Thursday, July 9, 2015
James Sibley Watson, Jr. and Melville Webber | The Fall of the House of Usher
the sentience of vegetable things
by Douglas Messerli
James Sibley Watson, Jr. and Melville Webber (writers and directors, based on a tale by Edgar Allan Poe) The Fall of the House of Usher / 1928
True, much of the work relies far too much on the sharply beveled angles of the scenery and the coal-darkened eyes and other zombie-like make-up artistry of Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but there are still many wonderful innovative touches that transform this work into a far more abstract and avant-garde production. When the visitor is apparently reading to Roderick, the books blank pages move in the opposite direction, suggesting that words and meaning are wiped away in their very telling in the House of Usher. Vast libraries become impossible staircases; covered metal serving platters fly into the air resembling coffins; the metal struts of stairways and beds are turned into spiralling prison bars.
Later, the two would move into more literal manifestations of thrills, using nudity in their Lot in Sodom and spoofing melodrama in Tomatoes Another Day; but in The Fall of the House of Usher they created, almost despite themselves, a notable cinematic experiment that has now been included in The National Film Registry.
Finally, as a doctor of gastrointestinal diseases, Watson was one of the first who filmed the stomach as well as working on radiology.
Los Angeles, July 9, 2015