Saturday, November 7, 2015

Les Vampires (part I-V)

Les Vampires; silent crime, France, 1915; D: Louis Feuillade, S: Edouard Mathe, Marcel Levesque, Fernand Herrmann, Delphine Renot, Musidora

Part I: Philipe is a reporter who wants to expose a secret criminal organisation, the Vampires. His assistant at the newspaper is Mazamette. Philipe goes to a castle owned by Dr. Nox, and finds the decapitated head of an inspector there, whereas it turns out that the Vampires only disguised a man as Dr. Nox... part II: Philipe's girlfriend Marfa is killed by a ring because she performed on stage dressed in the uniform of the Vampires. Philipe is abducted, but saved by Mazamette, who wants to abandon the Vampire organisation...part III: Irma Vep, a member of the Vampires, disguises herself as a maid and works at Philipe's home, hoping to assassinate him. But she has to flee when he exposes her... Part IV: the Vampires kill Metadier in a train, hoping for Irma to take his money for him at a bank. However, another criminal, Moreno, finds Metadier's corpse and disguises himself as the latter, in order to get the money. Philipe exposes him... Part V: using a sleeping gas, the Vampires knock several guests at a party unconscious, and rob them.

Once regarded as a hyped and controversial hit that caused quite a stir during its premiere, the time was not kind towards Louis Feuillade's movie series "Les Vampires", which encompassed 10 parts with a total of six hours of running time. Today, the movies seem dated and mostly benign, since Feuillade directed them in a very conventional manner, and little to none inventive film techniques (for instance, there is even a scene in part I where a member of the Vampires descends from a roof down the stairs, in agonising three minutes without a cut), whereas the overlong running time exacerbates the overall impression and deteriorates it further. The only thing worth seeing in "Les Vampires" is the performance by Musidora, as the seductive villain Irma Vep, but, alas, since she appears for so little in the first five parts (she has a bigger role only in parts 3 and 4), and even less in her cool black suit (30 seconds in part V, whereas another actress plays her with "bat wings" on stage in part 2, which last for less than 60 seconds, anyway), the majority of the storyline is without highlights. As such an 'abridged version', it is an interesting find from the perspective of film history, whereas a few comical touches manage to live it up a bit (Mazamette gives a note that says how he is such a good undertaker, because "nobody from his customers ever complained"; Irma dressing up as an employee in the bank named Juliette, so the titles call her "pseudo-Juliette"), but it seems in neglected it potentials instead of using them as assets over the rather standard crime storyline.


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