René Clair, “Entracte” (1924)
This film’s title derives from its originally being an interlude between two acts of a ballet. Director Clair deliberately sought to make a film shorn of all conventional story-telling narrative and concentrated instead on making a highly impressionistic work. He juxtaposes various images and scenes such as cityscape scenes, boxing scenes, a view of two men playing chess on top of a building and others to suggest nervous energy and the almost neurotic pace of everyday modern urban life. Cinematic techniques available at the time included layering images over one another, filming from different angles (including filming a ballerina dancing on glass from beneath her), slow motion filming and splitting an image are all used. There is no narrative or story to follow though the second half of the film focusses on a funeral procession where the coffin runs away from the mourners through a city street and the mourners have to race after it. By making a film of unusual visual style and technique and abandoning all notions of linear narrative where one thing has to lead to another, Clair is suggesting we do away with old paradigms and mind-sets of seeing, hearing, feeling and experiencing everyday life and common objects.
Erik Satie’s music is an important part of the film: Satie wrote the music to match the action and sequencing of images and in this way created a true soundtrack. The cast of actors appearing in the film include Satie himself, the photographer Man Ray and artist Marcel Duchamp. The influence of the anarchist Dada art movement which ridicules lack of meaning in the modern world is strong.
Some viewers may find the film uneven and hard to understand: the film’s first half may look disorganised but the second half which revolves around a runaway funeral hearse and the people following it may make more narrative sense (although there’s no need to look for a narrative since none supposedly exists). Scenes on a rollercoaster that include it being upside-down in some images and the camera constantly moving might make a few viewers quite dizzy. Overall this is very brave and experimental film-making from a film pioneer.