The Fall Of The House Of Usher (1928)

The Capstone, Liverpool
Director: Jean Epstein
Sound Affairs (2014)
Artistic Director, Charlie Barber
Based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe
3rd November 2014

Review by Joe Coventry

Tonight's screening and live performance at The Capstone was a rarity and a treat. A silent movie with a sixteen strong band of musicians providing the soundtrack to a story from the master of the macabre. The avant-garde inspiration of French director Epstein, the film is a surrealist take on the degenerate ending of the line of the house of the title. Charlie Barber's music was composed to accompany it's current tour.

Epstein, assisted by Luis Bunuel (L'Age d'or), cast Jean Debucourt as Sir Roderick Usher and Marguerite Gance as his wife Madelaine; a departure from the original incestuous brother, sister relationship.

They live alone in a remote mist shrouded mansion, shunned by the locals for whom their name is anathema. Barber for his part, in keeping with the early 20th century mood, has adapted two early works by Claude Debussy as the modern day accompaniment to proceedings. As might be expected there is little to lighten the mood: L'apres midi d'un faune this is not.

Consisting of four woodwinds, four horns, seven strings and a set of drums, the film flickers into life with a wavering oboe leading the way. A friend of Roderick arrives in the village in search of a guide to the accursed estate.

The journey across blasted heath and past windswept sullen waters, weighs heavy on all the players before the reunion, to tuba-esque greeting burps, heralds the last happy moment in the film.

All is foreboding and the rising brass over dinner, from which Madelaine is excluded, shows Roderick at his wide-eyed maniacal worst. Her own plangent woodwind theme strikes up whenever she is in shot, usually being painted by her husband; a portrait that is sucking her vital life juices out of her.

The interior of the house, a dark shadowy vastness, overwhelms the players in it's morbid festering dilapidation, and the score to his lordship's insanity is equally dark. Shots from outside purvey a sense of melting away, carried as a wasted dirge in the brass, as the friend goes out to walk the grounds for some fresh air.

Madelaine collapses and expires to a pip on the flute. Roderick is seen dementedly rushing towards the camera with his wife in his arms. The funeral procession to the family morgue sees her open coffin in a boat with a white wedding dress in tow, crossing some troubled water.

As the strings bewail her passing the drum rattles a death roll. The surrealist candle superimposed journey ends in a manic explosion of brass as the nails are finally knocked in.

Back inside the house again there are several allusions to some of Poe's works as Roderick awaits a sign. It comes in the new fangled form of magnetism and an electric storm. As his wife's coffin stirs and Roderick is serenaded in his own hellish madness the house is set alight and a lady in white appears out of the flames as her portrait melts.

To a sustained crescendo and tension in the music they stagger outside to safety.


Printer friendly page

Sorry Comments Closed