Charleston Parade is a totally bonkers short silent film from Jean Renoir, a nutso little experimental showcase for the animalistic eroticism of his wife, Catherine Hessling. The short is set in the then-distant future of 2028, a time in which, apparently, Europe has descended into apocalyptic disrepair while Africa is ascendant, its people traveling in globe-shaped UFO-like vehicles that hover through the air. Johnny Huggins plays an African explorer visiting the wasteland of Paris in just such a ship, and encountering the local savage Hessling, clad in skimpy shreds of lingerie and leering at him with a frankly lascivious interest. The film's conceit is especially interesting for its era since it more or less reverses the typical depictions of black men and white women in films of the time. Huggins plays in minstrel makeup, his big white lips often the only part of his face that shows up in the low-contrast images, but the film's narrative has the white woman feverishly pursuing the frightened black man for a change. She chases him with abandon and even ties him to a lamppost. The film doesn't exactly overturn stereotypes — Huggins' performance is pure minstrel show slapstick — but it does place them front and center for examination.
None of which should imply that Charleston Parade is a serious work about race, stereotypes, or anything else. It is, more than anything, a deeply goofy, silly film, an opportunity for Hessling to really cut loose and for Renoir to indulge in some of his more playful sensibilities. The depictions of Hessling seducing Huggins by performing a rough, sensual Charleston dance are particularly fun, as Renoir subtly slows the images into a sinuous, snake-like motion as Hessling sways and wiggles, kicking her legs high and leaping into the air like a frog. At the climax, when Hessling and Huggins perform the dance together, the images become frenzied and wild, as Renoir cuts in shots of the dancers' feet as they twirl and encircle each other, their feet bouncing wildly around.
There's also a playful crudeness to many of the effects shots, from the opening model shots of the explorer's aircraft taking off to the inserts of "angels" portrayed as disembodied heads with small wings floating beneath them; Renoir himself appears among the angels at one point, mugging broadly. At one point, Hessling hears a phone ringing, so she draws a phone on the wall in chalk, and when she's finished an actual phone fades into view atop the drawing so she can answer it. Later, when she's preparing to leave, her coat and umbrella sashay along the ground towards her, the coat crawling up to wrap itself around her and the umbrella leaping into her waiting hand. There's an offhand magic to these rough shots that's charming; the same goes for Hessling's playmate, a man in a grotesque ape costume who dances the Charleston along with her and weeps when she's about to leave. These images reveal a spirit of play and weird humor in Renoir that would later manifest itself in his kindred spirit antiheroes like Boudu. Charleston Parade is an oddity from Renoir, but it's a compelling and enjoyable oddity.
Source : seul-le-cinema.blogspot.fr