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Hell on Reels

Dante's Inferno has huge impact on modern-day writers and filmmakers, prof finds

What do the modern-day movies Blue Velvet, Jacob’s Ladder, Seven, What Dreams May Come and Devil’s Advocate have in common? All were inspired by Inferno, the harrowing account of hell written by Dante Alighieri at the beginning of the 14th century. Professor Amilcare Iannucci, director of U of T’s Humanities Centre, is studying the influence of Dante and his works (particularly Inferno) on cinema – from the days of silent films to present-day blockbusters – for a book due out in 2003.

“The first feature film ever made – in 1911 – was based on Dante’s Inferno,” says Iannucci. “But it was preceded by several shorter cinematic versions and followed by literally dozens of full-length treatments. It has been especially present in American films since the 1970s.” He believes this is because every university and college campus in North America teaches courses on Inferno, influencing new generations of screenwriters and film directors. “Its impact on modern-day writers and filmmakers is enormous,” says Iannucci.

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