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Saturday, January 9, 2021

Giuseppe de Liguoro: A Pioneer of Early Italian Cinema

Giuseppe de Liguoro 
Credit: Museo Nazionale del Cinema – Torino

Born in Naples on January 10, 1869, Giuseppe de Liguoro is credited with creating historical, epic films that reached beyond the borders of his country. 

Among the iconic silent films he directed during the second decade of the 1900s are "L'Inferno" and "L'Odissea" (Homer's Odyssey), which were both made in 1911.

"L'inferno" was roughly adapted from the first part of Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy" and was Italy's first completed feature film. The project took over three years to make and was directed by de Liguoro, Adolfo Padovan and Francesco Bertolini. 

The gruesome story, which in the original poem, begins on the night before Good Friday in 1300, is set in the depths of Hell as Dante is guided through the "Nine Circles" by the poet Virgil. During their journey, they come in contact with a whole host of characters from the three-headed Cerberus to the flying serpent Geryon. They witness the devil savaging eating people, harpies eating the bodies of those who committed suicide, a man forced to carry his own severed head and people covered in lava. As limited as the special effects crews of that time may have been, the visuals are quite stunning and give testament to their ingenuity. 

The film premiered in Naples at the Teatro Mercadante on March 10, 1911. It was deemed an international success, grossing more than $2 million in the United States. 

This year marks 700 years since the death of Alighieri. In remembrance, the Uffizi Galleries in Florence has made 88 images available on its website. The very first image is from Inferno. Click here to take a virtual tour.

Check out the film below accompanied by a modern soundtrack...

Directed by the same three filmmakers, "L'Odissea" was produced for the world's fair of Torino to mark the 50th anniversary of the Unification of Italy. It premiered in the United States the following year and was declared to have begun "a new epoch in the history of the motion picture as a factory of education" by The Moving Picture World, a trade journal for the American film industry.

Check out the film below and enjoy the stunning images and rich colors...

The legacy of de Liguoro was carried on by his children. His son Eugenio was a director who also acted occasionally in his father's films.  His other son Wladimiro de Liguoro was also an actor and director, and married to actress Rina De Liguoro, who appeared in Luchino Visconti's "Il Gattopardo." 

Giuseppe de Liguoro passed away in Rome on March 19, 1944 at the age of 75. He will forever be remembered as one of the early pioneers of Italian cinema.

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