Never before released in the United States, this monumental French film is one of the most extraordinary achievements in the whole history of cinema. Written and directed by Abel Gance (Napoleon, J’Accuse), three years in production, and for its time unprecedented in length and complexity of emotion, La Roue pushed the frontiers of film art beyond all previous efforts. Said Gance, “Cinema endows man with a new sense. It is the music of light. He listens with his eyes."
Taken to its bare bones, the story deals with Sisif, a locomotive engineer who saves Norma, an infant girl, from a train wreck and raises her as his adopted daughter. Norma thinks Sisif’s son Elie is her brother, and when the two fall in love, she leaves to marry a virtual stranger. Sisif is also obsessed with her and the plot elaborates this triangular relationship. German director G. W. Pabst, an ardent admirer of La Roue, was encouraged by Gance’s example to undertake his own remarkable explorations of human psychology in such silent films as Secrets of a Soul, Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl.
Yet La Roue is even more remarkable for its cinematic accomplishment than for its story. The film was taken almost entirely on location. Sets were built along the railroad tracks in the yard at St. Roch, near Nice, and at an elevation of 13,000 feet on Mount Blanc. Gance pioneered a dazzlingly innovative style of rapid montage that revolutionized filmmaking around the world, especially in the works of Eisenstein and his contemporaries in the Soviet Union. Almost every sequence was experimental; as his cinematographer, L-H Burel recalled, “I’d never come to the end of it if I were to list all the tests we did, all the special effects I invented, and all the innovations we launched.” Like Intolerance and Citizen Kane, La Roue became a source book of cinematic invention that reverberated in countless other classic films over the decades. It was hailed by artists and intellectuals, who recognized it as a stunning advance in modern art. Said Akira Kurosawa, “The first film that really impressed me was La Roue.”
This new restoration with a running time of nearly four and a half hours, accompanied by Robert Israel’s symphonic score, is the fullest presentation of La Roue to reach the public since 1923. It at last allows audiences today to experience the amazing, poetic vision that Abel Gance brought to the world.
Abel Gance was the major figure among directors in 1920s French film, and among the most ambitious visionaries of the silent cinema. Fueled by literary ambitions from childhood, Gance began working as an actor at the age of 19, with the ambition of breaking into playwriting. In 1909, Gance managed to get a job writing movie scenarios for Gaumont and, by 1911, was directing them. None of Gance’s earliest films survive, but his first viewable effort demonstrates that he was already pioneering the use of unusual visual effects. In the short La Folie du Docteur Tube (1915), Gance uses an anamorphic lens to illustrate the story of a mad doctor who uses a ray to twist everyday objects and people out of shape. Gance gained his first good notices from critics with Mater Dolorosa (1917), a genuine tragedy without a “happy ending,” relatively rare in French cinema of the day. With this film, Gance began to use editing and camerawork to project the interior thoughts of his characters.
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It wasn't until about 160 minutes in did the story finally grip me. Why did I stay for such a length when the film is already 273 minutes long? Because the filmmaking here is excellent, beginning to end. I can't imagine anyone who loves the art of the places cinema can take you not liking it. I was delighted to stay just to admire the craft, but the final hour truly repaid me with a heartbreaking finale.
completamente de acuerdo con kristin thompson, dividida entre su lastre narrativo perteneciente a lo peor de la literatura del XIX y sus audacias en el montaje que se proyectan hacia el futuro, la película padece una esquizofrenia aguda incurable, mortal. se entiende que el productor pathé la cortara a un cuarto de las desmesuradas pretensiones de gance con su versión de 8 horas