René Clair - Entr'acte
Programme note by Lenny Borger

ENTR’ACTE (Rolf de Maré, FR 1924)
Regia/dir: René Clair; scen: Francis Picabia, René Clair; f./ph: Jimmy Berliet; cast: Jean Borlin (il cacciatore e il giocoliere/the hunter and the magician), Francis Picabia & Erik Satie (i due uomini con il cannone/the men with the cannon), Marcel Duchamp & Man Ray (i giocatori di scacchi/the chess players), Inge Fries (la ballerina barbuta/the bearded ballet dancer); premiere: 4.12.24; data uscita/released: 21.1.26; 35mm, 583 m., 22’ (24 fps); fonte copia/print source: Cinémathèque Française
Senza didascalie / No intertitles.

Musical accompaniment

First-ever premiere of the piano version for 4 hands, edited by Guy Campion, of Erik Satie’s score Cinéma, reconstructed from the original manuscripts of the composer and synchronized for the first time to the film for which the work was composed in 1924.  (Published by Durand-Salabert, Paris, 2007, collection “Archives Erik Satie”, edited by Ornella Volta and Gérald Hugon.)

Music performed by the piano duo Barbara Rizzi - Antonio Nimis.

Introductory lecture by Ornella Volta, President, Les Archives de la Fondation “Erik Satie”, Paris.

In co-operation with Associazione Musicale Tarcentina – Laboratorio Internazionale di Musica da Camera 2007


Entr’acte remains, alongside Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie, the best-known of Clair’s silent films. This Dadaist squib has lost none of its zany charm, and remains an irreverent but good-humored classic of 20s avant-garde cinema. Seeing it again some years after its December 1924 premiere, the astute critic Alexandre Arnoux wittily remarked: “This film is still young. Even today you want to boo it.”
In terms of shooting order,
Entr’acte was Clair’s second film, but the first to meet the public. (Paris qui dort, shot the previous year, was finally released two months after the premiere of Entr’acte.) Its target audience, however, was not that of the regular first-run or neighborhood cinema, but the more enlightened public of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, one of the capital’s elitist showcases for the performing arts, in particular dance, music, and drama, which had famously hosted the Ballets Russes. It was here that arts patron Rolf de Marés’ prestigious Ballets Suédois (Swedish Ballet) established its home base in the years 1920-24 and collaborated with the cream of the avant-garde of the 1920s: Jean Cocteau, Ricciotto Canudo, Fernand Léger, Les Six, Francis Picabia, Erik Satie, and others. (Its smaller second and third stages, the Comédie and the Studio, were occupied by the likes of Gaston Baty and Louis Jouvet.)
Clair joined this bastion of high culture in late 1922, when its innovative manager, Jacques Hébertot, invited him to serve as editor-in-chief of a new cinema section in one of his arts magazines,
Le Théâtre-Comoedia Illustré. With offices in the theatre itself, Clair’s new journalistic position gave him a ringside seat to the Paris arts scene and allowed him to mix with its major figures, many of whom were to become friends or future collaborators. Most significantly, it allowed him to write and think about films and filmmaking, even as he prepared to practice it himself – like Louis Delluc before him, and François Truffaut and his New Wave companions later on. (In his two years with the magazine, he found time to write and direct his first three films!).
Conceived by the Dadaist painter Francis Picabia as a filmed interlude to be projected between the two acts of
Relâche, a new ballet he was preparing with the Ballets Suédois and composer Erik Satie, Entr’acte was entrusted to Clair at Picabia’s insistence (Hébertot wanted Marcel L’Herbier – thankfully, he was overruled). Picabia’s “script” (scrawled on a sheet of letterhead stationery from Maxim’s restaurant) was nothing more than a series of notes of unrelated Dadaist motifs, and Clair was given a free hand to treat them as he saw fit and tie them together into some kind of a rhythmic whole. (Claims by later detractors that Clair was a mere technical executant are disingenuous nonsense.) Clair also shot the 90-second prologue to the ballet, in which Satie and Picabia signal the start of the show by firing a cannon at the camera from the theatre rooftop, where much of the first half of Entr’acte was shot. Often adding his own images to Picabia’s, Clair (and his audacious cameraman, Jimmy Berliet, a master of double exposures) expands the film into one of the most exhilarating chase scenes in film comedy as mourners pursue a runaway hearse (previously drawn by a camel). “The sequence leaves one almost breathless,” writes American Clair historian Celia McGerr, “and some subjective shots of a roller-coaster plunge the spectator into a near-nauseated state.”
By most accounts (Clair’s included), the film achieved its goal, provoking a storm of boos, whistles, and jeers on the one hand, and applause and laughter on the other. But it may be gilding the lily to say
Entr’acte caused a scandal – the screening ostensibly did not decline into the pandemonium that is the hallmark of a true outrage to audience sensibilities. Entr’acte had none of the transgressive power of Buñuel’s Un Chien andalou or L’Age d’Or. Besides which, it shared pride of place with the ballet itself. As conceived by Picabia and choreographer-dancer Jean Borlin, Relâche was something of a disconcerting “happening”, as Swedish dance historian Bengt Hager wrote: “The dancers occupied the orchestra seats, the show was as much in the auditorium as on stage where one in turn could see gentlemen in evening dress taking off their clothes and Picabia and de Maré driving a spluttering jalopy on stage, and to crown it all there was René Clair’s film, Entr’acte, which made the audience drunk with hallucinations and only lacked color to be psychedelic.”
Scandal or not,
Entr’acte confirmed the young Clair’s growing technical mastery, his sense of rhythm, and fertile comic imagination. But it would remain an inspired flirt with experimental cinema.