Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Les Vampires

Les vampires, 1915
Dir: Louis Feuillade

I don't mean to be nonchalant or even dismissive of really old films (I've have been quite impressed by some of them as you well know), but you really, really have to be going out of your way to watch them. Which, of course, I am. Les vampires, a 10 part French serial, is not easily overlooked because it is at the beginning of many traditions: gangsters/international crime capers and the film serial, or what we would today think of as an extended drama, say an HBO show or your great film trilogies or what have you. It wasn't the first one, but definitely the most ballyhooed. Despite all the acclaim, it is still a job to sit through, and at 400 minutes in total length, way too much for the casual modern viewer. So what is this exactly? Well, it's 10 episodes (which would have been shown separately) concerns Guèrande (Edouard Mathé), a journalist who is trying to uncover the truth about a mysterious society of anarchist gangsters who call themselves "Les vampires." Journalist? So this is Tin Tin circa 1915? Pretty much. There are a lot of pioneering things, like deep-focus shots, wacky stunts, car chases, assassination attempts (you know, all the good stuff), which are, truthfully, pretty tame (unless of course you can give it the benefit of the doubt and go, "Wow, in 1915? That's crazy!" But after 300 get the point). The most interesting thing about this has to be the public's reaction to it in 1915. As a piece of pure escapism, it was a smash hit because it was released during the height of WW1, but it was almost banned because of the way it glorified gangsters, particularly the femme fatal Irma Vep (Musidora). "Irma Vep" is an anagram of what? Oh, you clever Frenchies.

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