The Dumb Girl of Portici Screen 9 articles

The Dumb Girl of Portici


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  • Its scale certainly rivals other epics of its time, from convincing seaside huts to a garish palace. Perhaps in spite of its largeness, Weber manages to retain the visual flourishes that distinguish her work. Also impressive are “bookend” scenes seemingly detached from the story that depict Pavlova dancing against a stark black background. The effect is reminiscent of Maya Deren.

  • It differs from Weber’s other films, which tend to take a smaller-scale, more intimate approach... Weber appropriates the styles of recently imported Italian epics like Cabiria and Quo Vadis, with their massive sets, scores of extras, and outsized storylines, but in a style that felt closer, more personal than what her peers were doing.

  • Pavlova’s performance in the movie is no fluke or stunt—it’s a fully realized, deeply committed performance that reveals Pavlova to be, from the very start, one of the greatest movie actors, a charismatic and expressive actor who’s as forceful in repose as in action, as vital in quiet scenes as she is screen-bursting in melodramatic ones.

  • In the end, what thrills in “The Dumb Girl of Portici” is Weber, who handles the large-scale rioting as persuasively as the intimate interludes, including a nakedly carnal seduction. It’s no surprise that Universal put its trust in her.

  • The most extensive documentation of Pavlova’s artistry, the film preserves an illustrious career, lifting it from the trappings of motionless text and brief recordings to the eyes of a modern audience... Pavlova stretches through the film with manic intensity. It’s an overwrought, exciting, and even “bad” performance from one of the world’s most famous ballerinas, a witnessing of dancing to the third tier even in the absence of a theater.

  • At some points in Dumb Girl, Fenella appears alone in abstract settings, and the incredible lengths to which Pavlova stretches her limbs express a freedom of spirit transcending specific time and place.

  • Pavlova is a broadly physical actor—her grins and grimaces don’t do much for her heroine’s tragic story—but as the free-spirited Fanella is especially given to dancing, her frantic twirling conveys something of the film’s historical turmoil. What’s unique are the two dreamlike dance sequences that bookend the film.

  • As a prestige entry with crowd scenes, lavish sets, and one of the stage’s top stars, it’s about as far from the humble Bluebirds as you can get. It’s notably stiffer and less dynamic too; what is it about costume pictures that makes for an academic approach? Still, The Dumb Girl of Portici and the Bluebirds exemplify the ways in which filmmakers of the period laid down many paths of exploration for the future.

  • The coup is the casting of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in her only feature film role. Her presence is charismatic, her balletic body language and mime so appropriate in the story. Weber not only draws a powerful performance from her neophyte film performer, she also brings an epic sweep in the way she marshals her large cast of nobles and revolting peasants.

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