Director: René Clair
Production: Black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: 22 minutes. Released 1924, at the Theatre des Champs Elysées between acts of the ballet "Relâche" by Francis Picabia as performed by the Ballets Suédois, Paris. Re-released 1968 with musical soundtrack directed by Henri Sauguet. Filmed 1924 in and around Paris.
Producer: Rolf de Maré; scenario: from an outline by Francis Picabia, adapted by René Clair; photography: Jimmy Berliet; editor: René Clair; music composed specially for the film: Erik Satie.
Cast: Jean Borlin; Francis Picabia; Man Ray; Marcel Duchamp; Erik Satie; Marcel Achard; Pierre Scize; Louis Touchagues; Rolf de Maré; Roger Lebon; Mamy; Georges Charensol; Mlle. Friis.
A Nous la liberté, and Entr'acte: Films by René Clair , New York, 1970.
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Clair, R., "De Stroheim a Chaplin," in Positif (Paris), January 1998.
* * *
In November of 1924, Paris anticipated another performance by The Swedish Ballet, a company which had outraged its audience since its residency began in 1920. The centerpiece of one particular evening was to be a new work created by Francis Picabia, the Dadaist artist. When Picabia learned that the opening night might be obstructed by censors, he ruefully entitled the work Relâche , or Theatre Closed or Performance Suspended . When the event did not take place on the announced night (due to an illness rather than censorship), patrons surmised this to be simply another Dadaist prank. Opening night finally did occur, and the events became firmly inscribed in French cultural history.
That infamous evening included a screening of the film Entr'acte . Shown between the two acts of Relâche , it was greeted with as much hissing and booing as it was with applause; the Dadaist philosophy, based in part on offending its audience, was once again triumphantly realized.
While Relâche remained mostly unknown until the Joffrey Ballet revived it in New York City during its 1980 season, Entr'acte has long since become a staple of film classes as an example of the French avant-garde cinema of the 1920s and as the prime exemplification of the Dada spirit in the film.
In his search for "pure" cinema, René Clair followed the Dadaist approaches of photomontage (as advocated by John Heartfield—a technique which involved "the meeting place of a thousand spaces"), and the random (as advocated by Tristan Tzara). True to those premises, Clair juxtaposed images and events as disparate as a chess game played by Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, a cannon ignited by Erik Satie and Francis Picabia, a funeral where the coat of arms bearing the initials of Satie and Picabia was displayed, a ballerina, a sniper, inflatable balloon heads, the Luna Park rollercoaster, etc. These events were shot from a number of angles (including the ballerina from below through a plate of glass), and at varying speeds (from Satie and Picabia jumping toward the cannon in slow motion to the funeral procession racing off at the speed of the Keystone cops). While the images stressed the content as play, the director stressed the style as playfulness.
Through his film Clair invoked the entire catalogue of available cinematic techniques, abandoned the notion of narrative causality, and in true Dadaist style, espoused the overthrow of the bourgeois norm. The audience was assaulted with a series of non-related and often provocative images—from a "legless" man rising from his wagon and running away at full tilt, to a ballerina transformed into a bearded man—within a work which stressed the pleasure of inventing new spatial and temporal relations while provoking random laughter. While Clair often referred to this film as "visual babblings," audiences of today can see the film as a serious attempt to subvert traditional values, both cinematic and social.