See the moving picture


A Matriarchal Melodrama

Pauvre mère (Poor Mother)

Albert Capellani, Pathé-Frères, France, 1906

Pauvre mère is on the extreme melodramatic end of the dramatic and realist spectrum. A widow (notice the crepe on the father’s picture in the upper-left corner) takes in piecework to support herself and her daughter (1). Though deprived of the father’s presence, it is clearly a happy and stable household. One day, the daughter hears music outside and goes to the window to find out the source (2). The point-of-view shot in (3) shows us what she sees—a marching band. The mother removes the girl from the window, but she takes the next opportunity to return to the spectacle outside; this time, however, she leans too far and falls to her death (4). (Note that we must therefore take the window to be some two or three stories above the street—a fact which the point-of-view shot of the band doesn’t necessarily make clear.) Afterward, the distraught mother becomes obsessed with visions of her lost child, imagining her appearance to her in three separate instances. In (5), for example, the mother befriends a girl in the park and takes her onto her lap: by means of a combination of dissolve and superimposition, Capellani materializes the daughter in the other girl’s place. Thus the dissolve-superimposition technique, which was associated primarily with trick-effect illusions (as in the films of Georges Méliès—see Chapter 3.2), is here reconceived as a strategy for intensifying the representation of psychological trauma. In the final shot/tableau (6), the same strategy is used to suggest an otherworldly resolution to a tale of thisworldly suffering.

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