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Exhibition to showcase magic of early European cinema

Before the advent of modern technology and computerised special effects, early filmmakers had to use their brains, wits and artistic skill to conjure up flying spaceships, disappearing wizards and turning witches into beautiful queens. European filmmakers were pioneers in special effects, such as superimposing images, dissolving shots and chrono-photography.

The Hong Kong Film Archive's (HKFA) fun-filled exhibition, "Attraction and Magic - Early European Cinema", will display inventions such as the magic lantern and stereoscope from Frankfurt, 100-year-old cinematic tricks and magic, as well as the glamorous divas of early European cinema.

With the themes "Invention", "Spectacle" and "Beauty", audiences will be stunned by the optical tricks used in the 19th century, particularly those of French film director and magician George Melies. And they will be entranced by the enduring images of screen legends. The display will run at the exhibition hall of the film archive until February 29, 2004.

In addition, a flip-book calendar illustrating the illusion of movement will be on sale at the archive for $18.

The development of cinematic tricks started many years ago with shadow theatre, peep boxes, panorama photography, wheels of life, magic lanterns and all sorts of optical toys. These momentous inventions had a profound effect on the course of film production in later years.

The works of George Melies mark the birth of magical films. He is respected as the forerunner of auteur directors. With astonishing vigour, he uses tricks to conjure up scenes of apparitions, disappearances and metamorphoses.

In the first few years of the 20th century, European studios created the cult of the diva. These enchanting women of the silver screen made up for what was missing in real life, and women around the world copied their style and costumes. Fashion designers and perfume manufacturers even named their products after divas like Francesca Bertini, one of Italy's glamorous stars. And who could forget German sex goddess Marlene Dietrich, or Musidora - one of the greatest stars in French silent cinema, who became the embodiment of seduction, with her black tights and black mask in "Les Vampires".

Presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, a series of early rare Italian, French and German cinematic treasures will be showcased in the Hong Kong Film Archive's new programme "Early European Cinema" from now until March 2004. Kicking off the retrospective screenings are 18 fine Italian silent films, many in their restored version, to be screened from December 20 to January 18, 2004 at the archive's cinema.

The opening film is the extravagant "Cabiria" (1914), a towering achievement in silent cinema with its tracking shots and gigantic sets. Filmed on location in the Alps, Tunisia, Sicily and the Mediterranean, the film takes the audience through the eruption of Mt Etna, the sea battle of Syracuse and the Roman siege of Carthage.

The stunning "Spartacus" (1913) reconstructs the splendid triumphal pageants and the fierce gladiatorial contests in the amphitheatre of Circus Maximus, while "Nero" (1909) is a Roman epic about the love triangle between Empress Octavia, Nero, and his new love, Poppea.

Another must-see is "Countess Sara" (1919) featuring diva Francesca Bertini as the arrogant and indulgent countess, who though married, has an affair with a young army officer. Before becoming a major diva, Bertini could be seen among the extras in "Salome" (1910), a film based on the play by Oscar Wilde.

Adapted from the novel by Grazia Deledda, "Ashes" (1916) stars Eleonora Duse, the greatest Italian stage star of her time. Though it is her only screen performance, the film ensures Duse's place in cinematic history.

Not to be missed are the romantic melodrama, "The Faun" (1917), comedy, "I Want to Betray My Husband" (1925), and "Caina - The Island and the Continent" (1922), which represents a milestone in the Italian film industry.

A game session with Christmas gifts will be held after the screenings of the two family films, "Silent Clowns" (1909-1928) and "Ko-Ko the Clown" (1927-1928), on December 25.

All films have English intertitles ("title cards") and apart from "The Faun" and "Fatherland Sentinel", all screenings will have live music accompaniment.

Tickets priced at $50 are available at URBTIX outlets. Half-price tickets are available for senior citizens, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. There will be a 10% discount for each purchase of six to 10 tickets and a 20% discount for each purchase of 11 or more tickets.

For programme information call 2739 2139, 2734 2900 or visit or . Reservations can be made by phone on 2734 9009 or on the Internet at .

Ends/Thursday, December 18, 2003
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