Pastrone, Giovanni

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PASTRONE, Giovanni

Nationality: Italian. Also known as Piero Fosco. Born: Montechario d'Asti, 11 September 1883. Career: Administrative assistant, Carlo Rossi & Company, Turin, 1905; company reorganized as Itala Film, became adminstrative director, 1907; director, from 1910; production supervisor of Itala, from 1914; left film industry, worked on medical research, early 1920s. Died: In Turin, 27 June 1959.

Films as Director:


Agnese Visconti (+ pr); La caduta di Troia (+ pr)


Padre (co-d, pr)


Cabiria (+ pr)


Il fuoco (+ pr); Maciste (+ pr)


Maciste alpino (co-d, pr); Tigre reale (+ pr)


Hedda Gabler (+ pr)


Povere bimbe (+ pr)


On PASTRONE: books—

Margadonna, Ettore, Cinema ieri ed oggi, Milan, 1932.

Palmieri, Eugenio, Vecchio cinema italiano, Venice, 1940.

Prolo, Maria, Storia del cinema muto italiano, Milan, 1951.

Usai, Paola Cherchi, editor, Giovanni Pastrone: gli anni d'oro delcinema a Torino, Turin, 1986.

On PASTRONE: articles—

Caudana, Mino, "Vita laboriosa e geniale di Giovanni Pastrone," in Film (Rome), 25 February and 4 March 1939.

"Omaggio a Pastrone" issue of Centrofilm (Turin), no. 12, 1961.

Verdone, Mario, "Pastrone, ultimo incontro," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), June 1961.

Special Pastrone and Griffith issue of Bianco e Nero (Rome), May/August 1975.

Cherchi Usai, Paolo, special issue, Castoro Cinema (Milan), no. 119, 1985.

* * *

The firm Carlo Rossi and Company (of Turin) began to manufacture films and apparatus in 1907, drawing their personnel from the Pathé Company of Paris. When Rossi left the Company, Sciamengo and Giovanni Pastrone took over what was by then Itala Films, and Pastrone soon proved himself an active and inspired manager. The services of the French comedian André Deed were acquired by the company in 1908. The comedian's role as Cretinetti proved a goldmine. Another valuable addition to the company was Segundo de Chomon, a Spanish cameraman who was a master of special effects. His first film for Itala was the sensational thriller Tigris in 1912.

In the meantime, Pastrone's ambitions led him into direction, and in 1910 he made Agnese Visconti and the sensational Caduta del Troia, which reached American cinemas in spite of an embargo on foreign films. His film Padre introduced the famous actor Ermete Zacconi to the screen. In 1913 Pastrone conceived a vast project set in the time of the Punic Wars, when Scipio conquered Carthage. Armed with a showman's instinct, Pastrone approached d'Annunzio and secured the approval and prestige of the great man's name for a tidy sum. Pastrone, under the name Piero Fosco, directed the film Cabiria with a script duly credited to the famous author, D'Annunzio.

Pastrone did his homework for the film with dynamic thoroughness. The period behavior, architecture, and costumes were patiently researched. Vast structures were built. Shooting took six months, ranging from the Itala studios in Turin to Tunisia, Sicily, and the Val de Lanzo, where Hannibal is reputed to have crossed the Alps. Not only was the film spectacular but, artistically, it broke new ground. The striking camerawork by de Chomon made use of travelling shots with remarkable skill, and the effects of the eruption of Mount Etna and the naval battle of Syracuse were awe-inspiring. The character of the strong man Maciste became a legend of the cinema. Later, Pastrone directed this ex-dock laborer in a further adventure, Maciste, and in the same year, he directed Pina Menichelli and Febo Mari in Il Fuoco, the love story of a young painter and a wealthy woman. The film's erotic atmosphere caused it to be banned and prompted clerical demonstrations against the film.

In 1916 Pastrone again directed Menichelli in a work by Verga, Tigre reale, and in 1919 he directed his former star of Cabiria, Itala Almirante Manzini, in Hedda Gabler. Before he retired at about that time he made several more films with his creation, Maciste. He abandoned the cinema to pursue research in therapeutic medicine.

—Liam O'Leary