Fall of the House of Usher (1928, Jean Epstein)

Everyone in a Poe adaptation is weak, white and willowy, and it’s expected that at least one of them will die of consumptive illness, as did Poe’s own wife, as we learned in the D.W. Griffith bio-pic. Here it’s Usher’s wife (played by Marguerite “wife of Abel” Gance), but not for a while. First, portrait-painting-obsessed Usher (Jean Debucourt, decades later the jeweler in Madame de…) has his “dear and only friend” over for the season, then mostly tends to his paintings (which move and blink) while his wife dies (shades of Dorian Gray).

I love how this silent film portrays music. Everything starts moving in slow-motion until Usher plays his guitar, then his playing is illustrated with quick cutaways to nature shots. Overall lots of camera movement for 1928, with crazy angles and ghostly superimpositions – a slow and moody film. Excellent looking except for the fake castle (in wide shots) and owl.

This is the third House of Usher movie on the blog after the Watson & Webber and the Ken Russell, but the first to tell the Poe story in a way I can follow. IMDB says assistant director Luis Bunuel quit over liberties taken with the adaptation. In the Poe story Madeline is his twin sister instead of his wife, but otherwise doesn’t seem too dissimilar. Epstein made this the year before his amazing Finis Terrae.

Ed Gonzalez in Slant:

The film’s tour-de-force is a hulking funeral procession of overlapping visual textures and animal-like camera movement, a startling vision of metaphysical passage and metamorphosis. With the castle’s dripping candles in ominous tow, the men proceed through land and water toward the netherworld of Usher’s catacombs, with Madeleine’s veil weighing them down like an arm digging into the ground; all the while, an owl keeps ominous watch and two toads get their groove on. Madeleine will not go gently into this sinister night, nor will Usher let her, insisting that her coffin remain unnailed, which, in effect, precipitates a supernatural spill between worlds.

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