Léonce Perret | Subjects
| Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style
Films: Le mystère des roches de Kador / The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador
| L'Enfant de Paris / The Child of Paris
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
| 1910's Articles
Léonce Perret is an French writer-director of films.
Léonce Perret: Subjects
Common subjects in Léonce Perret:
- Detectives solving mysteries that the audience already knows about (boyfriend: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
hero Bosco: L'Enfant de Paris)
- Good guys who use high technology (alienist with motion pictures: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
hero sends telegram, uses train: L'Enfant de Paris)
- Shocked women who retreat into silence, apathy (Heroine: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
heroine: L'Enfant de Paris)
- Ocean-side resorts (Brittany: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
Le rançon du bonheur,
background of film set: Les Bretelles,
Nice: L'Enfant de Paris,
Morgane la sirène,
outdoor film-making set in Nice: La Danseuse Orchidée)
- Rivers (hauling barges: Le haleur, Le coeur et l'argent, Seine in Paris: L'Enfant de Paris)
- Water works (fountain in Nice park: L'Enfant de Paris, swimming pool: Koenigsmark)
Léonce Perret: Structure and Story Telling
Films within Films (information from DVD Extra film Léonce Perret, the Filmmaker's Filmmaker):
Features Perret shares with fellow Gaumont director Louis Feuillade:
- People shooting films (Le mystère des roches de Kador, Les Bretelles, Dernier amour,
La Danseuse Orchidée)
- People watching films (therapy and memory: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
in movie theater: Léonce cinématographiste, at party: Koenigsmark)
- Studio interiors vs location shooting for exteriors
- Letters, telegrams and documents used as substitutes for title cards (diary, will: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
newspaper articles, check: L'Enfant de Paris)
- Characters climbing sides of buildings, using skylights, often with vertical camera movements
(down from cobbler's roof, up villa wall: L'Enfant de Paris)
- Double doors, one open, one closed
Léonce Perret: Visual Style
Sets and Architecture:
- Vertical bars in grillwork (gates at mine: Le feu à la mine,
gates in last shot: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
grill at base of staircase in film set: Les Bretelles,
shot through harp: Morgane la sirène)
- Wardrobes with mirrors on front (villa: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
hero's hotel room, heroine's room at villa: L'Enfant de Paris)
- Curtains pulled (stage curtains: Molière, costume party: Le mystère des roches de Kador)
- Fronts of villas with steps and two levels (Le mystère des roches de Kador,
- Deep focus shots through windows of architecture in background
(gates in last shot: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
staircase at Gaumont film studio: Dernier amour)
- Jagged, star-shaped masks (L'Enfant de Paris, Qui?)
- Keyhole views (L'Enfant de Paris)
- Mental imagery in part of screen (Le coeur et l'argent, hero sees heroine: L'Enfant de Paris)
- Pans (porch with water in background: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
across Gaumont film stages: Dernier amour,
outdoor film-making set in Nice: La Danseuse Orchidée)
- Panning camera movement through walls (cobbler's attic, villa: L'Enfant de Paris)
- Modern day people in historical costumes (costume party: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
actors on film set: Les Bretelles, actors on film set: Dernier amour)
- Uniforms with boots (boyfriend Captain at end: Le mystère des roches de Kador,
soldiers in room with rescued baby: Une page de gloire)
Le mystère des roches de Kador / The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador
Le mystère des roches de Kador (The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador) (1912) is a thriller. SPOILERS ahead.
Its initial setup, an innocent young heiress menaced by a sinister guardian everyone regards as respectable,
already had a long history by 1912. One might cite Uncle Silas (Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, 1838, 1864),
although that tale's sinister uncle is less innocent looking than the one in Le mystère des roches de Kador.
Detection and Mystery
Professor Williams is an alienist, not a detective. But his enthusiastic use of high technology, such as motion pictures,
links him to the Scientific Detectives popular in that era. He is also a "high energy" figure,
also like such scientific sleuths as Arthur B. Reeve's professor Craig Kennedy. Apparently, technologists were
viewed as dynamic, go-getting men, far more enthusiastic and energetic than less progressive people.
The audience always knows everything about the crimes in Le mystère des roches de Kador. The viewers know who the
villain is, and watch his schemes unfold in detail. However, the other characters in the film do not.
To them, the situation is mysterious. The boyfriend has to do real detective work to uncover the truth about the crimes.
There is a nice pan across what seems to be a porch with the heroine, near the start.
When the camera reaches the right, we see a large landscape view with water in the background.
The film's last shot is intricately staged. From a room with the heroine, we see outside over a balustrade
into a yard - and once again, through gates in the back of the yard. These open, and the hero comes through.
Then there is a pause, and he reappears inside the house.
The costume party near the end, is mainly revealed through a slim gap in a curtain: a nice effect.
Eventually, the curtains are opened, and we see more of the revelry.
Fairly early, we see a porch of the villa. There are steps going down, and we see both the lower ground level
and the upper porch level. There is also a striking round part of the building, in the upper left of the frame.
A somewhat similar porch with steps connecting ground and porch, will appear in the thriller
L'X noir (The Black X). There the disguised villain in his X-costume will draw an X
on the building, while standing on the porch.
L'Enfant de Paris / The Child of Paris
L'Enfant de Paris (The Child of Paris) (1913) is a thriller, about a kidnapping. SPOILERS ahead.
The sets in L'Enfant de Paris look a tad more realistic than the often extremely abstract, schematic and flimsy sets
used by Feuillade. They also seem a bit more cluttered with furniture and bric-a-brac, which perhaps aids their realistic look:
we see less of the walls than in Feuillade.
There are several ancestors to the creaky initial plot setup: Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens, 1838)
(middle class kid held by lower class urban criminals),
The Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1888, 1904) (little girl with military father reported dead, sent to harsh boarding school).
Georges Sadoul also linked the tale to the play Les Deux Orphelines (The Two Orphans) (Adolphe d'Ennery and Eugène Cormon, 1875).
The first half hour of L'Enfant de Paris, which sets all this up, is the weakest part of the film.
The movie gets much better after this introductory material is out of the way.
Detection and Mystery
L'Enfant de Paris has the same mystery structure as Le mystère des roches de Kador:
The sleuth Bosco uses high technology, like Professor Williams in Le mystère des roches de Kador.
He sends a telegram, and takes a ride on a train. One of the most exciting, heartening things in the second half
of L'Enfant de Paris is seeing the lower class Bosco do all the things that had been denied him due to poverty.
It is thrilling to see him break through and send a telegram, something he has probably never done before in his life.
In 1913 telegrams were high tech. It it like a poor person today using the Internet for the first time.
Bosco is completely successful, too. Unlike what skeptics might say, the working class Bosco is plenty smart enough to take part
in society and use technology. He just has lacked the money to do so.
- The audience always knows everything, about the criminals and their schemes.
- But the good characters do not. They have to perform detective work to figure out what has happened
and solve the case.
- Both detectives are amateur sleuths, men who care about a female in trouble and who try to help them.
Bosco also resembles Professor Williams in being a high energy person. Technologists were perceived as dynamic, progressive people
in the 1910's.
Climbing - and Vertical Camera Movements
The detective hero climbs walls and exits a building from a ceiling skylight: both of which anticipate
Les Vampires (Louis Feuillade. 1915).
Soon after the hero leaves through the skylight, we see him moving down. The camera accompanies him, in a vertical move.
Similar vertical camera movements appear in Les Vampires.
There is also a vertical camera movement going up, as the hero climbs the wall outside the villa.
Alternatives to Title Cards
Like his mentor Louis Feuillade, Perret includes documents like letters and telegrams
to help tell the story. These form alternatives to the title cards that are the default narrative device in silent movies.
Camera Movements Through Walls
At the cobbler's attic, we can see two rooms at once: on the left, the heroine's small sleeping cupboard;
on the right, the main attic workroom. Perret will pan from one room to the other, seeming to move his camera
right through the wall separating the two rooms.
Later, at the villa near the end, Perret will create the same effect.
It will parallel the attic setup, with the heroine's bedroom again serving as the left-hand room.
Through the wall camera movements occasionally appear in Hollywood films. There is one in the opening of
Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932), and one can find them in Budd Boetticher
and especially Joseph H. Lewis. L'Enfant de Paris differs from these Hollywood examples:
- Perret moves slowly, and often lingers allowing us to see both rooms at once. By contrast, Hollywood films tend to
move rapidly through the wall, switching from a scene in one room, to a scene in the other.
- Perret tends to pan, while Hollywood films usually have lateral tracks.