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09 March 2017

Spettri (1918)

The Italian silent film Spettri/Gli spettri (A.G. Caldiera, 1918) was based on Henrik Ibsen's play Ghosts (Gengangere, 1881). Star of the film was Ermete Zacconi, a monstre sacré of the Italian theatre, who also appeared in several silent and sound films.

Ermete Zacconi in Spettri (1918)
Italian postcard. Photo: Milano Film. Publicity still for Spettri/Ghosts (A.G. Caldiera, 1918). Caption: Time told Helena this truly was 'The end of the dream'. Captain Alving, his wife Helene and their son Oswald (Ermete Zacconi, Ines Cristina-Zacconi and Peppino Zacconi).

Ermete Zacconi in Spettri (1918)
Italian postcard. Photo: Milano Film. Publicity still for Spettri/Ghosts (A.G. Caldiera, 1918). Caption: She grabbed the child from his father's arms. Helene Alving (Ines Cristina-Zacconi) and young Oswald (Peppino Zacconi), on the right captain Alving (Ermete Zacconi) and the maid, the mother of Regina.

Euthanising her own son


Ibsen's play Ghosts tells of widow Helene Alving, who is about to dedicate an orphanage she has built in memory of her late husband, Captain Alving. Yet, she reveals to the vicar, Pastor Manders, that she has kept hidden Alving's immoral and unfaithful behaviour.

She was afraid her son may go the same road, so she built the orphanage to get rid of her husband's wealth. She followed Pastor Manders advise to stay with her husband and tolerate his misbehaviour, believing her love for her husband would eventually reform him, but it didn't work.

Helene stayed with him to protect her son's and her own reputation. When her son Oswald, sent away to avoid contamination of his father's corruption, returns after years, Helene discovers Oswald suffers from a syphilis inherited from his father. She also discovers Oswald has fallen in love with Regina Engstrand, Helen's maid.

This is a serious problem because Regina is the illegitimate daughter of Alving by another maid, and therefore Oswald is falling in love with his half-sister. When this is exposed, Regina leaves, and Oswald remains in a state of despair and anguish.

He asks his mother to help him die by an overdose of morphine in order to end his suffering from his disease, which could put him into a helpless vegetative state. She agrees, but only if it becomes necessary.

Ghosts concludes with Helene having to confront this decision: whether or not to euthanize her son in accordance with his wishes.

Ermete Zacconi in Spettri (1918)
Italian postcard. Photo: Milano Film. Publicity still for Spettri/Ghosts (A.G. Caldiera, 1918). Caption: Mama, do you believe that the faults of the fathers may fall again on their innocent sons? Helene Alving (Ines Cristina-Zacconi) and Oswald/Osvaldo (Ermete Zacconi).

Peppino Zacconi in Spettri (1918)
Italian postcard. Photo: Milano Film. Publicity still for Spettri/Ghosts (A.G. Caldiera, 1918). Caption: Mama, give me the sun!... Peppino Zacconi as young Oswald/Osvaldo.

Important representant of naturalism


Monstre sacré of the Italian stage Ermete Zacconi developed as an actor during the period when naturalism was established in the Western European theatre. He became one of its most important representants.

Following Emile Zola’s naturalism, this also included hat he studied psychopathology, theories on the effects of heredity, and related subjects, in order to understand the psychology of man, in particular the clinical symptoms of an unhealthy psyche, which he reproduced with perfection.

Zacconi’s most famous role was that of Oswald in Henrik Ibsen’s Spettri/Ghosts, reaching the maximum of realism with a shocking performance of the symptoms of the growing paralysis of the protagonist.

In 1918 he repeated his stage success on film. Here it is clear that not Helen but Oswald is the protagonist. Zacconi also played the father, captain Alving, while Helene was played by Zacconi's wife, Ines Cristina-Zacconi. Their son Giuseppe/Peppino Zacconi played young Oswald.

The script was written by Guglielmo Zorzi, cinematography was by Franco Antonio Martini, while director A.G. Caldiera himself did the sets. The Roman premiere of Spettri took place on 17 October 1918.

The film was heavily mutilated by Italian censorship. Yet, the Italian trade journal La vita cinematografica thought this was not the only reason the film had resulted in much less than the cinematic masterpiece it could have become, on basis of Ibsen's grand play about the degeneration of man.

Ermete Zacconi in Spettri (1918)
Italian postcard. Photo: Milano Film. Publicity still for Spettri/Ghosts (A.G. Caldiera, 1918). Caption: I immediately forget what I have read. On he right Ermete Zacconi as Oswald/Osvaldo Halving. The man on the left could be Pastor Manders (Giovanni Grassi).

Ermete Zacconi in Spettri (1918)
Italian postcard. Photo: Milano Film. Publicity still for Spettri/Ghosts (A.G. Caldiera, 1918). Caption: Like before. Left Ines Cristina-Zacconi as Helene Alving, while Ermete Zacconi as Oswald embraces the maid Regina.

Ermete Zacconi in Spettri (1918)
Italian postcard. Photo: Milano Film. Publicity still for Spettri/Ghosts (A.G. Caldiera, 1918). Caption: Mama, give me the sun! Ermete Zacconi as Oswald.

Source: Vittorio Martinelli (Il cinema muto italiano, 1918 - Italian), Wikipedia (Italian, English and Dutch), and IMDb.

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