Jean Epstein Criticism - Essay

Catherine Wunscher (essay date 1953)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Jean Epstein," in Sight and Sound, Vol. 23, No. 2, October-December, 1953, p. 106.

[In the following essay, Wunscher praises the magical elements of Epstein's work, noting that their lack of dialogue provides a more pure cinematic experience.]

Being about the same age as the sound film myself, I am one of the generation that was astonished when the characters in Modern Times didn't talk. Of course, since that time, I have seen Potemkin, Caligari, La Charrette Fantome, The Kid, Greed, Metropolis, Chapeau de Paille d'Italie, etc., but I have never been as fascinated by silent images as I was by Jean Epstein's, whose shadows have outlived him. Again, I had never before realised how much the screen lost when it was allowed to talk. Living in a white frame, Epstein's phantoms take on an independent existence, a true gift of mystery and enchantment.

After having seen for the first time, at the rate of three a day, most of Jean Epstein's films, my judgment is somewhat paralysed. What can one say, except that they are beautiful, with the incontestable beauty of masterworks? Epstein gave me something I had been vainly searching for in contemporary production (and had failed to find except in Renoir and Ford): a purely cinematic emotion, a beauty based uniquely on rhythm and the plastic perfection of moving images.

While these memories are still fresh, I must try to analyse something of what I found.

Up to La Chute de la Maison Usher (1928), Epstein's films seem curiously demodé. Certainly, there are some remarkable moments—the night sequence and the execution in L'Auberge Rouge (1923), the two lovers meeting by the water's edge and the country fair in Coeur Fidèle (1923), the automobile death race in La Glace à Trois Faces (1927); but the "modernistic" and historical styles of decor appear restrictive now. When one remembers that he made these films between the ages of 25 and 29 (he was born in Warsaw, of a French father, in 1897), one is inclined to reconsider this verdict; yet the general impression persists.

La Chute de la Maison Usher stands a little apart from the rest of his work. (It is little known, incidentally, that Bunuel was the assistant director.)...

(The entire section is 975 words.)

Jean Epstein (essay date 1974)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Magnification, and other Writings," in October, No. 3, Spring, 1977, pp. 9-25.

[In the following excerpt, which was originally published in French in 1974 as part of Ecrits sur le cinema, Epstein expounds on the cinematic concepts of the closeup and the different means by which he conveys the passing of time in his films.]

I will never find the way to say how I love American close-ups. Point blank. A head suddenly appears on screen and drama, now face to face, seems to address me personally and swells with an extraordinary intensity. I am hypnotized. Now the tragedy is anatomical. The decor of the fifth act is this corner of a cheek torn by a smile....

(The entire section is 6992 words.)

Richard Abel (essay date 1979)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Jean Epstein's 'La Chute de la Maison Usher': Reversal and Liberation," in Wide Angle, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1979, pp. 38-44.

[In the following essay, Abel examines narrative progression in several segments of The Fall of the House of Usher.]

Jean Epstein's La Chute de la Maison Usher (1928) interests me for several reasons. First of all, Epstein was one of the most important filmmakers (perhaps the most important) of what I would call the "narrative avantgarde" in the French cinema of the 1920s, and La Chute de la Maison Usher is the only example of his work currently available in the United States.1 Second, although the film...

(The entire section is 3692 words.)

Allen Thiher (essay date 1979)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Impressionist Avant-Garde," in The Cinematic Muse: Critical Studies in the History of French Cinema, University of Missouri Press, 1979, pp. 16-23.

[In the following essay, Thiher acknowledges Epstein 's work as a significant precursor of the cinematic avantgarde movement.]

It is surprising today to recall that French film producers once dominated the world film market; but this was during the period of primitive films before World War I. For the film historian it is a fascinating period. The diversity of these films is quite amazing, and they exercise an attraction on us that is undoubtedly out of proportion to their artistic worth (though Méliès,...

(The entire section is 2504 words.)