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Joyce e il cinema delle origini: Circe by Marco Camerani (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 48, Number 4, Summer 2011
pp. 776-778 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0078

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Joyce E Il Cinema Delle Origini: Circe, by Marco Camerani. Florence: Edizioni Cadmo, 2008. 86 pp. € 8.00.1

The connection between Ulysses and the seventh art has been widely discussed by scholars who have looked at the filmic interpretations of the novel2 or investigated the potential of film production as a form of intersemiotic translation that may serve as an analytical tool.3 Marco Camerani’s book adopts a reverse—albeit complementary—viewpoint and, instead of seeing cinema as the recipient of ideas and inspirations from Ulysses, focuses on the influence of cinema on Ulysses, in particular, on the “Circe” episode. Camerani is not the only author to have looked at film in Joyce rather than Joyce in film.4 His book, however, has two added values: on the one hand, as suggested by the title, it offers a systematized collection of the references to early movies and their structural patterns that can be traced in “Circe,” and, on the other, the volume presents the results of such research in a thoroughly enjoyable way that makes it appealing to both Joycean and film scholars, as well to a more general readership. The inherently multidisciplinary nature of the book is demonstrated by the fact that, although stemming from the author’s Ph.D. research in comparative literature, it was awarded the Fernaldo Di Giammatteo prize for publications on film criticism. Unfortunately, it is currently available only in Italian, and while Camerani has already published papers in English on the same topic,5 this longer and more fully developed contribution to the understanding of Ulysses and its typical intertextual and intersemiotic referencing processes remains largely inaccessible to non-Italian readers. An English translation would surely contribute to its international visibility as well as to the international strand of Joycean research focusing on the connection between Joyce and the visual media or popular culture in general.

The book opens with a quick description of the cinema scene in Paris, Rome, and, particularly, Trieste, where Joyce presumably saw his first motion pictures and developed an interest resulting in his short career as the manager of the Volta movie theater in Dublin. The parallel between early cinema and the “Circe” episode starts with the second chapter, which explores the nature of early motion pictures that were mainly based on a display of “artificially arranged scenes” aimed at visually attracting and bewildering the viewer rather than responding to a logically consistent plot (17). The structure of “Circe” appears to follow the same principle: it consists of a series of juxtaposed apparitions occurring one after the other without an ostensible thread, like the tableaux of one of Georges Méliès’s films. Reality and visual fantasy are shown on an equal footing, with the result that both share an aura of surrealism similar to the one pervading the Cretinetti comedy series films, which were extremely popular in Italy in Joyce’s [End Page 776] time, in which André Deed (Henri André Augustin Chapais) played the character of Foolshead.

The analysis becomes progressively more detailed in the following two chapters, which provide a categorization of “Circe” scenes that can be traced back to the visual devices and tricks occurring in movies by Méliès (chapter 3) and Deed (chapter 4). Space constraints forbid a list of all the categories outlined; suffice it to say that the author has clearly found an outstanding number of early motion pictures and watched them with a painstaking eye in order to map individual passages of “Circe” onto film sequences that share the same techniques or structures. Such comparison is so thoroughly detailed as to appear almost obvious, to the extent that the underlying meticulous research and analysis may risk going unnoticed by academically naive readers. In addition to Méliès and Foolshead films, other influences are also highlighted, such as the first animated cartoons and the theater performances of the quick-change artist Leopoldo Fregoli, onstage in Trieste during the period when Ulysses was being written, or the more frequently mentioned early pornographic movies, a notorious source of inspiration for the Peeping-Tom, fetishistic, and masochistic fantasies that recur in the episode...