919. Peter Ibbetson (1935, Henry Hathaway)

screened Saturday April 21 2007 on DVD IMDb

Reputedly ‘discovered’ by Paul Eluard in a suitably aleatory fashion by following a woman into the Paris cinema at which it was playing, this adaptation of George du Maurier’s novel was hailed by André Breton and other Surrealists as the cinematic embodiment of their magnificent obsession with l’amour fou – the love that transcends all known obstacles. In fact it is a gentler and more romantic channelling of the libidinal surges of L’Age d’Or. A young architect, played with understated intensity by Cooper, meets in adult life his lost childhood love, and is subsequently falsely imprisoned for the murder of her husband. Undeterred by physical separation, the couple continue to meet in their own world, preserved in their youth, until the lasting reunion of death. The film’s boldness and continuing appeal lie in its unhesitating and exultant acceptance of the primacy of love, and in its seamless transitions between the worlds of reality and dream.

– From the Time Out Film Guide

My second attempt at a video essay.  I’ve taken to heart the feedback I received from the first one (on Fritz Lang’s While the City Sleeps) and have tried to align commentary more with the footage and go more in depth with analysis…


Wikipedia entry

The complete text of George du Maurier’s original novel

Author: alsolikelife

This is my pet project

  • http://memoriesofthefuture.wordpress.com jesse

    Very interesting, Kevin, though I can’t help but think it’s a way to convince Cindi that you’re up for doing a full DVD commentary… ;o) But in all honesty, it’s an interesting format you’re experimenting with, and I’m curious to see where you take it.

    And I’ve got to say, the mountian-climbing sequence struck me as being very similar to Deren’s At Land, what with the collapsing of time and the figure striding into different locations with a matter of several frames. Haven’t seen that one for years though…

  • http://www.d-kaz.com Daniel

    I’ve never even heard of this film but it looks amazing. Your suggestion that the cameraman may be the one in charge could be a correct one. Look at that shot 1:00 into your clip, I’ve never seen anything like it: the camera is tracking forward-right, looking straight ahead; in the same moving shot the camera whip-pans to the right, catching the couple walking forward in the same direction yet diagonally towards the camera. The spatial configuration is V like: the effect (which is not literally spatially correct) is that the house is the convergence point of both the movement of the camera (one arm of the V) and the movement of the characters (other other arm). The shot essentially ends when the camera and the couple are about to “meet” at this apex. Only there is a garden wall between the camera and them, making the final union impossible! Do I have a point? Er, no; but it is one of the most bizarre and disorienting camera movements I have ever seen and that plus glimpses of the ending (which I skimmed, not wanting to ruin it) have really intrigued me. Great entry!

  • alsolikelife

    Thanks Jesse — I think I hit more of a stride in this one than with the Lang film, and I’m having fun with it. I’m going to try to steer away from general synopsis and more towards an indepth or personalized reading with subsequent entries. Good call on that At Land connection — combined with the footprints sequence it makes me wonder if Deren had seen this film.

    I’m currently working with Cindi on a DVD extra for Abdherramane Sissako’s marvelous film WAITING FOR HAPPINESS – be sure to look for it!

  • alsolikelife

    Dan, actually you do have a point as the house is the one that Peter’s childhood sweetheart used to live in, and he revisits it with his current companion on his arm — two worlds the twain can ne’er meet. And the V movement you’re talking about matches the V movement that actually does connect Cooper and Harding at the start of the dream sequence. You make me want to search the film for other instances of Vs. As well as other films directed by Hathaway or shot by Lang to see if this is a recurring configuration for either of them (this might help solve the question of who’s the auteur)!

    If you do see the film let me know your comments or link to your review on your site. It’s available as part of the Universal DVD Gary Cooper collection (5 movies on 2 discs).

  • http://screenville.blogspot.com/ HarryTuttle

    Very interesting analysis too here. I, too, loved this dream sequence, thanks for keeping it whole. I see it more in tune with the fad for Psychoanalysis than Surrealism actually (if we compare to the more abstract rendition by Dali in Spellbound). It’s a very Freudian dream symbolism (bars, laughters, childhood regression, freewheeling, downfall, unatainable castle, disproportionate cataclysm…)

    The opening sequence of the kids playing around the fence is a beauty too. Male world v. female world, social class gap, opposite attracts, love-hate pull-push relationship between these immature lovers, not to mention the parental authority pulling the strings, and death.

    That’s an interesting point about the auteurship of the photographer. The photography is indeed the main interest in this very textbook romance. I wonder how it ends up in the top1000 though… it doesn’t make Rosenbaum’s list.

    Thanks for this great mini-essay.

  • alsolikelife

    Sounds like you’ve seen the film! That’s great. Yes the kids’ bickering in the opening sequence is entertaining, and I hadn’t considered all the thematic elements that you brought up running underneath. The film seems pretty offhanded and even prosaic in its narrative for the most part, imo — it’s the camerawork that consistently stands out.

  • Pingback: Shooting Down Pictures » Blog Archive » Adrian Martin writes back on Peter Ibbetson (TSPDT project #919)()

  • http://PeterIbbetsonDVDsearch michael ball

    The last comment by Adrian Martin sums most of my feelings of the film while searching for the DVD I came upon this site. ‘Hello’ has never meant so much in a film as does this one. As far as I know it won an academy award for it’s score, but for me it should have won more attention. Gary Cooper has never been in a film similar to this through out his career, and pulled of a very difficult role as did Ann Harding. I never tire of watching it again and again, and that’s my endorsement and in my top ten.

  • Peter Valenti

    What a nice piece of work! You combine the visual film text with incisive commentary fluidly & effortlessly at the same time you get at much of what’s most important in film. The genre of dvd commentary seems at its best moments (eg. German silents, Murnau & Lang, esp. Mabuse) to take us to the heart of the film experience–almost like Mary coaxing Peter through the last prison door, no? I felt that film commentary had to move in this direction a couple of decades ago when I was working with war films and the ligne de foi and saw that whatever I said about The Last of the Mohicans had to come in such a format.
    You’ve done this very well indeed; have you worked further with Peter Ibbetson? If so, I would like to talk more with you about it. I’ve been working for some time on this and other instances of film blanc.

  • coleridge

    Is the author,Du Maurier, any relation to the author Daphne Du Maurier ?

  • Evangeline

    love, love, love this film. Even though it's absurd and over-the-top, it's so romantic and Harding and Cooper are so wonderful in it.

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