D’Annunzio’s first contact with the world of the cinema came in 1911, at the Hotel Continental in Paris. Two Italian movie magnates (I am withholding their names because they wouldn’t forgive me an anecdote concerning them which I don’t feel like keeping from my readers) who had come from Paris, invited d’Annunzio and me to a private luncheon at the above mentioned hotel.
The Parisian custom is to resolve important business matters, even the establishment of large banks (I am not speaking of ministerial crises), at table. During the fish course (sole meunière, served with a superb Sauterne—if it’s a small bank, the Sauterne may be replaced by a modest Graves) the nature of the business at hand is established. With the appearance of lamb chops “à la Villeroy,” everything is in full swing; part of the capital is underwritten. By the time the peach melba is served the president is named, and over liqueurs—probably a fine old brandy—the bank itself is organized. The Italian movie producers simply followed the French tradition—a tradition which is very much justified, since during a good dinner the spirit inclines to propositions which would never be considered in an office.
These producers had agreed between themselves on an offer, but they hadn’t considered their guest. At that time d’Annunzio drank only water and was therefore always very clearheaded. Thus it came about that he extorted two thousand lire from his hosts for each plot adapted from his works. Two thousand lire! A munificent sum in 1911—a sum which brought a badly repressed, complacent smile to the face of that same d’Annunzio who, eighteen years later (that is, May 1929), wrote me apropos of an offer to adapt to film his poem “The Woman of Pisa”: “The reasons which prevent me from accepting the offer made in response to my very modest demand have been explained. Five hundred thousand lire in advance, in addition to a percentage of the gross, is the minimum sum for such plots as I can create1. . . You should see how elaborate the contract is!”
But then, let’s descend from this seventh heaven and return to the less extravagant era of a mere two thousand lire per plot. The 1911 contract, if not actually signed, was at least defined along general lines, and d’Annunzio was perhaps the most satisfied of all the parties. He still remembers that happy time, and he is especially fond of retelling a little story connected with that historic luncheon. The two producers, even though they knew their own business very well, felt uncomfortable on principle, not considering themselves the intellectual equals of their guest. However, partly because the poet was so very cordial, and partly because they made free with the red burgundy and white bordeaux, they became braver and began to chatter away freely. By the time the fruit was served, they were expounding on every subject—art, literature, politics, psychology and so on—absolutely shamelessly. And, d’Annunzio enjoyed himself immensely. Finally they caroled, “You know, it’s incredible! Instead of feeling nervous and inferior, we felt comfortable with you right away—we dare to talk to you as if you were an ordinary person!”
“But,” said d’Annunzio, with a little smile, “what you don’t know is that I am just like Orpheus.”
“Yes indeed,” laughed one of the producers, “like Orpheus.” And turning to me he added, “What an extraordinary man! How cultured! He knows absolutely everything!” And in a low tone, “You put me on to this Orpheus afterwards, get it?”
However, I judged it preferable to leave him in blissful ignorance.
Having signed the famous contract, d’Annunzio gave no further thought to it. The art of the cinema was still at its dawning (I can’t say “first cry,” because, thank God, sound films hadn’t yet been developed). The poet paid less attention to the adaptation of his works to the screen than a composer would pay to a provincial organ grinder’s variation on one of his arias. He was never concerned with the way in which his stories were interpreted and realized. It wasn’t until ten years later, in a theatre in Fiume, that Commander d’Annunzio, by mere chance, was present at the showing of one of the adaptations of his stories. It was the first film version of “Leda without the Swan.” From beginning to end the poet split his sides laughing; he considered the film puerile and exaggerated. This was the first and only time that d’Annunzio ever saw a film of one of his works.
And, I can assure you that d’Annunzio never saw Cabiria [directed by Piero Fosco who was also called Giovanni Pastrone, 1914].* This denial, precise because categorical, will surely stupefy certain people. It will seem less astonishing when they are informed of the authentic history of that film, known in its entirety to only four persons in the world. Of these four, three (that is, d’Annunzio and the two producers of the film) have no interest in revealing it. The fourth person is myself.
It all began in June, 1913. D’Annunzio was without a cent—a condition as normal for him as for another god-fearing man to have red hair or a nervous twitch. At the point he lived at 47 Avenue Kléber [in Paris], in a charming apartment which he embellished with the customary trappings of cushions and draperies. This was the apartment in which, much later, the outbreak of the European war took him by surprise. At one of the many confrontations with his balance sheets, to which he habitually invited me in order to hear my inspired plans for making money, the poet read me a letter he had received a few days before. This letter was rather strange, both in form and content, and since the original has remained in my possession I don’t want to deprive my readers of it.
At the risk of being unceremoniously consigned to the wastebasket, we are forced to confess that we are movie producers. We beg your forgiveness if, by presenting ourselves thus indirectly and covertly, we have incurred your displeasure. It is not cowardice that drives us to trickery, but the knowledge of the wrongs committed by the producers who snubbed you or made light of your great name.2
In short, we have a project in mind which would mean profit and almost NO disturbance to you—and which would not reflect on your good name.
Would you be willing to authorize us to come there at your convenience to submit it to you?
With profound respects. . . .
Whoever sent this letter had unconsciously (I say “unconsciously” because he didn’t actually know the poet and knew still less of his temperament) struck two notes which would bring him consideration: first, the fact that he recognized that the profession of producer wouldn’t get him as far as, for example, being a lawyer or a shoe salesman; second, that he aroused d’Annunzio’s curiosity by the hint, especially piquant at this critical moment, of possible easy gain with almost no (the word “no” was written in capital letters) disturbance. In fact, the letter had a magical effect.
D’Annunzio gave it to me and put me in charge of meeting with the author in my office in Paris to see how much truth and reliability there was in this mysterious proposal. My office was at 62 Rue la Boétie. At that time I managed a fashion magazine which brought me small profit and great annoyance. Signor [Giovanni] Pastrone (the letter writer’s name) came as soon as he was invited, and revealed his very American proposal to me. I call it “American” because it was well worked out, bold, and very quickly understood.
“I have finished a magnificent film which may run as long as three hours,” he said. “I have with me some still photographs made from at least two hundred frames of the picture and which give an accurate idea of the mise en scène. The captions are ready and so is the film title. But even if I swear with modesty that my film is as good as can technically be produced by the film industry, I can’t say as much for the captions or the title. Besides, I need an author’s name. It must be a big, worldfamous, irreproachable name. And so I thought—at least my colleagues and I have dared to dream—of Gabriele d’Annunzio. For the rather pedestrian work of providing new captions, and especially for the acknowledgment of the film which would be ornamented by his great name, I am authorized to pay fifty thousand lire.”
I no longer remember if the two words which indicated the numbers were pronounced unclearly, perhaps because Signore Pastrone had a slight cold, or if, because of the tension of the moment, I’d misunderstood him. The fact was that I was not perfectly sure if Fd exactly comprehended the words indicating the amount. It seemed enormous to me; and, for that time, it really was. The best going rate in Europe (America counted for less than nothing) was three or four thousand lire. Being offered fifty thousand lire at that time was like being offered a couple of million today. At any rate I didn’t believe it advisable to indicate my agonized uncertainty as to the amount.
I told Signor Pastrone that I would refer the offer to d’Annunzio the next day; I filled him in about my boss’s character, that I couldn’t foresee what his answer would be, and so forth. I ended by giving Signor Pastrone an appointment for the following evening. That day I took care not to speak to the poet about the proposal. I knew his mentality then as well as I know it today. If a sum is proposed to d’Annunzio as the maximum figure that will be offered, two minutes later he begins with that sum fixed in his mind as the lowest possible sum he will accept. Thus, it often happens that the business at hand goes up in smoke, to the poet’s great disadvantage.
I met Pastrone the next evening and told him that I’d not yet had the chance to speak to d’Annunzio about the offer. However, this time, as we discussed the business again, I broached the subject of the fee, cocking my ear so that not a syllable would escape me. The sum was stated for the second time and very clearly. Fifty thousand lire. There was no longer any doubt. I took my leave of Signor Pastrone and that same evening discussed the offer with d’Annunzio. Actually, as was my custom when dealing with him, I said at first that they had offered me twenty thousand lire, waited until he had raised the price to forty thousand lire, and left him to sleep on it. Then, the next day, I pretended to have wrenched not only the requested forty thousand lire out of Pastrone, but a round fifty thousand.
Having signed the contract, the producer began, as is usual, to complain. He kept demanding to be given the finished work; for Pastrone every loss of time was equivalent to the loss of a good deal of money. I had at my disposal only one way to oblige the poet to work—that was to make him understand that, in spite of the greatest deference, admiration and sympathy (and the more you get, the more you want) the movie director had for the Great Italian Poet, he would not be given the famous cheque if the captions weren’t written and the title not announced. D’Annunzio, who, when he couldn’t do anything less, knew how to be understanding and very reasonable, accepted the conditions and, armed with the photos Pastrone had brought him and the existing captions, started work.
Deciding on the title was a ten minute affair. For d’Annunzio, thinking up a title isn’t a difficulty, but a pleasure. In his life he’d probably thought up ten thousand names, nicknames, and titles! I believe the film, when it arrived in Paris, was called Triumph of Love, or something like that. D’Annunzio smiled at so much ingenuousness, and, fifteen minutes later, entitled it Cabiria. Those who know mythology understand that Cabiria means “born from fire.” However, it’s a sonorous, easy name which anyone could easily remember. The name Cabiria was joyously welcomed by the interested parties.
When he got to the characters’ names and the captions, the going got harder. D’Annunzio had never been a man who did sloppy work. He had to meditate, to examine, to document. For example, he would never consider giving a Chaldean name to a Carthaginian, or one of Egyptian origin to a Hebrew. To d’Annunzio, such inaccuracy would be an enormity. Therefore, the work necessitated a certain amount of time. Pastrone was going crazy. He had figured that d’Annunzio would be able to get everything done in two or three days with the help of a typist, and so he gave himself no peace. He came to my house five or six times a day, telegraphed to Turin, and implored me to intercede with the poet on his behalf. Finally, after Pastrone had suffered for a good two weeks, d’Annunzio solemnly announced that he was almost finished. Pastrone, soured by recent disappointments, didn’t put any faith in this talk. On the contrary he was so perturbed at the possibility that the d’Annunzian proclamation might hide a trap, that the poet, at the last minute, could take flight, renouncing the fifty thousand lire without so much as a fare־thee־well, that he established himself in the entrance hall of the poet’s apartment on the Avenue Kléber and stayed put. Don’t imagine that the phrase “established himself in the entrance hall” is simply figurative.
Pastrone passed the day there and slept there. I don’t know if he got a mattress from d’Annunzio’s man-servant, but I can swear that Pastrone was present in the entrance hall for one entire day and night and that he sent the porter to get him sandwiches at mealtimes. The poet at last understood that there was small chance of evading destiny, and that, willy-nilly, he was obliged to earn that fifty thousand lire. And so, in three days Cabiria was finished—without Pastrone’s Piedmont obstinacy it would perhaps never have been completed, at least with Gabriele d’Annunzio as its author.3
And now that you know the true story of the great d’Annunzian film, I leave it to you to imagine with what moral satisfaction he heard Porel, the great vaudeville director, say (and he was certainly not the only one to say it), “Your genius is once again spectacularly confirmed. Cabiria is a true masterpiece.” Of all d’Annunzio’s work on Cabiria there remains only a brief, three page outline. It shouldn’t surprise the reader that the captions were written in French, since, during his stay in France, the poet often wrote his personal notes in that language. From these three pages I may conclude that, at first, d’Annunzio had actually intended to write the whole story of Cabiria so as to conform to the greater part of the stills taken from the film; however, he wished to reserve the right to demand additions or modifications. Ultimately, faced with such pressure, he limited himself to “draping” Pastrone’s puppets with his incomparable literary style. In his attitude toward the film, d’Annunzio was like those fathers who know that one of their children is not theirs, but the offspring of an attentive friend who often comes to dinner and sometimes takes the wife dancing, and who thus cannot manage, in spite of all efforts, to treat that child like the others although the poor little thing is in no way guilty. The poet never liked Cabiria and always avoided seeing it.
His small liking for this lovely natural child of his was again shown in correspondence concerning the staging of Honeysuckle at Porte-Saint-Martin theatre. At that time, Cabiria was beginning to make a hit in the Italian movie houses. In a letter answering Hertz and Coquelin, the directors of that theatre, he touched upon the earnings the film brought him, and let it be supposed that his great concern for the maintenance of his racing greyhounds led him to write the famous movie script. Pastrone noticed the letter which had been printed by several newspapers, was annoyed by that sort of self-depreciation—after all, d’Annunzio had written the script—and wrote to the poet. D’Annunzio, always ready to make up for the injuries he had inadvertently caused others, had me publish a sort of advertisement in the Parisian newspapers which I will reprint in its entirety. Although it appeared under my signature, it is d’Annunzio’s work from start to finish. In this article he brought up the greyhounds again, but the tone is skillfully modified and for good reason:
Various newspapers have printed inexact reports of the mediocre success of a film based on a story by Gabriele d’Annunzio, which a large company in Turin has produced with a magnificence heretofore unknown in cinematic circles. This report had its origin in the Roman public’s revolt against the uncouth manager, who was so bold as to charge the extraordinary prices which the public is resigned to paying for the opening night of a tragedy by the master, for the first showing of his film. But, for two weeks, in Rome, Naples, Milan, Turin, and here, the houses have always been packed and people have been turned away. Besides, Signor d’ Annunzio, who, after all, is a wise man, would never have consented to join the fortunes of his substantial kennels to such a fragile and trembling thing as is called “film” unless it were sure to succeed. On presenting the story he received one hundred thousand francs (“cash on the barrel-head,” as Piron would say) which assured him of red meat for his greyhounds, at least for six months. And the proof of Cabiria՝ s success lies in the fact that that same company has requested another subject, for the same price, adding a percentage of the cash gross. This will guarantee not only six more months of the well-known red meat, but also a few sweets, and, for hunting trips, egg yolks and one hundred-year-old brandy.
The readers of the Parisian newspapers found the communiqué well written. They also recognised the master’s style—in fact there were murmurings among the editorial staff that the poet’s secretary knew how to write as well as his boss.
From that time on, d’Annunzio’s relationship with the film world consisted of an unbroken sequence of offers, of counter-proposals, of stories sketched and then abandoned, of payments in advance never followed by the delivery of a manuscript, and so it went. D’Annunzio had the habit of promising, hand on heart, a comedy or tragedy written for every actress (I won’t say only the beautiful ones, but at least pretty ones) when he was “on the threshhold of possession.” After Cabiria, with the same solemnity, he began to promise established actresses and aspiring actresses of this still silent art form that, when they crossed his threshhold, they would be heroines in his film scenarios. Naturally, the stars and starlets were quick to communicate d’Annunzio’s promises to film directors and to pro֊ ducers. I leave it to you to imagine the results of such “private communications” in the reserved and austere group which made up film society.
In reality, from 1913 on, d’Annunzio conceived and wrote only one work for camera—The Innocents’ Crusade. In fact, the story, The Man who Stole the Mona Lisa, which the poet arranged for film, is merely a revision, or, better still, a transformation of a story which d’Annunzio wrote for the editor, Pietro Laffitte, who promised to print it in the supplement of the daily Excelsior. But The Innocents’ Crusade, which was later published, could never be used. Technical reasons (for example, the employment of large numbers of children) made shooting the film almost impracticable. Besides, such a subject would not have interested the movie-going public. As I have said, the work has been published and anyone who reads it can see how inappropriate it is for the purpose intended by the author. However, it is inexplicable that The Man who Stole the Mona Lisa didn’t come to the attention of those whose job it is to hunt for film stories. The plot goes beyond the usual tedious machinations to which America was accustomed from the start, and which then spoiled the more refined tastes of the Europeans. Barring necessary modifications, to which d’Annunzio certainly would have acquiesced, it had all the qualifications for interesting any public. And, if, after Cabiria (which was an indisputable and sensational triumph), d’Annunzio never wrote the script of another film, I must conclude that the only reason he didn’t find buyers was the lack of sensitivity which the directors and producers of large film companies exhibited for about twenty years (except for rare and respectable exceptions).
The war [of 1914-18] not only stopped d’Annunzio’s literary production, but, internationally at least, it thwarted his plans for film. Only at Fiume did his plans come close to realization. The film to be produced had the unprecedented look of a “saga.” Again I conducted the negotiations. Thus I can describe the strange stages of these particular dealings, which make the poet’s psychology especially clear. Two Americans, impeccable from the standpoint of seriousness and financial potential (one of them brought the personal guarantee of Witney Warren, a famous American architect and a very good friend of d’Annun־ zio’s), came to see me in Fiume at the Hotel Europa in the spring of 1920 to propose the following deal for d’Annunzio. The poet was to write a film about Fiume for them during the three months covered by the contract. For the story line, they wanted any subject which related to the city and the life of Fiume during its months of passionate struggle. They themselves would film the background without the Commander [d’Annunzio] even noticing it. This plan was, incidentally, quite feasible. Every day the Commander passed regiments and shock troops in review, received deputations, visited outlying posts, traveled through the city in a car and on foot, presided at mili־ tary exercises, solemnly commemorated dates and events, and talked to the crowd from the balcony of the Governor’s palace. Nothing, then, could be easier for the film-makers, who had only to follow the poet as he went about his manifold activities, for a few weeks’ time. The poet’s actual work would be reduced to the writing of a twenty or thirty page summary of any fictional subject he might choose. The work was infinitely less complex and fatiguing than, for example, writing a novel. In short, it was a task which d’Annunzio would have been able to complete splendidly in three or four days of mental preparation and as many days again to get it all down on paper. I have already said that, for d’Annunzio, the most important part of his work was the mental preparation, even if it is a question of a creation one hundred times more complicated—requiring his maximum literary effort—than a movie script.
When I told the Commander about the Americans’ presence at Fiume and their offer, he barked, “Get the contract! And accept a minimum of two hundred thousand lire, since, as you know, I need money very, very badly!” Not only was this an old subject for both of us, it was also, at that point, absolutely true. From that day on I walked, ate, smoked—in short, lived—with these two Americans; I worked so well that their confidence in the Commander reached a peak; thus I was able to convince them to prepare the draft of a contract which gave d’Annunzio eight hundred thousand lire at the time he gave them the finished manuscript. All this took place, of course, before I consulted d’Annunzio. At this time, such a sum of money was pure hyperbole. Finally I brought these two men into the presence of the Commander; their attitude toward him was something like that of a Catholic toward a relic of the true cross. They brought the agreement, already duly drawn up on legal paper. It had cost me ten days’ work and, at that point, lacked only the Commander’s signature. The Commander received the Americans at the palace, in the private study which adjoined his bedroom. In this room he used to discuss highly confidential matters with his followers and organize those magnificent political and military coups which allowed him and his legions to amuse themselves, all unknown to Europe, for about two years.
Battered into suitability, the contract was read and signed by both factions. Only a few times in my life have I seen d’Annunzio happier after reaching an agreement. The mirage of nearly a million lire earned in a few days (he had reduced the work that much) seemed to make him twenty years younger. We must not forget that the conquest of Fiume had represented a complete arrest of all his literary output and, consequently, a real financial disaster. In this he was more like a Garibaldi than a Cortez or a Pizarro since he had gained almost no material advantage from his exceptional position. Mr. Wilbur H. Williams (such was the name of the principal producer from overseas) left Fiume a few days later in precisely the same mental state as d’Annunzio; he was also convinced that he had concluded a good piece of business, an agreement which would bring huge financial gains. And I received from d’Annunzio an expensive cigarette case—a reward for the work I did on his behalf. On the case, which I still have, the following words are incised in the Commander’s handwriting: “Fiume fire, thickening smoke.” It will be seen, in a moment, how I was the only one who earned anything out of the deal, and how one of d’Annunzio’s most beautiful contracts was dissolved in that “smoke.”
The American left with the reciprocal understanding that he would return to Fiume a month later to shoot the scenes of real life which would serve as the cornerstone of the picture. D’Annunzio spent four days shut up in his apartment, receiving very few people. I attributed this to the mental gestation which precedes every one of the poet’s literary works, but I was mistaken. After a few days, when it seemed like a good time to bring up the subject, I asked the Commander if he’d made any progress. I was informed that he had not as yet “put his mind to it.” But, he added that he needed greater quiet and above all, absolute, undisturbed solitude, at least for a week, if he were going to succeed at his task. Since Fiume was quiet then I advised him to entrust the maintenance of his duties to General Ceccherini, in whom he had full confidence, and to impose absolute solitude on himself. He did just that. Another week passed, during which the Poet remained almost invisible. When he again contacted the external world he immediately called me to him. But, it wasn’t hard to read in his face that expression which all people who know they are at fault have—especially children who haven’t done their homework. D’Annunzio at־ tributed the fact that he had nothing to show for that week of tranquility—that he was still at the beginning of his work—to everything except the real reason (and I didn’t need him to inform me of it since I’d known him for a long time). The real reason was that d’Annunzio could not do anything that he didn’t want to do—not even for a king. His famous will power had failed disgracefully to sustain him. The eight hundred thousand lire remained in the pockets of Mr. Wilbur H. Williams.
D’Annunzio’s attitude toward recent cinematic creations and toward film personalities whose fame had spread all over the world was very strange. At best, he had vaguely heard of their names and their fame. A few years ago, in my covert dual capacity of friend of the poet and director of a movie company, I showed him about twenty of the most popular and respected films by American, French, German and Russian filmmakers. In the undisturbed quiet of Vittoriale, for more than twenty evenings, from nine till two in the morning I showed films starring Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Brigitte Helm, Dolores del Rio, Charlie Chaplin, Adolphe Menjou, Greta Garbo, and several Soviet films with Russian interpreters. The audience consisted of d’Annunzio, two of his guests, me, my daughter, and the men and women who made up his domestic staff (all of them, since d’Annunzio, with his inexhaustible kindness, always brought them together when he thought that they could in some way enjoy themselves or share in one of his pleasures).
I deemed his opinions of great interest, not only because they were the expression of his genius, but also because previously he had seen almost no film except for The Ship , directed and adapted by his son Gabriellino, and produced by Ida Rubinstein. Of course, the films were shown without any musical accompaniment, and thus lacked all trappings. An absolute silence, broken only by an occasional word from the poet, was maintained. I have rarely seen d’Annunzio more interested in a show; no particular escaped him. He often wanted a film to be reshown, at least in part. Above all, the perfection that cinematic tricks had attained amazed and interested him. He didn’t believe his eyes. The film directors’ inventions, and the possibilities represented by each more daring film, made him extremely curious. Chuckling, he declared, “I wouldn’t be capable of inventing things like that!”
Of all the famous actresses who peopled the screen, the one who least interested him was Mary Pickford.4 But if my saying this should come to the ears of the famous “Rosita,” she shouldn’t be disturbed for nothing. I know nothing of her private life, not having the honor of being acquainted with her, but certainly, on the screen, she is the least seductive of all the stars in the cinematic heavens; thus, she is the woman who least corresponds to the poet’s feminine ideal. He likes all that is elaborate and exceptional in women and considers qualities like simplicity, sweetness, ingenuousness, archness—Mary Pickford’s principle qualities—second rate. In him, besides the man there is the artist; from a strictly artistic point of view Mary Pickford’s qualities would prevent her from playing any of the creatures born of d’Annunzio’s fantasies—Ippolita Sanzio, Elena Muti, Isabella Inghirami, Silvia Settàla, la Pisanella, la Foscarina, Basiliola, Giuliana Hermil, to name only a few of the greatest. Naturally, for opposite reasons, as much human as artistic, he found Dolores del Rio and Brigitte Helm interesting and, as was predictable, he found Greta Garbo very interesting indeed. Besides the aesthetic delight Dolores del Rio gave him, he owed her some small recognition as he said, “I finally know the entire story of Tolstoy’s Resurrection,* which I’ve never had the patience to read to the end.” He judged Charlie Chaplin, whom he knew mainly by reputation, to be an exceptional artist (d’Annunzio saw The Gold Rush and The Circus), only regretting that Chaplin had allowed himself to become typed. However, among all the films which were shown to him, Ufa’s Metropolis [1926! and Siegfried [1925—both films directed by Fritz Lang]—and [Pudovkin’s] Russian film taken from Gorky’s novel, Mother , interested him the most. Metropolis so enthralled him, especially technically, that he wanted the film shown twice. ... He enjoyed Douglas Fairbanks’ ingenuous performances and giggled like a girl at Harold Lloyd in the well-known film* I Prefer the Elevator.5
Not long after these showings, d’Annunzio expressed a desire to get seriously involved, if not in new creations, at least in adapting stories drawn from his works and in personally directing their execution according to the new concepts and possibilities inspired by the films which I had brought to Vittoriale. He wrote to a friend, at that time the head of a film company, who wanted to get the rights to the plot of La Pisanella to adapt it to film:
My right eye, while it hasn’t yet succumbed, has become a pretty poor viewer. During the long evenings of “movie month,” a thousand images were superimposed on persistent fits of blindness. I have lived in a constant hallucination. Again tonight Zorro and Alberic possessed my bedroom, giving me no peace.6 I have been able to ascertain the limits reached by moving art; and I know that the outer limits are still very far away. You won’t deny that throughout my life Ulysses’ bow has been offered to me to bend. Here again the bow confronts me. As with Cabiria, I have again taken up the position of surpassing the limits which have been reached. I begin to muse, to search, and to experiment. May the eleventh muse, Kinesis, help me! I have told Tom that I would be very happy if you would dare to animate my Pisanella, the most plastic and varied of my poems. If the great Bakst were alive, with what zeal he would help you!
This letter, dated December 7, 1928, would perhaps have resuited in something tangible, if the decline of the Italian film industry—the birth of which had given hope to so many who were interested in the resurgence of the Italian cinema—hadn’t brought d’Annunzio’s last project to nothing. And, at that time, this was a real loss for Italian art, since d’Annunzio’s interest in movies was, from this time on, very strong—so strong that even during the war he wrote to me about the adaptation of the story San Sebastiano, saying: “I may need, after the war, to found a large movie company in order to produce four or five films in accordance with my theory. Movies are still in their infancy.”
The present spiritual position which d’Annunzio takes with regard to the eleventh muse is the following: a strong desire to create for film something absolutely unpublished and new in substance and in form—something which would, above all, eclipse and banish Cabiria, that ebullient child which he was forced to adapt; an equally strong wish that his new movie would have nothing in common with everything he had already created. “Expect from me,” he said to me recently, “something exceptional!”
Will d’Annunzio succeed in this new task, as he has always previously succeeded in everything? An answer can’t be given, since the future, in all d’Annunzian matters, has never been guided by logic or analogy.
From Tom Antongini, Vita Se greta di Gabriele D’Annunzio, Amoldo Mondadori, 1938. Translated by Judith Turner. Published here, in translation, by permission of Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milano, Italy.
*The film started Italia Almirante and Lidia Quaranta. Approximately 8,500 feet long, it told the story of Fulvio, a Roman, and Cabiria, a slave girl from Sicily, during the Second Punic War.
*D’Annunzio saw Resurrection  directed by Edwin Carewe, in which Dolores del Rio played Katusha.
*Possibly a reference to Safety Last (1923). There is no Harold Lloyd Film titled I Prefer the Elevator.
1.The poem “The Woman of Pisa or Perfumed Death”  is to be published by Calmann Lévy.
2.The authors of the letter were alluding to some vicious criticism of preceding films based on d’Annunzio works.
3.“A Greek-Roman-Punic drama, in the style of Quo Vadis?՝ That same d’Annunzio publicly described it thus. A description of this kind would have been enough—at least for those who knew the poet’s character—to conclude that he was not really the only author of it.
4.“She has an unexpressive mouth/’ he said, “and moves awkwardly.”
5.If the fact that up to that time I had not yet offered to show d’Annunzio some Italian films seems strange and disagreeable to some readers, I will limit myself to stating the sadly inarguable fact that till then there didn’t exist a single film circulating in Italy which was worthy of being seen.
6.He is alluding to Douglas Fairbanks’ film, The Mark of Zorro  and to the character Alberic in the Ufa film Siegfried,  directed by Fritz Lang.