Our time travel through the pre-Axis powers continues with new wonders (just wait until we get to Bulgaria!). There aren't a whole lot of Japanese films from the silent era extant—most of them didn't survive World War II—so it's tough to say to what degree A PAGE OF MADNESS is representative or not. What's here is totally baka, though, a whole library of madness, so I did some research to try to complement my viewing. Apparently, films in Japan were often accompanied by an in-person narrator, called a benshi, who explicated the images and action onscreen. I can see that being an advantage for A PAGE, which is a truly silent film in that it lacks any kind of title cards, intertitles, or text that explains who people are or what is going on. Keep that last long clause in mind as I attempt to outline the plot.
A Japanese man works as a janitor at a integrated men's/ladies' asylum, in which his wife is interred. He attempts to free her, but she falls deeper into madness. Then we kind of find out how she got so crazy and committed. Keep in mind that the version of PAGE that we have is only 2/3 complete, though, and what's in that 2/3 isn't really that concerned with making sure everyone understands the story. It's more dedicated to demonstrating the world through the vantage point of the gibberingly mentally ill.
Watching this, it's tough not to be startled by how stylized this 1926 movie is. The swooping, zooming camerawork isn't too removed from Argento and Scorsese, and PAGE packs layers upon layers of shots into these incredibly dense superimpositions. Mix in the frenetic editing, especially in the early goings of the picture, and this seems surprisingly accessible and very modern in some ways.
And still 1920s strange in many others.
The same hyperstylized elements that make PAGE more familiar than staid two-shot relics like WOLF BLOOD simultaneously push the viewer away, though. The "narrative" here is presented in such a dizzying, alien way that some have found it easier to view the film as a tone poem of pure images rather than try to parse some kind of story out of it. Like GENUINE, if you come here with your hand out for plot, you're going to have a bad time.
It's fascinating as a visual exercise, but also works pretty well on a symbolic level. Certain elements and images are repeated, and I was especially jolted by the linkage of dance with insanity, given that the same motif reappears in later Jap genre cinema, like HORRORS OF MALFORMED MEN.
It ain't exactly fair to rate this, given its truncated form, but I would absolutely recommend that you seek this out if you're interested in most of the films that appear on this blog. It's so relentlessly odd and creative! I'm happy that most early cinemas appears to have been shaped by mutant weirdos, and fear that I'm going to be really sad to reach the 1930s, when commercial concerns sent all the madness back behind locked doors.
I'm going to be away in Maryland over the weekend, hence the sudden extra blog post. You're welcome!
TOP TEN OF THE 1920S:
1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
2. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
3. The Unknown (1927)
4. Maciste in Hell/Maciste All'Inferno (1925)
5. A Page of Madness (1926)
6. The Cat and the Canary (1927)
7. Genuine: the Tale of a Vampire (1920)
8. Wolf Blood (1925)