Siren of the Tropics

La sirène des tropiques
Directed by Henri Étiévant & Mario Nalpas (uncredited)
France / 1927
86 minutes / Silent / Black & White / Restoration / DCP

St. Louis' extraordinary Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra returns to the Classic French Film Festival to perform a newly created score for a classic silent.. Available only as a fragment for decades, “Siren of the Tropics” is Josephine Baker’s feature-film debut. Made in 1927, around the time St. Louisan Baker was making a Paris splash as a Folies Bergère star, “Siren” establishes the rags-to-riches, fairytale template from which her subsequent films would be cut. Baker plays Papitou, a free-spirited, animal-loving native girl who falls in love with Andre, a sophisticated young man who has been sent to the Parisian Antilles as a prospector. She is unaware that he is betrothed to another or that his work assignment is actually a perilous ruse concocted by his scheming boss. As the truth becomes known, Papitou finds herself pursuing Andre back to Paris, where fate intervenes. Will Papitou's new job as a music-hall performer (a natural role for La Baker) bring the romantic resolution she so desperately desires? Though silent, “Siren of the Tropics” abounds with musical energy, aided in no small part by Baker’s innate screen magnetism. The film contains perhaps her greatest dance work on celluloid, the frenetic “Charleston.”

Baker Reception

Intro and discussion by Pier Marton, video artist and self-described “Unlearning Specialist at the School of No Media.”

With new score and live accompaniment by the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra.