Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Giovanni Pastrone

Più forte che Sherlock Holmes (1913)

Alternate Titles: Stronger Than Sherlock Holmes, Sterker dan Sherlock Holmes.

This Italian short trick film is a slapstick chase-comedy in the style of Alice Guy and other directors of earlier decades. The name of Holmes is only invoked to bring in the concept of crime and pursuit, the movie has nothing to do with the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle.

piu-forte-che-sherlock-holmesThe movie begins with a man reading a magazine, while his wife peacefully dozes next to him at the table. An over-the-shoulder shot is cut in to reveal illustrations of a cop and a robber in the magazine, then the man also slumps to sleep, dropping the magazine to the floor. Two figures emerge from the magazine, by use of double exposure: One is the burglar from the illustration, and the other is a copy of the sleeping man, now dressed as the cop. He gathers up his hat and gun while the transparent burglar beckons to him from the fireplace. The burglar disappears, and the policeman pulls back a curtain, revealing an opening to the outside. In the next shot, he pursues the burglar through what looks like a thick forest, but might be simply his backyard (a fence is visible in the lower left of the screen). He fires his gun and waves his nightstick. The next shot shows us a lake, with the two figures running towards it from the opposite side. They leap in and swim towards the camera, fully clothed. About halfway, the burglar again becomes transparent through double exposure, and appears to walk on his hands across the surface of the water. He does some cartwheels to tease the cop, who is still struggling along through the water. Finally, he vanishes and appears on a bridge.

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Best Director 1914

Even fifty years before the formalization of the “auteur theory,” directors were often given primacy of place in terms of the creation of film. Some might say that in these early days, before powerful studios had the ability to re-cut films or otherwise undermine directors, we can see auteurship in its purest form. On the other hand, one might argue that at this time, when no one was certain what the ultimate division of power might be, perhaps cinematographers or producers were more primary in the creation of a film.

There’s no denying, however, that the directors nominated for Century Awards this year were, one and all, dedicated artists with a vision for their movies as a whole, not mere employees turning out material on demand. D.W. Griffith may have been the very inventor of the idea of director-as-artiste, and “Judith of Bethulia” represented his success in an ongoing battle with Biograph Studios over the production of feature-length films. Like Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille was a born showman, who would promote himself as the premiere filmmaker of his day, and he got off to a strong start with his direction of “The Squaw Man.” Giovanni Pastrone was an innovator in Italian cinema, establishing that nation as a source of some of the most visually satisfying movies in all eras. Louis Feuillade was an amazingly prolific director from cinema’s first nation of France, whose movies range from light comedies to dark crime serials, and who wrote what may have been the first “manifesto” of the movies. Evgeni Bauer was an amazingly advanced filmmaker, who understood more about movement, sets, and lighting than many cinematographers of his day.

The nominees for best director of 1914 are:

  1. W. Griffith for Judith of Bethulia
  2. Cecil B. DeMille for The Squaw Man
  3. Giovanni Pastrone for Cabiria
  4. Louis Feuillade for Fantômas Contre Fantômas
  5. Evgeni Bauer for Silent Witnesses

And the winner is…Giovanni Pastrone for “Cabiria!”


This category is our most internationally representative, in terms of the nominees, and my choice reflects, to some degree, my admiration of Italian cinema, which I regard as the most consistently visually satisfying in the world. “Cabiria” demonstrated the director’s ability to not only tell a compelling story, but his commitment to producing it on a grand scale despite the challenges this would present for the actors. For 1914, he went above and beyond what anyone else attempted.

Best Production Design 1914

In the early years of film, movie making was very much a “physical” process. There was no way to create a landscape for an audience through computer trickery, you had to create it in at least two, and often three, dimensions, in order to convince the audience that it existed. While early film was often satisfied to simply work on indoor sets and small stages, by 1914 film producers and directors were starting to make elaborate environments for their actors to perform in, and sets were getting bigger and bigger.

Both “Judith of Bethulia” and “Cabiria” built cities from the ancient world as settings for their stories, with gargantuan features that at times dominate the human actors – the walls of the city in “Judith” and the Temple of Mammon for “Cabiria” being standout examples. “The Squaw Man” deserves special notice for the innovation of building an indoor set right next to a railroad track, so that the actual trains rushing by would become part of the action without camera trickery. “Magic Cloak of Oz” gave us not one, but two fairy castles, as well as the city of Noland with its fanciful architectural style. Finally, production-designer-turned-director Evgeni Bauer gave us a complex and believable bourgeois household, contrasting the beautifully decorated living quarters with the Spartan look of the servants’ domains in “Silent Witnesses.”

The nominees for best production design for 1914 are

  1. Cabiria
  2. Judith of Bethulia
  3. Magic Cloak of Oz
  4. The Squaw Man (Wilfred Buckland)
  5. Silent Witnesses (Evgeni Bauer)

And the winner is…”Cabiria!”


Although the other contenders had some good work, noted above, there really was nothing to compete with the grand scale and imagination of “Cabiria.” D.W. Griffith himself was floored when he saw it, and would try building on that scale two years later when he made “Intolerance.” But until then, nothing could hope to touch it.

Cabiria (1914)


Director: Giovanni Pastrone

This could possibly have been the most immediately influential film of the year 1914. Often falsely credited as the “first feature film” or as the “first use of tracking shots,” it most probably introduced those concepts to many audiences and apparently also inspired Fritz Lang and D.W. Griffith at key points in their careers. Viewers familiar with Lang’s “Metropolis” will readily recognize the Temple of Moloch in this film, for example. It also introduced audiences to the Italian hero “Maciste,” who would star in literally dozens of “sword & sandal” films in the following century (many of them have been re-titled to the more familiar “Hercules” for English-speaking audiences). Here, he is cast as a slave, serving a Roman who has infiltrated Carthage during the Punic Wars. It’s also interesting in political/historical terms, for having been written by Gabriele D’Annunzio, the poet who would later inspire the early fascists with his symbolic occupation of Dalmatia. It would be a mistake to see this as a straight nationalist propaganda film, but the action and adventure is certainly steeped in the glory and romanticism of ancient Rome, and includes tropes, such as the salute and the fasces itself, that would later become important symbols. Be that as it may, the translated inter-titles, and especially the pagan prayers, are quite striking in their poetry.

Run Time: 120 minutes

You can watch it for free: here.