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Danse Macabre [1922]

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Film Identifier: F.2011-05-0030a
Run Time
0h 6m 9s
Date Produced
"Danse Macabre" is an experimental film project that premiered at the Rialto Theatre, NYC in 1922. It is conceived by Adolph Bolm and directed by Dudley Murphy, with lighting and filming by Francis Bruigière and animation by F.A.A. Dahme. It was released by Claude H. Macgowan for Visual Symphony Productions, Inc. Performers include Adolph Bolm ("Youth"), Ruth Page ("Love"), and Olin Howland ("Death"). While this film is silent, music by Camille Saint Saëns (his 1874 tone poem "Danse Macabre") was apparently synced with the film at its premiere.
The film begins with opening credits, introducing the creators and performers. Introductory intertitles then set up the story: "Midnight in plague-ridden Spain -- -- Youth and Love flee from Death who follows their path--"; "Love feels his uncanny breath and swoons---Youth despairs and prays,--when lo!--the cock of dawn crows and Death fades away into the shadow of his tomb." Next, a drawing of a clock tower and a bat appear on screen, followed by a drawing of Death (as a cloaked skeleton with animated black eyes) with his violin, which he plays in the next shot. The film then cuts to an animation of an individual walking the steep path into a distant castle. Afterward, it cuts to a set in which Youth and Love burst from a back door into a room, presumably in the castle. He helps her out of her coat and lights a candle, and the two embrace. In the following shot, the image of the castle is overlain with the animation of Death playing his violin. With a cut back to Youth and Love inside, the film shows the two dancing together. He gifts her a shawl and fan; as they dance, Death (performed by Howard this time) and his violin are ominously superimposed in the corner of the frame. Clearly hearing him, Love becomes frightened (in medium close-up) and convinces Youth to open the windows; the two embrace once more. They continue dancing around the room together, but Death continues to haunt them. Love, beside herself with fright, is no longer easily assuaged, even by newly opened windows. As she reaches toward the light, Death appears behind the couple and she returns to the corner, cowering. Even as Youth tries to protect and reassure her, Death looms larger over them, and Love faints from consternation. Youth lays her down on a sofa by a window and rushes to bring her water, but Death and his violin (superimposed) dance all the while. Youth curses Death and prays for his lover's well-being, but he eventually falls asleep and Death closes in. At this moment, the film cuts to a drawing of dawn, and Youth praises the rising sun as Death shrinks from the light. Love awakes from her slumber and the couple embrace triumphantly, but as the camera pulls back, Death and his opening claws are once again superimposed over Youth and Love. The film ends here.
Macgowan, Claude H.
Main Credit
Visual Symphony Productions (corporate name)
Murphy, Dudley (is director)
Dahme, F.A.A (is animator)
Additional Credit
Bruigière, Francis (is lighting director)
Saint Saëns, Camille (is composer)
Actors, Performers and Participants
Bolm, Adolph (is performer)
Page, Ruth (is performer)
Howland, Olin (is performer)