Luigi Pirandello, Shoot! The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator.
In 1915 in the pages of the journal La nuova antologia, Luigi Pirandello published a novel in serial format, Si gira! (Shoot!), set in the world of early filmmaking. He published this narrative as a book in 1916 and in 1925 brought it out again in a slightly revised edition and with a different title, Quaderni di Serafino Gubbio operatore (Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio Cameraman, 1925). The 1932 Mondadori edition continued the text of 1925 and has been reprinted numerous times in the intervening decades. Translated into English by C. K. Scott Moncrieff in 1926, Pirandello's film novel has recently been re-issued by the University of Chicago Press with an introduction by Tom Gunning, an afterword by P. Adams Sitney, and one of Pirandello's most famous film-related essays, 'Will Talkies Abolish the Theater?' translated by Nina Davinci Nichols and Jana O'Keefe Bazzoni. The critical commentary by two leading film scholars and the additional article by Pirandello help to place the novel in context for contemporary English-language readers.
Pirandello's novel has long been considered one of the highpoints in the development of film discourse in the early decades. Si gira!, already in 1915, in the words of Gian Piero Brunetta, 'places on the carpet the fundamental themes that regulate the cinematic field and promotes a work of fiction to equal dignity with a work of film criticism and theory.' (1) For Giovanna Grignaffini, Pirandello's novel helps establish the fact that in the early twentieth century 'a view of the modern was primarily and by necessity a view of the cinema.' (2) Walter Benjamin's reference to this text by way of a French translation in his magisterial essay, 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,' published in 1935, is perhaps the chief reason that Pirandello's novel continues to be cited in accounts tracing the development of film discourse in the Teens and Twenties. With regard to currents within the modern novel, Si gira!, according to Gavriel Moses, represents nothing less than the beginning of a new literary genre, i.e. the film novel, founded by Pirandello and carried forward by Nabokov, Isherwood, Percy, and others. (3)
'The relation between film and modern literature,' Tom Gunning observes in his 'Introduction: The Lady, the Tiger and the Three-Legged Spider,' should never be reduced to questions of adaptation" (xiv). And yet, critical studies of film adaptation are far more numerous than scholarship focusing on film's influence on literature or on the cultural reception of cinema by literary writers. Happily, Pirandello's relationship to cinema does not fit this pattern. Indeed, a great deal of criticism, primarily in Italian but also to a lesser degree in English, has been devoted to the Sicilian author's writings on film, and on his collaborations with film directors as well as on his numerous unrealised film projects involving adaptation of his literary works. His singular film novel Si gira!, described accurately by Tom Gunning as 'the first serious (and perhaps still the most probing) novel written about the cinema' (viii) has also received considerable critical attention.
Readers familiar with Pirandello's theatre will find much of interest in his film novel. As is well known, the intellectual itinerary of this modernist giant embraces literature, theatre and film. His work as a man of spectacle develops alongside of and is intertwined with his work as a man of letters: Pirandello was a prolific short-story writer, novelist, journalist, essayist, and critic in addition to being a playwright. The genealogical affiliations linking his film novel of 1915, Si gira!, with his dramatic masterpiece of 1921, Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore (Six Characters in Search of an Author) merit a brief emphasis here.
In a letter of 1918 to the avant-garde Italian dramatist and producer, Anton Giulio Bragaglia, Pirandello tried to convince his colleague to direct a film based on Si gira!. He suggested that an Italian film actress with Slavic features, Pina Menichelli, might be engaged to play the part of the diva, a Russian woman, Valeria Nestoroff, who transitions from theatre to film in the literary narrative. Pirandello writes:
All things considered, it seems to me that a film suited for Menichelli can be found in my novel, Si gira! [...] whose protagonist is a Russian woman: Nestoroff, a femme fatale, etc. A very original film would come from it. The cinema in the cinema. The drama in fact unfolds during the making of a film. And there are very beautiful scenes. It would be opportune if we could talk about it together. (4)
Because it demonstrates (and anticipates in 1915) the aesthetic principles of self-reflexivity --'the cinema in the cinema'--for which Pirandello will become famous in theatrical circles in the 1920s, Si gira! points to the interconnections among the author's work in different genres. To be sure, scholars of theatre who have yet to discover Pirandello as a novelist will find that Shoot! makes fascinating reading.
Beyond Pirandello studies, Shoot! is primarily known today by academic specialists for three reasons: 1) film scholars are drawn to its representation of the world of early filmmaking, 2) critics of modernism and modernity find it an exemplary text for mapping the intersections of film and modern life, and 3) film theorists are attracted by its theoretical reflections on film as a medium. Voicing this widespread critical consensus on the novel's importance for film theory, P. Adams Sitney, in his afterword, 'The Autobiography of a Metonymy,' claims 'No previous essay in film theory can match its depth and range' (223). Not wanting to overlook Si girafs literary qualities, Gunning calls it 'a neglected masterpiece of the modern novel' (xiii). In a similar vein, Adams Sitney reminds us 'it is also a brilliant novel' (233).
In sum, Luigi Pirandello's novel of 1915 still has much to offer readers at the dawn of the twenty-first century. By publishing a new edition of Shoot! The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator, buttressed by insightful and concise commentary, and featuring a translation of one of Pirandello's most trenchant essays on film, the University of Chicago Press has made an important contribution to scholarship.
A question remains, however. Is C.K. Scott Moncrieff s translation, originally published some eighty years ago, still vibrant today? There are a number of infelicities in the translation, as well as puzzling decisions regarding word choice and tone. For example, Moncrieff does not reproduce uniformly the italicised words and phrases of the original. It is difficult to deduce a coherent logic or translation strategy from these omissions. Where Pirandello clearly uses italicised words for emphasis, Moncrieff eschews this technique, in most instances. The most puzzling aspect of the translation involves the repeated misuse of a common colloquial expression: in Italian the first names of women are regularly preceded by the definite article, 'la.' While 'la Nestoroff' for example, makes perfect sense in Italian, or 'la Sgrellina,' as the case may be, 'the Nestoroff' and 'the Sgrellina,' as found throughout this translation, do not coincide with English usage. Did the University of Chicago Press give serious consideration to commissioning a new translation? Although Moncrieff" s version remains highly readable, and more than adequate, it is not without shortcomings. A fresh translation might increase the likelihood that Pirandello's novel would become more widely appreciated as a work of literature. While 'the pleasure of the text' is not a requirement for documents of film theory and is not easy to re-create in translation, it remains an indispensable aspect of any novel.
John P. Welle
University of Notre Dame
(1) Gian Piero Brunetta, Storia del cinema italiano, vol. 1, II cinema muto 1895-1929, 2d ed. (1979; Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1993), 106. All translations by the author.
(2) Giovanna Grignaffini, Sapere e teorie del cinema. Il periodo del muto (Bologna: Editrice Clueb, 1989), 35.
(3) Gavriel Moses, The Nickel Was for the Movies: Film in the Novel from Pirandello to Puig (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
(4) Quoted in Francesco Callari, Pirandello e il cinema (Venice: Marsilio, 1991), 88.
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|Author:||Welle, John P.|
|Publication:||Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2008|
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