Louis Feuillade, le Maître du cinéma
November 8, 2004 5:15 PM   Subscribe

Detailing the impossible. Louis Feuillade made more than 800 films covering almost every contemporary genre: historical drama, comedy, realist drama, melodrama, religious films. However, he was most famous, or infamous, for his crime serials: Fantômas (1913-14), Les Vampires, Judex (1916), La Nouvelle Mission de Judex (1917), Tih-Minh (1918) and Barrabas (1919). Critics panned his crime films, often savagely, because the preoccupation of French critics and film-makers in the 1910s and 20s was to elevate cinema -– and, ironically, back then the French saw their own films as lacking the artistry and sophistication of American ones, by Griffith or DeMille – to the level of art. It was years before Feuillade's films escaped the label of aesthetic backwardness. Now, critics have realized that what Feuillade has done is to offer us an alternative cinematic mode to Griffiths', one that continues in updated variants throughout cinema. It is predicated on a principle of uncertainty, that questions our understanding of the real. It is as fluid and elusive a tradition as a cat burglar, dressed in black on a night-time rooftop.
posted by matteo (7 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Film director and former Cahiers du Cinema critic Olivier Assayas has shot a wonderful hommage to Feuillade, Irma Vep. It is also a love letter to Maggie Cheung's eyes

excellent Irma Vep review here:

In "Irma Vep," shot in 16 mm on a tiny budget, Assayas affirms that for viewers and filmmakers alike, movies are still worth believing in -- that the very lunacy of trusting in their significance is just as brave and extravagant an act as actually going out and making one yourself. When the screen finally goes black, when Cheung as Irma Vep is lost to us forever, we feel almost broken. The thief has struck again, and for a moment, it's too much to bear: Go ahead -- take another little piece of my heart now, baby. The secret, though, is to hang on, because the most miraculous part comes after the lights go up. That's when you assess the damage, and you realize just how much you still have left.

posted by matteo at 5:22 PM on November 8, 2004 [1 favorite]

I'm seen a little of Vampires and was amazed--such atmosphere and so advanced for the time. I could totally see how he influenced the Germans of the next decades (Lang's M and others...).
posted by amberglow at 6:01 PM on November 8, 2004

Thanks for the great link, matteo.

Fantomas was the main inspiration of 20th Century Belgian painter Rene Magritte, according to Robert Hughes in his groundbreaking TV series and book The Shock of the New. According to Hughes:

"The first characteristic of Magritte's work was dread -- sometimes at the harsh, schematic level of the silent movies he doted on. The main cinematic influence on Magritte was Louis Feuillade's five-part serial Fantomas (1913-14), whose roster of fans also included Apollinaire and Picasso, along with the rest of Magritte's Surrealist colleagues.

"Feuillade's detectivers in bowler hats, gravely pursuing the invincible black shadow through the salons, corridors, and rooftops of Paris, made an endelible imprint on Magritte, and they may well be the origin of his later images of expressionelss businessmen.

"The high degree of stylization in Feuillade's films (furniture arranged frontally to the screen, little or no camera movement) gave the utmost contrast to the bizarre actions they depicted; and this, too , was echoed in the formal solemnity with which Magritte's work set forth its paradoxes. A hunter with gun and bandolier puts his hands against a wall and is horrified to find it sunk (or sucked) into the brickwork. A pair of boots ends in real toes: a fossilization of life, or an awakening of leather?"

Some of Magritte's work is here.
posted by F4B2 at 6:15 PM on November 8, 2004

Sorry, I copied the wrong Magritte art link above, there are no links to paintings at the above link; try this one instead.
posted by F4B2 at 6:19 PM on November 8, 2004

Ahh, La Cheung. Well posted!
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:51 PM on November 8, 2004

What a great post. I'm in my fourth year of film studies and I'd never heard of him.
posted by SoftRain at 7:42 PM on November 8, 2004

Fantômas made a comeback in the sixties, in a series of films with Jean Marais and Louis de Funès.
posted by muckster at 8:11 PM on November 8, 2004

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