Rouben Mamoulian was a world-renowned director in the earlier half of the 20th century known for his technical innovations and revolutionary camera-work.
In November, as a part of a partnership with the Anthropology Museum of the People of New York and the Armenian Cultural Resource Center at Queens College, Mamoulian was showcased in a film festival event at the Museum of Moving Image in Astoria, the city where Mamoulian’s film “Applause” was shot.
On Nov. 7, what started as a red carpet event cascaded into a symphony of critically acclaimed films all weekend long such as “Love Me Tonight” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” taking Millenials down the less than familiar rabbit hole of early 20th century eerie plot sequences, good looks and timeless beauty.
In 1931, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a classic rendition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde almost a half a century earlier.
Not a word is spoken with the start the film as the screen crackles and pops. The whole room is dark and the cinema lights up as the cinema transforms into an incandescent beam of light.
The film begins with a close up of a perfectly proportioned masculine hand playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ in F Minor” on a Steinway grand piano.
The edges of the screen are faded to highlight one of Mamoulian’s greatest camera tricks of his era designed to allow him to slowly fade in and out of scenes.
Through each scene, Mamoulian takes the audience through a series of Mr. Hyde’s transformations of man to beast, until eventually the beast replaces him altogether. Each transformation gives the audience another systematic glance into the character’s disposition to society’s rules, outlines the very real responsibilities that plague many wealthy Americans and Europeans of that er, and the psychological ramifications that stem from them. Mamoulian allows the audience to understand the innate nature of human beings and their need to satisfy desires and urges without society’s constant lingering and disapproval.
Mamoulian films are known for their sex and seduction. The raw and unbridled sexual desire that runs rampant in his characters saturates virtually every scene. Though in his time, Mamoulian received many critics who believed this stark sexual behavior was recognizant not of the primal urges of a middle century American, but of a sexual deviancy that the director alone possessed.
Despite his many critics over the years, one never questioned Mamoulian’s ability to mold himself in such a way that constantly transcended new technicalities with each film that he created.
As Mamoulian’s films are presented big screen once more, and probably not the last, viewers can understand the transition from classic movies to today’s box office hits.