A Page of Madness Film Review

A Page of Madness Film Review
In his book "The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood", critic David Thomson disparages silent films as immature and unsophisticated when compared to the modernist literature being written concurrently. "A Page of Madness", the 1926 tour de force from Japanese filmmaker Teinosuke Kinugasa, absolutely refutes Thomson's reproach. It uses the subjective, stream-of-consciousness aesthetic of a Virginia Woolf novel to construct a visual representation of madness.

Like F. W. Murnau's "The Last Laugh" (1924), which Kinugasa admired, "A Page of Madness" uses no intertitles. The lack of explanatory titles, and the avant-garde visual style employed by Kinugasa, leaves the film open to multiple interpretations. A man's wife is committed to an asylum and he seeks to restore her sanity. The woman's imprisonment has strained his relationship with his adult daughter. There is also a suggestion that the couple had another child who died in an accidental drowning. This explains not only the woman's unraveling but Kinugasa's use of water as a recurring visual motif, as well.

Circular motion is also used as a repetitive visual metaphor. The opening sequence includes a dance staged in front of a large striped orb spinning behind the female dancer. She is actually a resident of the asylum and the scene takes place in her tortured imagination. Like the sphere, she is in constant motion without ever escaping the confines of her cell. The swish pan used by Kinugasa and his cinematographer Kohei Sugiyama also gives the illusion of frenzied circular motion by the camera. The subsequent blurring of the image adds to the nightmarish sense of dread that pervades the film.

"A Page of Madness", while its subject is not crime, displays many of the visual elements of a film noir. The extremes of light and dark, the shadows that flit across the screen, the tilted camera angles that suggest an unbalanced mind, the vertical lines that bisect the frame, the kaleidoscopic manipulation of images illustrating a loosening grip on reality; virtually every technique used by directors in the sound era is present in this silent film. In addition, lead actor Masuo Inoue, with his unshaven face and haunted eyes, could be the prototype for any of noir's fatalistic anti-heroes.

"A Page of Madness" (1926) is currently streaming on FlickerAlley.com and Amazon. The Alloy Orchestra deserves special mention for their original music that accompanies the film. The subtle use of Japanese melodies alternating with menacing percussive effects enhances the images without overpowering them. I watched "A Page of Madness" at my own expense. Review posted on 10/25/2018.

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