Cabiria (1914)

Cabiria (1914)

When looking at its contribution to world cinema, undoubtedly Italy's biggest era in filmmaking was between the 1940s and 1960s. Whether that was the neorealism commentary on WWII life from Roberto Rossellini, the art cinema associated with Federico Fellini, or Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, Italy will always have its place in world cinema.

However, before this period, Italy had a great deal of success in the 1910s. As many countries searched through their national histories in order to find good stories to transition to the big screen, few could match Italy's long and varied history. As a result, films such as L'Inferno (1911) (based on Dante's Divine Comedy, written and set during the medieval period) and Quo Vadis (1912) (set during the reign of Emperor Nero) found great success throughout Europe.

The biggest of these, both in scale and in terms of success, came in 1914. Giovanni Pastrone's Cabiria was set in the early-Roman era during the Punic Wars with Carthage, an event perhaps more well-known for Hannibal's elephant march across the Alps.

Cabiria was split into five distinct episodes set over a two and a half hour run time and, while telling grand tales of Hannibal's invasion, Mount Etna's eruption, and the Siege of Syracuse, is primarily about the melodrama of a kidnapped girl - the titular Cabiria.

As well as grand storytelling, Pastrone pioneered the use of a dolly to move the camera. While many films by this point were tracking vertically or horizontally to add more space to a shot than a static camera could, Pastrone was able to follow the action by "zooming" in, providing not just a panoramic shot, but also far more depth to his filmmaking. Such was the novelty of this technique that for a time after the film's release, this use of a dolly became known as a "Cabiria" shot.

Cabiria's ultimate success means that it, rather than Birth of a Nation, was the first film to be shown on the White House grounds (but not inside the White House).

Pastrone would continue to direct films throughout the 1910s and 1920s, but would otherwise be lost to history. During a restored version of the film shown at Cannes in 2006, Martin Scorsese prefaced the showing by declaring that it is perhaps Pastrone, and not D. W. Griffith, who deserves credit for the invention of the epic, and perhaps it was the former who inspired the latter's work.

In any case, Cabiria deserves its spot in cinematic history - as does Italian filmmaking as a whole - for its influence on the world stage.

You can watch Cabiria in full below:

If you're here because of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge 2021, please stop by the theme reveal page which has a full list of all films used in the challenge.


  1. I've often heard about Cabiria, but I've never watched it. I confess I'm quite curious now.

    The Old Shelter - The Great War

  2. I, too, am curious about this one. I have seen some films from the 20s, but I am not actually sure I've ever gone farther back than that. And I agree with you about Italian cinema being hugely influential in the history of film. I am constantly coming up against that in my own A to Z, with the giallo genre, and all that it inspired.

  3. I am looking forward to seeing some of these films that you mentioned. Thanks for taking the time to unearth these for us.


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