Sur un air de Charleston

Tagged: Film

Film (1927 France; vt Charleston Parade). Produced and directed by Jean Renoir (1894-1979). Written by Pierre Lestringuez from an idea by André Cerf. Cast includes Catherine Hessling and Johnny Hudgins. 20 minutes. Black and white.

This incomplete film is Renoir's only venture into science fiction. Set in the year 2028, it involves an African explorer (Hudgins) travelling to a devastated post-War Europe in a globular Airship. There he encounters a native, a white woman (Hessling) wearing only rags. They begin Communication when she teaches him the Charleston, and he returns to Africa with her. Renoir had originally intended the film to involve a black Scientist from another planet, visiting Earth after it had been ravaged by an interplanetary war. But Renoir never finished that film. What is left incorporates Georges Méliès-style special effects to tell the story of African exploration of a primitive, barbaric Europe, cannily inverting the standard trope of the European explorer of Africa, capitalizing on Ruins and Futurity stories like J A Mitchell's The Last American (1889 chap; exp 1902), and satirizing (see Satire) the then-current fad in France for all things black – the film's final placard reads, "That is how White aborigines' culture became fashionable in Africa." Though Renoir's original idea would have been more explicitly science-fictional, what survives is certainly Fantastika, though the more imaginative elements – including the globular aircraft, the war which turned Europe into "Europa deserta", and the African explorers' home culture – go unexplained. The film was popular with critics and the viewing audience. [JNe]

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