The Fall of the House of Usher

La Chute de la maison Usher (1928) Director: Jean Epstein

Apparently there were two highly stylized avant garde silent films focused on this Edgar Allan Poe short story, both released in 1928. In some ways I . prefer the loose structure and surrealist version by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber (a silent film lasting about 13 minutes with no dialogue). I watched this film by accident not realizing there were two.

Nevertheless, the Epstein is also a classic. In fact, the famous surrealist, Luis Buñuel, co-wrote the screenplay. It is a truly haunting film, with extraordinary film-making – notable cut scenes of a man strumming an acoustic guitar while outside clouds fall over a mountain and the ocean undulates, a long and endless hallway, spooky mists descending on a forest of trees, wind rustles the leaves and  The original story implies a degree of incest among brother and sister, Roderick and Madeline, however Epstein has removed this from his film. The men of the Usher house are cursed to obsessively paint their wives, while worrying about their deaths. Dracula and Nosferatu come to mind as a stranger comes to the house. The long echoing pauses in the film are enough to give audiences the creeps. While other films like musicals and westerns benefit from sound, the long, uncomfortable scenes of The Fall of the House of Usher are sufficient for the horror genre. Epstein also made another Poe-themed film, “The Oval Portrait.”

This film was the first collected by surrealist junkies, Langlois and Franju, in a collection that later became the Cinémathèque Française -the French response the American output of films, particularly as the First World War devastated Europe. Epstein was a medical school drop-out turned amateur film-maker, inspired by the likes of Charlie Chaplin. Coeur fidèle was his breakthrough film in 1923. Upon the advent of WWII, Epstein was arrested, a leftist and Jewish, and only escaped through his connections. He made several more films after the war, he passed away in 1953.

Review

★★★☆☆

La Chute de la maison Usher is beautiful symphony of images, some scenes are reminiscent of Russian montage sequences. The imagery is remarkable, and creepy, however the film’s plot is challenging and long for a modern audience.

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