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Lots of Foolish People Review Movies...
I hope I don't number among them or any of those who reviewed this film and only saw it through their perverted, spoiled, vapid and jaded eyes and minds.
This is an important film. It happens to be one of the very first epics ever filmed. And of the very first movies to have used special effects of this magnitude.
In fact, this movie pre-dates BIRTH OF A NATION by two years. Before POMPEII and CABIRIA, movies were much shorter in length. The fact that this movie became wildly popular even though it was the unheard length of over 90 minutes is a testament to its power then and now.
It is pathetic to read reviews where people admit to laughing at this movie. It can only come from the uninformed and unsophisticated.
Complaints that the movie is static, stagy and "uncinematic" do not take into consideration that this was the way movies were made. The medium was brand new. The tradition of dramatic arts had no other precedence than the stage and the picture frame of the plastic arts as they had been until then. It was only until BIRTH OF THE NATION that the camerawork began to become interesting and creative. Trial and error sparked these marvelous innovations which made BIRTH OF THE NATION the more famous landmark film.
But back to POMPEII...I must admit that development of the story appeared to move at a stately pace and that the "real action" didn't begin to unfold until the final 20 minutes of the film.
Yet, I believe that this was done for several reasons. The act of bringing us INTO the heart of one slave woman was motivated NOT just to fill in the screen time. It was done so that we would care about her and those around her. What worth is there in seeing a disaster for the disaster's sake -- if we do not care about the lives of those involved in the tragedy?
The other reason that it unfolded slowly at the beginning to create a contrast to the escalation that occurred at the end -- which began within the germ of the slave girl's plight and literally exploded when Mt. Vesuvius blew up.
The use of the red filter was a stroke of genius that truly emphasized the calamity which the damned residents of Pompeii suffered. What is truly odd and I thought was a well-timed coincidence was the immediate and marked destruction of the film quality at the start of the devastation scene. Had it been planned that way, it would not have gone so well. It was jarring and painful to watch.
When the film's quality improved, we were offered a long series of different shots of the populace running in every direction and in an uncontrollable panic. Having been at the top of a local government building at the moment of the 9/11 tragedies, I can well attest to the panic that can ensue when a great number of people feel their lives are being threatened at once. Hundreds of us ran down a dozen or so flights of stairs without even thinking, our legs very nervously shaking, our minds reeling with a panic unimaginable.
I have visited Pompeii, the remains of which demonstrates quite narrow streets that conclude at various piazzas. To have been there and witnessed the scores of people attempting to escape the devastation with their lives, must have been a most horrific and mind-jarring experience. I am sure many were trampled and many unintended mishaps occurred along the way. To laugh at this depiction in this movie reflects a mindset which cannot conceive of the gravity of this situation.
For me it was riveting to witness this spectacle. It's obvious that I admire this film for its many virtues. I will close with only one whimsical observation. I was taken by the remarkable resemblance, at least with what camera distance we were afforded, of the slave girl to Miss Lillian Gish and her legendary waif-like countenance. It added a bit of relish to the whole -- even though I am sure that this sort of look and demeanor was quite the rage back then. It turned my head in admiration and wonderment.
The vast...and I mean vast, crowds at the arena scene were breathtaking in scope though the limits of the artistic palette back then does not afford us the optimal view.
I recommend this movie to the thoughtful film lover who will not protest to the idiosyncratic shortcomings that were so prevalent during the dawn of films and can be magnanimously forgiving for these minor peccadillos.
An evil Egyptian priest menaces a young Roman maiden while
blind slave girl shows great courage in attempting to rescue
her beloved master, during THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII.
Produced less than two decades after the birth of cinema, this silent film is considered to be the first important historical epic filmed on a truly grand scale. It also heralded the arrival of the Italian movie industry as a force to be reckoned with, however briefly, in the halcyon days before World War One.
Produced by prolific director Mario Caserini (1874-1920), it features a completely static camera which has the effect of turning each shot into a living tableau. (The only exceptions are a few pan shots of flowing lava which were inserted in the film's final moments.) Caserini manages his early crowd scenes very nicely, in which everyone looks like they're actually doing something and have a reason to be in the shot. The use of light & shadow on the large sets is also most commendable.
The final twenty minutes, when Vesuvius blows her top and destroys Pompeii, features special effects which are still quite impressive. After more than an hour of silver toned film, the abrupt switch to red tints at the instant of the eruption is a definite attention grabber.
Much of the acting is very theatrical & overripe, but that was the style back then and was probably much affected by grand opera. Two performers should be noted - Fernanda Negri Pouget is quite touching as the tragic blind girl, and Ubaldo Stefani, as the hero, is unintentionally hilarious in the scene in which he drinks a witch's poisoned brew.
The film's final moments embrace a mature sensitivity and highlight the latent power of the cinematic image.
Despite its old-fashioned format and performances, this early
full-length feature is still of some interest, at least historically,
and it is probably a little better as a movie than many give it credit
for. It was quite an ambitious attempt to tell a relatively involved
story with some large-scale settings and a few special visual effects.
It follows a formula that may be even more popular now than it was in the 1910's: take a tumultuous historical event, introduce a set of fictional characters, and show what was going on in their lives when the event took place. In this respect, "The Last Days of Pompeii" may to some degree have established the formula that is still being used for films such as "Titanic", "Pearl Harbor" and many others. If you adjust for the limitations of its era, "The Last Days of Pompeii" is at least as good as those films, as well as many others of the genre.
The story, though sometimes too melodramatic and implausible, is interesting enough most of the time, and while the settings aren't going to impress anyone now, they do display a fair amount of creative effort. None of the cast give particularly strong performances, but their acting styles are not inherently any worse than the acting styles of the present. Some of the present day's most popular performers use affected, artificial styles that are trendy now, but that won't look any better in 90 years than the histrionics of this Italian cast look today.
There's no denying the weaknesses, many of which come from the tableau format and/or from inexperience with telling a full-length story on the silent screen. There are some stretches, especially in the first half, which move very slowly. Some of the characters, especially Nidia, could have been much more compelling with more creative filming and acting.
Within just a few years, the stereotyped tableau format would be largely abandoned, better ways of telling a story would be developed, and better ways of integrating the camera and the performers would be devised. While that might not make this film any better in itself, it was the first few ambitious attempts like "The Last Days of Pompeii" that helped lead to such improvements. While it's only an average film in itself, it deserves also to be remembered as a pioneering effort.
This amazing Italian silent epic, featuring a cast of millions, will blow
your mind as thoroughly as Mt. Vesuvius blew up Pompeii. Breathtaking
special effects, an excitingly melodramatic plot, stunning settings, and
gorgeous cinematography combine to make this one of the first great feature
The cinematography is very different to what we are used to today - the camera does not move at all - but the shots are so well lit that it hardly seems to matter. And the genuine beauty of the final shot makes the scene very moving indeed.
This is an unmissable masterpiece of cinema.
This silent Italian melodrama may be a challenge for modern viewers, but it's a "must" for real fans of the silent era. Along with other early Italian epics now available in great DVD editions, such as "Cabiria" from 1914, these movies remind Americans that before World War I, European filmmakers were creative pioneers who stretched the medium and the imaginations of American directors. This film version of the "Pompeii" story was shot with static cameras and looks a bit like a broadly acted stage production transfered to film. But the production is elaborate, featuring stage sets as well as some location shooting. Just watching the images unfold in this twisted tale of love and jealousy on the eve of the disastrous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius can be fascinating as we peer back across the century at this 1913 release. To current sensibilities, the film does reflect some prejudices of its era, including the casting of an Egyptian priest as the mysterious, evil force in Pompeii -- an early example of a century-long demonization of Arab figures in movies. However, for viewers exploring early cinema, who are familiar mainly with slapstick comedies and D.W. Griffith, watching a pre-WWI Italian epic like this can be a fascinating experience.
A young blind woman and her general misery provide the focus for this
1913 silent film. Her story is set against everyday life in Pompeii,
just before the eruption of the famous volcano.
Visually, the film consists of staged sets, rather like modern stage plays. There is no camera movement. Actors mouth words we can't hear. The only sound is the music of a piano, provided on behalf of DVD viewers. The music varies in tone with tonal variations in the story. Alternating with the play and to assist the visuals, title cards convey a verbal sense of what will happen in the next scene.
Acting is very, very theatrical. When they move, the players don't walk, so much as they tiptoe across the stage, in a self-conscious and stagy manner. When there's conflict, the players overact, exaggerating both body movements and facial expressions. But that was how it was done back then. Costumes are elaborate, and at times ornate.
Vesuvius erupts in the final few minutes of the film. Lots of smoke, some soot, a change in the film's tint to reddish, falling pillars, and predictable histrionics of the players comprise the special effects.
Even aside from the simplicity of the special effects and the absence of sound, the film is not likely to appeal to modern audiences, if their purpose in watching films is to be entertained. For one thing, the film's pacing is very slow. Also, there's lots of filler material, like scenes wherein characters sit around feeding pigeons. And I found it hard to identify with any of the characters. They seem too thinly drawn and remote.
In its time, "The Last Days Of Pompeii" must have seemed like a grand spectacle. We are fortunate to have the film now, as a benchmark from which to compare contemporary films. Ergo, for those interested in the history of the cinema, and for those who want some perspective on modern film-making, this film is a fine choice.
So many viewers don't like "Last Days Of Pompeii". Well, the only surprising aspect of that is that these people have even seen this movie. As a silent film fanatic, the generally less than stellar notices posted on the movie prevented me from shelling out the 24 dollars the DVD cost. Don't know why I paid attention to the reviews. All I can say is, I'm glad I finally got it, because this is a truly, truly great motion picture. The lead actress is absolutely brilliant, one of the greatest performances that I've *ever* seen; why she didn't go on to megasuccess is beyond me (although she likely was popular in her native Italy but it seems very little is known about her today), and director Mario Caserini is every bit the artist that the much more celebrated America filmmakers of the time were - and actually more talented than most. "The Last Days Of Pompeii" is simply a brilliant film. Find out for yourself.
I love silent films. Not just the later polished ones of the 1920s, but
even the early and very early ones. So, because I have seen any where
from 1000-2000 silents, I can see the context for films like "The Last
Days of Pompeii". And so, while some might say 'wow--that movie was
boring', I actually marvel at what a HUGE accomplishment the film was
when it debuted. You see, lengthy films like this one were pretty much
unheard of and a long film might be 15-20 minutes long (like "The Great
Train Robbery" or "The Voyage To The Moon"). So, at almost an hour and
a half in length, this WAS a radical departure for films. I have seen
documentaries that have proclaimed that "Birth of a Nation" was THE
first full-length film, but "The Last Days of Pompeii" debuted two
years earlier. As for the sets, while the backgrounds were often giant
paintings, often they were not and the realism was great for 1913.
There were real live lions and a nice crowd scene. The costuming was
also GENERALLY good for its time, but what's with including all these
ridiculously attired Egyptians in Italy?! It's as if someone said
"We're running short on costumes--quick, dress some of the extras up as
Egyptians!". Another problem with the film is that plot. While the
story of the blind girl and the lovers is mildly interesting--it's only
mildly interesting. The narrative isn't enthralling, though the sad
Rating this film is tough. When seen today, its deficiencies are obvious. But, in 1913, it created quite a stir--and rightfully so. There also is the historical importance of the film to think about...so coming up with a numerical score is problematic. I'd give it an 8 simply because of its originality and scope.
By the way, if you are looking to see the best film about Pompeii, see the made for TV movie "Pompeii: The Last Day" (2003). It's simply outstanding in every way and quite touching as it dramatizes (in a very realistic way) the final moments of some of the volcano's victims.
The romance of Glaucus and Ione (called Jone here) plus the hopeless love of blind Nidia, intertwine with the nefarious machinations of an Egyptian priest, to make up most of the story. For its time, this was a new departure in cinema, but today it will strike most viewers as too tame. There is no camera movement. Title cards carry little or no dialog. And most evidently the cast was not chosen for physical attractiveness, men or women. Still the story gets told, and rather catches one up, especially the portion of the plot involving blind Nidia. The special effects depicting the eruption of Vesuvius are not bad for 1913, but don't expect anything like the documentaries of the eruption of Hawaiian volcanoes!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Films were theatrical enough in the beginning, and although D.W.
Griffith and others were forming a new art, others, like the two
directors of this photographed play, were working to replicate
theatre--fettering cinema in its infancy. There's a close-up of birds,
a scene with a split-screen and the camera movement, editing and
special effects (fire and falling buildings) mildly pick up in the
climax. The mise-en-scène is as good as it got at the time, with
multi-layered sets adding some depth. Otherwise, this is a very boring
photoplay. For the most part, the scenes are long takes of stationary
long shots--the proscenium arch. Titles explain the proceeding action
in tableau vivant style. The acting is histrionic. The story is a
stupid melodrama, too. "The Last Days of Pompeii" is only a landmark, a
noteworthy event in film history, in that it's one of many photoplays,
including "Queen Elizabeth", "Quo Vadis?" and "Cabiria", that helped
convince American studio-heads to let good filmmakers, like Griffith,
make feature-length films that weren't ostentatiously theatrical.
(This film does improve with age in one respect: the deterioration of the film has resulted in some bleeding during the volcanic climax--unintentionally appropriate.)
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