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One of the Earliest Feature Films Was This Italian Adaptation of Dante’s Inferno

It’s the earliest surviving complete feature-length film, made in 1911

Dante and Virgil encounter the counterfeiters and forgers, now changed to lepers and the insane for punishment (Screenshot from the film L’Inferno (1911))
smithsonian.com

The first motion pictures were simple image sequences — like that captured by British photographer Eadweard Muybridge using a series of cameras tripped by a horse galloping in 1878. Even the first films with plot were short (like George Méliès’s 1902 A Trip to the Moon, which has a run time of about 14 minutes). The first full-length feature films (films that run for forty minutes or more) didn’t come about until The Story of The Kelly Gang, from Australia in 1906 and the infamously racist The Birth of a Nation from American D.W. Griffith in 1915. But perhaps less well known, is the fantastical L’Inferno, an adaptation of Dante’s Inferno, created in Italy in 1911.

For Open Culture, Jonathan Crow writes:

Like Griffith, the makers of L’InfernoFrancesco 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.

(Simony is the buying and selling of church roles, privileges and other sacred things, such as pardons or relics.)

Open Culture recently added the film to their collection of 700 Free Movies Online. Visit Crow’s post to learn more about L’Inferno’s critical and commercial success, then watch the full movie:

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