Results 1 to 3 of 3

Thread: Louis Feuillade, master of the serial

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Posts
    92

    Louis Feuillade, master of the serial

    It's hard enough to find feature-length silent films, so God help the reputation of the many directors who spent their careers working on the series of shorts which comprised cinema's earliest attempts at a lengthy narrative. Nevertheless, if you do get a chance to see any of these - as far as I'm aware, archive programmes and documentaries seem to be about the best chance, since even film festivals shy away from material of this antiquity - one name worth looking out for is Louis Feuillade, a man who directed a staggering seven hundred films, 340+ of which still survive in some form today.

    One of his earliest ventures was a satirical magazine called 'Les Tomate', and this acidic, anti-establishment style carried through to his work. He is most famous for two series. One was Fantomas, a collection of five feature-length films sometimes claimed as an inspiration for Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse and perhaps cinema's first cult franchise. Fantomas was a criminal of fluid, uncertain identity whose ability to escape detection bordered on the supernatural. One of the most chilling images of the era was this antihero, his face wrapped in a black shroud with eyeholes and a mouth hole crudely ripped into it, but with no face visible behind it. Another memorable image from this series is a wall leaking blood.

    The other major series of his life was Les Vampires, a long-running and hugely successful adventure detailing the accounts of the fetishistic cat burglar, jewel thief and gang leader Irma Vep. Once again, it mixed elements of gritty police procedural realism with high-flown fantasy, this time with a much stronger sexual element to it. Alas, the first sustained moral panic directed at cinema was kicking into gear around this time, prompted by the police throwing miles of 'obscene' film into the Seine in 1912. (Hilariously, they were later fined for illegal waste dumping) Feuillade was under fire for his aggressively amoral creations, and he replied with Judex, a new series whose hero was notionally on the side of the law.

    Feuillade's work has survived in many ways. He remains an inspiration for many directors, including Georges Franju (who remade Judex in 1963) and of course Oliver Assayas, whose 1996 homage Irma Vep features an excerpt from the relevant film series. Another source for the modern-day cinephile would be the work of the Surrealists. Andre Breton and Rene Magritte in particular were very attached to the transgressive qualities of Fantomas, with the latter painting many likenesses of the character throughout his career.
    Perfume V - he tries, bless him.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,824
    I learned a lot from your post. I have actually never seen the entire 7 hrs. of Vampires yet but hope to do so. I keep waiting for a cheap box in mint condition on sale on ebay but it hasn't happened. What I saw on cable I loved. Do you like Fantomas as much? Thanks.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Posts
    92
    Fantomas doesn't feel quite as developed as Vampires to me - it's pretty much just a crime serial of its era, with all the limitations that implies. But when the odd idiosyncratic touch comes through, it does remind you why you're watching this in the first place.

    It's odd that, as American movies swing more and more towards striking visual imagery above all other virtues, there isn't more interest in some of these shorts. I only found out about Feuillade through my interest in Magritte. It's possible that there could be a lot of directors even more talented than he was who we're just not hearing about.
    Perfume V - he tries, bless him.

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •