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Cherchi-Usai, Paolo 1957-

CHERCHI-USAI, Paolo 1957-

PERSONAL: Born November 8, 1957, in Rossiglione, Italy; immigrated to United States, 1989; son of Licinio and Anita (Piccardo) Cherchi-Usai. Education: University of Genoa, Italy, doctorate, 1981. Hobbies and other interests: Music, art history, studies on creativity, research on artificial intelligence, landscape architecture.

ADDRESSES: Office—George Eastman House, 900 East Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607-2298. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Film curator and historian. University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, adjunct professor of English. Lavoro, Genoa, Italy, editor of arts section, 1982-88; George Eastman House, Rochester, assistant curator, 1989-92, senior curator of film, 1994—; Royal Film Archive, Brussels, Belgium, head of preservation projects, 1993-94; Cineteca del Friuli, Gemona, Italy, deputy curator, 1986-88; Selznick School of Film Preservation, Rochester, director, 1996—; teacher at University of Liege and International School for Film Preservation, Bologna, Italy.

MEMBER: International Federation of Film Archives (member of board of directors, 1995—), Domitor Association for Early Cinema Studies (president, 1995—), Association of Moving Image Archivists, National Film Preservation Board, Society of Cinema Studies, Amis de Valentin Bru.

AWARDS, HONORS: Jean Vigo Award; Film Book of the Year Award, International Film Guide, 1991, for Silent Witnesses; Academy Book Year Award Choice, 1996, for Burning Passions.


The Vitagraph Company of America (1897-1916), Studio Tesi (Pordenone, Italy), 1987.

(Editor) Silent Witnesses: Russian Films, 1908-1917, British Film Institute (London, England), 1989.

Burning Passions: An Introduction to the Study of Silent Cinema, British Film Institute (London, England), 1995.

Silent Cinema: An Introduction, British Film Institute (London, England), 2000.

(Editor) The Griffith Project, British Film Institute (London, England), Volume 1: Films Produced 1907-1908, with Cynthia Rowell, 2000, Volume 2: Films Produced in January-June 1909, with Rowell, 2000, Volume 3: Films Produced in July-December 1909, with Rowell, 2000, Volume 4: Films Produced in 1910, 2001, Volume 5: Films Produced in 1911, 2002.

The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory, and the Digital Dark Age, British Film Institute (London, England), 2001.

Contributor to Sight and Sound, Film History, Iris, and Hors Cadre; editor of Segnocinema, Griffithiana, and Journal of Film Preservation.

SIDELIGHTS: Paolo Cherchi-Usai is a film historian and film curator. He is adjunct professor and senior curator of the motion picture department at the George Eastman House and International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, New York. Cherchi-Usai's area of special interest is in early cinema, from the late nineteenth century to the early use of sound in films; in particular, he looks for correlations between film and other arts, including painting, architecture, literature, music, vaudeville, operetta, and caricature. He is the author of several books on early film.

In Silent Witnesses: Russian Films, 1908-1917 Cherchi-Usai presents a cross-section of Russian films, using quotations from the press of the time, as well as published and unpublished memoirs of those involved in creating the films. In addition to illustrations of stills, set designs, photographs, and posters, the volume includes biographies of seventeen important figures in Russian cinema, including directors, actors, and financial backers.

In the Slavonic and East European Review, Julian Graffy wrote that the book, "in addition to its sheer wealth of factual information, provides essential material for assessing the tastes of the period and for a history of the early reception of cinema in Russia."

Burning Passions: An Introduction to the Study of Silent Cinema provides principles for studying silent films, including how to find, view, and understand these works of art. In Choice, a reviewer praised the book, noting that Cherchi-Usai turns what could be a pedantic topic into "an odyssey of the mind," and in Sight and Sound, a reviewer remarked that Cherchi-Usai's "white-hot passion" for his topic will excite readers about esoteric topics of film restoration.

Cherchi-Usai's multivolume The Griffith Project is a compendium of information on the many films of D. W. Griffith, who lived from 1875 to 1948. Some of Griffith's films, such as Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, are well known in the film world, while others are not. These volumes cover all of the over 500 films Griffith was associated with between 1907 and 1931 as director, producer, writer, actor, or supervisor. The films, described by noted film historians, are listed chronologically and include the title, production company, dates of production and release, plot summary, critical analysis, and other information.

In The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory, and the Digital Age, Cherchi-Usai examines the past, present, and future of film, particularly the ephemeral nature of images preserved on film. Film begins decaying as soon as it is shot; as Philip French noted in the Times Literary Supplement, Cherchi-Usai points out that fifty percent of all silent films are permanently gone. Cherchi-Usai also brings up questions about which films should be preserved, who should decide what is saved, and who owns it—to the heirs of the creators, who may be doing nothing to save it from decay, or to those who lovingly restore and preserve it for posterity? He also considers the pros and cons resulting from the use of digital technology to preserve film, and considers societies that have no sense of film history—for instance, the Taliban in Afghanistan, who burned films simply because they contained images forbidden by Islamic law.



American Reference Books Annual, 2001, review of The Griffith Project, p. 566.

Booklist, September 15, 2001, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of The Griffith Project, p. 258.

Choice, May, 1995, review of Burning Passions, p. 1458.

RQ, winter, 1990, Nancy Allen, review of Silent Witnesses, p. 299.

Sight and Sound, May, 2001, review of Silent Cinema, p. 34.

Slavonic and East European Review, July, 1992, Julian Graffy, review of Silent Witnesses, p. 505.

Times Literary Supplement, June 9, 1995, review of Burning Passions, p. 36; November 9, 2001, Philip French, review of The Death of Cinema, p. 20.*

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