- Lorenzo De Nicola’s documentary brings to light the surprising and lesser known side of Giovanni Pastrone, the director of the epic 1914 film Cabiria and an all-round inventor and experimenter
Giovanni Pastrone is one of those figures who deserve to be known and studied in all their glory as sources of inspiration and wonder. A man of the 1900s who was full of ingenuity and hungry for knowledge, qualified in accountancy but also an expert in music, physics and mechanics, and based in Turin - the Italian capital of the new-born film industry - in the early years of the 1900s, Patrone rode the wave of each and every innovation of his time, forever pushing the boundaries with his experimental work. He’s especially famous for being the pioneer of Italian silent cinema –in 1914, he authored the first truly epic work of the seventh art, Cabiria – and for having reinvented film space through the use of tracking shots and 3D set design. But Pastrone!, the documentary Lorenzo De Nicola dedicates to him (crowned Best Documentary at the 18th RIFF - Rome Independent Film Festival and opening the Asti Film Festival today), digs deeper, producing a broad and multi-faceted picture of this eclectic genius’s work.
The starting point for this latest study by De Nicola, an expert on Pastrone since 2000 and now recognised as his official biographer, was the discovery of an autobiographical manuscript which opened up a new and unknown world to the researcher, full of thoughts and memories – in short, that of Pastrone, “the man” – but which is also none other than the unpublished diary of a director. “A scientific plaything”: this is what film was for Pastrone, a combination of entertainment and applied arts. Cinema encapsulated all his passions at the time, both artistic and scientific, and, in league with Itala Film, he made and produced hundreds of films, many of them epic, including (aside from Cabiria, an extraordinary international success) The Fall of Troy and the renowned series of films on Maciste. But what really emerges from the manuscript, intitled Virus et homo, is Pastrone’s other object of study, an area to which he dedicated himself obsessively from the age of 36 upwards, following the death of his mother and his subsequent withdrawal from the world of film sets: medicine.
Indeed, the second part of Pastrone’s life was spent chasing what he himself describes as “the most scandalous of dreams”: that of curing all of mankind’s illnesses, including cancer, by way of “electrical shots” fired by a dedicated machine invented and built by Pastrone himself, based on in-depth, autodidactic research into viruses and bacteria; a machine which he dreamed of making available to all, to rich and to poor, free of charge, and which he actually tested on a great number of people (a few of his former patients, who are now very elderly, also take part in the documentary), achieving incredibly positive results. But Pastrone’s discoveries were never recognised by official medicine, and his greatest utopia would fast become his greatest failure: Pastrone left instructions to destroy the machine upon his death (but at the end of the film, there’s an unexpected twist).
The appeal of De Nicola’s documentary is that it allows us to discover, through a rich variety of unpublished material and testimonies, the manifold genius of this great innovator, his total dedication to science and to knowledge, but also his inner torment, and the healthy streak of madness he carried within him. And one of the most wonderful aspects of the film - and a source of great inspiration - is the dialogue which develops in ideal fashion between the new generations (these are the young “Scribes 2.0”: the director’s collaborators tasked with digitally transcribing the entire manuscript) and this creative mind of the 1900s. Pastrone’s voice comes courtesy of Fabrizio Bentivoglio.
Pastrone! is produced by Clean Film and co-produced by Lab 80 film, with the support of Mibac – The Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and the Film Commission Torino Piemonte. Distribution is entrusted to Lab 80 film.
(Translated from Italian)
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