Abstract Short Films

In the 1912 essay Musica cromatica (Chromatic Music), Bruno Ginanni Corradini recounts the experiments carried out with his brother Arnaldo since 1909 in search of the perfect, unique and total work of art, which developed in time and space and was able to unite music, painting, photography, theatre, dance, and architecture etc.: in brief, the ‘chromatic symphony’.

The new cinematic art is the one most suited to this quest, and the experiments lead the two brothers to the creation of a number of ‘abstract’ short films, i.e. not representing concrete subjects, but music, moods, and poems. The titles of the films are: Accordo di Colore (from Segantini, m.8); Studio di effetti tra quattro colori; Canto di primavera (from Mendelssohn and Chopin); Les Fleurs From Stéphane Mallarmè); at other times L’arcobaleno and La danza (m.200) are also mentioned.

In order to achieve the desired effect, the two brothers use untreated, gelatine-free film and then paint pure colours on it, using techniques that virtually anticipate those that will be later used to realize cartoons. By exploiting the light power of the projector, Bruno and Arnaldo, the former more active on the theoretical side, the latter more active on the artistic and technological side, succeeded in achieving results that would not have been possible using normal lamps.

A. Ginna, Profile of Bruno Corra. 1916.
Rome, private collection.

By projecting the images onto different materials (i.e. white or coloured cloths, walls, moving human bodies covered in tin foil) the two achieved truly innovative results, that had the participation of the audience attending the projections as well, who had to be dressed completely in white. The futurist musician and friend Balilla Pratella,  was in charge of the film’s soundtrack.

Corra was fully aware of the great importance of these experiments, the first documented ones of their kind:

“The findings of this period of experiments … with four rolls of film of which only one exceeds two hundred metres in length, are here, inside my drawer, closed in their boxes, labelled and ready for use in the museum of the future (sorry, it’s not pride, it’s just fatherly love for these little children that I like so much with their little rainbow-stained faces and their little air of mystery).”

Unfortunately, some years later, these works were lost during a bombing raid that completely destroyed Corra’s studio in Milan.

Futurist Life

The experience gained by Corra and Ginna during their experiments as young adults, prompted Filippo Tommaso Marinetti to entrust Corra, together with Settimelli and Balla, with the script, based on his subject, of the first Futurist film entitled Vita Futurista in 1916of which Ginna was producer and director. The content of the film, that was unfortunately destroyed in the 1960s, is also known to us thanks to the testimony left by Arnaldo Ginna. It was filmed in Florence between the summer and autumn of 1916, starring Marinetti, Balla, Settimelli, Ginna, Corra and Chiti. It was developed in episodes and cinematically illustrated the artistic and ideological program of the Futurists. It was synthetically composed of short sequences each dedicated to a special mental health issue and futurist problem. It featured special technical devices, the same ones Ginna and Corra had already experimented with in the short films of their young adult years, which gave rise to real ante litteram special effects.

The experience gained by its authors in the making of the film gave the cue for the Manifesto of Futurist Cinematography, written in 1916 and signed by Marinetti, Corra, Settimelli, Ginna, Balla and Chiti.

Subjects and Screenplays

During the 1930s, from the correspondence between the futurist musician Francesco Balilla Pratella, Corra and Ginna, one can follow the preparation of two film projects based on subjects by Bruno Corra.

The first, in 1930, was to be one of the earliest musical sound films in Italian cinema. Ginna, who was particularly attentive to the problems of cine-sound, wrote that he had designed and built, with the help of his brother Francesco, an engineer, an amplifier adaptable to all frequencies that could have been used for the projection of a sound film on a subject by Corra and with music by Pratella. It is not known if and how the film was later realised.

Once again, much later in 1936, Ginna proposed a sound film project based on a subject by Corra with music by Balilla Pratella. At first, Corra thought of scripting one of his most successful novels but then decided to write a new subject entitled Balilla e Tonietta, “a comic-sentimental-lyrical story of a love in opposition to the social background of Romagna”.

The project, with subject, screenplay and music readiness, encountered some difficulties due to the skepticism of the General Directorate of Cinematography, which did not authorise the film to be produced.

Once again, Corra’s disappointment translated into choices that were increasingly far from artistic experimentation, towards circumstances in which it was easier to find success and profit. At the end of the 1930s, Corra re-entered the world of cinema and collaborated once again on other films. He wrote film subjects and screenplays, often based on his novels, and successful comedies. His titles include, Inventing Love (1938), Black Crossing (1939), The Well of Miracles (1941), Deception (1952) and the most important and well-known: Il passatore (1947). The film is based on Corra’s 1933 novel carrying the same name, scripted by directors Tullio Pinelli, Cesare Zavattini and Federico Fellini. It is a national-popular drama about the murder committed by Stefano Pelloni, a true story of a bandit who lived between 1824 and 1851, who killed his uncle priest because of a love affair. As a result, the main character goes into hiding and becomes the most popular bandit of 19th-century Romagna, well known by the pseudonym of Passatore and above all notoriously famous for his generosity towards the most in need.

In the 1950s, even the film work came to an end for Bruno Corra, who nevertheless remains, both in his unrevealed and most innovative works and in his most commercial and popular ones, an important name, to be remembered, in the history of Italian cinematography.

Text by Lavinia Russo, supervision by Lucia Collarile.