• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Thursday, September 20, 2018

    Giuda (Judas, 1911)

    Earlier in the year South West Silents organised an event called Treasures from the Turin Film Museum at the Watershed Cinema in Bristol which featured five silent Italian films with an ancient world theme including Pastrone’s Fall of Troy (1911) and two films produced by Arturo Ambrosio, The Last Days of Pompeii (1910) and Giuda (Judas, 1911)

    None of the main texts from which I would expect to find something about the film even mentioned it. Neither David Shepherd's "The Bible on Silent Film", nor Campbell and Pitts' "The Bible on Film", nor Giorgio Bertellini's "Italian Silent Cinema" even mention it. Thankfully Carol O'Sullivan was kind enough to provide the summary she wrote for the screening notes for the afternoon in Bristol:
    Giuda (1911), 10’
    The courtesan Priscilla is fascinated by the preachings of Jesus of Nazareth. She tries to seduce him but he resists and invites her to abandon her sinful ways. In revenge, she prompts Judas to betray him, only to repent at the last minute when it is already too late.
    The repentance is missing from the surviving copy of the film.
    Despite the paucity of information about the film it seems likely that it was directed by Luigi Maggi. Maggi began as an actor but had been directing for several years by the time Giuda was produced. His most notable credit is probably Last Days of Pompeii (1908) which I watched last year. Whilst I didn't find the time to review it, I did post a couple of tweets at the time on that film's use of the depth of field in two particular shots, one of a discernible object in the background and another of a character staggering past the camera.

    Interestingly the depth of field used in Giuda is even more striking, and once again we get another character, in this case Judas, who starts the centre of the frame in a typical (for the time) intermediate shot before staggering towards the camera and then past it. Whereas the character in Pompeii was drunk, here is is driven crazy by his love for Priscilla.

    As interesting as that shot is on it's own, it's the camera's use of depth elsewhere that is of most interest. Whilst the first Jesus as a cameo film is probably 1909's L’aveugle de Jérusalem, this film is surely the first to deploy the strategy, which would become so prominent in later Roman-Christian epics, of keeping Jesus in the scene but minimising his presence in the shot.

    Of the eight surviving scenes Jesus is in five of them, but in each he is placed in the distance towards the top of the scene. Whilst these shots are clearly only portraying the human side of Jesus, this positioning of a slightly detached skyward figure also conveys something of the divine Christ in heaven whilst life continues on Earth below.

    What is striking though is how little reverence the camera treats him with. In the opening shot (above) Jesus preaches in the background, but the focus is on Judas and Priscilla the woman whose very presence has captured his attention (and ours). This dynamic is extended even further in the next scene, the Triumphal Entry. Normally this is one of the emotional high points of any Jesus film but here it's almost a sideshow. Jesus passes through in the background, the crowd cheers, but the camera moves from tracking him to focusing on Judas and Priscilla's second meeting. Jesus passes off to the side of the shot. Judas and Priscilla remain front and centre.

    The next scene is shot in Priscilla's house where Judas has followed her. He suggests he will be able to get Jesus to come to Priscilla's house and goes off in search of him. When he arrives (in scene 4) Jesus is already preaching, but almost immediately the view of him is obscured by Judas talking with one of the other disciples. Even more remarkably Jesus begins to move forward and performs two miracles in slightly different locations, but both times the miracle is obscured by characters between him and the camera (above). Whilst this undoubtedly made life easier for the special effects department, its significance lies in the way it again keeps Jesus out of the picture.

    When Jesus does arrive at Priscilla's villa (scene 5) he arrives at the back of the stage and does not descend down inside (like everyone else) and so remains at the centre, once again 'over' everyone. There's a hint of the ascension here, not least because there's a great use of a matte screen here with a painting of the countryside with a mountain in the background. His final appearance (in the surviving footage) is in the Garden of Gethsemane (scene 6, above). Again he remain top centre, this time he is eventually obscured by the stumbling Judas as described above.

    From a technical angle, it is perhaps the penultimate scene (of the existing footage) which is the most interesting. One of the reasons the matte paintings work better here than they do in Last Days of Pompeii, is that they are used more sparingly, relying for the majority of the film on outdoor, location shooting. The scene, briefly introduced by the intertitle "The agreement", takes place alongside a pond, with the water itself forming the right of the picture towards a vanishing point on the horizon. Judas appears on the bank on the left hand side of the screen, but his attention is focused on someone behind the camera and to the right. At first he just glances in that direction, then he looks with more earnest, before ultimately gesturing and shouting. Eventually the character with whom he has been communicating (Priscilla) comes onto the screen from behind the camera on the right hand side of the screen. Far later films have been credited with creatively breaking the fourth wall, here we see almost the reverse. Compared to the relatively static and limited presence of the camera in most films up to this age, here the intention is to give the world that is being presented an extra dimension, (perhaps this could be called making the fourth wall).

    The final scene (cropped at the very top of this post) shows a furtive looking Judas looking around and then ascending the steps to the temple. It's notable that the costumes of the various groups of soldiers are quite distinctively Roman in character, not Jewish (as if temple guards), which may reflect the films Italian origins, but in any case is less problematic for an angle on the story which could so easily lead to anti-Semitism. It's also notable that the scene where Judas has agreed to betray his master occurs after (or rather during) Jesus' prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane.

    I've discussed the film's formal links to Last Days of Pompeii above, but there's more there in terms of plot summary etc. Both films are, on the surface, stories about an historical phenomenon (Jesus/Eruption of Mount Vesuvius), but instead of focusing on that directly they take a more oblique angle, foregrounding the historical referent with an invented love melodrama. As a result both films feel a little bit flabby, though Giuda is tighter than Last Days which even at under 17 minutes feels a little bit bloated.

    What this love subplot does do is present a more human Judas and refuse to demonise him. Yes, his motivation is horrifyingly mundane, but he is a more rounded character and there's no indication that the devil has entered him, or that he is driven by greed. It could be argued, I suppose, that this makes things worse, but somehow lovestruck fool kills for his lover seems better to me. But then I've always loved Noir.

    I have been able to assemble some information about the film from various other sources so should anyone be researching it in the future it might their lives easier. Firstly, whilst IMDb doesn't contain a great deal about this film only the name of its three main stars (Oreste Grandi, Gigetta Morano, Mario Voller-Buzzi) and to report various dates of release including the UK on the 22nd October 1911 and the 1st November 1911 in the US, it does, include the following synopsis from Moving Picture World:
    The picture opens with Christ preaching to the multitudes. Priscilla, a wealthy woman of great beauty, tells Judas to request the Messiah to rest at her house. Christ rebukes her with the words: "Woman, your thought is sinful: the Son of God will not stay beneath your roof." With his disciples, he then proceeds on his way, working miracles, healing the sick, etc. Priscilla, full of hatred, persuades Judas, who loves her, to go to the Romans and betray the whereabouts of Christ for a sum of money. Christ is taken by the soldiers, and Priscilla, from her balcony sees him pass to Calvary bearing the cross upon which he is to suffer. Remorse seizes her, and when Judas comes to claim the reward of his treachery a sensational scene takes place in which Judas is spurned. Rushing to the place of execution, Priscilla casts herself before the cross and begs forgiveness of the suffering Christ. Judas sees her, and filled with horror at the terrible act he has committed, he is so overcome by his accusing conscience that he ends his life by hanging himself to a tree.
    The best source of information on this film is Museo Nazionale del cinema in Turin. It was Stella Dagna of MNC who brought the films to the Bristol showing and talked a little about them and their database contains the following synopsis.
    Judas (1911)

    Production: Società Anonima Ambrosio, Torino. Original length: 390m – Length: 197m – Intertitles: English – Availability date: 09/1911

    Cast: Oreste Grandi (Judas), Gigetta Morano (Priscilla, the courtesan), Mario Voller Buzzi (Jesus Christ)
    The film preservation:
    The preservation of Giuda was carried out by the Museo Nazionale del Cinema di Torino and the Cineteca del Friuli of Gemona in collaboration with George Eastman House and the National Film and Sound Archive of Canberra, based on an incomplete nitrate print which was donated by the Archive of Canberra to the Cineteca of Friuli. From the nitrate print, a dupe negative and positive color prints were printed on safety film, using the Desmet method.
    The restoration was conducted at the L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna in 1997.
    You can also scan through the Museum's scans of related film materials. You have to search for the film by name, but there are a few pieces related to this film which you can view online including a number of fascinating stills from the set including the one below takes from a scene in Priscilla's house.

    The archive apparently also contains a "sceneggiatura" for the film which might be a script, but may just be a description of the scenario. That and a piece from the magazine “La vita cinematografica”, (vol. II, n. 15, 10 Sept. 1911, p. 7) though neither is available to view online. What can be viewed online, however, is a brochure publicising the film which contains it's own more colourful summary which I've written out in full below and translated (with more than a little help from Google Translate)
    Come il Messia predica alla turbele parole di fratellanza e d'amore, Priscilla, la cortigiana, sente d'improvviso una fiamma arderle le vene e i polsi. Ordina ai lettigheri di portarla a casa e manda Omar a offrire ospitalita al profeta e ai suoi apostoli. Omar va, trova il Messia sulla piazza del Mercato tra gli sciancati e i lebbrosi e fa l'ambasciata. E il Messia viene, al tramonto. Ma non mette piede nella casa della cortigiana. S'arresta oltre la soglia e dice: Donna il tuo pensicro è peccato. Il figliuol di Dio non puo restare sotto il tuo tetto.

    Priscilla impietrisce. Questa parole sono risuonate al sup orecchio come scoppi di folgore e hanno percosso l'anima sua come colp di verghe. Poi a poco il cuore le si gonfia e le lacrime le riempiono gli occhi.

    Priscilla nella notte va all'uliveto.

    Il Messia e in orazione nell'ombra. Dintorno a lui gli apostoli dormono distesi sull'erba. E Priscilla sente un alito sfiorarle la faccia e una voce mormorare piano: Ti amo! - Chi sei? chiede Priscilla. E risponde la voce: mi chiamo Giuda. L'apostolo e la cortigiana parlano nella notte e il suono delle loro voci si confonde collo stormire degli ulivi.

    Il giorno dopo Giuda vende il Messia al principe dei Sacerdoti e guida i soldati a compiere l'arresto.

    Ora Priscilla é vendicata. Guarda dalla bianca terrazza, ghirlandata di grappoli. Com'e pallido il Messia, com'è cosparso di sangue! E nell'anima della cortigiana, invece del piacere della vendetta, nasce a poco a poco un senso di pieta infinita e un cercare il premio del suo tradimento, Priscilla gli grida in un riso: Maledetto! Maledetto! e corre a piangere ai piedi della croce.

    Respinto, avvilito, in preda alla disperazione Giuda sparisce nella notte a cercare la morte del traditore...

    "As the Messiah preaches with a torrent of words about brotherhood and love, Priscilla, the courtesan, suddenly feels a flame burning in her veins and wrists. She orders the lawyers to take her home and sends Omar to offer hospitality to the prophet and his apostles. Omar goes, finds the Messiah on the market square among the crippled and lepers and makes the embassy. And the Messiah comes at sunset. But he does not set foot in the courtesan's house. He stops over the threshold and says: "Your thoughts are sinful. The son of God cannot remain under your roof.

    Priscilla is petrified. These words resound in the air like bursts of lightning and strike her soul like lightning rods. Then her heart swells up a little and the tears fill her eyes.

    Priscilla in the night goes to the olive grove.

    The Messiah is in prayer in the shadow. Around him the apostles sleep lying on the grass. And Priscilla feels a breath touching her face and a voice murmuring softly: I love you! - Who are you? asks Priscilla. And the voice answers: my name is Giuda. The apostle and the courtesan speak in the night and the sound of their voices gets confused with the rustling of the olive trees.

    The day after, Judah sells the Messiah to the Chief Priest and leads the soldiers to make the arrest.

    Now Priscilla is avenged. She looks from the white terrace, wreathed in grapes. How pale is the Messiah, how he is sprinkled with blood! And in the soul of the courtesan, instead of the pleasure of revenge, little by little a sense of infinite pity arises and a search for the prize of her betrayal, Priscilla shouts at him in a laugh: Cursed! Cursed! and she runs to cry at the foot of the cross.

    Rejected, dejected, in despair Judah disappears in the night to seek the traitor's death ..."

    Whilst the BFI Archive does not hold a print of this film, it does contain three articles about it from The Bioscope as follows: vol.13 n261 (12 Oct 1911); vol.12 n257 14 Sep 1911; and vol. 12 n257 (14 Sep 1911).

    Lastly, the ever reliable Hervé Dumont's "L'antiquité au cinéma" is practically the only published volume which actually mentions the piece, though it's unclear whether he has seen it or is just paraphrasing an existing summary.
    1911 Giuda (Judas)(IT) Arrigo Frusta ; S.A. Ambrosio, To-rino (« Série d’Or »), 390 m. / 8 min. – av. Oreste Grandi(Judas), Gigetta Morano (Priscilla, la courtisane), Ma-rio Voller Buzzi (Jésus-Christ). –

    Priscilla, une courtisane de Jérusalem, est émue par les paroles du Christ et l'invite chez elle. Jésus refuse de pénétrer dans la maison de la pécheresse et cette dernière, humiliée, cherche à se venger. La uit, sur le mont des Oliviers où Jésus prie, elle se donne à Judas. Au petit matin, poussé par Priscilla, Judas trahit son maître. La courtisane repentante se jette au pied de lacroix tandis que son amant se suicide. Un Judas égaré parl’amour.

    (Priscilla, a courtesan of Jerusalem, is moved by the words of Christ and invites her to her home. Jesus refuses to enter the house of the sinner and the latter, humiliated, seeks revenge. On the Mount of Olives where Jesus prays, she gives herself to Judas. In the early morning, pushed by Priscilla, Judas betrays his master. The repentant courtesan throws herself at the foot of the cross while her lover commits suicide. A Judas lost by love.)

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