The Fall of the House of Usher (Jean Epstein, 1928)

Pretty nice piece of surrealism. It starts out pretty much identically to the way Nosferatu starts out, with the stranger entering an inn and practically begging for a ride to the title character’s dark and foreboding mansion, with nary a soul willing to take the job. Afterwards, when we come to the house itself, it is a clear precursor to “Citizen Kane’s” Xanadu – an impossibly expansive, impossibly dark and foreboding, impossibly empty main hall, in which Usher and his dying wife are practically swallowed. The editing of the film is fascinating and like poetry committed to screen, as the narration is intercut with the ocean or wild animals or the darkest recesses of the House itself. We see many shots of the wind blowing through the house, or the House practically coming to life, as Usher clearly slips more and more into madness as his wife falls more and more towards death. By the time the Fall comes, it’s not just of the House itself, but of the figurative “House of Usher”, as its lord is reduced to bobbing his head back and forth with a surreal smile on his face, as if expecting the spooky events that are transpiring to transpire exactly as they are. It’s pretty clear that something awfully weird is going on in this House…or perhaps nothing at all, and the mere feeling of weirdness is just a projection of the madness of Roderick Usher, and if that’s the case, Epstein did an admirable job of delving the viewer headlong into the mind of a madman.


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