"I hear the light! The final images of L’Inhumaine surpass the imagination. As you emerge from seeing it, you have the impression of having lived through the moment of birth of a new art.” Adolf Loos
This film was Marcel L'Herbier’s boldest attempt yet to combine his broad cultural interests in film and, as it was co-financed by the star, opera-singer Georgette Leblanc, it perhaps contained even more than he expected. The gosh and wow over his audacious mise-en-scene, haute-couture and superhuman cutting would have been magnified many times as the film’s release when audiences may have been confused by Miss Leblanc’s operatic style and the ultra-modern concepts such as the thing called a “television”.
Still, they used to walk out on Mahler’s early symphonies… you can’t break moulds without omelettes being made…
|Miss Lescot entertains|
There’s an age gap between the leading couple with Georgette Leblanc being 54 and doe-eyed Jaque Catelain being less than half her age at 26 but again that’s part of the point: money and power bridge those years and as we see throughout, Leblanc’s character Claire Lescot is formidable indeed.
|Jaque and Georgette|
The men admire posters of their host, Claire Lescot the famous opera singer and prepare to jostle for her affection: American industrialist Frank Mahler (Fred Kellerman), Russian post-revolutionary power-player Wladimir Kranine (Léonid Walter de Malte) and Indian mystic millionaire Djorah de Nopur (Philippe Hériat). Mahler wants to do the decent American thing and make her a star whilst Kranine has a vivid fantasy about Claire joining him in leading the workers and Djorah has more focused desires… wanting her to become his queen.
|Feel the speed|
The young man can take no more and leaves the house determined to make his point. As he drives away at full pelt Claire sings to her guests and is oblivious that he has not only left the house but has also left her a message. By the time she stops to read it, we have seen Norsen’s car go over the cliff and dive deep into the River Seine – it runs through Rouen too.
News of the driver’s death is bought by a peasant girl (played by L’Herbier’s wife, Marcelle Pradot) who cowers in front of these powerful people. Claire is devastated and some of her would be conquerors decide to exact revenge all the same.
At her first concert after the death, Kranine arranges a group to shout accusations of manslaughter at the stage. But Claire is too strong and silences the calls as she steadfastly sings and sins over the massive audience. L’Herbier got permission to film in Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and invited over 2000 people from the art world to provide the audience. Ten cameras captured their reactions and if you look very carefully you may spot James Joyce, Erik Satie, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Ezra Pound and other leading lights.
|The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées|
Spoilers ahead – go back now! Run, run as fast as you can!
Imagine if such a thing were possible?!
|Claire travels without leaving..|
Everything culminates in a breath-taking blur of close-cut montage with L' Herbier even adding blank coloured screens of blue, red and yellow to add to the confusion of effort as Norsen and his men work to their limits.
|The Maharishi puts the frighteners on Claire|
The zest for experimental elaboration drove L’Herbier to recruit as many multi-media experts as he could from across the arts. Architect Robert Mallet-Stevens – often ranked alongside Le Corbusier - did all of the exteriors and it was one of the first times that modern architecture was seen in films whilst Brazilian Alberto Cavalcanti was in charge of most of the set design with the exception of a strange green conservatory designed by Claude Autant-Lara.
|Claire's house is modern on the outside and traditional inside|
The film is now available on crystal clear Blu-ray and DVD from Lobster films complete with extras including a making of featurette and a choice of soundtracks from the more traditional Mont Alloy Orchestra and modern jazz and electronica experimentation from Aidje Tafial who discusses his score in the extras.
It’s available direct or through Amazon.