The Madness of Dr Tube (La Folie du Docteur Tube), 1915

Director: Abel Gance

The Devil's Manor trips out with the dome-headed Doctor. His special white powder creates distortions in reality (oh, really...?) in an oddball early comic short from Abel Gance, director of the famed Napoleon, and one of the renowned innovators of cinema.

Dr Tube awakes in his laboratory, idly polishing his head as he pores over his notes. To his amusement, he discovers that the white powder he has produced distorts the appearance of the things around him. He tries it out first on his dog, then his houseboy. Presently, he douses two lady visitors in the powder, who express dismay at their odd appearance. When their suitors arrive, the Doctor also 'powders' them, thus avoiding any further embarrassment for the ladies. Order soon prevails and the re-normalised couples settle down together in the Doctor's lab for a drink. Meanwhile the Doctor places his head inside a metal cage, brandishing some odd instruments in readiness for his next experiment.

The mysterious powder takes effect...
The films that Abel Gance is best known for, Napoleon, and J'Accusemaintain their reputation thanks to the many innovative techniques in editing and cinematography employed by their director. Gance's intention was to make films that audiences could immerse themselves in, and it's an early experiment with subjective viewpoints that provides the backbone of Dr Tube.

It looks as though the film's entire raison d'etre is as a vehicle for the effects Gance was able to create by filming the action through distorting mirrors. It's not clear whether the consequent druggy overtones (springing from the highly suspicious idea that the Doctor uses a white powder to alter reality. Hmmm...) are intentional or accidental. Some sources report that the producers, on seeing Gance's completed film, were 'outraged' and refused to release it. If true, this would seem to endorse the distinctly trippy qualities of the visuals that the modern viewer can't help but notice.

Gance left his job in a law office in 1909 to start his career as an actor and screenwriter, making his debut as a director with La Digue (which was apparently never released) two years later. His restless ambition led him for a short while to the theatre, where an attempt to stage the play "Victoire de Samothrace" with Sarah Bernhardt was prevented by the outbreak of war. Dr Tube was the first film Gance produced on his return to the industry, and less than two years later he scored his first significant success with Mater Dolorosa. The anti-war opus J'Accuse followed in 1919, establishing a reputation that would be confirmed in the 1920's by later triumphs such as Napoleon and La Roue.

The misshapen bodies in the film were shot by cameraman Leonce-Henry Burel. Dr Tube could be considered a trial run for the kind of techniques Burel would put to use in his future collaborations with Gance to place their audience in the thick of the action. Cameras were suspended on wires, swung from pendulums, tied to running horses, and more. This experimental streak was arguably put to it's best use for the epic Napoleon, which also starred Dieudonne -- minus the pointed head this time -- in the title role. But where the restored Napoleon's revival in 1980 saw it hailed as a masterpiece, Dr Tube would appear to provoke the same reactions now as it probably did in 1915: curiosity, and mild bewilderment...

End Credits:
Albert Dieudonne (Dr. Tube)
Scenario: Abel Gance, Photography: Leonce-Henry Burel, Producer: Louis Nalpas
Film D'Art, France
Running time 11 mins

Included as a supplemental feature on Lucrezia Borgia (Image Entertainment)

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