L’inhumaine (1924) Marcel L’Herbier
Flicker Alley Blu-ray (2:02)
Almost anyone who loves science fiction movies will have at some point watched at least part of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). Maybe it’s the only silent science fiction film they’ve ever seen. (I know that was the case with me for several years.) Yet other silent sf films are also worth your attention, such as The Lost World (1925), A Trip to the Moon (1902) and many others. Now, thanks to a stellar new release from Flicker Alley, you can add L’inhumaine (1924) to that list.
The “inhuman woman” of the title is Claire Lescot (Georgette Leblanc, above right), a famous Parisian opera singer who hosts extravagant parties at her home, a structure which looks more like an art deco palace than a residence, complete with an elaborate dining table set on an island in the middle of an enormous pool. An assortment of men descend upon Lescot during one such party, eager for her attention, but she’s in complete control, toying with them all. But you can’t say she doesn’t put on a good show, featuring top-notch musicians, fire-eating performers, a guy who spins a barrel with this feet, and some servants wearing creepy-looking masks. But the main attraction, of course, is Lescot.
A young engineer named Einar Norsen (Jaque Catelain) finds himself arriving embarrassingly late to the party. Eager to make things right with his host, Norsen finds himself being rejected by the singer. When he threatens to kill himself, Lescot replies, “If you can destroy your life so easily, it wasn’t worth much to begin with,” and leaves to entertain her other guests.
I won’t tell you what happens next, but I will tell you that it causes Lescot’s fans to turn against her, culminating in one of the film’s most extraordinary scenes, a concert filmed at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées where L’Herbier invited over 2,000 people from the arts world to play members of the audience. Although we can’t see them (or at least I can’t), some of those in the audience include Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Erik Satie, and the Prince of Monaco. It’s an extraordinary scene, but one you might forget when compared to the amazing visual experiences in the second half of the film, which takes on more of a science fiction focus.
L’Herbier was a leading advocate for the arts and wanted to expand the possibilities of film, incorporating modern art, various styles, innovations and imaginative explorations. He does this through set design, architecture, dance, music, color (tinting) and more. Put simply, L’inhumaine is an extraordinary visual experience. You could say that L’Herbier was years ahead of his time, but that would be inaccurate. Decades would be closer to the truth. Not only are the film’s sets and visuals stunning, but watching the quick edits, close-ups, staging, pacing and camera angles make you forget you’re watching a film from 1924.
L’Herbier hired young composer Darius Milhaud to write a percussion-focused score for the film. Tragically, that score has been lost, but the new Flicker Alley release offers two scores by Aidje Tafial (which is nothing short of superb) and the Alloy Orchestra (which I have not listened to yet).
There’s so much more I could tell you about the film, but I want you to experience it yourself. After you’ve watched it, you can enjoy a 16-minute behind-the-scenes feature, a film about the music of Aidje Tafial and how it was recorded for the film, and a 12-page booklet with a wealth of information about the film and those who helped create it.
L’inhumaine is truly a wonder, a film that will delight fans of science fiction, silent movies, or art in general. Buy this one with confidence. Congratulations to Lobster Films for a stunning restoration and Flicker Alley for yet another stellar home video package. Highly recommended.
(Photos: Flicker Alley)