Kean (1924)

Director: Alexandre Volkoff

I had a fairly hard time with this one, not least because when I actually went to watch it last night the disc (or the DVD player? Actually, probably the latter, really) was playing up, so about 50 minutes in I had to give up on it. Tried again today—this time watching a rip of the disc rather than the disc itself—and, well, still struggled with it. Cos to be honest i hadn’t really been that grabbed by what I’d seen of the film already, and even after speeding through the film to pick up where I’d left off I was still finding it a slog. The source material is evidently a play by Dumas based on the life of the actor Edmund Kean, and when I say “based on” I mean that Kean in the play/film is a famous English actor prone to scandal and bad behaviour, like the real Kean, who had a career-ending on-stage meltdown, like the real Kean, and died a lot earlier than he should’ve done, like the real Kean. Otherwise I don’t know how much of the historical Kean is in this film, and I suspect not a lot. The DVD booklet notes puzzle over Mosjoukine’s presentation of Kean the actor, thinking it hardly measures up to Coleridge’s description of watching him being like “reading Shakespeare by flashes of light”. Personally I find that a meaningless statement that tells us nothing in particular about Kean the actor, but in any case the film’s not really interested in Kean the actor except insofar as being an actor gives him angst. As I’ve said, I found it hard going and I’m not sure if that’s down to the material or the handling of same; it was apparently designed as a big prestige project for the Albatros company, and it always feels that way, technically well-made but a bit airless and uninvolving, and vastly overlong at 141 minutes (much like the climactic death scene, which itself feels longer than the rest of the film). Not feeling the love I know other people have for it.

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