DVD Rating: *****

Reviewed by: Adam Micklethwaite

Read Adam Micklethwaite's film review of L'Argent

This hugely impressive double-disc edition of Marcel L’Herbier’s masterpiece includes an original ‘making of’ documentary from 1928, About L'Argent (Autor De L'Argent), alongside a 2007 feature on the director and his work – Marcel L’Herbier: Poet of the Silent Art. Also included are: a feature with the composer Jean-François Zygel, about the challenges of accompanying silent cinema, a short exerpt showing the arrival of leading actress Brigette Helm for the premiere in Paris, original screen tests from the film and L’Herbier’s pioneering experimental sound test of the stock exchange scene and the take-off of Hamelin’s aircraft. This is of particular interest in the historical context of the film as L’Argent was made very much at the end of the silent era. It premiered in Paris, just 17 days before the Parisian premiere of the first American sound film, The Jazz Singer.

Let’s begin with the original ‘making of’ documentary from 1928 – Autour de l’Argent, which was filmed by then-amateur photographer Jean Dréville, who would go on to become a respected filmmaker in his own right. Long before this kind of feature had been reduced to the sycophantic self-promotional exercise it has now become, this is a genuine and inspirational behind-the-scenes documentary which evokes the innovation and pioneering spirit of the film, and is bursting with an amateur’s boundless enthusiasm for his subject. Not only that, but the documentary feels like a completely independent effort, with Dréville given full access to the set, without creative interference from the director or producer.

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The original footage is also accompanied by an enlightening commentary from Dréville himself, which was added many years later, in 1971. This provides an invaluable insight into the cinematic techniques explored in the documentary along with some interesting titbits which Dréville recalled about the making of L’Argent. This thorough examination of L’Herbier’s talent and technique gives a fantastic insight into the construction of the film and its infectious enthusiasm left me with a real desire to get behind the camera myself.

The later documentary, Poet Of The Silent Art, is a talking heads piece, which includes contributions from friends and admirers as well as the director’s daughter and musings on the nature of cinema from L’Herbier himself. Providing an excellent overview of L’Herbier’s work and L’Argent itself, this is a great companion piece for Dréville’s behind-the-scenes take on the film’s production. These two documentaries are in turn complemented by original production footage, not only screen tests, footage of Brigette Helm arriving in Paris, and the fascinating experimental sound recordings made by L’Herbier, but also Jean-François Zygel’s interesting feature about the thought processes behind his new soundtrack for the film.

Overall, this is an exceptional set, making full use of existing material and combining it very effectively with new features on the director’s work and the composition of the film’s new music. The features on the second disc provide a wonderful insight into the original composition and techniques of the film and also a greater understanding of the director himself and of the film in the context his work. We learn a lot about the art of filmmaking in the silent era, but also about the particularities of L’Argent’s production, with its expensive budget of five million francs, the challenges of filming at the Bourse, the pioneering sound tests, and the fractious relationship between the film’s director and its co-producer Jean Sapène, which led the latter to perform some malicious acts of sabotage in the final cut. This latest addition to the Masters of Cinema series brings together all these elements to create a package which truly does justice to this groundbreaking piece of cinema.

Reviewed on: 30 Nov 2008
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L'Argent packshot
Silent-era scathing attack on greed and stock market mammon.
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Product Code: EKA40298

Region: 2

Ratio: 1.33:1

Sound: Musical score in Dolby Digital 5.0 and 2.0

Extras: Newly improvised musical accompaniment by French composer and pianist Jean-François Zygel, Autor De L'Argent making of documentary (1928), Archival footage of star Brigitte Helm arriving in Paris, archival screen-tests, documentary Marcel L'Herbier: Poete De L'Art Silencieux, demonstration of L'Herbier's sound techniques, introduction, 80-page booklet

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