Catherine Wunscher (essay date 1953)
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.)