L’Herbier, Marcel (1888–1979) By Torres Hortelano, Lorenzo J.
Marcel L’Herbier was a French pioneer avant-garde (impressionist) filmmaker and theorist who made more than forty films between the 1920s and the 1950s. During World War I he learned the basics of filmmaking in the Army Cinematographic Service. He wrote a seminal text, Hermès et le silence (1918), in which he stated that cinema is not an art but a new language which calls into question the traditional notion of art. One of his best attempts to put into practice his theories was the poetic Rose-France (1919). In 1921 he filmed one of his masterworks, El Dorado, mainly in Granada (Andalusia, Spain), which anticipated the German Kammerspiel. He used a range of cinematographic means—including color tinting of the image—to determine character psychology and the moral atmosphere of the space, defining a kind of “cinematic melodrama” and creating a visual music. Other similar films from his silent period include L’Inhumaine [The Inhuman Woman] (1924), a science fiction drama, and L’Argent (1928), adapted from Émile Zola’s novel. In the silent L’Argent, L’Herbier used sound in an original way, recording real sound effects, which were played back in some theaters. When talkies arrived, he renounced the avant-garde, but still made noteworthy films including Le Mystère de la chambre jaune [The Mystery of the Yellow Room] (1930) based on Gaston Leroux’s novel, and La Nuit fantastique [The Fantastic Night] (1942). L’Herbier was also the founder, in 1944, of the Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques. During the post-war period he poured his energy into television productions.