A screening of four iconic silent movies Nero Or the Fall of Rome (1909); Marcantonio e Cleopatra (1913), Teodora (1921) and Salomé (1923) was held during the second Imagines Conference in Bristol (Seduction and Power: Antiquity in the Visual and Performing Arts, 22-25 September 2010). An original soundtrack, exclusively composed by two music students of the University of Bristol, Joshua Bishop and Phil Bennetts, was live performed by the composers during the event. The event was followed by a discussion on film soundtracks and the narrative function of music.

The first movie, Nero. Or the Fall of Rome, directed by the Italian Luigi Maggio and produced by Arturo Ambrosio in 1909 is just 12 minutes long. The plot follows very close Monteverdi’s opera L’incoronazione di Poppea (1642) and is inspired by Pietro Cossa’s comedy as well as by the Barnum’s Circus grandiose spectacle “Nero and the destruction of Rome”, produced in 1889. The film shows some spectacular effects: the use of large casts in the scenes of mass panic, the special effects to represent the fire or the indoor scene of Nero lying on a chair with his vision projected in the background.

Marcantonio e Cleopatra, directed by Enrico Guazzoni just few years later (1913), presents a free version of Shakespeare’s tragedy. The main theme of the movie is the confrontation between Rome and decadent Egypt, the latter represented by Cleopatra and her ambitions of power. The negative depiction of Cleopatra follows here the Augustan tradition and aims to emphasise the role of Antony as a victim of her irresistible seductive power. In contrast to Shakespeare’s play, the film ends with the triumphal entrance of Octavian’s army in Rome and not with the death of the two lovers. This interpretation of the story fits more closely with contemporary views of modern Italy as legitimate heir of the Roman Empire and of its dreams of expansion and conquest.

The third film presented was Teodora, directed by Leopoldo Carlucci and produced by Arturo Ambrosio (1921), based on Victorien Sardou’s drama. The film, like Sardou’s drama, follows the popular rediscovery of Byzantium in 19th century France. Both the play and the movie explore the complexity of Theodora’s character, who loses her throne and her life because of her passionate love.

The last film was Salome (USA 1923), directed by Charles Bryant and including the famous performance of the Russian-born actress Alla Nazimova. The film based its strength on the original expressionist performance of the actors and on the experimental choreography, as well as on the conceptual art nouveau set and costume designs by Natacha Rambova.

Following the success of this initiative, in January 2011 a second event with the musicians was organised at the University of Barcelona by Imagines’ collaborator and member Montserrat Reig and Jesús Carruesco.