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Marry Tran on Sous Les Toits de Paris (1930)

Sous les toits de Parisis a notable film in its relatively conservative and rather particular usage of sound, and in its romantic representation of Parisian life. Released in 1930, the film came two years after the introduction of sound into cinema. As such, it lies in an almost awkward position as an attempt to preserve the nature of silent cinema while incorporating some sound elements to enhance the power of the film, to appeal to a people familiar with theatrical aspects, and to demonstrate the possibilities available with the use of sound.


There are three main types of sounds utilized in the film: 1) spoken lines 2) object sounds 3) music.  Each form served specific purposes in strengthening the film’s power, despite the presence of music being the most prominent. It seemed that in maintaining the role of music in the film, Rene Clair was paying homage to the silent film industry.

Sound in this film was also used as a means of interrupting the audiovisual experience of the audience, bringing attention to a certain aspect. There were rather specific moments when the sound of an object would intercept and dominate the viewers’ auditory perceptions over music that was characteristic of silent cinema.


The sound of the clock striking midnight when Albert walks Pola in the streets, the ringing of the doorbell when Pola is locked out of her room, and the clock striking once more to demonstrate the time spent going back to Albert’s are all examples of the combination of an audiovisual experience that have been cleverly integrated into the narrative.

Other sound clips were used ironically as an overlay and play on the use of sound in cinema. The iconic fight scene in the movie was complimented by sounds of a passing train which was then interrupted by the sound of a bullet hitting a lamppost. This clever use of asynchronization proved the possibilities of sound in cinema.


The playful manipulation of sound can also be seen in the scene of Louis and Albert’s fight for Pola. At the climax of the fight, the music on the record seemed to be stuck, constantly repeating the same part over and over again. However, it seemed as if the record was still playing normally on the phonograph. This served as a statement on sound cinema and while providing a lighthearted atmosphere in the midst of a heavy scene.



Despite the unsynchronized usage of sound and limited speaking lines in the film, the songs in Under the Roofs of Paris assisted in supporting the idea of a romanticized Paris It seems that starting from the rooftops, Sous les toits de Parisaimed to display a glimpse of a romanticized reality – a bit of Paris in its industrial sector, to show that despite the roofs being full of industrial chimneys and smoke, THIS was as Paris as any other part of the city. From the simplicity and comedic elements of the plot, to its windows and rooftops, Sous les toits de Parisis one of possibly many romantic representations of Paris at the time. The particular choices made in the extent and means through which sound was used shows a respect to its silent predecessors but also makes a statement on the incorporation of sound in future cinema.

Marry Tran on Cabiria (1915)

Full of over-exaggerated actions, intense music, and informative intertitles, the film fulfills its role as a historic epic in its retelling of Rome’s victory against Carthage, thus evoking nationalist feelings from its Italian audience in the context of a recently won war in Libya.

Cabiriawas Pastrone’s attempt to create a historical epic film that was much more than its counterparts in all aspects. It can be argued that this film was a multi-faceted fusion between tradition and innovation in regard to Italian cinema. The film was the most ambitious and costly of its time, and after Cabiria, the production company, Itala Film, didn’t produce another similar project of that scale. Despite this, the film is still seen as a success.

A poster for the film shows the interior of the Temple of Moloch. Credits: 1

However, with the inventive movements of the camera, the designs of the massive sets, detailed costumes, and the creativity in the special effects and risky stunts, Cabiriabecame a product of its own genre.

The movement of the camera is a technique that is noteworthy in Pastrone’s film, as it was done in a way that showed depth in the set and implied the existence of space beyond the frame. The viewer is mainly brought closer to the subject being observed, as opposed to an artificial close-up often found in monstrative attractions. Even in the opening sequence, the camera displays the greatness in the set of Batto’s home in Sicily, slowly focusing on him as he walks into a different section of the house to his wife. Additionally, the characters enter the frame from various angles, usually from the side or from directly afar, further providing depth to the set of the film while showing the decadence in the set design.

The Temple of Moloch is one of the best examples in displaying the size of the sets used in the film.

The superimposition of photograms provided many great special effects throughout the film, including that of the eruption of Mt. Etna, the burning of the Roman fleet, and the final shot of the film. Arguably the most notable was that of where the images from Sophonisba’s dreams were superimposed directly above the resting Carthaginian noblewoman, as Elissa (Cabiria) the slave was working beside her.


In addition to the layering of photograms, the stunts seen in the film were very impressive. From Fulvio jumping off a huge cliff to escape the Carthaginians to the creation of a pyramid of Roman soldiers supported by their strength and shields, Pastrone succeeded in making his film filled with spectacular attractions.

As a film, Cabiria was unmatched by its predecessors in length, narrative qualities, set design, costumes, and special effects. Italy’s historical context at the time as well as the development of Italian cinema, particularly that of Italo Film, inspired the creation and success of the film. As such, it walked the line between past and present, tradition and innovation when it was released in 1914 and continues to be seen as such by scholars. For modern tastes, the film may seem too outdated in its over dramatic acting and intertitles as it was created before the introduction of sound in cinema. However, it can be seen why Cabiriais still discussed and studied in European cinema today