Watch L’Inferno (1911), Italy’s First Feature Film and Perhaps the Best Adaptation of Dante’s Classic

In its second decade, cinema struggled to evolve. The first films by the Lumière Brothers and Thomas Edison were short and gimmicky - shots of trains racing towards the screen, couples kissing and cute kittens getting fed. A quick rush. A bit of fun. Its creators didn’t see much past the novelty of cinema but then other filmmakers like Georges Méliès, Edwin S Porter, Alice Guy-Blaché and D.W. Griffith started injecting this new medium with elements of story. It started aspiring towards art.

To this end, filmmakers started to expand the canvas on which they created. Films that were just two to eight minutes lengthened in duration as their stories grew in complexity. The first feature-length movie came in 1906 with the Australian movie The Story of the Kelly Gang. In 1915, D.W. Griffith premiered his racist masterpiece The Birth of a Nation, which crystallized film language and proved that longer movies could be financially successful. In between those two movies came L’Inferno (1911) – perhaps the finest cinematic adaptation of Dante's Inferno out there and the first feature-length Italian movie ever.


Like Griffith, the makers of L’Inferno - Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan and Giuseppe de Liguoro – sought to raise cinema to the ranks of literature and theater. Unlike Griffith, they didn’t really do much to forward the language of cinema. Throughout L’Inferno, the camera remains wide and locked down like the proscenium of a stage. Instead, they focused their efforts on creating gloriously baroque sets and costumes. Much of the film looks like it was pulled straight from Gustave Dorè’s famed illustrations of The Divine Comedy. Yet seeing a picture in a book of a demon is one thing. Seeing it leap around lashing the naked backs of the damned is something else entirely. If you were ever tempted by the sin of simony, you’ll think twice after seeing this film.

L’Inferno -- now added to our collection of Free Movies Online -- became both a critical and commercial hit worldwide, raking in over $2 million (roughly $48 million in today’s money) in the US alone. “We have never seen anything more precious and fine than those pictures. Images of hell appear in all their greatness and power,” gushed famed Italian novelist and reporter Matilde Serao when the film came out.

American film critic for The Moving Picture World, W. Stephen Bush, was even more effusive:

“I know no higher commendation of the work than mention of the fact that the film-makers have been exceedingly faithful to the words of the poet. They have followed, in letter and in spirit, his conceptions. They have sat like docile scholars at the feet of the master, conscientiously and to the best of their ability obeying every suggestion for his genius, knowing no inspiration, except such as came from the fountainhead. Great indeed has been their reward. They have made Dante intelligible to the masses. The immortal work, whose beauties until now were accessible only to a small band of scholars, has now after a sleep of more than six centuries become the property of mankind.”

Of course, the film’s combination of ghoulishness and nudity made it ripe to be co-opted by shady producers who had less that lofty motives. Scenes from L’Inferno were cut into such exploitation flicks as Hell-O-Vision (1936) and Go Down, Death! (1944).

You can watch the full movie above. Be sure to watch to the end where Satan himself can be seen devouring Brutus and Cassius.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in July 2015.

Related Content:

An Illustrated and Interactive Dante’s Inferno: Explore a New Digital Companion to the Great 14th-Century Epic Poem

Visualizing Dante’s Hell: See Maps & Drawings of Dante’s Inferno from the Renaissance Through Today

Artists Illustrate Dante’s Divine Comedy Through the Ages: Doré, Blake, Botticelli, Mœbius & More

A Digital Archive of the Earliest Illustrated Editions of Dante’s Divine Comedy (1487-1568)

Alberto Martini’s Haunting Illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy (1901-1944)

Gustave Doré’s Dramatic Illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Pretty Much Pop #19 Discusses Race and the Target Audience w/ Rodney Ramsey

We’ve all felt at various points (maybe at most points) that some media creation has reached us by mistake, that we are not the target audience. 20th century American TV was aimed largely at a white majority, with a parallel, underfunded channel of content aimed at people of color.

So how have things changed? There still seem to be “black shows,” but how do they fit in to a landscape where inclusiveness is a tool by which shows attempt to appeal to everyone (i.e. get all the money)? Comedian/actor/writer/producer Rodney Ramsey joins Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss the experience of watching outside your demographic, whether identifying with characters requires physical commonalities, “black voice,” and the evolving TV landscape.

We touch on WatchmenAtlantaBlack PantherInsecureSorry to Bother YouBlacKkKlansman, Tyler Perry, Dear White PeopleBlack Jesus, and the black Herminone issue.

Some of the articles we considered included:

Follow Rodney @Rodney_Ramsey.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Watch the Serpentine Dance, Created by the Pioneering Dancer Loie Fuller, Performed in an 1897 Film by the Lumière Brothers

Whatever their views on copyright, artists and inventors of all kinds can agree on one thing: all dread having their ideas stolen without so much as a footnote of credit. Such thefts have led to tanked careers, lifelong resentments, homicidal rivalries, and lawsuits to fill libraries. They have allowed many a thief to prosper and many an injured party to surrender.

But not legendary modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller.

“Short, plump, and thirty years old,” the dancer from Illinois arrived in Paris in 1892, fresh off the “mid-level vaudeville” circuit, writes Rhonda K. Garelick at Public Domain Review, and bent on proving herself to Édouard Marchand, director of the Folies-Bergère. She scored an interview within days of her arrival.

Alighting from her carriage in front of the theater, she stopped short at the sight of the large placard depicting the Folies’ current dance attraction: a young woman waving enormous veils over her head, billed as the “serpentine dancer.” “Here was the cataclysm, my utter annihilation,” Fuller would later write, for she had come to the Folies that day precisely to audition her own, new “serpentine dance,” an art form she had invented in the United States.

The imposter, an American named Maybelle Stewart, had seen Fuller perform in New York and had lifted her act and taken it to Paris. Rather than succumb to rage or despair, Fuller sat through the matinee performance and was moved from a cold sweat to renewed confidence. “The longer she danced,” she wrote, “the calmer I became.” After Stewart left the stage, Fuller ascended in her serpentine costume and auditioned for Marchand, who agreed to take her on and fire Stewart.

The story gets stranger. The show had been promoted with Stewart’s name, and so, to avoid bad publicity, Fuller agreed to perform the first two nights as Stewart, “dancing her own imitation of Stewart’s imitation of the serpentine dance,” a “triple-layer simulation,” Garelick writes, “worthy of an essay by Jean Baudrillard”—and emblematic of a career in dance marked by “self-replication, mirrored images, and identity play.”

Thus did the woman named Loie Fuller (born Mary-Louise Fuller), begin “what was to become an unbroken thirty-year reign as one of Europe’s most wildly celebrated dancers.” Fuller was “the only female entertainer to have her own pavilion” at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, writes Natalie Lemie at Artsy. “Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec featured her in a number of prints; Auguste Rodin commissioned a series of photographs of the dancer with plans to sculpt her; and the Lumière brothers released a film about her in 1897.”

Fuller’s dance personified Art Nouveau, expressing its elegant, flowing lines in her billowing silk gowns, which she moved by means of bamboo sewn into her sleeves. As she danced “colored lights were projected onto the flowing fabric, and as she twirled, she seemed to metamorphose into elements from the natural world: a flower, a butterfly, a tongue of flame.” Everyone came to see her. The Folies, which “typically attracted working class patrons," now had aristocratic newcomers lining up outside.

See the serpentine dance that launched her career at the top in the Lumière Brothers’ 1897 film and below it in a colorized excerpt, with the bewitching music of Sigur Ros added for effect. Other films and clips here from other early cinema pioneers show the medium's embrace of Fuller's choreography. Ironically, none of this footage, it seems, shows Fuller herself, but only her imitators. "Unfortunately none of the surviving films seem to contain a performance by the original dancer/choreographer," notes cinema history channel Magical Motion Museum, "despite some of them carrying her name in the title or otherwise crediting her as the dancer."

Her name carried a lot of weight. Fuller was not only a celebrated dancer, but also a manager, producer, and lighting designer with “over a dozen patents related to her costumes and innovations in stage lighting.” (She was so interested in the “luminous properties” of radium that she sought out and “befriended its discoverers, Pierre and Marie Curie.”) By 1908, however, she had left behind some of these elaborate stage effects to focus on “natural dancing’—dance inspired by nature, which was the forerunner of modern dance.”

And she had taken on a young dancer in her company named Isadora Duncan, often referred to as the “Mother of Modern Dance." Fuller deserves credit, too, but she didn’t seem to care about this overmuch. She was, notes Oberlin College dance professor Ann Cooper Albright, “way more interested in making things happen than creating a name for herself.” Fame came as a byproduct of her creativity rather than its sought-after reward. She was still renowned after she left the stage, and given a retrospective at The Louvre in 1924.

Fuller continued to work behind the scenes after the Art Nouveau movement gave way to new modernisms and supported and inspired younger artists until her death in 1928. Her work deserves a prominent place in the history of modern dance, but Fuller herself “was—and remains—elusive,” Lemie writes, “something of a phantom." Others might have stolen, borrowed, or imitated the serpentine dance, but Lois Fuller became it, going beyond competition and into a realm of magic.

via Public Domain Review

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Expressionist Dance Costumes from the 1920s, and the Tragic Story of Lavinia Schulz & Walter Holdt

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Martin Scorsese Explains the Difference Between Cinema and Movies

Image by "Siebbi," Wikimedia Commons

There is a battle raging on the internet, and you may count yourself lucky if you’ve heard nothing about it since it involves the usual unnecessary escalations and knee-jerk reactions: the battle of superhero movies versus the art form known as “cinema.” The first shot, one might say, was fired by Martin Scorsese, who has certainly earned the right to make pronouncements on the subject. Asked for his thoughts on the MCU (that’s Marvel Cinematic Universe for the uninitiated) during an interview with Empire magazine, Scorsese opined, “that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks.”

This writer is of the opinion that one can enjoy film both as art and as pure spectacle, while recognizing clear differences between them. They share a medium, but they aim at and produce different effects. Comparing the experience of watching Avengers: Endgame or most any other Marvel film to riding a rollercoaster seems perfectly apposite to me. Still, comic film fans went wild online, lobbing all sorts of accusations at Scorsese and fellow directors who delivered even less charitable takes on the Marvel movie phenom. Twitter memes and jokes proliferated; Disney’s CEO weighed in with what must surely be a disinterested critical opinion.

Let’s look past distracting hot takes, marketing strategies, and generational warfare. Scorsese has eloquently clarified his position in a New York Times op-ed, and his arguments are worth our attention. For one thing, the director approaches the subject with humility, admitting his own biases. “The fact that [Marvel] films don’t themselves interest me is a matter of personal taste and temperament,” he writes. “I know that if I were younger, if I’d come of age at a later time, I might have been excited by these pictures and maybe even wanted to make one myself.”

He details his own sense of what cinema should be, one drawn principally from his influences: Bergman, Godard, Hitchcock (whose movies might also be called theme parks in a way, Scorsese grants, but rely more on characterization than grand set pieces and special effects). He also lists current favorites: Ari Aster, Spike Lee, Kathryn Bigelow, Paul Thomas Anderson. As an auteur himself, he has a clear bias in favor of other auteurs. Yet there’s more at stake than taste or what some have seen as elitism. “Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be?” he asks. “The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen.”

Superhero movies have dominated the market, edging out other kinds of films with other kinds of aspirations. The “financial dominance” of what Scorsese calls “worldwide audiovisual entertainment” is “being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence” of cinema—of smaller films that take creative risks and are not computer-generated products of market research and audience testing for maximum box-office consumption. Having grown up himself in the Hollywood studio system, Scorsese doesn’t dismiss film as a business, but he laments the loss of a “productive tension” between “the artists and the people who ran the business.” Without that tension, the industry becomes an efficient, but inhuman, machine.

It’s a problem, in other words, of a power imbalance in which studios—vertically integrated into mega-corporations like Disney—push profit over most other considerations. This severely limits the risks they’re willing to take, and it pushes independent and experimental filmmakers further into the margins, and out of theaters altogether, where their works were meant to be seen. Netflix and other streaming services may open up unique opportunities, but they diminish film by relegating it to television screens (and, worse, tablets and phones).

Scorsese’s argument is only partly an aesthetic one—he may object to Marvel movies on the grounds that they’re forgettable and predictable. But the primary concern he voices in his essay is a problem of proportion. The Marvel Cinematic Universe—like the villain in Avengers: Endgame (which Scorsese hasn’t seen)—threatens to take over and half-destroy the universe of cinema in all its variety of forms and expressions. It is largely succeeding. “For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art,” Scorsese writes. “And the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.” Read his essay here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Pretty Much Pop #18 Discusses Stephen King’s Media Empire

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Is the most popular writer of our time actually a good writer? Or maybe he used to be good but has long since run out of inspiration? What are the most effective ways to adapt these very readable short stories and novels? Does showing us the evil in a film lessen its impact? While you've been thinking about those questions, King has already written another book.

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt share their experiences with and opinions about King's oeuvre and the films and shows that have come out of it, including It, "The Body" (aka Stand By Me), The Shining, In the Tall Grass, The Dark Tower, The Stand, Children of the Corn, From a Buick 8, Under the Dome, The Outsider, Mr. Mercedes, Castle Rock, Pet Sematary, Misery, The Shawshank Redemption, and more.

Some articles we read to prepare for this discussion include:

If you've never actually read a Stephen King novella, go ahead and read "The Body."

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.


The Time When Charlie Chaplin Entered a Chaplin Look-Alike Contest & Came in 20th Place

chaplin contest

Charlie Chaplin started appearing in his first films in 1914---40 films, to be precise---and, by 1915, the United States had a major case of "Chaplinitis." Chaplin mustaches were suddenly popping up everywhere--as were Chaplin imitators and Chaplin look-alike contests. A young Bob Hope apparently won one such contest in Cleveland. Chaplin Fever continued burning hot through 1921, the year when the Chaplin look-alike contest, shown above, was held outside the Liberty Theatre in Bellingham, Washington.

According to legend, somewhere between 1915 and 1921, Chaplin decided to enter a Chaplin look-alike contest, and lost, badly.

A short article called "How Charlie Chaplin Failed," appearing in The Straits Times of Singapore in August of 1920, read like this:

Lord Desborough, presiding at a dinner of the Anglo-Saxon club told a story which will have an enduring life. It comes from Miss Mary Pickford who told it to Lady Desborough, “Charlie Chaplin was one day at a fair in the United States, where a principal attraction was a competition as to who could best imitate the Charlie Chaplin walk. The real Charlie Chaplin thought there might be a chance for him so he entered for the performance, minus his celebrated moustache and his boots. He was a frightful failure and came in twentieth.

A variation on the same story appeared in a New Zealand newspaper, the Poverty Bay Herald, again in 1920. As did another story in the Australian newspaper, the Albany Advertiser, in March, 1921.

A competition in Charlie Chaplin impersonations was held in California recently. There was something like 40 competitors, and Charlie Chaplin, as a joke, entered the contest under an assumed name. He impersonated his well known film self. But he did not win; he was 27th in the competition.

Did Chaplin come in 20th place? 27th place? Did he enter a contest at all? It's fun to imagine that he did. But, a century later, many consider the story the stuff of urban legend. When one researcher asked the Association Chaplin to weigh in, they apparently had this to say: "This anecdote told by Lord Desborough, whoever he may have been, was quite widely reported in the British press at the time. There are no other references to such a competition in any other press clipping albums that I have seen so I can only assume that this is the source of that rumour, urban myth, whatever it is. However, it may be true."

I'd like to believe it is.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in early 2016.

via France Culture/Stack Exchange

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Oscar-Nominated Composer Danny Elfman Teaches an Online Course on Writing Music for Film: A Look Inside His Creative Process

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

To have watched some of the greatest film and television in the last thirty-five years is to have been immersed in the music of Mark Mothersbaugh and Danny Elfman—two artists who have scored Hollywood blockbusters and indie hits alike since the mid-eighties when they started on TV’s Pee-wee’s Playhouse and Tim Burton’s 1985 comedy Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, respectively. They also happen to have played in two of the 1980’s weirdest, most experimental New Wave bands, Devo and Oingo Boingo.

Mothersbough went on to score everything from Rugrats to Thor: Ragnarok, but he’s maybe best known for his work with Wes Anderson. Likewise, Elfman—who has worked with everyone from Gus Van Sant to Brian De Palma to Peter Jackson to Ang Lee—formed a creative bond with Burton, to such a degree that it's near impossible to imagine a Tim Burton film without a Danny Elfman score.

When Burton first approached him for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, the Oingo Boingo frontman was just about to release “Weird Science,” for the infamous John Hughes film of the same name. Already a band with a massive cult following, they became pop stars, and Elfman became one of the most distinctive film composers of the last several decades.

He scored Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Sleepy Hollow, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, and, most recently, Burton’s Dumbo. Now he’s sharing his secrets for aspiring film composers everywhere with his very own Masterclass. “I’m going to tell you from my perspective,” he says in the trailer above, “how I do these things": things including instrumentation, orchestration, melody, and tone—"the most important thing you’re going to capture in a film score."

In the screenshots here, see excerpts of the course topics, which include units on the films Milk, The Unknown Known, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, an example of “writing specifically for a character”—a character, Jack Skellington, whose singing voice Elfman also provided.

For those who feel they’ll never measure up to a career like Danny Elfman’s, he introduces all important units on insecurity and failure. Perhaps the most important lesson of all, he says above, with infectious enthusiasm, is learning that “it’s okay to fail, to feel insecure. Doubting yourself, finding confidence and moving forward, and then doubting what you’ve just done…. I think this is the life of a composer. I think it’s the life of an artist.”

Can such things be taught, or can they only be lived? Each teacher and student of the arts must at some point ask themselves this question. Perhaps they only learn the answer when they try, and fail, and try again anyway. Register for Elfman’s class for a single fee of $90, or pay $199 for an all-access pass to 60+ masterclass courses taught by other moviemaking greats like Hans Zimmer, Samuel L. Jackson, David Lynch, and more.

Related Content:

How to Take Every MasterClass Course For Less Than a Cup of Good Coffee

Why Marvel and Other Hollywood Films Have Such Bland Music: Every Frame a Painting Explains the Perils of the “Temp Score”

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Brian Eno Reveals His Favorite Film Soundtracks

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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