Abel Gance: Through Distorting Mirrors

La folie du Docteur Tube
R: Abel Gance. B: Abel Gance. K: Léonce-Henri Burel. D: Albert Dieudonné. P: Le Film d’Art. Fr 1915
Print: Cinémathèque Française

Abel Gance (25 October 1889 – 10 November 1981) was a French film director and producer, writer and actor. He is best known for three major silent films: J’accuse (1919), La Roue (1923), and the monumental Napoléon (1927. (…)
With the outbreak of World War I, Gance was rejected from the army on medical grounds and in 1915 he started writing and directing for a new film company, Film d’Art. He soon caused controversy with La Folie du docteur Tube, a comic fantasy in which he and his cameraman Léonce-Henry Burel created some arresting visual effects with distorting mirrors. The producers were outraged and refused to show the film.”
The Early Cinema

377-Abel Gance

“The films that Abel Gance is best known for, Napoleon, and J’Accuse, maintain 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, (…) 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.
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 Dieudonné — 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.”
The Devil’s Manor