Clair: Sous les toits de Paris (1930)

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All I’d seen of Rene Clair was his Entr’acte that–although I have no recollection of it, I do associate with Dadaism or some such thing. I trudged slowly towards home carrying this film in one hand, a bottle of wine in the other, knowing that I was to soon face the hell that is art. But, as sometimes happens, I fell in love instead. I’ve grown quite used to silent films, to the point that I prefer them to sound films, to focus on the visuals and only the visuals is something we rarely have the opportunity to experience anymore, for even in an art gallery we frame our paintings with the noises of the gallery itself, that acts as a frame for the frames, and our days frame the museums, so that somehow, even the sound of the cash register as we buy our tickets is the sound of Botticelli’s goddesses in repose. Clair works with sound, and yet his film is essentially a silent. He uses sound as punctuation, and one is forced to pay close attention to the sound when it is present, for he always offers an explanation. Background music always has an origin, although we rarely discover its origin until deep into the song, when the camera cuts to a view of a spinning record, or when the soundtrack itself begins repeating a single line, and a hand picks the needle up and begins the song again. A great fight scene occurs in which all we hear is the sounds of a train. And when the character Pola speaks, “non, non, non, non,” tiny breaths in response to silent whispers, that’s enough to fall in love with her, and with love, and with the fullness that is a soft voice.

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