scenes, too, include a grand depth of field framed by natural scenery as they are all the way to the horizon. Some slight scene dissection here and there (although I think the espionage bits would've especially benefited from eyeline match cutting) and some closer, medium-shot camera positioning, but it's the long compositions framed as if the camera were at the proscenium arch that most stand out. Besides characters moving all around the background, foreground and middle ground and the large sets being impressively designed for such exploration of deep space, it's also striking how centered the compositions tend to be. The three-room set includes the two distant rooms split at the center of the frame. Another stage is split down the middle vertically by a carpet. The crafting of the image even extends to the rounded masking of the corners of the frame. The lighting tends to be flat, but there are exceptions here, too, including side lighting from a window during one piano-playing scene, as well as the aforementioned, low-key spy business. The tendency of that time to return to the same camera position for scenes on the same set is also subverted in the end for a striking backlit stage performance that creates a silhouette of the in-film spectator in a box seat. As in early Danish films, too, one set, of the dressing room, employs a triple-mirror to reflect deep staging that would be otherwise out of frame.
This theatrical or painterly pictorialism is relatively befitting its subject, of a theatrically-trained actress and celebrity-centered showcase. The first film of Lyda Borelli, "Love Everlasting" is also credited as being the first Italian diva film, which except for a shared theatricality in some respects are in contrast to the literary and pseudo-historical spectacles Italian cinema was probably best known for at the time--such as other early feature-length titles "L'Inferno" (1911), "Quo Vadis" (1913) and "Cabiria" (1914). The only other such diva title I've yet seen is "Assunta Spina" (1915) starring Francesca Bertini, which apparently I was harsh in rebuking back when I saw it in 2004 (perhaps, too harsh, as indicated by 24 out of 26 IMDb users finding that review unhelpful). These pictures may appear melodramatically and theatrically dated to modern taste, but "Love Everlasting," at least, is a staggering exploitation of depth of field, and the narrative features a meta construction.
Besides the mirror motif, it's the performance-based reflexivity, of Borelli performing on the stage in the film's play-within-the-play, that reminds me of contemporaneous Danish cinema. In the best of that national cinema--titles such as "The Abyss" (1910) starring Asta Nielsen, the Shakespearian "Desdemona" (1911), the German (basically the same industry then) "The Dance of Death" (1912) also starring Nielsen, and "Unjustly Accused" (1913)--performing for an audience (like the actors are doing in making films) is equated with a sexual act, which becomes a problem of infidelity in the divas' relationships with male characters on screen--the diva cheating on him in a voyeuristic display with us, the spectator, in addition to some on-screen love triangle.
Although I appreciate the relatively scant use of title cards here, the romances with a prince and a spy, while both involving betrayals of one sort or another, aren't as well integrated as in some of those Danish films, nor is Borelli allowed to vamp it up as suggestively. The play-within-the-play is somewhat apt, though, it being the erotic "Salomé," in which Borelli had a long run on stage before becoming a movie star. To keep the references to Oscar Wilde writings going, it's a variation on the same theme of the spectator's love for the performer as is "The Picture of Dorian Gray" route taken by "Citizen Kane." It's just that in this case the actress is actually good in the eyes of more than one man, and it's the performance that's deadly and not the lack of it.
(Note: Streamed from a new restoration via the Cineteca di Bologna of the camera negative, it's a crisp-looking print and well tinted, with the addition of a score by Ben Model and informative commentary by John P. Welle, who appropriately pointed to for further reading, Ben Brewster and Lea Jacobs's book "Theatre to Cinema: Stage Pictorialism and the Early Feature Film.")
- May 3, 2021