March 15, 2010
La marche des machines (1927)
Since writing my senior paper last year on early montage documentaries, I have come to regard a small and elusive group of filmmakers as a curious rumor. I think of them as the Paris Film Club Crowd. They are a young and enthusiastic lot. They are most prominent in the late 1920s. They make montage films, some of them earnest documents, others abstract explorations. They show these films to fellow film enthusiasts, often at film clubs, often in Paris. Among the circle, one will find Jean Mitry, Jean Vigo, Boris Kaufman, Georges Lacombe, Henri Storck, Jean Lods, Pierre Chenal, and Eugene Deslaw. Many others are associated with this group: Charles Dekeukelaire, Jean Dreville, Jean Painleve, Alberto Cavalcanti, Joris Ivens, Marcel Carne, &c. Some of these names ought to be familiar, others completely unknown. Those names which are known are not known for their early montage abstractions; such is the nature of this era, and I am desperate to penetrate it.
La marche des machines is one the key films to come from this crowd. Deslaw directed. It is only the second Deslaw film I have seen. It is very short and very difficult to judge. I feel that the film has no context, nothing to ground its abstraction; ironic, considering I had known about this film, its context, and its impact for years and have sought it out with determination. I found what I was looking for: a rhythmic film about machines. That is all.
My impression of Deslaw is true for the rest of the group. His films lack rigor, clarity, perhaps worthwhile cinematic ideas, yet his technique is so charmingly light and youthfully poetic that his films are difficult to resist. I say this of La marche des machines, though it is too small a film. I say it of Deslaw's Montparnasse (1929); I say it of Carne's Nogent (1929); I say it of Storck's Images d'Ostende (1929); I say it most of all of Vigo's A propos de Nice (1930). I might dare to say it of all these young cineastes in Paris, but the group remains so obscure. What of Deslaw's La nuit electique? What of Lacombe's La Zone? What of Lods' Le Mile? So much remains hidden, and even I am having trouble bringing it out. What a mess.
I am stuffing this post with names so that a better historian will do the necessary research to bring this group to light. I apologize to all of you who read this expecting an interesting or moderately witty commentary on a film you ought to see. Although I hope that if you are a regular reader of this blog you do not expect that anyway. I am really curious though! Who were these young fellows? What are these lost films like? Why has nobody caught on to this group, the "new wave" of 1930? Why is nobody but me interested in exploring them? I am such a bad pioneer.