As his beloved wife Madeleine succumbs to a mysterious illness, Sir Roderick Usher invites his old friend Allan to his castle to comfort him. Allan has difficulty finding someone to drive him to the Usher homestead; the locals appear to be terrified of the name Usher, as though it bore the imprint of an ancient curse. Allan eventually finds a coachman to take him to his destination, which turns out to be a dilapidated old castle set in the midst of misty marshland. Sir Roderick is pleased to see his old friend but sends him away for a while so that he can work on his wife’s portrait. As the painting nears completion, Madeleine’s illness worsens, as though her life were ebbing from her and into the portrait. Once the picture is finished, Madeleine collapses, and her physician confirms she is dead. After a solemn funeral, a ghostly presence invades the house of Usher… –Films de France
Jean Epstein (March 25, 1897, Warsaw – April 2, 1953, Paris) was a film director and early film theoretician.
He started directing his own films in 1922 with Pasteur, followed by L’Auberge rouge and Coeur fidèle (both 1923). Famous film director Luis Buñuel worked as an assistant director to Epstein on Mauprat (1926) and La Chute de la maison Usher (1928). Epstein’s criticism appeared in the early modernist journal L’Esprit Nouveau.
During the making of Coeur fidèle Epstein now chose to film a simple story of love and violence “to win the confidence of those, still so numerous, who believe that only the lowest melodrama can interest the public”, and also in the hope of creating “a melodrama so stripped of all the conventions ordinarily attached to the genre, so sober, so simple, that it might approach the nobility and excellence of tragedy”. He wrote the scenario in a single night.
Epstein had been much impressed… read more
Thanks to youtube one of the great unsung cinematic glimpses into the world of the gothic and supernatural makes me aware how much closer this film is to Dreyer's "Vampyr. Its surreal, claustrophobic twisted darkness seems to choke all the life blood out of its characters and its use of multi-exposure unsettles everything. Epstein's work needs to be rediscovered so the world can see how brilliantly imaginative he was
In my opinion, the Europeans can't do American Gothic. They tend to be lyrical and artier, maternal, whereas American Gothic is all horror, irony and wretchedness. Bierce, Poe or Lovecraft are all brutal and violent, more sardonic than transcendental, more open to chaos and erraticism. And they are always out of borders. French Connection: Villiers de l'Isle-Adam and Charles Baudelaire.
An essay by Nicole Brenez on maverick filmmaker-critic Jean Epstein.