Saturday, October 05, 2019

Au secours! / Help!

Au secours! From the website: Filmoteca Hawkmenblues, 11 Feb 2013.

FR 1924
regia/dir: Abel Gance. scen: Abel Gance, da un’idea di/from an idea by Max Linder. photog: Georges Specht, Emile Pierre, André Raybas. cast: Max Linder (Max), Gina Palerme (Sylvette), Jean Toulout (Comte de l’Estocade). riprese/filmed: 1923. prod: Films Abel Gance. dist: Comptoir Ciné Location Gaumont. anteprima esercenti/trade screening: 17.6 + 26.8.1924. uscita/rel: 24.10.1924. copia/copy: 35 mm, 490 m (orig. 1500 m ridotti a/cut to 900 m), 24′ (18 fps); [did./titles: FRA, sbt. ENG]. fonte/source: BFI National Archive, London.Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
European Slapstick – Prog. 1: Later Linder / Il tardo Linder.
Pianoforte: Philip Carli
Teatro Verdi, a print with English intertitles, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 5 Oct 2019.

Lisa Stein Haven (GCM): "By the time he considered making a film with longtime acquaintance Max Linder, Abel Gance had completed his masterpiece La Roue (1923), and was about to begin another, the 7-hour epic Napoléon (1927). Rumor has it that Linder made a bet with Gance that he couldn’t make a film in only three days, and that the result was supposedly the 18-minute Au secours!"

"The plot begins with Linder’s character visiting his gentlemen’s club on the night of his honeymoon and accepting a bet that he can remain in a certain haunted house for exactly one hour, from 11 to midnight. Greeted with various ghouls, phantoms, and scary animals, Linder’s character is only a minute or two away from success when he receives a panicked telephone call from his new wife Sylvette that she is being attacked by some monster. In an emotionally packed scene, Max succumbs easily to tears in his fear for his wife, ends the bet in failure, and runs home to find his wife in no danger. The owner of the haunted house, a club member, has developed this ruse to help pay expenses, because he has yet to lose such a bet."

"While the film was a popular failure — in fact, correspondence exists as to the lengths Gance went in his attempts to get it distributed in America at all — it does contain some rudimentary Gance-isms, most notably his use of high-speed montage, negative image, slow-motion, and reverse-motion. For instance, in a scene in which Max is hanging from a chandelier, Gance distorts the image such that a sense of vertigo is effectively created."

"Between the end of filming in June 1923 and the film’s release on 24 October 1924, Linder met the woman who would mark his ultimate descent into madness, young Ninette Peters, whom he met in Switzerland while recuperating after his collaboration with Gance. He would first kidnap her, then marry her on 2 August 1923 in the church of Saint Honoré d’Eylau in Paris. Gance was one of the few to receive an announcement of the marriage from both the bride and groom’s families. There was only one film on Linder’s horizon at this point, Le Roi du Cirque / Max, der Zirkuskönig (1924), which he would film at Vienna’s brand-new Vita-Film studios. Linder’s first attempt on the life of his wife and himself would also take place there. His second, ultimately successful, attempt would occur a year later, in the Hotel Baltimore in Paris, on Halloween night 1925.
" Lisa Stein Haven (GCM)

AA: The last time I saw Au secours, this ”pochade funambulesque”, was in Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2000 when a print restored in 2000 by La Cinémathèque française was screened. On display today was a BFI National Archive print with no opening credits.

Au secours! is a spoof horror film in the same vain as Universal's special cycle launched by Paul Leni in The Cat and the Canary (1927), sometimes with a "gaslighting" theme of driving an heiress mad. Au secours! is just a play, just a game, a showcase for Gance for visual invention and a special occasion for Max to play something different from the expected.

Au secours! belongs to the foundation films of the haunted house subgenre and the Grand Guignol in the cinema. The moving camera is impressive as Max approaches the haunted house. Doors open mysteriously, servants are like living dead, there is a tiger in a chamber, a pistol emerges from the wall, and a huge snake circles around Max's chair. Ultra long and ultra short living skeletons move in the room. When a stranger shakes hands with Max, his arm remains in Max's hand. A chair transforms into a henchman.

In the opening sequences we are invited to witness the playful, romantic and erotic intimacy of Max and his wife who deeply love each other. Before the midnight hour the wife calls Max and alerts him that a hideous, monstrous man is approaching...

The terror and panic on Max's face is startling.

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