Languid yet visually arresting, Jean Epstein's 1928 impressionistic homage to Poe by way of Baudelaire subjugates the narrative, imagery -- everything -- to atmosphere. To me, Epstein's film seems to have a closer alliance to poetry than the prose of storytelling. Poetry is the nexus between language and music, and in USHER the rhythm or flow of imagery is closely allied to a poem's meter. Here, Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher and The Oval Portrait are used by Epstein not so much to tell an interesting story with pretty pictures but to evoke the essence of common motifs found in Poe's works; to evoke an impression of the melancholy and loss and the horrific so often evident. Madeleine Usher's rhapsodic funeral is one of the great sequences of classic horror, forshadowing (somewhat) the coffin sequence in Dreyer's VAMPYR, another impressionistic film that has much in common with USHER. I can love Epstein's film for the funeral sequence alone. And symbolism is used within the movie's rhythms as obvious tokens to Poe (a black cat, the portrait's title is Ligeia, and a clock's swinging pendulum is filmed at a 45 degree angle making it appear more threatening) and as more ambiguous devices (copulating frogs). Whether the ripples in the water or superimposed candles, Epstein's use of imagery penetrates directly into the viewer by evoking feeling -- without the exaggeration and distortions of expressionism.

My qualm with the Allday Entertainment DVD is the medieval score adapted by Rolande De Cande, which although may seem like a logical approach, still gives me a headache. The sonorous voice of Jean-Pierre Aumont translating the intertitles is also problematical (though much less so than the score) because it is still something of an intrusion. But the DVD does showcase a very nice print and I'm grateful for that.


"Sic gorgiamus allos subjectos nunc."