With Jean Epstein, Part I: The Silent Films, a week-long series at Anthology Film Archives in New York that opens today, Slant‘s running a solid primer by Jaime N. Christley: “Jean Epstein is one of the great filmmakers cinephiles discover after deciding there are no more worlds left to conquer—and the effect is blinding and humbling. Like many such revelations, his work throws the map of cinema into disarray, knocking over the mile markers and headstones set up long ago by the official canon: surrealists over here, expressionism over there, social realism way over there. He was a little bit of each—none exclusively—and more. He associated with the surrealists, but the oneiric qualities of The Fall of the House of Usher (adapted by Luis Buñuel, who also served as assistant director on the film), like much of his work, are found in some unquantifiable space between special effects and elementary moods. Work that seemed to foretell the neorealist, social-realist, or magical-realist subdivisions just as often turned into daydreams, or intricate music boxes that deflated the heaviness of their own narrative concerns.”
Many of the films, notes Aaron Cutler in a piece for the L on The Faithful Heart (1928), “seem at first to be showing things you’ve seen before—romances of people separating and reuniting; adventures of boys at sea returning home. But at certain points perspectives blur, angles distort, and quick flashes rush by of innumerable fragments of the surroundings, resting finally with a close-up of a person’s strong face staring forward. The film’s broken open, and it’s pulling us towards it. Its people are yearning for others offscreen, and for the time being, we’ll take their lover’s place.”
In the US and Canada, the University of Chicago Press is distributing Jean Epstein: Critical Essays and New Translations, an anthology originally published by the Amsterdam University Press, and MUBI’s Notebook is running Nicole Brenez‘s contribution, “Ultra-Modern: Jean Epstein, or Cinema ‘Serving the Forces of Transgression and Revolt.'”
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