The Whit Sunday Intertitle: Crossing Delaunay

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Marvelous Mary came back from the Sonia Delaunay exhibition at the Tate, clutching the catalogue and full of enthusiasm. I was totally unable to procure the Delaunay-designed 1926 movie LE P’TIT PARIGOT, a clip of which had entranced Mary, so we settled for Marcel L’Herbier’s LE VERTIGE, costumed by Delaunay the same year, which the IMDb doesn’t even know she did (sharing screen credit with Jacques Manuel).

LE VERTIGE is pretty slow and dull dramatically, but the production design by a team including top architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and Delaunay’s husband Robert, is really striking. Sadly, there aren’t many of the striking patterns she made her name with. L’Herbier’s lover and star Jaque Catelain does turn up with a nice robe at the 105 minute mark, and there’s a Mexican stand-off at the end by two men both attired in fabulous scarves, but that’s your lot.

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Compare with the designs for LE P’TIT PARIGOT ~

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Or this stunning set of jammies modeled by architect Erno Goldfinger (whose name inspired the Bond villain) ~

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If I owned a set of jim-jams as stylish as that, I wouldn’t think twice about detonating a nuclear device in Fort Knox either.

Still, LE VERTIGE has something else: a storyline which seems closely connected to Hitchcock’s similarly-titled 1959 necrodrama. The movie opens at the height of the Russian revolution. The jealous General Mikhail (Roger Karl) shoots his rival Jaque Catelain in full view of his straying spouse, Emmy Lynn. Then the revolutionaries burst in and bayonet the prone philanderer. So he’s dead, right? Shot in the heart and bayoneted by the entire Russian revolution, he’s dead. Rumours of his death are not only NOT exaggerated, we can say they don’t go nearly far enough.

So imagine Emmy’s surprise when Catelait turns up on the Cote D’Azur years later, alive, smirking and driving a speedboat. The same smile, the same lipstick, the same guyliner. Positively the same Catelait.

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She now attempts to recreate this passionate affair with the doppelganger of her lost love, and it works pretty good too, from what one can gauge between passionate fadeouts, but she still has that jealous husband.

“Did Hitchcock see this?” asked Fiona. We agreed it was possible, but perhaps more likely that Boileau et Narcejac, the writing team behind the novel D’entre les Mortes, Hitchcock’s source, saw it. In VERTIGO, Both Kim Novaks are the same character. In LE VERTIGE, there are two Catelains, their resemblance coincidental. Jimmy Stewart’s vertigo is a literal acrophobia, but it’s also a spiritual terror, a fear of falling out of one’s place in time, into the past, and a desire to do so. That feeling is already present in LE VERTIGE, and accounts for all Emmy Lynn’s swooning fits, I guess.

More Sonia Delaunay to enjoy — in colour! (And with the promised intertitles.)



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10 Responses to “The Whit Sunday Intertitle: Crossing Delaunay”

  1. The Print and Photograph Department of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has in its collection a book L’Herbier created for Le Vertige. I doubt this was press material as it’s extremely elaborate an doubtless expensive even in the 20’s. It’s about an inch thick and consists of stills and photographs of the sets and costumes. On seeing it I became immediately aware of L’Herbier’s genius.

    I have yet to see Le Vertige itself, however.

  2. The movie, like L’Inhumaine and several other L’Herbier movies, is partly intended as a showcase for other artists and designers: L’Herbier had a whole salon full of friends at the cutting edge of arts in France and part of his plan for cinema seems to have been to see it merging with the plastic arts in this way. So a giant coffee table book would have its own value, as an expression of the film’s visual ideas in another form.

  3. the modernist pad owned by the lead is fabulous! but there’s something wrong with a film when you are exclaiming over the door handles and rugs!

  4. Jim Cobb Says:

    What sort of color process was used for these clips or were they hand tinted?

  5. Doesn’t look hand-tinted — I think the French may have had a couple of proprietory colour process that never caught on. Can’t be Technicolor, I don’t think, although Bernard Natan acquired the French license for that around 1930 — it never resulted in a film.

  6. There was a three-color additive French system that never caught on here, but I’d not heard it being used as late as the ’20s.

  7. Jim Cobb Says:

    There was something called Dufay color (I may not be spelling that correctly) which might be what this is. I rather like the way it looks.

  8. Dufay sounds (and looks) plausible. I’ve seen snippets and the looks was similar.

  9. renlauoutil Says:

    ‘Jimmy Stewart’s vertigo is a literal acrophobia, but it’s also a spiritual terror, a fear of falling out of one’s place in time, into the past, and a desire to do so.’ I love this, it’s a great way of characterising and elucidating at least some of the endlessly elusive meaning(s) of Vertigo.

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