Marcel L'Herbier's 1924 film L'Inhumaine is a remarkable time capsule of avant-garde trends
L'Inhumaine reflects its moment as much as the next year's Battleship Potemkin (1925). That it was received more like 1923's Salome — the infamous Rudolf Valentino-funded Art Nouveau version of Oscar Wilde's play, which for reasons both credible and malicious was branded a "riot" of homosexual aesthetics — laid in the extreme disconnect between cutting-edge techniques and woozily old-hat theatrical content. There's no denying the film is whopping camp, albeit camp curated (as L'Herbier intended) to complement the hugely influential International Exhibition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts opening in Paris in 1925.
This failure must have been tough, but the director persevered. His 1928 Zola update L'Argent (recently revived by the San Francisco Silent Festival) integrated modernist design and conventional storytelling far more successfully. While his sound-era films were considered less innovative, he remained a significant industry force, moving into producing cultural programs for TV.
When L'Herbier died in 1979, even L'Inhumaine had been partly rehabilitated, its ultramodernism treated (as is so often the case) more kindly in retrospect. Fifty years had transformed La Lescot's grandiosity from ridiculous affectation to charming folly.
Feb. 24, 7 p.m., $6.50–$9.50
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft, Berk.
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