Art Decadence in 'L'inhumaine'

Smart, sharp and fashionably ahead of its time, L’inhumaine hangs in an aesthetic balance between the cerebral pretensions of a popular literary novel and the continental-chic of a glamour magazine.


Rated: Not Rated
Director: Marcel L'Herbier
Cast: Georgette Leblanc, Jacque Catelain
Extras: 7
Distributor: Flicker Alley
US DVD release: 2016-03-01

A cornerstone in silent cinema’s art deco period, L’inhumaine has held title as a curious amalgam made up of many narrative threads. A strange fusion of drama, fantasy, sci-fi and romance, Marcel L’Herbier’s exercise in mythic epic appears more like a manifesto on the nature of inspiration than a film that makes any momentous statement on the human condition à la Metropolis.

A diamond-cut soap opera about a coldly ambitious woman’s exploits in show business, L’inhumaine tells the story of Claire, a highly revered singer who commands the attention of thousands of adoring fans. Some of the more affluent members of her fan base include inventors, Indian royalty, artists and great thinkers.

Among them is Einar, an inventor who is hopelessly in love with Claire but rather naïve in the ways of love and romance. While all the other more personable men stumble over one another to get Claire’s attention, Einar silently pines for her from a distance.

When the dashing Djorah de Nopur, a regal Indian bachelor, sets his eye on the enigmatic singer, the young inventor is driven into jealous fits, which literally send him round the bend (on a mountain road) and over a cliff. Claire decides to take this one off the chin; she’s too preoccupied with the complications of fame. But guilt brings her back to Einar.

When it's discovered that Einar has not died from the accident after all, Claire is introduced into a strange mechanical world of invention -- one that the impossibly lovesick Einar has built especially for the singer. And one that will eventually save her from tragic consequences precipitated by the now jilted Djorah.

Smart, sharp and fashionably ahead of its time, L’inhumaine’s narrative hangs in an aesthetic balance between the cerebral pretensions of a popular literary novel and the continental-chic of a glamour magazine. Throughout the film, there are structural cues from the story’s environment that visually inform the narrative and its thematic schemes; strewn about are elegant art deco shapes which refer to the cunning charms of a wasted troupe of social-climbers.

Even in the panicked, artsy movements of an intermittently roving and static camera, there are the stylish underpinnings of a futurist design that process the story with edgy inventiveness. There are the herky-jerky movements of characters who manoeuvre through the narrative with freakish angularity plus the softer contours of matinée-styled framing, which round out the vampishly camp demonstrations.

Much of L’inhumaine’s style is rested within the characters themselves, and L’Herbier employs a kind of costuming designed entirely for effect. Mask-wearing servants denote the airs of a floating, pervasive evil, as do the East-Asian accents lamentably demonized in Indian character Djorah de Nopur. Claire (played by the mysteriously unprolific Georgette Leblanc), the central figure in this byzantine drama, vibrates with a sense of impending doom when buried in the ruffles of feathers and silk. Everything onscreen has been carefully arranged to invoke the machinery radiance of a prosperous world and the actors themselves become variables in a winding and shifting narrative where their characters are transformed by the imaginative getups.

For all of its flashy and mechanical brilliance, there's still the spool of emotional thread that unwinds as the narrative progresses. There's a clipped, abstracted poetry to the telling of this story that defies the geometric constructs of the plot these characters are confined in. It's a poetry spun from, and around, every sequential corner of this marbled tale; existential musings on the nature of art are dispensed in the brooding monologues while guilt complexes and Freudian desires are expressed in feather-boa dramaturgy. Beneath its art deco style-guide, L’inhumaine proves to be a story of inspiration and daring.

Flicker Alley presents a stunning transfer with clear picture and sound. Images are flush with colours that are rich and vibrant. The colour-coded sequences (sepia, magenta, lime-green, silver-blue) are delightfully prepared eye-candy made all the more appealing by the impeccable work that has been done on the print cleanup.

Especially impressive are the two musical audio tracks that have been supplied here on this blu-ray release. The first track by Aidje Tafial is a playful clockwork-contraption of electronic and jazz-cadenced sounds. It offers the film an atmosphere of curious discovery, perfectly suited to appeal to the more sci-fi and fantasy elements of the story. The second track by the Alloy Orchestra presents a more traditional orchestral arrangement with strings that plays on the more sentimental qualities of the tale. Both scores are fantastic, each track offering the story a mood and tonal atmosphere entirely separate from one another.

There's a thoughtful set of extras on the disc, which include a small behind-the-scenes feature and another feature on the recording of Tafial’s score. A handsome essay booklet is also included; inside there are write-ups on the film and plenty of photos. As this is a silent film, there are subtitles provided, which are available here in both English and French.

Often in L’inhumaine, it's easy to let the images simply wash over you; so easy on the eyes are the images that the narrative tapestry sometimes threatens to become merely an afterthought. Yet what we are presented with here is a story of emotion that pulses slowly and steadily with the suspense of a slow-burning thriller. Amidst the fanciful sequences of jazz-age shenanigans and tear-jerking exploits, there's a literary tale of relationships and romance in L’inhumaine worthy of discovery.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.