09 October 2018

Lyda Borelli

EFSP follows this week the 37th edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, the world’s leading international silent-film festival in Pordenone. One of the highlights is La memoria dell'altro/The memory of the other (Alberto Degli Abbati, 1913), featuring the first Italian film diva: Lyda Borelli (1887-1959). La Borelli was already an acclaimed stage actress before she became a star of the Italian silent cinema. The fascinating diva caused a craze among female fans, which was called 'Borellismo'. During the festival, an exhibition on Borelli will be on show in Pordenone.

Lyda Borelli in La memoria dell'altro (1913)
Italian postcard by Stab. Tip. Valdiserra, Pescia for the Cinematografo Massimo Libia, Piazza Cavour, Firenze (Florence). Photo: Gloria Film. Lyda Borelli in La memoria dell'altro (Alberto Degli Abbati, 1913).

The drama of young female pilot

La memoria dell'altro/The memory of the other (Alberto Degli Abbati, 1913) tells the drama of the young female pilot Lyda (Lyda Borelli), a modern woman, who drives a car just as easy she flies a plane. Despite being courted by the prince de Sèvres (Vittorio Rossi Pianelli), she falls for the young journalist Mario (Mario Bonnard), even if the lattter is bethrothed. His fiancee Cesarina (letizia Quaranta) manages to separate the two and Lyda accepts the love and wealth of the prince.

When later on by chance Mario and Lyda meet again in Venice, the flame is rekindled and they enjoy their love in the romantic city. They flee to Paris, but here fate hits upon them, Mario falls ill and they become very poor. Lyda only gets help from some apaches after dancing in a tavern, but the help comes too late for Mario and he dies.

In her despair Lyda falls ill too and ends up in a hospital. The prince visits her while she is dying herself, but her eyes are only for a photo of Mario...

At the time, critics praised the actors' performances but also the fine cinematography by Angelo Scalenghe, both his interior shots and his shots on location in the Venetian laguna.

La memoria dell'altro (1913) existed till now only in a rather poorly preserved version. Let's hope that for the upcoming edition of the Giornate del Cinema Muto a good new restoration can be projected.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard by Neg. Trevisani, Bologna, no. 459.

Lyda Borelli
German postcard, no. 5561.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard by N. Riccardi, Milano, Serie 7458 - F. Lyda Borelli written as Lidia Borelli. Ca. 1910.

Lyda Borelli in Marcia nuziale
Italian postcard, Ufficio Censura Torino, 9-10-1915, no. 6184. Photo: Lyda Borelli in the Italian silent film Marcia nuziale (Carmine Gallone, 1915), one of the few lost films of her career.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard. Photo: Emilio Sommariva, Milano, no. 504. Collection: Didier Hanson.

The decadent D'Annunzio

Lyda Borelli was born in 1884 in Rivarolo Ligure near Genoa in Italy. She was the daughter of the stage actors Napoleone Borelli and Cesira Banti. Both her parents were theatre actors and it was only natural for Lyda to follow her parents’ steps. Her sister Alda Borelli would later also become a well-known actress.

At 17, Lyda made her stage debut in 1902 with the Pasta-Reiter company. She acted with Paola Pezzaglia in the French drama I due derelitti. Later, she switched to the company of Virgina Talli.

At the age of 18, she already played leads, as in Gabriele d'Annunzio's  La figlia di Jorio/The Daughter of Jorio (1904). The decadent poet and writer later dedicated her Il ferro and Più che l’amore.

In 1909 Borelli started her own company with Ruggero Ruggeri, performing both in light comedies and in such serious dramas as Salome by Oscar Wilde, which would be her major stage play.

In 1909 Ruggeri and Borelli did a tour through Latin-America visiting a.o. Argentine, Uruguay, Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico. In 1914 she would return to Latin America for another tour.

Lyda Borelli and Giannina Chiantoni in La figlia di Jorio
Italian postcard by Varischi & Artico, Milano. Lyda Borelli and Giannina Chiantoni in Gabriele D'Annunzio's stage play La figlia di Jorio (1904).

Lyda Borelli
Spanish postcard by Amadeo, Barcelona. Lyda Borelli in her outfit for her stage version of Oscar Wilde's Salomé.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard. Photo: Varischi & Artico, Milano.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard by Ballerini & Fratini, Firenze, no. 350. Photo: Scoffone.

Lyda Borelli in Il dramma di una notte
Spanish chocolate card by Imperial. Photo: publicity still of Lyda Borelli in Il dramma di una note/The Drama of a Night (Mario Caserini, 1918).

Lyda Borelli in Madame Tallien
Italian postcard by Uff. Rev. St. Terni, no. 3276. Photo: Film Cines. Lyda Borelli in the silent film Madame Tallien (Mario Caserini, Enrico Guazzoni, 1916) based on the play by Victorien Sardou. The caption goes: "Desfieux, Tallien's Head of Police, runs to Therese's house, discovers the hideout of Jean Guery and has all arrested".

Lyda Borelli and Amleto Novelli in Malombra
Italian postcard. Photo: Lyda Borelli and Amleto Novelli in the silent film Malombra (Carmine Gallone, 1917).

Lyda Borelli in Rapsodia satanica
Spanish postcard. Photo: dressed as Salome, Alba d'Oltrevita (Lyda Borelli) repents the suicide of Sergio because of her in Rapsodia satanica (Nino Oxilia, 1915-1917).

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard by A.G.F. Photo: Cine.

Worldwide Success

In 1913 the film Ma l'amor mio non muore/Love Everlasting (Mario Caserini, 1913) was designed to launch Lydia Borelli in the cinema. The film, made in Turin by Gloria Film, tells the story of a singer who falls tragically in love with a prince, played by Mario Bonnard.

Her ecstatic and aristocratic performance, mixing grand gesture with delicate small details, her elegant attire and her long blond hair caused a craze. Girls dyed their hair, went on diets and strove to imitate her twisted postures. The craze was called 'Borellismo' in Italy.

With the possible exception of the epic Cabiria (1914), Ma l'amor mio non muore is seen by critics as the most famous of early Italian silent films made before World War I. Borelli's appearance in the film led to her being considered the first diva of the cinema.

The worldwide success of Ma l'amor mio non muore resulted in thirteen more films with Borelli. In these films, Lyda Borelli portrayed characters who were doomed and otherworldly, often bordering on the supernatural. She had a favourite fashion designer, artist Mariano Fortuny (admired also by Eleonora Duse) and deemed his creations as vital in her films

A compelling film is her drama Rapsodia Satanica/Satanic Rhapsody (Nino Oxilia, 1915) that tells the tale of an old woman who makes a pact with the Devil for eternal youth. This female version of Faust was based on a poem by Fausto Maria Martini.

Famous composer Pietro Mascagni wrote his only film music for Rapsodia Satanica and conducted the first performance in July 1917. Mascagni was keen to take the commission for the score due to the financial burden of supporting two sickening brothers.

To Lyda Borelli's best films also belong La donna nuda/The Naked Truth (1914), Fior di male/Flower of Evil (1915), and Malombra (1917), all three directed by Carmine Gallone.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard, no. 477. Photo: Attilio Badodi. Signed: Lyda Borelli. Attilio Badodi (1880-1967), born in Reggio Emilia, became a famous Milanese portrait photographer of the Belle Epoque. In 1922 he participated in the First International Exhibition on Photography in Turin and he was a reporter for Illustrazione Italiana, but he is best remembered for his portraits.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard, no. 319. Photo: Attilio Badodi, Milano (Milan).

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard by Fotocelere, Torino, no. 207. Photo: Badodi, Milano.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard, no. 256. Photo: Attilio Badodi, Milano (Milan).

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard, no. 418. Photo: Attilio Badodi, Milano (Milan).

Ecstatic and Aristocratic Performance

Lyda Borelli was the first diva of the Italian cinema and one of the first European film stars, together with Asta Nielsen.

Greta de Groot at Unsung Divas: "She was like a decadent version of the Pre-Raphaelite beauty--thin, with wavy blond hair and strange but picturesque poses. She portrayed characters who were doomed and otherworldly, often bordering on the supernatural."

Anna Battista at her blog Irenebrination sees her essentially as 'a dark femme fatale representing desire and sensuality': "She often interpreted characters defeated by diabolical destinies who ended up killing themselves (often with poison – she died in 8 out of 14 films…)."

In 1918 Lyda Borelli's stage and film career ended suddenly, when she married the Venetian businessman and later count Vittorio Cini di Monselice. Between 1914 and 1918 she had shot 14 films and 2 documentaries.

Anna Battista: "The legend says that when the curtain fell at the end of her last play, people in the audience started crying and throwing her flowers: it was almost unbelievable for them to think that Lyda Borelli had just acted for the last time and some critics wrote that was a national day of mourning."

In the following years, the couple Cini would have four children, Giorgio, Mynna, Yana and Ylda, and Lyda devoted her time to her family.  They lived between Venice and Rome. The Borellismo trend had disappeared soon after the actress retired.

Borelli's son Giorgio Cini would die in a plane crash while going to meet his fiancee, the actress Merle Oberon. Lyda herself died in 1959 in Rome, Lazio, Italy. She was 75.

Borelli was one of the divas featured in the compilation film Diva Dolorosa (Peter Delpeut, 1999). An extended sequence from Fior de Male appears in Peter Delpeut's earlier film Lyrisch Nitraat/Lyrical Nitrate (Peter Delpeut, 1991). In 2013 the Cineteca di Bologna released a DVD of Ma l'amor mio non muore, and in 2018 a box including Ma l'amor mio non muore and Rapsodia satanica.

Antonio Gramsci, at the time a theatre reviewer, wrote in Avanti! about her: "La Borelli è l'artista per eccellenza del film in cui la lingua è il corpo umano nella sua plasticità sempre rinnovantesi" (La Borelli is the film artist par excellence whose language is the human body in its always renewing plasticity).

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard, no. 623. Photo Sciutto. Could have been for the stage play La figlia di Jorio by Gabriele D'Annunzio.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard. Photo: Varischi & Artico, Milano.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard, no. 2015. Photo: Varischi Artico & Co., Milano.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard by Ed. A. Traldi, Milano, no. 323. Photo: Fontana.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard, no. 118. Photo: Bettini, Roma.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard. Ed. Soc. Anon. It., no. 164. Photo: Bettini, Roma.

Lyda Borelli
Italian postcard, no. 894, Uff. Rev. Stampa, 25-5-1917. Lyda Borelli painted by Tito Corbella.

Lyda Borelli Calderara caricature
Italian postcard. Lyda Borelli, caricature by C. Calderara. Looking at the outfit and the headgear, the drawing seems to refer to Borelli's first film Ma l'amor mio non muore/ Love Everlasting (1913).

Lyda Borelli
Statue of Lyda Borelli in the Casa di Riposo 'Lyda Borelli', Bologna, Italy. Photo: Ivo Blom.

Casa di riposo Lyda Borelli2
Casa di Riposo 'Lyda Borelli', Bologna, Italy. Photo: Ivo Blom.

Sources: Biblioteca e Raccolta Teatrale del Burcardo, Greta De Groat (Unsung Divas), Anna Battista (Irenebrination), Wikipedia (English and Italian) and IMDb.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Beth Niquette said...

Oh, Paul! These are incredible! What an interesting woman she was. I often use old photos such as these as reference for my artwork.

There's something so elegant and beautiful about the women of that era.

Have a lovely day, and thank you for joining us for Postcard Friendship Friday!

Snap said...

Always fun to visit (its been awhile!). She was a lovely woman -- had a beautiful smile. Happy PFF