Photo Drama Film Company

Alfredo Gandolfi
Alfredo Gandolfi

Torino, gennaio 1914. Sotto la valente direzione del cav. Alfredo Gandolfi la Photo Drama Film, va iniziandosi a passi giganteschi e nella prossima primavera aprirà i battenti. Quanto di meglio possono fornire le modernità applicabili alla cinematografia sono state introdotte nel nascente Stabilimento non solo dal lato tecnico bensì da quello richiesto dall’arte. Lo stabilimento sorge a pochi chilometri da Torino in quel di Grugliasco, avente un’area di 10 mila mq. di terreno con annessa pineta, villa, bosco, giardini, laghi ecc. Nell’interno vi saranno spaziosi uffici per la parte amministrativa e tecnica, sale elegantissime di ritrovo e di lettura per gli attori. Il cav. Alfredo Gandolfi, coadiuvato dal solerte sig. Cesare Gani, ha già scritturato parecchi buoni elementi dei quali faremo il nome a suo tempo.

Pianta della Photo Drama Film Company a Grugliasco, gennaio 1914 (Library of Congress)
Pianta della Photo Drama Film Company a Grugliasco, gennaio 1914 (Library of Congress)

Chicago, March 1914. The memoranda tells me that George Kleine returned to his desk in Chicago, Friday, February 13, which should dispose for all time any notion that Mr. Kleine is superstitious. He isn’t. Friday the 13th has no terrors for him. No trip abroad that he has made in many years has left so many pleasant memories in the wake of his return. I saw him for a few precious minutes across that flat-top desk nearest the door. Mr. Kleine rarely hides behind the larger roll-top that stands further back in his office. And what do you imagine was the most important of the things that concerned him while I was there? A bunch of photographs that he had taken himself!

Mr. Kleine has been engaged for years and years in handling other people’s negatives and now he has taken to his own precious camera and the things that go into it and get in front of it and are taken from it. He found opportunity to push his camera button hundreds of times during his last prolonged visit abroad and it was my privilege to see many of the beautiful photographs. These views took me around with him in his travels. They covered many points of interest in and out of doors, principally in Italy, but none had greater charm for me than those showing glimpses of the magnificent estate which Mr. Kleine purchased up the road from Turin. It lies out from the town nearly five miles and it will be the place where the Photo Drama Producing Company will make films — big productions. One immense building, 330×66 feet is already underway. It will accommodate the actor folk and their wardrobes and properties; shops; the kitchen and dining rooms and serve as a modern utility building for the tremendous studio that will be erected as soon as the plans can be approved. These buildings will differ from other similar institutions in that country. They will include heating and ventilating systems in accordance with the best American practice — something that will be entirely new, because heating and ventilation problems have never entered into Italian studios heretofore. Just why not is a matter of conjecture, because the temperature isn’t always conducive to one’s best effort. Mr. Kleine told me that he had seen the thermometer at twenty degrees and players in films must have suffered due to the extreme cold. All of this will be corrected in the Photo Drama Producing plant.

Signor A. Gandolfi, former business head of the Ambrosio Company, is in charge of the affairs at Turin, and will be director for the big films that will be made at this new plant. The site is admirable, occupying the vantage point in a ten acre plot of land surrounded by a high stone wall. It is Mr. Kleine’s belief that it is the finest location for studio purposes in all Italy. The grounds are nicely wooded and there is a small lake within the enclosure. I hope to show you some views of it within a short time.

Mr. Kleine left America in the latter days of last September and of course this idea of making big films in Italy occupied much of his time and attention. If you will remember, he took some stage celebrities with him and it is reasonable to suppose that he has been overwhelmed with applications of Americans for positions in his foreign stock company. Mr. Kleine is enthusiastic about the possibilities for high-class big productions. He will bend every energy to maintain the standard he has already established and it is reasonable to suppose that with these prospective facilities; a company of his own selection and an organization of famous producers and camera experts, that he will be able to excel those films that have already made for the excellence of his output. Mr. Kleine is one of those men who frowns upon the term “this business is in its infancy.” An industry that has taken fifth place in the rank of the world’s big business can hardly lay claim to the title of infant. He is also practically convinced that a dollar is a low maximum figure for the admission price to the motion picture for the larger attractions. He still believes that he will open his beautiful New York theater with a dollar as the high figure, but he already sees the possibility of this price going higher.

I would like to get into that great pile of photographs that he brought back, but it would be like renewing a glimpse at Baedecker. I am sure that Mr. Kleine found his greatest pleasure at Venice, but points like Florence and Pisa held much for him if we are to judge by the snaps brought back. Mr. Kleine never looked better or seemed to be more fit for a hard day’s grind than he is now. What is more his office door is open!

The Goat Man
(Motography, March 7 1914)

Quo vadis? Astor Theatre, New York 1913

Cast of Characters: Peter, the Apostle (Mr. J. Gizzi); Nero, Emperor of Rome (Mr. C. Cattaneo); Poppaea, Nero’s second wife (Mrs. O. Brandini); Tigellinus, Roman general ((Mr. C. Moltini); Ursus, a Lygian servant to Lygia (Mr. B. Castellani); Lygia, daughter of a Lygian king (Miss L. Giunchi); Petronius, Nero’s favorite (Mr. G. Serena); Vinitius, a military tribune (Mr. A. Novelli); Chilo Chilonides, a Greek soothsayer and spy (Mr. A. Mastripietri); Eunice, a slave (Mrs. A. Cattaneo); Aulus Plautius, a retired Roman general (Mr. L. Lupi).

Music: The instrument used is a Wurlitzer – Orchestra Style J.

The Story of Quo Vadis?

Act I. The opening scene pictures the interior of the luxurious home of Petronius, one of Nero’s favorites, who is seen in his private baths. A slave announces the arrival of Marcus Vinitius, his nephew, who tells his uncle of his love for Lygia, and begs Petronius to help him win her. Lygia is the daighter of a Lygian king, held as hostage by Rome, and placed under the care of Aulus Plautius and his wife, who regard her as their own daughter. Petronius consents to enlist the help of the Emperor Nero.

The next day a Centurion appears with an order from the Emperor commanding that Lygia accompany him to the Imperial Palace, and there be placed in the care of Actea, a woman of influence at the Court.

Plautius and his wife are in deep sorrow over Lygia’s departure, but are consoled by the fact that she is accompanied by Ursus, her giant follower. The next day, overcome with grief, Aulus goes to the palace to ask that Lygia be restored to him, but without success.

The following evening Nero gives a magnificent banquet. Lygia and Actea attend, and there meet Vinitius and Petronius. Nero, yielding to the flattery of his courtiers, rises to sing his hymn to Venus.

Next a group of Syrian girls dance to the accompaniment of lutes and cymbals. The bacchanalia becomes more turbulent toward midnight. Vinitius indulges too freely and makes violent love to Lygia. Although she repulses him he clasps her in his arms. The giant Ursus appears and carries her to her apartments. Later, Actea counsels her not to flee from the palace, which would incur the wrath of Nero.

The next evening Vinitius sends his freedman, Aticinus, to bring Lygia to his house, but upon the return journey Ursus, with a crowd of fellow-Christians, intercepts the litter, and after rescuing his mistress, disappears with her into a remote part of the city. When the slaves of Vinitius return, the young patrician is roused to a terrible fury, and slays Aticinus.

Soon afterward Eunice, the favorite slave of Petronius, suggests that they employ the services of Chilo, the soothsayer and spy. Chilo is instructed to find her, and, after a long search, learns that Lygia and Ursus worship with the Christians at Ostranium.

He informs Vinitius, who sets out for Ostranium, accompanied by Chilo and Croton, a huge gladiator. At Ostranium, they mingle with the Christians. The Apostle Peter appears and blesses the faithful. After prayers are over, and they are returning homeward, Vinitius orders Croton to attack Ursus, while he attemps to seize Lygia. But the gladiator proves no match for Ursus, and meets a terrible death at his hands. After disposing of him he rushes to rescue Lygia from the arms of Vinitius, and is about to slay the latter when his mistress commands him to be merciful.

Vinitius is carried to their dwelling where, under the tender care of Lygia, he soon recovers from his injuries. His heart is touched by the Christian charity of those about him, and his love for the girl becomes greater than ever. He begs Lygia to forgive him and agree to marry him, but she flees from his passionate words.

Act II. Vinitius then returns to his palatial home, and attempts to forget Lygia in a life of renewed dissipation. A magnificent banquet is given at the Pond of Agrippa. The guests are invited by Nero to roam in the gardens and groves, Vinitius among them. He is a great favorite among the ladies at the Court, and even Poppaea, the Empress, meeting him in the garden, makes violent love to him, but Vinitius repels her with the words, “Leave me, for I olve another,” not realizing who the veiled figure is. Petronius, however, has been watching, and later rushes up with the words, “Knowest thou who that was? It was Poppaea! Hadst thou recognized her, nothing could have saved thee, nor Lygia, nor, perhaps, myself!”.

One day, while Vinitius is meditating, the prophet Chilo appears, and whispers that he has again discovered the whereabouts of Lygia. Vinitius  accompanies him to the place, but dismisses the old man in front of the house, telling him to go his way and forget that he had ever served him. Vinitius enters the house, and finds the Apostle Peter with a small band of Christians. He tells them he wishes to marry Lygia, and declares himself ready to accept Christianity. Lygia then appears, and the Apostle blesses their love.

Vinitius then returns home, frees all his slaves for Lygia’s sake, and realizes that he is indeed a changed man. Petronius now counsels him to join Nero’s Court, which has removed to Antrium.

Here feasting and revelry take place, and Nero indulges to his heart’s desire. He is intensely fond of poetry and song, and devotes much of his time in pursuit of these, but he still yearns for some subject to give him inspiration for much greater work, and it is suggested by Tigellinus that he might care to behold Rome in flames.

It is not long afterwards that a messenger enters with the words, “Rome is burning!” to which the Emperor answers in ecstasy, “Ye gods! I shall see a burning city, and can complete my Iliad!” When Vinitius hears the news he makes frantic haste toward Rome, and upon reaching the city inquires of the fugitives concerning Lygia, but for a long time can learn nothing definite.

The whole city is now seen a mass of flames! Thousands of unfortunate people perish, and the others rush through the crowded streets carrying their goods upon their backs. Roman architecture totters and falls to the ground! Confusion reigns everywhere, followed by violence and robbery.

In order to obtain a better view of the perishing city Nero journeys close by, accompanied by a company of his courtiers. At a safe distance he goes  out upon a balcony and gazes upon the mammoth conflagration. At last he can gratify his desire to behold Rome in flames. Who could wish for greater inspiration for a poem? The fall of Troy was nothing to be compared with it. The Emperor raises his voice and sings, accompanying himself upon his lute.

In the meantime Vinitius braves the terrible confusion and succeeds in finding Lygia, Ursus and the Apostle Peter. He begs them to leave Rome, but they refuse. Vinitius too, remains, and asks to be baptized, and the Apostle Peter baptizes him.

When the flames are finally extinguished the Roman people cry loudly for revenge. Many angrily accuse Nero of the crime. Shouts of “Matricide!” “Incendiary!” fill the air. Nero, dreading the wrath of the people, sends his favorite, Petronius, to calm their furious threats by making liberal promises of grain and entertainments.

In order to turn the blame upn someone else the Emperor gladly embraces the suggestion of the false Chilo, seconded by Tigellinus, that the Christians are the real culprits and a general arrest of them takes place, among them Lygia, Ursus, and Glaucus. The Roman soldiers search the houses and drive the unfortunate people to the foul prisons to await their cruel fate. Vinitius makes a heroic attempt to save Lygia, but in vain.

Act III. A great series of spectacles is to be given in the amphitheatre, the crowning events of which will be Christian martyrs being thrown to the lions. On the appointed day great crowds fill the amphitheatre, including the Emperor and his Court.

Exciting chariot races, and gladiators engaged in mortal combat, entertain the people for awhile, but they soon cry for the more terrible events which are to follow. Then the Christian martyrs, men, women, and children, are brutally driven into the arena, after which lions are turned in upon them.

Nero smilingly turns to Petronius and inquires, “What think you of it?” and Petronius cybically replies, “They are a spectacle worthy of thee, O Caesar!” Vinitius can harddly restrain his anxiety over what fate shall fall to Lygia, when suddenly a huge bull dashes into the arena with the body of a woman lashed to its back.

“Lygia, Lygia,” cries Vinitius, tearing his hair. “I believe! Oh Christ! a miracle!” An extraordinary thing occurs! Ursus advances toward the beast! Seizing the animal by the horns man and beast become  engaged in a terrible struggle.

Suddenly the head of the infuriated bull is twisted under the iron mand of the barbarian. Finally the animal, exhausted, falls to the ground. Quickly the giant releases Lygia and lifting her in his arms approaches the Imperial Balcony.

Vinitius makes a desperate leap into the arena and baring his breast disclosing the scars received in the Armenian wars, pleads to Nero for Lygia’s life. Fearing a more furious outbreak from the populace, and seeing nothing but angry looks, Nero upturns his thumb, the sign of grace, and Lygia is borne out of the arena. This ends the festivities.

Petronius, who has so nobly defended the Christians in Nero’s Court, has sacrificed his favor and is condemned to die. He gives an elaborate farewell banquet to his friends. At its close he reads aloud a letter, denouncing Nero and branding him as the real incendiary of Rome. With this done he summons the doctor to open his veins.

About that time, on the Appian way, are seen two figures leaving Rome, the Apostle Peter and Nazarius. The road is empty. Thinking their  work is at an end in Rome they desire to seek other fields, but suddenly a vision appears before them on the roadway and they look with wonder upon the figure of Christ. In a broken voice Peter exclaims: “Quo Vadis, Domine?” (Whither goest Thou, O Master?) and receives answer: “If you desertest My people I shall go to Rome to be crucified a second time.” Rising to their feet, with bowed heads, they turn without a word and hasten back toward the City of Seven Hills.

The reign of Nero is now ended. The signal of revolt is given, and the Legions acclaim Galba Emperor, while Nero seeks safety in flight. He learns that his enemies are rapidly closing in upon him and determines to take his own life. At the critical moment his courage fails him; one of his followers comes to his aid and presses the dagger home to his heart.


QUO VADIS?” AT ASTOR.; Moving Pictures of Famous Story of Rome Shown for First Time Here, The New York Times, April 22, 1913

“Quo Vadis” at the Astor, Hearing the Movies

La battaglia del Vesuvio sotto La Mole 2

Domenico Cazzulino, gerente della Film Artistica Gloria
Domenico Cazzulino 1913

Maggio 1913. Mario Caserini annuncia che ha stabilito un contratto con Lyda Borelli e, con sprezzo del pericolo, insiste con Gli Ultimi Giorni di Pompei:

… che la Film Artistica Gloria vuole presentare al pubblico come il saggio più genuino della potenzialità artistica, del culto estetico, dell’intendimento storico coi quali questa casa vuol proseguire il suo compito. La messa in scena di questo poderoso e geniale lavoro, in cui le evocazioni più suggestive di bellezza si alternano con visioni impressionanti di orrore, ha dato modo a Mario Caserini di dimostrare ancora una volta la sua abilità insuperabile. (…) Nè il cozzo delle difficoltà imponenti, né gli ostacoli, né le rivalità tendenti a frammentarsi dinanzi all’esecuzione di tutto un progetto d’arte e d’ideale, hanno potuto arrestare il Caserini. Di tutto egli ha saputo trionfare; il pubblico giudicherà.

Da questo testo, firmato D. M., sembra che il film sia pronto per la distribuzione.

Effettivamente la distribuzione c’è. Il 17 maggio 1913 Domenico Cazzulino ed il distributore Alfonso De Giglio dichiarano di voler costituire la società in accomandita semplice A. De Giglio e C. Gloria, avendo come oggetto la vendita e lo sfruttamento in tutto il mondo della produzione cinematografica della Film Artistica Gloria.

Anche la Società Ambrosio è pronta. In data 9 giugno su Mario Caserini e Gli Ultimi Giorni di Pompei precipita una nuova causa, questa volta per usurpazione di titolo e concorrenza sleale.

Mentre il vulcano cinematografico sotto La Mole Antonelliana comincia a dare i primi segni di eruzione imminente, il distributore tedesco Robert Glombeck visita Torino per trattare con lo stabilimento della Gloria.

Dopo questa visita, Domenico Cazzulino, gerente della Gloria, invia una lettera aperta alla stampa cinematografica:

Siamo informati che a Berlino, come altrove, si afferma nel mondo cinematografico che la nostra Casa non ha ancora iniziato la film Gli Ultimi Giorni di Pompei e che non pubblicherà mai questa pellicola. Se questo può essere il desiderio di qualcuno, non risponde però alla verità.
La preghiamo quindi voler smentire tali voci, create da interessati, i quali ricorrono anche a questo sistema per impedire la pubblicazione della film in parola; la nostra Casa invece, per eseguire questo grandioso lavoro, non risparmia nè studi, nè fatiche, nè tempo, e nè spese, pur di arrivare ad una perfezione finora mai raggiunta.
Le saremo grati se vorrà dare pubblicità alla presente sull’autorevole sua Rivista.
Coi nostri vivi ringraziamenti e col massimo ossequio ci professiamo.
Torino, 12 giugno 1913.

Altre notizie sulla stampa periodica, e non esclusivamente cinematografica, insistono che il film è pronto per la distribuzione:

La nuova società per la fabbricazione delle films Gloria, la quale in via Quittengo, 39, Torino, ha un grandioso teatro di posa, ha pronta una meravigliosa film storica: Gli Ultimi Giorni di Pompei, desunta dal popolare romanzo di Bulwer, e sceneggiata dal bravo attore Mario Caserini. A riprodurre la spettacolosa azione storica vi concorsero più di mille comparse, trenta leoni e 50 cavalli. Raccomandiamo vivamente ai dirigenti Cinema, questa pellicola di indiscutibile superiorità. Concessionario esclusivo il sig. A. De Giglio.
Oltre la già accennata, l’azione drammatica: Il treno degli spettri, dell’avv. Luigi Sonnazzi e Florette e Patapon dalla nota pochade di Hennequin e Weber.

La polemica intorno alle due versioni di Gli Ultimi Giorni di Pompei arriva in altri paesi. Dalla Francia, in perfetto stile boomerang, ritorna in Italia attraverso La Cine Fono:

Vienna 22 luglio 1913
Direzione del Courrier Cinématographique – Parigi
Il Courrier Cinématographique n. 28 (12 luglio 1913) pubblica un comunicato relativo alla causa Ambrosio-Gloria. Vi si prendono caldamente le parti della Casa Gloria della quale si difende e si approva il modo d’agire. Io spero, non pertanto, Signore, che nella vostra imparzialità vorrete aprirmi le colonne del vostro giornale a proposito di quest’affare, malgrado la divergenza d’opinioni che esiste fra l’autore dell’articolo in questione e me.
Non vi è certamente niente a ridire sull’annunzio che il Caserini fa, a titolo di referenza, di aver fatto parte delle case Ambrosio e Cines nelle quali egli è stato. Non vi è niente da obbiettare a che gli annunzi dei titoli d’opere da lui create, messe in scena e dirette mentre era al servizio di quelle case, ma sempre che non risultasse vero o fosse senza fondamento ch’egli avesse fatte queste creazioni, o che la parte che vi prese è quasi nulla, o molto secondaria, come si può egli adornare delle penne del pavone e mettere nei suoi annunzi il nome di queste opere?
Significa mettere delle tronfie apparenze al servizio di una rèclame sleale. E’ anche della seconda questione il sapere se il Caserini ha legalmente il diritto di rappresentare al cinematografo il romanzo di Bulwer. E’ evidente che chiunque può farlo, dal momento che quest’opera non è più, da lungo tempo, sotto la protezione della legge dei diritti d’autore. Ma è ben altra cosa quando si tratta d’un impiegato che, abbandonando la sua Casa, si mette subito, dopo essere uscito, a scovare negli archivi per appropriarsi le idee ed i piani contrariamente a tutti i principi di equità; essendo stabilito sopratutto che nella sua antica casa egli ha conosciuto le idee ed i piani e che è soltanto là ch’egli poteva apprenderli. Vi è, pertanto, nella letteratura mondiale un’enorme quantità di grandi opere dello stesso Bulwer come Phelan, L’ultimo dei Baroni, che son libere. Perchè non le ha scelte al luogo di Pompei e Nerone vale a dire due opere che egli sa che la sua antica Casa ha in vista e delle quali ha già cominciata la pubblicità con il più grande successo da qualche anno sotto forma di films a corto metraggio, ma in un genere classico che potevano da tutti i punti di vista servir di modello?
La nuova Casa Gloria non ha dunque che approfittare d’un successo assicurato nella rèclame della Ambrosio della quale ne diminuisce la riuscita togliendone il vantaggio della pubblicità già fatta. Essa non farà che togliere le castagne dal fuoco e coronarsi del lauro meritato da altri. Tutti coloro che scrivono sanno bene di quale qualifica sono chiamati quelli che non esitano ad appropriarsi delle idee altrui. Nessuno può approvare questo modo di procedere ed in prima linea l’onorevole membro della stampa che è l’editore del Courrier Cinématographique.
Vi prego di gradire, Signore, i miei omaggi più rispettosi.
Alexandre Ortony

Nel mese di agosto del 1913, sul vulcano di Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei spunta a sorpresa un terzo cratere: la Pasquali Film ha pronta la sua versione: Jone ovvero Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei.

Scosse di terremoto arrivano a Chicago, sede della Photo-Drama Company, capitanata da George Kleine dove si prendono provvedimenti: bisogna registrare il titolo Gli Ultimi Giorni di Pompei in tutte le lingue e per tutti i paesi.

Esempio francese: M. Aubert a l’honneur de prévenir MM. Les Exploitants qu’il s’est réservé les droits exclusifs de Vente, Location, Exploitation, Exhibition en France, Belgique, Hollande et leurs Colonies, Suisse et Belgique du film intitolé:
Les Derniers Jours de Pompéï, tiré du Roman de Si Edward Bulwer Lytton
Cette priorité est légalement consacrée par le dépôt fait spus les Nos 2939 et 2939bis conformément aux lois en vigueur sur la propriété littéraire et artistique, qui permettent de pursuivre rigoureusement tout contrefacteur.
Il ne saurait donc trop mettre MM. Les Exploitants en garde contre les ennuis auxquels ils s’exposent en acceptant les propositions de la contre façon.

M. Aubert avvertenza
Avvertenza di M. Aubert (Le Courrier Cinématographique)

Esempio inglese: La Pompei Film Coy (società specialmente costituita per il commercio della film Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei), tenendo in considerazione il fatto che vi sono parecchie films con questo nome ed argomento, ha deciso di cambiare il titolo Ultimi giorni di Pompei in La caduta di Pompei. Ciò per evitare le confusioni che rendono tutto l’affare dei Pompei a Londra una torre di Babele.

In mezzo a tutto questo una breve notizia informa che:

Le prime parti dell’Itala Film accompagnate da tutto lo stato maggiore di questa importante Casa si recheranno nell’entrante settimana in Algeria per eseguirvi col sussidio dei luoghi e delle persone di quei paesi una importantissima film di lungometraggio.

Ecco la tanto ricercata data delle riprese in Algeria di Cabiria!

segue ancora…