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SAVING SILENCE/Jesse Lee Kercheval "In an astonishingly short time—1895 to 1927, little more than thirty years—the silent cinema evolved into a unique, integral and highly sophisticated expressive form, and then, overnight, became extinct." —David Robinson, Foreword to Silent Cinema, An Introduction Isn't that the way of things— where is Carthage now, the Dodo? In archives in America, Japan and Russia there are as many feet of nitrate film dissolving as there are bones in the catacombs of Paris. Of one hundred and fifty thousand sUent films, eighty percent are as lost to us as the dust to which our grandparents returned. So why do I care? Because my mother was deaf, because I am tired after years of talk-talk-talk-talking. Because as a chUd, I once rode the elevator to the top of the EuTeI Tower where, Uke God, I looked down and saw the whole world at my feet— rendered not motionless, but sUent. 152 · The Missouri Review NAPOLEON VU PAR ABEL GANCE/ Jesse Lee Kercheval Impossible Is Not French, says Napoleon in Gance's epic sUent film. He shouts it to the gunners retreating from Engtish fire at Toulon. A mere Ueutenant, who has only just arrived from Paris, he makes the men roU their cannon back into the muddy night and nails a sign above his new postLa Batterie des Hommes sans Peur. I was born in France, but I am fuU of fear. For my chüdren who walk around with only pink skin for protection, for the whole blue world, watery as a tear. I was never an optimist but each year more seems impossible. I am forty-five. Napoleon was twenty-four when he took Toulon in a blinding storm with only the hau beating the snares of his faUen drummers to urge his ragged soldiers on. I want to post a sign of my own. This is The House without Fear, we Uve here, we French, The Missouri Review · 153 and honorary French. In a time when the emperor was young still pronounced his name Nappy-yone-eye, Uke a good Corsican, more Itatian than French. Still, looking at him, no one dared to laugh. Or at least, that is how Abel Gance saw his Napoleon. Abel Gance, maker of this six-hour sUent movie with its three-screen finale tinted blue/white/red to match the French tricolor. Abel Gance, un homme sans peur, a man who beUeved anything—everything— possible. 154 · The Missouri Review Jesse Lee Kercheval KURUTTA IPPEIJI: A PAGE OF MADNESS/Jesse Lee Kercheval "This experimental silent film was thought lost for fifty years until the director, Teinosuke Kinugasa, rediscovered it in his garden shed." —Le Giornate del Cinema Muto catalog, twentieth edition An old man takes a job as a janitor at an asylum to be near his wife, who failed to drown herself after drowning their infant son— tiny squalling bundle. This is Japan. The year 1926. His wife lies on the floor of her cell on her futon. Her kimono disordered— her hair a disgrace. Her arms rise from her sides as she sleeps, her hands open, begging for forgiveness. Or is she dreaming of the moment she let her chUd go? In the next cell, a young woman dances day and night without stopping, leaving bare bloody footprints across the concrete floor. She is a goddess, but only she knows it. If the old man asked her— she would give him back his son. But the old man sees only a mad girl who once—he's been told— The Missouri Review · 155 danced the May Dance for Crown Prince Hirohito, then found she couldn't stop. The old man unlocks his wife's ceU with a key he has stolen from the desk of the director, in his other hand are sweets. Their daughter, he teUs her, their only daughter, has met a young man who's asked her to marry, to move north with him to his home in far Hokkaido, that wUd frontier island. When asked, their daughter told this young man her mother died giving birth to a stUlborn baby brother. She understands clearly if...


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