What do movies do when nobody is watching? When the audience has filed out, the projector powered down, the curtains closed? When the last grainy showgirl is snuggled between celluloid sheets, the moustaches and six-shooters have all been twirled, and the monsters have shuffled back to their closets? Do movies go to sleep too? To sleep, perchance to dream?
Here I shall try to explain myself, lest I be suspected of madness or indulgence in symbolism.
Don’t be frightened — although I myself find this short film quite scary. I assembled it from moments in Maurice Tourneur’s first talkie, the Pathe-Natan production ACCUSEE, LEVEZ-VOUS! The film is quite slow and stagey, and contains numerous exits and entrances like a play, resulting in brief moments when the scene is empty of players. These dead spots are quite damaging to the pace when watching the entire film, but I had an idea that they might be interesting on their own. One could cut them out and watch the film as it might have looked a year later, when talkies had become more fluent and fluid, but I was more interested in running them all together and making a film that’s a breath of dead air. I had to slow some of them down to make them register, but not that many. I’ve also used a couple of insert shots, edited to remove human action, and some very effective moments when Tourneur uses offscreen sound — still quite an innovation in France in 1930.
Actually, one could argue that this isn’t entirely Tourneur’s first talkie, but it is his first experience directing one. In 1927, he departed the MGM production of MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, after the studio imposed a producer on him to come on set and supervise his work. MT wasn’t having any of that so he packed his bags for Europe at once. The film was eventually finished by Benjamin Christensen, then revised for sound by Lucien Hubbard and released in 1929 in this mutilated form. The original silent material is frequently stunning, but as a narrative the film is hopelessly compromised.
Apologies to M. Tourneur for subjecting another of his films to savage editorial interference!