Still from Entr'acte (1924) by René Clair

René Clair’s silent film Entr’acte (1924), situated at the threshold between dadaism and surrealism, evolved as part of Relâche, a ballet in two acts by Francis Picabia. Erik Satie contributed the music to both the film and the ballet.

The film is organized into a short prologue (a cannon is aimed at the audience), which is shown before the curtain is raised at the beginning of the performance, and an intermediate act in a narrower sense, which is projected during the intermission. Satie and Picabia feature in the prologue—in addition to other important avant-garde artists of the period, such as Marcel Duchamp (chess game over the rooftops).

The film offers a confusing but fascinating variety of images: fighting boxing gloves are followed by a close-up shot of a man’s scalp, upon which wooden matches are dancing. A scratching hand can be seen, and after that a view from below of a ballerina dancing on a glass tabletop—who later proves to be a bearded man.

The film does not have a narrative structure, and thus corresponded with Picabia’s conviction that real sensual pleasures have nothing to do with explainable logic. The connections, which Clair carried out by means of recurring images, are unobtrusive (e.g., the brief cut-in at the very beginning of the film of an image from the later pursuit sequence). The death theme is hidden between fun and entertainment (closing the lid of the coffin in the first part, resurrection from the coffin at the end). The longest continuous passage is devoted to the pursuit of a hearse hung with sausages and being drawn by a dromedary. This pursuit begins in slow motion and gradually speeds up until, ultimately, all that one sees are treetops flashing by which dissolve into blurred spots.

The music by Erik Satie, entitled Cinéma, is his last composition. It was written for orchestra—which suggests itself, as it functioned as music for the interval in a ballet. However, there is also a version for two pianos. Briefly segmented, recurring elements—in general typical for film scores that anticipate cuts—are assembled into eight-bar, sometimes four-bar, rarely twelve-bar segments, which in turn repeat. The segments are organized into even-numbered subsegments. What is therefore striking is the irregularity (five plus two plus three plus two bars) when the paper ship (double exposure) lurches over the rooftops. Overall, what emerges, on the one hand, is the impression of a foundation, lacking development, to unite the images, and on the other hand, the feeling that the visual layer is organized when the musical segments change. For this syntactically structural function of his music, Satie used a stopwatch to divide the film into temporal segments,[1] and ten instructions written on the sheet music with respect to the focusing enabled him to synchronize the musical segments. This approach is particularly important for the waltz that accompanies the ballerina and for the funeral procession. Five of these segments are clearly marked through the addition of the introductory music. Different details with regard to dynamics and tempo, which result twice from the focusing instructions, are achieved through differentiation. At the end, the music heightens the impression of the speed of the images, which can no longer be accelerated visually. For this purpose, Satie uses decreasing note values and a heightening of the tempo, which measured by the visual layer had previously originated more slowly. The image and the score enhance each other to become one form. Entr’acte thus realizes the avant-garde idea of a synthesis of the arts.


  • original Title: Entr’acte
  • Date: 04.12.1924
  • Duration: 22′
  • Genre: Silent film

Silent film

Synchronized version (1968, Pathé) by Henri Sauguet. Sauguet became personally acquainted with Satie in 1923 at a meeting arranged by Darius Milhaud.

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