Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Infernal Dreams: Part 3


Before moving on to a discussion of one of the strangest scenes in Gioseppe de Liguoro's L'Inferno, I'd like to invite any of you who are in driving distance of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to drop by the Barnes and Noble superstore at 421 Arena Hub Plaza for their annual Halloween Horror Gathering. I'll be there this Saturday signing copies of Veins and Visions, sharing the spotlight with Bram Stoker Award Winner Lisa Mannetti and others. The fun starts at 2:00 PM. See you there!

I'd also like to direct your attention to some excellent comments posted to this site by Teaching Visions reader A. Alford, who reminds me that F&SF has recently run a second-person narrative titled "You are Such a One" by Nancy Springer. The same issue also contains Sean McMullen's terrific novelette "The Art of the Dragon." I'd like to try commenting on both stories sometime soon -- possibly as early as next week. And yes, that issue also contains my novelette "The Others," which is one of the stories in Visions.

More on those stories later, but I've made you wait long enough for that discussion of what may well be one of the strangest sequences in L'Inferno, a scene depicting Dante’s encounter with heretic Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti.

The episode begins with a long shot of a burning field. No trick photography here. The flames are real, lighting the foreground as they spread across the stage.

Dante and Virgil enter, walking among the flames until the glowing figure of Cavalcante rises from an open tomb in the center of the stage. The shot is alarming in a number of ways, partly for its dramatic design, but also for the real danger that the actors and crew obviously faced while filming it. Consider: Dante and Virgil are dressed in ankle-length robes, hems swaying inches from the flames. Then the scene cuts to one of the film’s few close shots. Dante, Virgil, and Cavalcante filling the foreground as flames and smoke rage behind them. Watch closely, and you’ll see streams of lighter fluid splashing over the stage right behind the actors. Such are the pyrotechnic effects of early cinema – stagehands with buckets of combustible chemicals standing out of frame, feeding real fires while robed actors converse with a nearly naked man in a glowing pit. It’s a harrowing tableau.

The film also features some moderately successful attempts at optical fades, split screens, and forced perspectives. None of the effects are quite as good as those employed by Georges Méliès during the same period, but they are fascinating nonetheless.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a peek at the vistas of hell, you may be better served by reading Dante than by watching Eye 4 Films’ restoration of L’Inferno. And if you’d like to score that reading experience, you might consider loading your audio device with Tangerine Dream’s Sorcerer tracks.

Sometimes the best classics are the ones that play in the cinema of the mind.

Or so I thought when I first viewed the film and discussed it for the journal Dissections. But the intriguing thing about art is the way it seems to change with repeated viewings. Of course, it's not the art that changes. It's the viewer, and in the past few months I find I have developed an appreciation for both the film and its new musical score. I had expected the magic of Georges Méliès and the driving beats of the Tangerine Dream. But now, I suppose, with those expectations behind me, I can appreciate Snapper's repackaging of Liguoro's early film for what it is, a sublime, meditative look back at an early feature film that attempted to capture the dark wonder of Dante's poem. And despite the music's soft tones and lyrics that fall short of the power of Dante's poetry, the DVD is worth a rental if not a purchase. And if you teach Dante (as I do) you might consider sharing a few sections with your students. It'll make for some good conversation.

That's it for now. Until next week, share the vision!

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