Soul of the Cypress - #2 - Mystery Version - Interpolated explicit scenes - Dudley Murphy

Rental Format(s): Digital File

Explicit heterosexual content - black and white scenes added to unique 35mm color tinted-toned print.
Co-makers: Dudley Murphy and creators unknown
Original format: 35mm silent film 1.33:1
Featuring: Chase Harringdine
Music: Vintage Red Seal recording of Afternoon of a Faun by Claude Debussy
Courtesy: Library of Congress, Bruce Posner

"A second vintage copy of The Soul of the Cypress includes interpolated scenes depicting explicit content. The 35mm print surfaced as part of the films collected by San Francisco movie theater owner George Post, who donated the film to the American Film Institute. Beyond the sex depicted in 1919 camera rolls, a series of other comic images were added that joyously reinforce and comment upon the salacious nature of the addition. Today the placement of the mystery footage reads as a proto-post-Modernistic joke, especially ironic since the collage was made sometime after the original 1921 release and the mid-1930s when Post acquired the print." -Bruce Posner

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.

However, critic David E. James (Film Quarterly (2003, vol. 56, no. 3, pp. 25-31) notes that the Library of Congress' surviving print of the film includes a seemingly out-of-place epilogue that is basically pornographic in nature, featuring a naked woman and her lover (different actors to those playing the dryad and the musician) engaging in an explicit sexual act... James contends that the sequence ties in with the film's sexual allegory... -

Boston-born Dudley Murphy (1897-1968) was an engineering student, World War I pilot, and movie set decorator before launching his directing career with a series of evocative short films including the first American avant-garde film to be screened in New York City, The Song of the Cypress (1920). These musically driven experiments culminated in the jazz-infused Ballet Mecanique, and influenced his later Hollywood and independent features, including The Emperor Jones (1933). -Susan Delson

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