Film 17 (b): The Fall of the House of Usher

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The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) dir. Jean Epstein.  France.

There are times when I think that of all the genres, the horror film most misses silence. The Western benefited from dialogue, and musicals and film noir are unthinkable without words. But in a classic horror film, almost anything you can say will be superfluous or ridiculous. Notice how carefully the Draculas of talkies have to choose their words to avoid bad laughs. The perfect horror situation is such that there is nothing you can say about it. What words are necessary in “The Pit and the Pendulum”? “The Fall of the House of Usher” resides within its sealed world, as if–yes, as if buried alive.

— Roger Ebert

Abigail: This clearly influenced a lot of cinema.  I venture to say much better cinema.  The sweeping moors, and the cavernous house were striking set pieces.  The story was not very clear, concise or exciting, but there were some neat images.  Mostly, I was just very ready to be done with silent films at this point in our movie watching.  It really feels like the films of the late twenties are missing something without sound, as opposed to earlier films that feel complete with intertitles.

Forrest:  Well of the two surrealist 1928 silent “Falls of the House of Usher,” this was by far the better. That said, I didn’t much care for it. Its principal attraction was the titular house’s cavernous great hall, an apparent precursor ofCitizen  Kane’s Xanadu. That said, we watched this in absolute silence — no score at all — and with French intertitles that we Google translated. Had it been a more ideal viewing scenario my appreciation of it may have been deeper. As it was, it just didn’t especially stick with me.

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