The Sunday Intertitle: The Milk of Inhuman Kindness

A fantastic event at L’Institute Francaise last week — Lobster Films’ magnificent restoration of Marcel L’Herbier’s science-fiction romance L’INHUMAINE, accompanied by my colleagues from THE NORTHLEACH HORROR Jane Gardner and Roddy Long on keyboards and violin and introduced by our friend Rolland Man.

I’d seen this projected before, and of course found it visually stunning, but with sharper picture and better accompaniment, L’Herbier’s achievement becomes even more apparent, his daft story more involving. Combining his aesthetic ritziness — designs by the best architects (Robert Mallet-Stevens), production designers (Autant-Lara & Cavalcanti), fashion designers (Paul Poiret) and artists (Fernand Leger) — with the fashionable tropes of cinematic impressionism — a school founded entirely upon sequences of delirium, hysteria and drunkenness (superb) — he fashions a hysterical melodrama propounding his own perverse and peculiar ideas — anticommunist, anti-mystic, technocratic — and serves up a mad lab climax that anticipates both METROPOLIS and FRANKENSTEIN.

Leger’s intertitles weren’t very clear, and seemed weirdly SHRUNKEN in the previous copy of the film I’d accessed, so it was lovely to see them so crisp, their forms mirroring the groovy kinetic sculptures that form mysterious pieces of lab equipment, used to save heroine Georgette Leblanc from a deadly snake-bite.

Such is the dazzling power of the imagery that nobody else we spoke to spotted Mme. Leblanc’s nipple as it escaped her Grecian-style gown. Here, purely in the interests of proving Fiona & I did not imagine it, is the nip-slip.

I have been informed that my blog is BANNED at the BFI because their servers detect nudity and come down hard on it. If this is true of all our cultural bodies, I wonder how the art galleries manage to function.


12 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: The Milk of Inhuman Kindness”

  1. I don’t share your enthusiasm for L’INHUMAINE, but it takes a certain kind of genius to give an opera singer the leading role in a silent film. As I saw the film at the BFI, I think you overestimate their puritanism.

  2. …or perhaps they’re searching for the nipple on their print…

  3. The BFI shows films with nudity… but BFI employees can’t access my blog at work because of the 0.00000001% of posts containing some kind of naughty bit.

    Leblanc helped bankroll the movie, so her having the lead role was kind of a given. She and Jaque Catelain are undoubtedly the weakest links in it, but that just hands the emphasis over to design, spectacle, and whatever emotion can be created with the camera.

  4. BFI employees can’t access your very informative blog!!!! This is crazy and another departure from the UK I once knew. Orwell wrote 1984 with the BBC in mind. Somebody should now update it to the BFI.

  5. I think it’s just that the power has been placed in the hands of a machine… some kind of cubrog nipple detector. Maybe more Brave New World?

  6. L’Herbier is a mad gay master. “L’Argent” is his masterpiece. I also adore his diptych “Le Mystere de la Chambre Jaune” et “Le Parfum de La dame en Noir”

  7. I like those. Le Bonheur may be my favourite — there ought to be a release with subs. Charles Boyer as an anarchist cartoonist has a love affair with the movie star he tried to assassinate.

  8. Nudity on facebook is also a no-no. No doubt due to roving robo-nipple detectors, as well as cretinous human informants.

  9. I don’t know how you report nudity on FB. I expect it’s mainly detected by robots and then confirmed by human slaves of the machine. While the fake news goes unchecked.

  10. david wingrove Says:

    Seriously? You’ve been BANNED by the BFI? My dear, I can think of few greater compliments than that!

  11. Was it John Kobal who Lawrie spoke of as being fired and physically carried from the building and dumped in the street? Some great archivist like that. Good company to be in.

    Though I actually like writing for Sight & Sound and like all the people I know there.

  12. […] designs — a mad scientist’s lab for restoring life! — in L’Herbier’s L’INHUMAINE. Thereafter, he kept well clear of the movies except for contributing “drawings, objects and […]

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