Tag Archives: Fantomas

On seductive villainry in Louis Feuillade serials;

With the voting for top 50 pre-1920’s films coming up on the Criterion Forum, I’ve been loading up on films from the era in the last month or so. There has been some genuinely wonderful discoveries including the early British films of James Williamson, Cricks and Martin, and Cecil Hepworth, and Maurice Tourneur‘s marvellous Le friquet (1913).

Oh and Judex (1916), more outstandingness from Louis Feuillade. A grand serial that despite not reaching the dizzying heights of Les Vampires (1914) manages to succeed smashingly by not even trying for the same tone. It’s much more sedate and leisurely in its pacing, but this is perhaps the serial’s greatest strength, as it gives the viewer the opportunity to know the characters inside-out. Judex struck me as a much more personal work than Les Vampires, likely due to the prevalant familial themes of the work. The serial is about the reconciliation and restoration of individuals through the restoration of family. Because of Feuillade’s choice to emphasize character over action these themes end up working very effectively, where they might have been lost otherwise.

I’m now tackling a less than stellar French/Flemish intertitled copy of Feuillade’s Tih Minh (1918), which has been made watchable by the introductory French class I’m taking. I am definitely missing out on some of the nuances, but am enjoying it nonetheless. The general plot has the famous explore D’Athy returning home to France with a new wife (Tih Minh) and a Hindu book that has caught the attention of the nefarious Kistna, a wealthy and mysterious turban wearing gent. Kistna along with his partner in crime La marquise Dolores (kind of a Musidora-lite) have the power to cast out the souls of women, reducing their victims to mute imbeciles whilst there souls wander the seas. Tih Minh becomes one of his victims, forcing D’Athy and his sidekick Placido to uncover Kistna’s secrets.

The film is a bit lacking in visual style, but Feuillade’s direction is sturdy enough, and there have been several very striking sequences, one in particular finds D’Athy and Placido discovering a cell containing dozens of Kistna’s victims…all young attractive woman dressed in white robes, pawing frantically at our heroes. It’s quite an evocative setting, almost like a madhouse. Tonally the film is quite different from the other Feuillade’s (Judex, Les Vampires, and Fantomas), as it the hero is not blessed with secret powers or even much in the way of smarts…he’s just as clueless as the audience. Kistna as a villain lacks the sparkle and charm of Fantômas, or Musidora’s various permutations, and as such he is much more of a pure bad guy. There’s nothing really to root for on his end, Dolores isn’t particularly interesting, and Kistna fits pretty nicely in the Warner Oland mold of fat-white guys in turbans planning to rule the world.

I think a great deal of my enjoyment of Feuillade’s serials is the seductive qualities of the villains, I know with all three I’ve ended up rooting for the villain over the hero. So Tih Minh is a much different experience, and in some ways a bit of a disappointment so far.

Either way I’d still give my right spleen for a DVD release.

On the 3 that got away (Or why I’ll never be free of “The List”)

As I talked about briefly here, I spent the better part of the last 2 and a half years working on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They 1000 Greatest Films list. I’ve virtually completed both 2007 and 2008 permutations and will probably plow through the 2009 update when it happens this December.

Anyway I thought I’d explain a bit about the 3 films that got away…or the films I just couldn’t find anywhere:

1. Tih Minh (Louis Feuillade, 1918)

This serial about anarchist gangs trying to run Paris (or at least I assume so…given the subject matter of Feuillade’s prior films Fantomas and Les Vampires…and the lack of synopsis anywhere). Feuillade is a wonderful filmmaker, full of fun and invention. Les Vampires is a fascinating and compelling film, and the film’s villainess Irma Vep (played with gusto by the oddly sexy Musidora) might be the first great female character in all of cinema. She’s smart, devious, charming, and well-rounded.

As for Tih Minh, I know very little about this film other than Feuillade is an awesome director and Jonathan Rosenbaum loves the shit out of it.

I will add that I do have an incomplete copy (it’s 350 minutes when it should be 410 or so) of this film that’s unsubbed (if only I could read French or Belgian)…maybe someday I’ll try and watch it. But I’ve learned that it’s better to wait sometimes and see a film in a relatively good form, rather than try and suffer through for completion’s sake.

The film was also left off the 2008 update.

Chances of an official DVD release: Good, as the French company Gaumont has release 3 of Feuillade’s serials, and a newly restored version of Tih Minh has been shown in the past few years. Though I might be like 50 when it happens. Gaumont is bloody slow.

2. The Art of Vision (Stan Brakhage, 1965)

Brakhage is possibly the most lauded and written about American avant-garde filmmaker. His career spanned almost 50 years, and his reputation is unquestioned.

This film is a 4.5 hour re-working of his earlier avant-garde film Dog Star Man, incorporating the same footage, but through looping it, re-editing, and using multiple projectors creating an intense and immersive experience (or boring I guess).

I’ve seen Dog Star Man…and it still resonates with me…the rhythm of the imagery still appears to me occasionally. Dog Star Man is readily available having been released on the Brakhage DVD set put out by Criterion a couple years ago.

Chances of an official DVD release: Almost nil. 4.5 hour avant-garde films just don’t have commercial prospects. Even by a name such as Brakhage, it’s just too long to release on DVD. Furthermore I don’t even know when this was last screened…it seems to be one of those pictures that gets screened every 10 years or so. I suppose I might be able to track down a print somewhere…but for the time being this one is out of reach.

3. Scenes From Under Childhood (Stan Brakhage, 1967-70)

Hey more Brakhage, this one is composed of 4 sections each about 45 minutes long. I don’t know much about the film or its content. I’m just going to assume there’s some flashing and disjointed images.

Chances of an official DVD release: Like 100%, my understanding is that there will be a second Brakhage collection put out by Criterion in the future and that Scenes… will be included. Fingers crossed.

So there you have it…the 3 films that will keep me searching.