Dreams of Darkness and Colour

total running time c.80min

This programme explores the role of costume in several silent cinema journeys into darkness, many of which are executed in colour. Writer, journalist and lecturer Anna Battista will introduce the Italian diva of the 1910s and fashion designer Mariano Fortuny whose dresses appear in the featurette Rapsodia Satanica.

With live piano accompaniment from Lily Henley.

Rapsodia Satanica

Italy 1915/1917. Dir Nino Oxilia. With Lyda Borelli, Andrea Habay, Ugo Bazzini. Alba’s gowns by Mariano Fortuny.

A prime example of the diva genre, Rapsodia Satanica is a masterpiece of silent Italian cinema. It features Lyda Borelli as Alba d’Oltrevita in a Faustian tale of a woman’s search for eternal youth and worldly pleasures. The most persistent themes punctuating the film are Alba’s narcissism and her manipulation of a thin, diaphanous veil in scenes of seduction, reflection and melancholy. Sensuous, the veil may evoke the craze for exotic dances that swept European and American stage and screen around the turn of the century but in Alba’s hands it is more introspective and eerie than seductive. It assumes a life of its own as it is moulded and layered over her face and body, producing an ethereal, phantasmic effect made even more striking by the use of colour tinting. Alba’s nemesis, the omnipresent devil, also operates his vampire-style cloak to great effect. The


Red Spectre (Le Spectre rouge)

France 1907. Dir Segundo de Chomón, Pathé Frères. Costumes and sets Segundo de Chomón. Stencil-coloured.

In a dark cavern a devil-like magician performs a series of tricks putting to great use his spectacular cloak.


The Pillar of Fire (La Danse du feu) France 1899. Dir Georges Méliès, Star Films. With Jeanne d’Alcy. Costumes and sets Georges Méliès. Hand-coloured.

Based on H. Rider Haggard’s novel ‘She’, a demon conjures a woman wearing a voluminous white dress who performs a dance à la Loïe Fuller.


La Création de la serpentine (La Creación de la Serpentina) France 1909. Dir Segundo de Chomón, Pathé Frères. Costumes and sets Segundo de Chomón. Black and white.

A magician’s experiment transforms a piece of cloth into a woman who emerges from flames to perform a ‘serpentine dance’.


The Butterflies (Le Farfalle) Italy 1907. Dir Unknown. Società Anonima Cines. Tinted and hand-coloured.

Geishas dance and play with a butterfly woman whom they have imprisoned within a cage. Her lover comes to rescue her, only to find himself killed by the group. A butterfly revenge ensues.

Barbican Saturday 04 Dec 2010, 16:00