Archive for Jean Epstein

The Sunday Intertitle: Inn Trouble

Posted in FILM with tags , , on October 29, 2017 by dcairns

One of our most enjoyable discoveries of the last few years was Claude Autant-Lara’s L’AUBERGE ROUGE, a wickedly macabre anti-clerical farce set in a mountain inn where the hosts have taken to murdering and robbing their guests. So I was excited to discover an earlier (1923) version of the same legend made by the often brilliant Jean Epstein.

On a bad day/film, Epstein could be dull, but he’s great fun in experimentalist mode, as he is here, essaying a spooky tale literally told after supper by some snobs in periwigs, by candlelight and everything. And it’s great to see him working with macabre material, as he does so effectively in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER.

One could quibble — many of Epstein’s visual experiments are too dramatic for their circumstances. Intercutting between our heroes riding through the night — quick cuts of riders flashing by, hooves cratering mud — with the crowded hostelry ahead — a more languid wide shot, repeated — he creates a degree of hilarity because nothing’s actually happening in the inn. It’s a simple journey/destination treated as if it were a chase to the rescue.

Then, when the innkeeper gestures with his towel to demonstrate that the joint is so crowded you can’t even find a seat, Epstein attaches his lens to the towelled hand and pans it round the room, like a ’20s Sam Raimi. Huzzah! But Eh?

But then, when the creepy old woman sneaks up behind our main guy, and Epstein extends the moment for max suspense, and gives us the subsequent card-reading with giant close-ups (some of them impressionistically blurry) and giant title cards and looming hands — it’s REALLY GOOD. Silent horror films should always go this far. Hardly any do.

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The Sunday Intertitle: That Man

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on July 17, 2016 by dcairns

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And on top of her work, Marie suffers the attentions of that man who inspires terror in her.

Thinking of a friend caught in an abusive relationship. I say “caught” — of course, the door is wide open, but she doesn’t see it.

Images from COEUR FIDELE, shown in Bologna as part of their Marie Epstein season — the multi-talented Marie co-wrote and co-stars in COEUR FIDELE for her brother Jean, which I wrote about at length here. But there’s more to be said about the Bologna experience.

The film was projected in the Piazzetta Pier Paolo Pasolini, on a carbon arc projector, making for an authentic silent movie screening experience. The thrills of this are manifold — you get the excitement of watching poisonous fumes billowing from the projector, all lit up like the steam from a locomotive in some version of ANNA KARENINA, only more toxic (so the screening must be outdoors — they just didn’t bother about things like poison gas in the old days). And the light from the carbon arc has a different quality — more silvery? And the DARK has a different quality too — more velvety.

Seeing Jean Epstein’s film projected enhances its striking modernity too — not just the Lynchian montages, all double exposure phantasie — but the big closeups. With a pristine print from the Cinematheque Francaise, every dancing grain feels uniquely PRESENT, and every pore on an actor’s face appears in relief. In a sense, it feels like the film was shot yesterday. In a sense it feels LIVE.

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It’s necessary to book seats in the Piazzetta, but you can gather on the outskirts without tickets. We had booked for STELLA DALLAS earlier in the festival and at the last minute collapsed from exhaustion and didn’t make it. At the last minute we decided to attend COEUR FIDELE, and THEN we collapsed from exhaustion. We started out sitting on the ground at the outskirts of the seated area. Then we would up LYING on the ground. Fiona propped her head up with her little silver rucksack. At some point, lulled by Epstein’s luminous imagery and Gabriel Thibaudeau’s piano accompaniment, she fell asleep. Nevertheless, she described the occasion as one of the greatest cinematic experiences of her life. Maybe after a week of sitting in sweltering cinemas, the sheer relief of watching in a completely relaxed position, with the occasional soothing breeze, accounted for some of her ecstasy. But let’s give the Epsteins and M. Thibaudeau some credit too.

The show began with the original Lumiere shorts programme, screened by yet another vintage projector, an actual Victorian one — a British R.W. Paul job, rather than an original Lumiere, but close enough. Curator Mariann Lewinsky held a microphone to the device to amplify its whirr, so that the piano could accompany THAT. The image flickered, as it would have for those restaurant patrons 121 years ago. Thibaudeau is really great — when the Lumiere baby is deciding whether or not to accept a spoonful of baby food, the suspense he created was quite something, and not something I had ever felt about that film before.

 

It All Ties Together

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2016 by dcairns

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In James Whale’s THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR, Nancy Carroll is an unfaithful wife named Maria living in fear of her murderously jealous husband, Paul (Frank Morgan).

In Jean Epstein’s COEUR FIDELE. Gina Manes is an unfaithful wife named Maria living in fear of her murderously jealous husband, Paul (Edmond Van Daele).

In James Whale’s REMEMBER LAST NIGHT?, Gustaf Von Seyffertitz is a German psychoanalyst shot while attempting to reconstruct a crime.

In Lewis Milestone’s THE FRONT PAGE, Gustaf Von Seyffertitz is a German psychoanalyst shot while attempting to reconstruct a crime.

In THE MYSTERY OF THE LEAPING FISH, Douglas Fairbanks snorts coke.

In TOUCHEZ-PAS AU GRISBI, Jeanne Moreau snorts coke.

In ONE-EYED JACKS, Marlon Brando is tormented by a corrupt sheriff.

In THE HALF-BREED, Douglas Fairbanks is persecuted by a corrupt sheriff.

In KING OF JAZZ, a man plunges his hands into a tank of goldfish.

In Louis Lumiere’s LA PECHE AU POISSONS ROUGES, a baby plunges his hands into a bowl of goldfish.

All these films played the day before yesterday in Bologna. Cinema is imploding into a kind of primal atom.