Archive for Unknown Love

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on November 26, 2014 by dcairns

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To the newly-opened, lushly-appointed Fondation Seydoux, a museum/cinema commemorating the history of Pathe and Gaumont. Phoebe Green and Christine Leteux introduced me to the exhibition of old movie cameras and projectors, and posters currently themed around WWI. There was Abel Gance’s J’ACCUSE and Raymond Bernard’s CROIX DES BOIS, currently screening elsewhere in its new 4K restoration. Naturally, there were a few stills on display I wish we’d had copies of for our documentary on that movie’s producer.

The screenings are similarly slanted towards the Great War, so we experienced one of Leonce Perret’s relatively few American films, UNKNOWN LOVE, a kind of epistolary war romance in which a society lady falls in love by mail with a soldier in the trenches, one of Perret’s few American films (produced by Pathe’s American wing).

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Stunning cinematography: Perret stages nearly all his interiors by open windows and exposes for outdoors, so the characters are backlit, their faces boldly modelled by the light. A scene at a shrine to the war dead, with silhouetted woman, flowers and cross against the setting sun, which is also reflected in a lake, was almost too beautiful. All those elements are traditionally photogenic, so slapping them altogether could have gotten tacky, but it certainly didn’t. Christine, who has written the first book on Perret’s long and fascinating career (from the early 1900s to the early 30s making operetta-films at Pathe-Natan), pointed out that he wasn’t working with his usual DP on this film, so the consistency with the rest of his work shows how much of the visual style was his own doing.

The Fondation hire in students from the Conservatoire to act as accompanists, a policy which has proved so successful that the Cinematheque has followed suite. No longer, I am told, do silents unfold to the solo whirring of a projector at M. Langlois’ palais de cinema.

Afterwards, I toyed with the idea of a Charley Chase retrospective, but my energy is flagging and my feet hurt, so I retired early and am typing this instead. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the big day: Bernard Natan returns home, honoured at the studio he built, which is now France’s national film school.