Sunday, September 12, 2010

Paris Qui Dort (1925) — A Clair eclair, n'est pas?

One of René Clair's first films*, Paris qui dort (Paris Sleeps, a.k.a. At 3:25, a.k.a. The Crazy Ray) is also one of the first science fiction films. This comic fantasia tells of Albert, the night watchman on the Eiffel Tower, who awakens one morning to look down and discover that Paris — heretofore teeming with people, horse-drawn carriages, and motorcars — has come to full mid-motion stop. A mad scientist's experimental ray has accidentally frozen Paris not just in time, but also in sometimes embarrassing positions.

Albert and a collection of tourists, who have just landed in a biplane at Paris' airport, steal a taxi, raid the city, and thoroughly take advantage of the situation, surrounded by millions of Parisians as immobile as statues.

Paris qui dort is a young and bold filmmaker's expression of motion pictures as a medium characterized by dynamic motion instead of as a static recorder of stagy "action." Like a filmmaking Bix Beiderbecke, Clair infuses a Jazz Age sensibility into the form, riffing with good humor on the then-current deep-thinkery about cinematic movement, rhythm, and film's possibilities in manipulating time.

Originally an hour-long feature, in the 1950s Clair pared the film down to this version clocking in at just under 34 minutes.

A treat that still exudes style and cleverness, it exhibits Clair's signature camerawork and playful whimsy, and opens with beautiful (and historically fascinating) shots of 1920s Paris from the Eiffel Tower.

* Or his very first, depending on which reference source you open. I've seen various release dates for this film ranging from 1923 to 1927. 1925 pops up most often, so I'll go with that unless conclusive info sets me right otherwise.