“At each screening, spectators insulted each other, and there were as many frenzied partisans of the film as there were furious opponents. It was amid genuine uproar that, at every performance, there passed across the screen the multicoloured and syncopated images with which the film ends. Women, with hats askew, demanded their money back; men, with their faces screwed up, tumbled out on to the pavement where sometimes fist-fights continued.”–Jaque Catelain, in his biography of Maurice L’Herbier
FEATURING: Georgette Leblanc, Jaque Catelain, Philippe Hériat
PLOT: Claire Lescot, a celebrity opera singer, hosts a soirée at her modernist mansion for her many male admirers and suitors. Among these is the young engineer Einar, whom she toys with and eventually scorns. When Einar commits suicide, it causes a scandal and Claire is castigated for her callousness; but is there more to his mysterious death than meets the eye?
- Maurice L’Herbier started his career as a writer; his fascination for cinema partly developed when he was assigned to the French Army’s Cinematographic Service, where it was his job to document the horrors of WWI.
- Star Georgette Leblanc, an opera singer, put up 50% of the production cost. L’Herbier offered her a script which she deemed too noncommercial, and he had it rewritten according to her suggestions.
- The production design was divided among several leading international avant-garde artists, each of whom was responsible for creating a different set. These artists were all featured in the influential 1925 Exhibition of Decorative and Industrial Modern Art, for which L’Herbier was also a member of the jury.
- Extras in the 2,000-strong audience that boos Claire included Pablo Picasso, Erik Satie, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. To set the mood, dissonant composer George Antheil played piano as the opening act.
- The original score by Darius Milhaud is lost, although he may have recycled some of the themes for use in later compositions.
- As was typical for avant-garde performances of the period, fights erupted at the screening.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: There are so many crazed sets to choose from—Claire’s dining room isthmus, her spiky green “winter garden,” Einar’s disorienting Cubist laboratory—that we were totally confounded at picking just one. Fortunately, we can go with a bizarre costuming choice instead: the masked butlers in short pants with smiles (literally) plastered on their faces.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Perma-grin waiters; backwards television; riotous resurrection montage
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Too weird for 1924, when screenings prompted fistfights between its few admirers and its many detractors, this interbellum mashup of silent melodrama, heedlessly optimistic science fiction, and bizarre set design is even more singular when viewed through contemporary eyes. This is a case where a film’s advanced age enhances its weirdness—but when watching it you’ll think that it came from not just another time, but another planet.
Blu-ray trailer forL’Inhumaine
COMMENTS: It’s fitting that L’Inhumaine stars an opera star (playing Continue reading 287. L’INHUMAINE [THE INHUMAN WOMAN] (1924)