Thursday, October 27, 2016

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0082 - FANTOMAS (Louis Feuillade, 1913, France, 314m, BW)



 

FANTOMAS 

(Louis Feuillade, 1913, France, 314m, BW)

 



Introduction


Fantômas (1913)

Directed by Louis Feuillade
Produced by Romeo Bosetti
Written by Marcel Allain
Louis Feuillade
Pierre Souvestre
Starring     René Navarre
Edmond Bréon
Georges Melchior
Renée Carl
Cinematography Georges Guérin
Distributed by     Gaumont
Release dates 9 May 1913
Total Running time - 337 minutes
Episode 1: 54 minutes
Episode 2: 62 minutes
Episode 3: 90 minutes
Episode 4: 60 minutes
Episode 5: 71 minutes
Country     France
Language Silent with French intertitles


Fantômas is a French silent crime film serial directed by Louis Feuillade, based on the novel of the same name. The five episodes, initially released throughout 1913-14, were restored under the direction of Jacques Champreaux and released in this new form in 2006.

The series consists of five episodes, each an hour to an hour and a half in length, which end in cliffhangers, i.e., episodes one and three end with Fantômas making a last-minute escape, the end of the second entry has Fantômas blowing up Lady Beltham's manor house with Juve and Fandor, the two heroes, still inside. The subsequent episodes begin with a recap of the story that has gone before. Each film is further divided into three or more chapters that do not end in cliffhangers.


Films

    Fantômas I: À l'ombre de la guillotine (Fantômas: In the Shadow of the Guillotine) (1913)
        Le Vol du Royal Palace Hotel (The Theft at the Royal Palace Hotel)
        La Disparition de Lord Beltham (The Disappearance of Lord Beltham)
        Autour de l'échafaud (By the Guillotine)




    Fantômas II: Juve contre Fantômas (Juve vs. Fantômas) (1913)
        La Catastrophe du Simplon-Express (Disaster on the Simplon Express)
        Au "Crocodile" (At the Crocodile)
        La Villa hantée (The Haunted Villa)
        L'Homme noir (The Man in Black)






    Fantômas III: Le Mort Qui Tue (The Murderous Corpse) (1913)
        Le Drame rue Novins (The Tragedy in Rue Novins)
        L'Enquête de Fandor (Fandor's Investigation)
        Le Collier de la princesse (The Princess's Necklace)
        Le Banquier Nanteul (The Banker Nanteul)
        Elizabeth Dollon
        Les Gants de peau humaine (The Human Skin Gloves)





    Fantômas IV: Fantômas contre Fantômas (Fantômas vs. Fantômas) (1914)
        Fantômas et l'opinion publique (Fantômas and Public Opinion)
        Le Mur qui saigne (The Wall that Bleeds)
        Fantômas contre Fantômas (Fantômas vs. Fantômas)
        Règlement de comptes (Getting Even)





    Fantômas V: Le Faux Magistrat (The False Magistrate) (1914)
        Prologue (The Theft at the Château des Loges)
        Le Prisonnier de Louvain (The Prisoner of Louvain)
        Monsieur Charles Pradier, juge d'instruction (Charles Pradier, Examining Magistrate)
        Le Magistrat cambrioleur ( The Burglar Judge)
        L'Extradé de Louvain (The Extradited Man)





Cast

    René Navarre as Fantômas aka Gurn, Tom Bob and many other aliases
    Edmund Breon as Inspector Juve
    Georges Melchior as Jérôme Fandor, reporter for the Capital newspaper and Juve's collaborator
    Renée Carl as Lady Beltham, Fantômas' mistress
    Jane Faber as Princesse Danidoff
    Volbert as Valgrand
    Naudier as Nibet
    Maillard as Valgrand's dresser
    Yvette Andréyor as Josephine


Reception

Fantômas was enormously popular upon its release in France, and made Navarre, who played Fantômas, an overnight celebrity. In a rave review from a 1914 issue of the French journal Chronique cinématographique, critic Maurice Raynal wrote that "There is nothing in this involved, compact, and concentrated film but explosive genius."

In his contemporary critical review of the Fantômas serial, Peter Schofer notes that contrary to some modern understandings of the series, Fantômas was not interpreted by its audience as a suspense film. Based on a previously published and widely read newspaper serial, audiences of the time were already extensively familiar with the plot, characters, and outcome of the story, making the film much more about how the story might develop as opposed to what might happen next.


Review

Fantomas was produced in 1913, nearly 100 years ago at the time of this writing. You can certainly see from a technical standpoint how far movies have come since it was made, but at the same time you can see how in terms of narrative, stories really haven't changed all that much.  It also goes to show that cranking out sequels is nothing new. Five Fantomas movies were produced in France by Gaumont studios from 1913 to 1914, of which this is the first.  They were based upon a popular book series of the day.  Part of what makes them unique is that their title character is a ruthless villain.  It would be similar to the Sherlock Holmes books being written from Moriarty's point of view, or the James Bond movies filmed from Blofeld's perspective.

The movie opens with Fantomas robbing a Princess of her pearl necklace and 120,000 Francs in her hotel room.  A master of disguise, Fantomas escapes by disguising himself as a bellboy, but not before leaving his trademark, blank business card upon which slowly appears the single word, Fantomas. Later, when Lord Beltham goes missing, Inspector Juve is assigned to the case.  Juve and his sidekick, Fandor, a newspaper reporter, suspect that Fantomas may be involved and set out to track him down.  They become Fantomas's nemesis throughout the series.

Like a lot of movies of the period, the camera never moves during a shot.  Each scene is filmed like a play with very few edits during each of them.  Despite this, there is often a lot of movement going on, particularly during the opening robbery in the hotel as people run around trying to figure out what happened. The movie also makes good use of letters and telegrams to tell the story.  When Juve is assigned to the case, rather than having a title card appear explaining that he was the detective on the case, the news is given to him by a telegram shown on the screen.  It helps the flow of the story move along better than the cards do because you aren't taken out of the scene. By today's standards of course this movie is very crude, but you can certainly see how for the time it would have been enjoyable and indeed, even now there are things to like about it.  The character of Fantomas is intriguing and you can see why his stories were so popular and why they keep being revisited.


Fantômas – in the Shadow of the Guillotine (1913)

This early French feature kicked off a series of popular “Fantômas” crime films. Here, the cunning criminal steals from and murders members of the nobility in a posh hotel, escaping despite all security precautions and leaving a mysterious calling card. He is pursued by the brilliant Inspector Juve of the Surete, but manages to stay one step ahead of him through his exploits. Unlike American thrillers of the time, the filmmakers increase the suspense by not giving away the identity of the criminal right off. Once it does happen, though, the action shifts to his daring plan to escape from police captivity and a death sentence. Fantômas appears to me to be a kind of anti-hero, someone the audiences rooted for in spite of themselves, because he was so subtle and sly, and ultimately charming, even though he put hurt innocent people for his own selfish ends. The DVD from Kino includes a powerful orchestral score, which at times threatens to drown out the silent action on the screen, but does add to the watchability, in general. The director, Louis Feuillade, made hundreds of films in the 1900s and teens (including “Les Vampires” and “Judex“), many of which are blessed with considerable cinematic vision.


Fantômas Contre Fantômas (1914)

This century film is the fourth installment in the long-running French “Fantômas” serial by Louis Feuillade (who also made “Les Vampires” and “Judex“). In it, the master criminal Fantômas manages to frame Inspector Juve, his one serious rival, and masquerades as an American detective called “Tom Bob” (a Frenchman’s idea of an American name if there ever was one). One scene takes place at a masquerade ball, with no less than three men dressed up as Fantômas – the real Fantômas kills one of the false Fantômases while under observation by the third. Another key scene involves a body sealed up in plaster, whose presence is revealed when a workman hammers a nail into the wall, only to release a stream of blood.  The French fascination with Poe seems to come out clearly in that sequence. The serial set the standards for future serials, both in terms of straining credulity for narrative effect and in terms of the structure of capture-escape-and-recapture, with the tables being constantly turned between hunter and hunted. Interestingly, these films, and the books on which they were based, would later serve as iconographic touchstones for the Surrealist movement, in part because of the incoherence of the plots.


Juve vs Fantômas (1913)

This episode begins with a brief re-cap of the previous one, establishing that Inspector Juve continues his hunt for Fantômas with the aid of the reporter Fandor. They follow a woman believed the be connected, and Fandor manages to be on the scene when Fantômas’s gang holds up a railway car to get the money being transported by her lover, a bank agent. Unfortunately, he doesn’t prevent Fantômas from wrecking a train or getting away. Juve and Fandor both get messages leading them to a dockside warehouse, and shoot at each other, each mistaking the other for Fantômas. Then, the real gang springs up from behind barrels and starts shooting at them. The gang sets fire to the barrels and leave them to burn, but Juve and Fandor get into an unlit barrel and roll into the water, swimming away to safety.

They make another attempt to arrest him when he meets the woman at a club called “The Crocodile,” but Fantômas escapes by putting on false arms, and running away as they lead him to a police car, leaving them holding his arms! He then returns to the Crocodile and finishes his evening in peace. Next, Fantômas makes contact with Lady Beltham, his lover from the previous movie, and they begin meeting at her now abandoned estate. Juve and Fandor put on disguises and take a tour of the place, posing as prospective buyers. They figure out a way to hide in a heating duct and listen in on Fantômas and Beltham. They learn that Fantômas plans to kill Juve in four days time with his “silent executioner.” This makes Juve think of a crushed body from an earlier case, so he takes the precaution of putting on armor with nails sticking out that makes him look like a middle-aged member of Immortal. Sure enough, when the boa constrictor enters through the conveniently open window, it is unable to get a crushing grasp and leaves in defeat. Now, Juve and Fandor bring a contingent of policemen to the estate and try to catch Fantômas, who eludes them by hiding in a cistern and breathing through a bottle with no bottom. While Fantômas’s worst plans have not paid off, he remains at large.


The False Magistrate (1914)

A master criminal is helped to escape from prison by the very man who has been hunting him down and then uses his powers of disguise to become a respectable representative of law and order while his foe languishes behind bars. This final installment in the famed serial by Louis Feuillade is an exercise in reversals, deception, and brilliantly tortured logic. At the beginning of the movie, Fantômas is incarcerated in a Belgian prison at Louvain, but that doesn’t stop his gang from robbing a Marquis who tries to sell his wife’s jewels. The gang gets away with the jewels and the proposed payment, an amount totaling 500,000 francs. Juve is convinced that Fantômas will remain a menace until he is caught by the French police and executed for his crimes, so he hatches a plan to help Fantômas escape! He visits Belgium in the guise of an Austrian inspector of prisons and smuggles in a prison guard’s uniform for him to wear, then takes his place while Fantômas lets himself out of the prison.

Fantômas, not knowing who his benefactor was, takes no chances on the way home. He takes a side-trip to England, where he gives the policemen on his tail the slip, and manages to accost and kill a French Magistrate in a baggage car. Since he now has access to his makeup kit, Fantômas disguises himself like the Magistrate and takes his place in the city of Saint-Calais. Here, he contacts his gang and finds out that they have hidden the jewels in the local church. Fantômas intercepts a letter from the Marquise (the Marquis’s wife) to her lover, saying that she hopes to be free to remarry soon, and he uses this knowledge to frame her for the Marquis’s murder when he inhales gas from the heater in his room during a nap. He blackmails her and tells her to bring him another 500,000 francs. Now, he goes to retrieve the jewels, which are in a bell tower. He sends his henchman up to get them out, then snatches away the ladder, leaving the man trapped in the bell. But, Fantômas discovers that the jewels were not in the case that had been tossed to him.

At the Marquis’s funeral, of course, the church bells are rung, and the congregation gets a surprise: “Pearls, diamonds, blood…” rain down from the bell tower. Because of his trusted position, the jewels are turned over to the Magistrate. He is also able to get the cash, which he knows that his lackey has turned over to the Marquise’s maid, by having her hauled in on a false charge and searched by the police. At this point, Fandor the journalist has shown up and he quickly finds a clue to Fantômas’s identity. He arranges for the man in Louvain prison to be extradited to Saint-Calais (evidently Juve has been in prison all this time – that’s dedication for you!). Fantômas tries to have his henchmen kill Juve, but they are tricked by Fandor and arrested. Fantômas the Magistrate has no choice but to sentence them. However, he gets his blackmail money shortly thereafter and is ready to make his escape, but the prosecutor, having met with Juve, now orders that he stay in his office. Fantômas summons the head of the prison and gives him a secret order. Then he takes off his disguise and confronts Juve. Juve has him arrested; however at midnight the warden releases him, in line with the orders he received from the Magsitrate, which affirm that the man held as Fantômas is really Inspector Juve!

And so the series ends as it begins, with Fantômas on the loose once again. This movie is different from the other Fantômas episodes in one notable way: it is truly Fantômas’s movie. We see Juve only briefly at the beginning and end, and there’s even less for Fandor to do. The emphasis has shifted entirely away from the pursuit of Fantômas to the pleasure of watching him unfold and enact his bizarre and brilliant plans. And yet he is never truly successful – the money he worked so hard to steal is recovered at the end – although of course he thwarts the law’s desire to protect society from his return. At no point during this movie does Fantômas don his famous black mask, which is interesting as well. He is visible to us, and thus possible for us to identify with, throughout the film. René Navarre, the actor who portrays him, also shows off his makeup skills in the Magistrate-disguise, but you can still recognize his distinctive nose and some idiosyncratic body language when he plays the part. Fantômas is human to us, at least, throughout the film.

The other fascinating part of this movie is the reversals I mentioned at the outset. Throughout this series, there has been a changing of roles: is Juve the hunter or the hunted, Fantômas the pursuer or the pursued? But now this has been taken to a new extreme: Fantômas becomes the enforcer of law while Juve is held in prison. Wonderful! It was exactly this kind of subversion of the concepts of authority and identity that made this series, as well as the novels it was based upon, beloved of the Surrealists in later years. There’s an element of this in Fantômas’s original escape as well: none of the guards notice that he’s the man they’ve been guarding  as he walks out of the prison, they don’t even look at his face, all they see is the uniform of a guard. Meanwhile, no one notices that Juve, in the cell, looks nothing like the man they had there yesterday: they don’t look at him either, only the uniform of the prisoner.


The Murderous Corpse (1913)

While Fantômas may not meet a strict definition of “horror movie,” the crime serial undeniably influenced the imagery and methods of later horror directors, and titles like “The Murderous Corpse” certainly evoke the conventions of the later genre. The movie begins by catching us up on the series, telling us that Fantômas (played by René Navarre) destroyed the villa in which he had been hiding, hoping to kill those who were pursuing him, but, of course, the heroic Fandor (Georges Melchior) escaped with minor injuries, from which he recovers in the hospital. Juve (Edmund Breon) is missing and presumed dead. We see a criminal gang at work smuggling, and then Fantômas murders a baroness, cleverly framing the artist Dollon (André Luguet) for the crime. Dollon is mysteriously murdered in prison, but not before the police make a big production of taking his fingerprints and other physical data. Fantômas, with the help of a bribed guard, then removes the body from the prison. This makes it all the more baffling when the dead man’s fingerprints are found at other crime sites! In Juve’s absence, Fandor continues to investigate on his own, while a mysterious lowlife named Cranajour seems to take an odd interest in him, all the while working with the gang of Mother Toulouche, who is clearly in cahoots with Fantômas somehow.

Meanwhile (everything in a Fantômas movie is happening “meanwhile”), the banker Nantauil shows up at an important society dance and creeps around the house until he is alone with the hostess, princess Davidoff (Jean Faber), knocking her out with chloroform and stealing her valuable pearl necklace – Nantauil is just another disguise of the master of crime, Fantômas! Naturally, he leaves one of Dollon’s fingerprints on the lady’s neck as a clue, leading to the first indication that a dead man is now a criminal mastermind. Renée Carl, as Lady Beltham, again appears, seeking an audience with the banker Nantauil, and is instructed to transport two pearls and the necklace, using them to attempt to get a ransom from Thomery (Luitz-Morat), the princess’s fiancée. This turns out to be another ruse, allowing Fantômas to murder Thomery, leaving behind another false fingerprint. Meanwhile (once again), Elizabeth, the sister of the dead man (Fabienne Fabrèges) has found a note which appears to outline Fantômas’s insidious plan, and of course she’s being stalked for it. Will Fandor save her? Will inspector Juve be found? Will we learn the secret of Cranajour? Will the police ever figure out how Fantômas has set up the corpse of Dollon?

Well, if you’ve made it this far, you probably know that the answers to all of those questions is, “yes.” trick of making gloves from a dead man’s hands is probably one of the more believable ones Fantômas uses in the series. Cranajour is, of course, Juve in disguise, and for once he actually does look pretty different under the makeup. Fantômas and his gang are able to kill several people and steal a necklace, but overall their operations are curtailed by the good guys, while still allowing him to escape and continue the series another day. This episode is quite long, as long as a standard feature film is today, which is quite a change from the shorter episodes I’ve been seeing from “Les Vampires” lately.

Louis Feuillade worked at the great French movie studio Gaumont, making dozens upon dozens of films, of all different stripes. He made comedies, historical films, "realist" films, and even a series of films with child stars, such as "Bout de Zan." But out of his 700 or so films, his reputation rests mainly on his lengthy crime serials, including Les Vampires (1915), Judex (1916), Tih MinhFantômas (1913). These remarkable films were among the first to employ location shooting, and to use a sustained, intertwining plot that lasted for more than a couple of reels. They also perfected the use of the cliffhanger and the maintaining of suspense; D.W. Griffith had learned how to create thrills with his cross-cutting, but Feuillade slowed this down and stretched it out for a richer and deeper experience. His techniques would later be passed on to Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, and many others.

The movie is also notable for the fact that its main character, Fantômas (René Navarre), is a villain, pure and simple. He has no other motivation other than evil and greed. He has no family, no conscience, and no redemption. The movie simply marvels at his uncanny skill in doing bad things. This movie could never be made today with our "moral police" demanding that every criminal find either redemption or death. The next two characters are police inspector Juve (Edmund Breon) and newspaperman Fandor (Georges Melchior), who are good friends and who work tirelessly together to bring down the bandit. Various plot threads include Fantômas seducing and blackmailing the upper-crust Lady Beltham (Renée Carl), killing an artist and using the artist's fingerprints to commit more crimes, and stealing the identity of a powerful judge. There are many escapes and disguises, my favorite one being "Tom Bob," the detective from America (he has a business card that reads "Tom Bob, Détective Américain").




Louis Feuillade

(born Feb. 19, 1873, Lunel, France - died Feb. 25/26, 1925, Nice)

Feuillade was a motion-picture director whose internationally popular screen serials were the most influential French films of the period around World War I. Feuillade was a journalist who began his cinema career in 1906 as a scriptwriter. He soon was directing short adventure films. Fantômas (1913–14; Master of Terror), Feuillade's first serial, established his popularity in both France and the United States. Its swift-moving, intricate plot features a series of thrilling episodes involving clever disguises, trapdoors, kidnappings, hairbreadth escapes, and rooftop chases. It was followed by Les Vampires (1915), which centres on a group of criminals. Despite allegations that it glorifies crime, the film was a huge hit, and it became one of Feuillade's most influential works. Judex (1916) and La Nouvelle Mission de Judex (1917–18; “The New Mission of Judex”) feature Judex, the daring detective with the sweeping black cape, a righter of wrongs who was the prototype of many future film heroes. The tremendous success of these pictures saved the French film industry, which had been threatened by competition from foreign imports.

Feuillade was chief director for Gaumont Studios, 1907-1925. He directed over 800 films and helped to establish Gaumont as France's second largest film studio, after Pathé Frères. Feuillade is highly praised among film critics for the "fantastic realism" of his crime serials, among which Fantômas and Les Vampires are the best remembered. Louis Feuillade was born on February 19, 1873, in the small village of Lunel (Hérault) near the French Mediterranean. A political monarchist and devout Catholic, Feuillade had little enthusiasm for the French Third Republic. As a young man, he joined his father and brothers as a wine merchant. When the family business fell on hard times after the death of his father, Feuillade became a journalist and moved to Paris. In 1905, he was approached by Gaumont's secretary, Alice Guy, and asked to write film scenarios. By 1907, "boss" Léon Gaumont made Feuillade chief studio director in Paris, and in Nice after 1918, a position which Feuillade held until his premature death in 1925.

One of France's leading directors during the early silent film era, Feuillade was producing nearly 80 films a year by the eve of the Great War of 1914. Feuillade made films in all genres, including comedy (Bébé, Bout-de-Zan), "slice of life" realist dramas (La vie telle qu'elle est), historical epics (Promethée, L'Agonie de Byzance), and serial melodramas (L'Orpheline, Parisette). In competition with Pathé's popular serial, Les Mystères de New York, starring the renowned American actress Pearl White, Feuillade made a number of crime serials for Gaumont, including Fantômas (1913-14), Les Vampires (1915-16), Judex (1917), La Nouvelle mission de Judex (1917), Tih Minh (1918), and Barrabas (1919).

Feuillade's genius is simply measured: he saw that it was possible to achieve intense photographic naturalism and yet convey an imaginative experience of the world. Thus his films still involve audiences. They respond to the startling contrast of the mundane and the unexpected; and they are intrigued by the relentless criminal organizations in Fantômas and Vampires [1915]. All the roots of the thriller and suspense genres are in Feuillade's sense that evil, anarchy, and destructiveness speak to the frustrations banked up in modern society... As Alain Resnais has said, "...Feuillade's cinema is very close to dreams—therefore it's perhaps the most realistic." Not only has Feuillade's pregnant view of grey streets become an accepted normality; his expectation of conspiracy, violence, and disaster spring at us every day.

Feuillade managed this alertness despite all the impediments of the age: he was the son of a civil servant; educated at a Catholic seminary; four years in the cavalry. He worked as a journalist and ran a magazine before he began to submit scripts to Gaumont [Studios]. His energy was prodigious and when Alice Guy left Gaumont for New York he took her place as artistic director. He plunged into his serials and in a directing life of less than twenty years produced more than seven hundred films, despite service in the French army in 1915 and a wound sufficient for a discharge.

Fantômas and the Vampires were criminal gangs [sic] intent on gaining material and psychological power over a decadent bourgeoisie. Their names show how far they are destructive angels, dreaded and craved by their victims. And Feuillade's inventiveness—of plot, action, and visual revelation—has exactly the same inspiration as the gang's plans: a cheerful contempt for society that gains as much from Anarchism as it looks forward to Dada and Surrealism...It is worth emphasizing that, at the time, Vampires alarmed the authorities. The serial was briefly banned and Judex [1917] was Feuillade's attempt to reassure the trembling bourgeois. Tih Minh [1918], however, returns to organized malice, with the remnants of the Vampires in Nice planning world destruction, with England as first target.

The best-made efforts in the master-mind genre do heat my blood—but because they arouse my love of narrative invention and dazzle me with flourishes of cinematic style. The conventions of the genre, all the disguises and elaborate schemes and surprising revelations engineered by the Genius behind the scenes, the cascades of coincidence and the hairbreadth escapes, aren’t merely enjoyable in themselves. They show how little plausibility matters to storytelling. (People may say they like realism, but they’re suckers for far-fetched stories.) And in order to make the whole farrago of traps and conspiracies flow along, you need filmmakers who can hold our interest with swift pacing and ingenious narration. On many occasions, depicting virtuosity of crime has called forth virtuoso cinematic technique.

So let Fantômas make your flesh creep, if your flesh is creepward inclined. But even if it’s not, we should celebrate Louis Feuillade’s triumph in creating, in the first great era of filmmaking 1908-1918, a fine piece of cinematic storytelling. To appreciate it, we need to watch—really watch—what he’s doing. Thirty-two Fantômas novels by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre were published from 1911 through 1913. By the time Feuillade launched the film version in May of 1913, the book cycle was winding down; in La Fin du Fantômas (1913), the master criminal dies, at least for a while. Souvestre died in 1914, but the prodigious Allain revived the series and the villain during the 1920s.

When the films were made, Feuillade was working for Gaumont, one of the two most powerful French studios. He was head of production, overseeing other directors while turning out his own movies at a rapid clip. He signed over fifty films, mostly one-reel shorts, in 1913 alone. The Fantômas films are often thought of as a serial, but they are really long installments in a series, somewhat like our Bond and Bourne franchises. A “feature” film at the period might run fifty to seventy-five minutes. As with our franchises, there are recurring characters. The films pit police inspector Juve and the journalist Fandor against Fantômas and his accomplices, notably the treacherous but passionate Lady Beltham. Feuillade was one of the great directors. He had a fine comic touch, not only in the shorts featuring child players like Bébé and Bout de Zan but also in farcical two-reelers like Les Millions de la bonne (The Maid’s Millions, 1913). His dramas could be powerful too, epitomized for me in the two-part feature Vendemiaire (1919) and sentimental melodramas like Les Deux Gamines (1921) and Parisette (1922). Still, he’ll probably always be most famous for his crime films like Les Vampires (1915-1916), Judex (1917), Tih Minh (1919), and of course the first of them, Fantômas.

The films themselves are still hard to see; only good anarchists have preserved Feuillade. [Good anarchists and Gaumont Studios, which fully restored all of the serials discussed here for the 1995 centenary of the birth of cinema.] The serials run between four and six hours, and they are dreamlike if only because of the endlessly regenerating plots. The action is hallucinatory, but the images are astonishingly concrete...Tom Milne has acclaimed the moment in Fantômas when a character in a box at the theater is shown conceiving an idea—to use the actor onstage as Fantômas to replace the real one in jail—in the same shot as we see the [actor on] stage behind her. It is this immediate appetite for the real world and the stirring up of fantastic events that makes Feuillade the most serious of the pioneers. He foresaw that people who went into the dark to participate in stories, no matter how sophisticated their world, were still primitive creatures.

...

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