Whenever we are home alone our minds play tricks us. We believe our house is haunted and every noise, every creak and crack in the floor, is the ghost of some soul coming for us. We leave a light here and there on and do not dare move into the darkness unless we desperately need to. We stay in the glow of a lamp or a TV hidden under blankets with a sleeping dog or cat besides us. Our sanity returns only when our family comes home or the following morning when light has returned.
Imagine what living with the belief that your house is alive and haunted all day and night and that fear is constantly with you. That is what Roderick Usher in the story The Fall of the House of Usher firmly believes and that belief slowly drives him out of his mind.
For this edition of Silent Sundays I watched the French version of The Fall of the House of Usher. I was able to somewhat understand the title cards and to somewhat follow the story without them but that got a little difficult at times. I will try my best to give a coherent summary. The film is based off the story of the same title by Edgar Allan Poe so you can always refer to a summary of his story although the film does stray from Poe’s version.
A traveler comes into a local pub and asks where he can find the house of Usher. Everyone in the pub looks stunned and they begin to whisper the name questioningly. A carriage driver takes the traveler to the House of Usher out in the middle of a marsh. The house stand alone surrounded by thick fog. It looks ominous and uninviting. The traveler and the owner of the house Roderick Usher are friends. Roderick summoned his friend because he has been ill and needs someone to be there for him.
At dinner Roderick has a sort of panic attack. He stares off into space and seems to be feeling the movement in the curtains in a hallway in house. Roderick picks up his guitar and sings a song about everything surrounding him. After his song Roderick takes the traveler to the hallway where all the windows are. In a place off to the side the traveler finds a bunch of papers and a drawing of the Usher family tree. He sees that Roderick and Roderick’s sister Madeline’s issues they suffer from are hereditary.
Roderick is working on a portrait of his sister. But every pose he has Madeline do exhausts her. It is as if with every stroke of his brush he is snuffing out his sister’s life. The strain of posing and standing finally becomes too much for Madeline and she collapses and dies. Roderick does not believe she is dead even if the doctor and the traveler tell him so.
At the house the night after Madeline is laid to rest a heavy storm comes in. Roderick forces the traveler to open the window and look outside where a bright ball of light can be seen in the distance. Sometime after this incident the traveler comes across a book proclaiming the fate of the House of Usher. Outside in the storm Madeline is seen walking back from her tomb near the lake. The house begins to fall apart after it has caught fire from the lightening. The traveler manages to escape the house. Roderick drags Madeline out just in time as the house splits apart and crumbles.
This French version of The Fall of the House of Usher is one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. I love the films of the surrealist artists. My favorite set of surrealist films is Jean Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy especially The Blood of a Poet. I love how the imagery in their films gets inside your head and either makes you nervous as hell or drives you made. Their screen images crawl inside your brain and never leave. This is exactly what the imagery in The Fall of the House of Usher does only more so. So many of the scenes were edited with quick cuts from Usher in the house to the trees swirling about outside. The funeral procession scene is one of the absolute freakiest, most unsettling, most mind disturbing scenes I have ever watched in a film and I loved it. It is hard for me to explain in words what that scene is like but trust me when I say it is a scene I will never forget and is now one of my all time favorites.
The Fall of the House of Usher directed by Jean Epstein should be seen by all classic film buffs or art aficionados. From beginning to end it is visually striking and disturbing and truly a work of great art.