Home Video Hovel: L’Inhumaine, by David Bax
With his brazen 1924 film, L’Inhumaine (out now on Blu-ray from Flicker Alley), director Marcel L’Herbier set out to create a convergence of the most up to date modern art. The result is a kaleidoscopic picture of art deco in its blossoming prime. The movie makes its impression from the very beginning, in a lavish party at an aesthetically up-to-the-minute estate outside of Paris, where high ceilings and sharp angles dwarf the guests as they sit at a table surrounding by a sort of geographically designed indoor moat. Even the intertitles in this silent film come with stylized backgrounds. And, in case you were wondering, there are more creepy masks than you can shake a stick at.
L’Inhumaine probably didn’t require a plot but, as it turns out, it has a pretty good one. That party is being held at the home of Claire Lescot (Georgette Leblanc) a famous singer. Most of the men in attendance—terribly interesting, fabulously wealthy men from around the world—are there to woo her. She’s having none of it. One of these suitors, a young scientist named Einar Norsen, is so distraught at her rejection that he leaves the party and promptly drives his car off a cliff, killing himself.
Here, the plot takes a surprising but welcome feminist turn. Lescot’s reaction or lack of reaction to this young man’s death becomes a point of contention among both her friends and her audience. Her choice to continue with the next night’s scheduled performance leads to a riot between those who think her disgustingly callous and those who say she has a calling to answer. Basically, in a scenario that will likely feel familiar to roughly all of the world’s female population, everyone has a very firm and secure opinion of what exactly she ought to be doing how exactly she ought to be doing it.
To continue with a plot description would be to spoil some of the wacko fun. Just know that the film is often described as science fiction and, though nothing laid out above hints at that genre, don’t worry. It will get there. In fact, it will get there fast, as velocity is one of L’Herbier’s primary filmmaking concerns. Racing tracking shots, cameras attached to speeding cars; there is almost non-stop movement. By the time you get to the nearly psychedelic montage that makes up the L’Inhumaine’s climax, you’ll wonder what the hell you’ve just watched and how soon you can watch it again.
Lobster Films’ restoration and transfer is magnificent. The original tinting was digitally restored as faithfully as possible and the resulting colors are vital. The disc comes with two scores, both worthy, though the more avant-garde one by Aidje Tafial is recommended over the more conventional Alloy Orchestra one.
Special features include a fifteen-minute behind the scenes featurette, a look at the creation of Tafial’s score and a booklet.