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The Fall Of The House Of Usher (DVD)


The Fall Of The House Of Usher (DVD)

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Countless films have attempted to bring Edgar Allan Poe's tales to the screen, but few have successfully kept his work intact. Some, like Edgar G. Ulmer's masterful The Black Cat, simply use Poe's good name as a starting point for some other vision, while most others concentrate on the gothic trappings and shocking events as raw material for horror. Hardly any capture the creeping melancholy of Poe's work, and Jean Epstein's The Fall Of The House Of Usher is the exception that proves the rule. Working in 1928, when film was still partially an open frontier, the theorist/filmmaker retained only the most essential elements of Poe's story, concentrating all his energy on creating atmosphere with evocative staging and avant-garde techniques. As Jean Debucourt desperately attempts to immortalize his wife (Marguerite Gance) through his art, reality appears to shift around him, which Epstein plays up with increasing frequency as the film progresses. The result is a movie filled with remarkable set pieces, all contributing to a truly unnerving, dreamlike tone. Epstein may not have much concern for a tightly wound narrative, but he captures one of the most elusive qualities of Poe's fiction: its ability to upset. Debucourt's degenerative mental illness might be his alone, but Epstein makes his madness feel infectious. A trudging funeral march through the mists takes up only a small portion of Usher's running time, but in this director's hands, it feels endless. Epstein's name is largely forgotten today, making this new, nicely preserved DVD of his best-known film all the more welcome. It also helps place his influence into context: Working as Epstein's assistant director, Luis Buñuel no doubt took excellent notes throughout the whole reality-distorting project.