THE SOUL OF THE CYPRESS

by Dudley MURPHY
1920 / 35mm / tinted b&w / sound / 1S / 9' 28




The dryad (played by the director's wife, Chase Harringdine) is enchanted by the music of a young musician playing on the cliff-side, and she is released from her captivity within a cypress tree by his "Song of the Sea." With her clothing fluttering in the breeze, the dryad dances to the musician's side, who is equally entranced by her beauty and pursues the nymph when she takes flight. The dryad takes sanctuary inside a tree on the cliff-side, and whispers to the captivated musician that she can only be with him if he immortalizes himself through death. In Murphy's treatment of the ocean, there's a certain sexual allegory at play: the trees among which the dryad dances bear the phallic connotations implied by the work of early twentieth-century photographer Anne Brigman, who often framed naked women in a primordial environment among trees and boulders, there's a kind of naturalistic eroticism. Contrary to the film's intertitle, it's not love, but a more primal sexual attraction, that leads the young musician to throw himself from the cliff. — Andrew Katsis

“Shot at Point Lobos, California in 1920, Dudley Murphy’s first Visual Symphony was very well received when screened commercially in New York in 1921, establishing Murphy as one of the earliest avant-garde filmmakers in America. A pornographic coda [removed and not included in this version] was anonymously added sometime later, forming an intriguing commentary on its themes.” — David James

Music: Claude Debussy, "Afternoon of a Faun", vintage Red Seal recording.

1 PRINT IN DISTRIBUTION


distribution format Digital file on server (HD)
version restored version
notes Restored in 2001 with original music.
screen 4/3 (single screen)
speed 24 fps
sound sound
rental fee 40,00 €