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Ménilmontant (Movie 1926) + Emak-Bakia (1927): Memorable Avant-Garde Paris

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Ménilmontant Avant-Garde ParisMénilmontant: “Avant-Garde Paris” entry. The Parisian neighborhood would later be the setting of Jacques Becker’s Casque d’Or (1952), starring Simone Signoret and Serge Reggiani, and Albert Lamorisse’s short The Red Balloon (1956).
  • Ménilmontant (movie 1926) & Emak-Bakia (1927) reviews: The San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s program “Avant-Garde Paris” rewarded viewers willing to take a chance. But what was up with that violin playing?

Ménilmontant (movie 1926) & Emak-Bakia (1927) reviews: Screeching violin for abstract short and a one-man band for fascinating experimental short

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

I knew I was taking a chance by going to see something with “avant-garde” in its title – in this case, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s program “Avant-Garde Paris.” I expected there would be little or no narrative or storyline; rather, this would be a sensory experience of sight and sound. I was right.

First on the program was Emak-Bakia (1927), directed by Man Ray. I was familiar with Man Ray through his unconventional photography, also evidenced in the visual “half” – double exposure, soft focus, etc. – of his plotless, abstract short film.

Now, although I also have great respect for the musicians who perform for such films, I have a critical note for this one.

In the program description, I noticed that there would be some string instruments included in Earplay’s score for “Avant-Garde Paris.” Unfortunately, I practically had to plug my ears to deafen the sound of the screeching violin, viola, and cello that accompanied the first half of Emak-Bakia. The cacophony was not unlike a hand file scraping against the strings of these marvelous instruments until it finally gave way to more soothing sounds as the movie progressed.

Transcendental actors

I liked the second “Avant-Garde Paris” film much better: Ménilmontant (1926), directed by Dimitri Kirsanoff, and featuring a wisp of a story about two sisters (Nadia Sibirskaïa, who happened to be the director’s first wife, and Yolande Beaulieu) and a thuggish boyfriend.

Named after the Parisian neighborhood just north of the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Ménilmontant had the lighting, the framing, and the beautiful close-ups of any mainstream film made at that time. The actors were probably chosen for their lack of movie-star good-looks, but they were transformed into something so transcendental that the film kept me fascinated.

In fact, even though I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing, I enjoyed the intertitle-free movie’s innovative touches.

Honorable mention, as usual, goes to musician Stephen Horne, who masterfully played at least three distinct instruments during the screening. Horne is the embodiment of the One-Man Band. Each time I hear his scores I am more impressed.

Emak-Bakia (movie 1927) cast & crew

Direction & Screenplay: Man Ray.

Cast: Kiki of Montparnasse, Jacques Rigaut.

Cinematography: Man Ray.

Producer: Man Ray.

Running Time: 19 min.

Country: France.

Ménilmontant (movie 1926) cast & crew

Direction & Screenplay: Dimitri Kirsanoff.

Cast: Guy Belmont, Nadia Sibirskaïa, Yolande Beaulieu, Maurice Ronsard, Jean Pasquier, M. Ardouin.

Cinematography: Léonce Crouan & Dimitri Kirsanoff.

Film Editing: Dimitri Kirsanoff.

Producer: Dimitri Kirsanoff.

Distributor: Sélections Maurice Roumier.

Running Time: 38 min.

Country: France.

Ménilmontant (Movie 1926) + Emak-Bakia (1927)” notes

Ménilmontant and Emak-Bakia reviewed at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (website).

René Guissart’s 1936 feature Ménilmontant (no connection to the 1926 short) stars Gabriel Signoret (no connection to Casque d’Or’s Simone Signoret), Pierre Larquey, and Josette Day.

Ménilmontant movie credits via the British Film Institute (BFI) website.

Emak-Bakia movie credits via the British Film Institute (BFI) website.

Ménilmontant movie image: Courtesy of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Ménilmontant (Movie 1926) + Emak-Bakia (1927): Memorable Avant-Garde Paris” last updated in April 2023.

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