Friday, October 6, 2017

Born Today October 6: Eugenio Testa


Silent Italian director/actor Eugenio Testa, who is more famous for directing what is considered probably the most famous lost Italian films and amongst the first Italian horror films, was born Eugenio Valentino Mario Ernesto Testa in Turin, Italy on this day.   Despite that Testa is well known as the mastermind behind Il Mostro di Frankenstein (1921) [please note that there is a big debate the year of this film], he was both a prolific actor and director.  He was the son of famed actor Dante Testa who had appeared in very early Italian films, not least of which was the epic 1914 Cabiria.  Eugenio got his start in films in 1913; his directorial debut was made that year with Jack; impressive given his young age.  He also made his screen acting debut that same year in Il cuore non invecchia, a Itala Film directed by Ernesto Vaser.  His years as a director lasted up until 1921, when he directed the Frankenstein film; his years as an actor (which he didn't do much of during his years directing) lasted much longer than that.  In fact, he acted right up to the year of his death.  He had a brief stint with a his own production company in 1914; as far as has been recorded thus far, the company only produced one film: Il battello de sangue.  The filming of Frankenstein was filled with controversy--as mentioned above, the year of it's actual release is not easy to pin down and his version of the film, a full feature length affair, never saw the light of day.  A whole post could be (and will be devoted to this), it is beyond the scope here--suffice to say, that the censorship in Italy during the silent era, especially in the 1920's, was so heavy that the film was effectively banned before release.  A heavily censored version of the film was given the "green light" to premiere, but by the time they had finished with it, the film was only around 38 or 39 minutes long.  To make matters worse, it seems that showings of the film (mostly in Europe from what I've been able to get from some research) were touted, but few and far between (!) during the 1920's.  The film went missing sometime after 1926, and, aside from a few remaining stills and rare promotional posters, nothing has been seen of if since (though it is one of those films that is the subject of all kinds of rumors of secret collections and various "sightings" over the decades).  It is hard to know if what happened to his film--by all accounts of those involved, it was a masterpiece-- had any influence on his abruptly quitting direction, and the film industry all together for a long time, but it certainly must have contributed.  

Still from the film

Testa didn't take up acting until the late 1940's, when he made an appearance in the Spanish film El tambor del Bruch in 1948.  From then on,  he had steady acting work in the Spanish film industry up until 1957.  The last film that he appeared in was Yo maté, on of two films that he acted in just prior to his death.  Testa died on the 11th of October in 1957 in his home town of Turin, just 5 days after his 65th birthday. I am assuming that he is buried there as well, but can find no information as the location of any memorial to him.  

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