First-person movie with barely-seen narrator/protagonist. It’s kind of an essay film about revisiting the city where he grew up after being gone thirty years, noting the changes. But it’s also an interesting new thing – a noirish murder/mystery played out mostly in audio, with the visuals in the same style as the essay-documentary sections, almost as if the footage was shot and then the filmmakers belatedly decided to make a completely different kind of movie.

Guerra da Mata:

We do have several references, like from Josef von Sternberg’s film Macao … One of the first shots of our film is a travelling shot by boat, like in the beginning of the Sternberg film. We liked the idea of having documentary images introducing a plot that was actually shot in a Hollywood studio.

Rodrigues: “And we decided to do the opposite: inventing a plot mostly shot with documentary images.”

A couple of lipsync musical performances (one in the opening, presumably performed by noir-figure Candy, another in the middle by a canal boater) help tie the threads together. Unexpectedly, the noir story ends up involving a bird cage containing a Kiss Me Deadly-style glowing secret (it turns people into animals). So I followed the movie with pleasure, though after the fact I think I admire it more than love it.

Things I didn’t get because I don’t know my film history: Candy was performing Jane Russell’s song from the movie Macao in the introduction. This gets discussed in the film itself for us clueless types, as does some Macao history – it was occupied by the Portuguese for centuries then handed over to China in 1999.

Second appearance of Astro Boy today, after spotting him in Yi Yi. First movie I’ve seen by either of these Joãos, who also made To Die Like a Man and The Ornithologist together.

Great interview in Cinema Scope. They got funding for a Macao documentary then decided to make something else based on Guerra da Mata’s memories of living there, but they still only had the budget of a documentary.

Rodrigues:
“We wanted our film to be playful, and I think that this is a really wide range: Chris Marker, James Bond, film noir … sci-fi.”


Alvorada Vermelha / Red Dawn (2011)

I think the directors mentioned that making this short led to Macao, so I had the bright idea of watching them together. No spoken words, opens with a shot of a high-heeled shoe on the road, which could easily be from the other film (which also opens with a shoe close-up), and both movies share a glimpsed mermaid character… but for the most part, this is a documentary set inside a slaughterhouse where lots of fishes and chickens are killed and cut up, thus it’s kinda no fun to watch.

A straightforward journey film. Vargas is released from prison, then rides and walks and canoes to deliver a letter to his friend’s wife and to find his own daughter, slaughtering a goat on-camera along the way.

Final moments alive for this goat:

I’d read that Alonso’s first three features were more realistic than the crazy-looking Jauja (also a journey movie where a solitary man looks for his daughter) and was afraid they’d be a drag to watch, but I needn’t have worried. Wish the DVD had looked better, though.

Quintín on the opening:

Alonso went on location with a cameraman and shot a scene – actually, one long take – of the main character holding a knife in his hand, leaving behind the bodies of his dead brothers: a mysterious, intriguing sequence with sophisticated camera movements and a sense of tragedy. The blood theme was there, as were the dead of the title. It was a highly remarkable, virtuoso shot. And a shot that made money. Shown to foundations, producers, sales agents and TV buyers, this homeopathic sample allowed the movie to be finished.

Deserved winner of the Palm Dog at Cannes. Truly, the dogs were great. However I was frustrated and confused by the rest of the movie, which was relentless misery until the climactic explosion of dog vengeance. The movie has been compared to Au Hasard Balthasar, but it’s maybe closer to I Spit On Your Grave.

Girl is abandoned by her mom to live with her shitty dad for the summer. She is devoted to her dog Hagen, gets kicked out of her orchestra by the asshole band leader because of Hagen, but after pressure from horrid neighbors, Dad kicks the dog out on the street. Horrible people + handheld camera = no fun. Dog catchers, dog fighters, etc. The fighter trains Hagen to be hateful and violent, a la this movie’s great namesake. The girl’s bike is stolen, woman at dog shelter is a liar and dog murderer, and so on. Then: a well orchestrated bloodbath of revenge, with a picturesque but mysterious ending.

M. D’Angelo:

This movie’s stupid. I suppose it’s slightly less stupid if one views it allegorically — that is, if the dogs are supposed to represent minorities — but that barely seems tenable, especially w/r/t the laughable ending. Otherwise, its sole point of interest is its use of real dogs at the climax, which isn’t remotely scary (Mundruzcó has no feel whatsoever for horror) but does at least represent an impressive feat of screw-you-CGI logistics. And then he goes and ruins that by using said climax, which should arise out of nowhere, as a surreal flash-forward “grabber” at the outset, a ploy that smacks of bad television. At best, this might have worked as a segment of Amores perros (which it explicitly apes for a while); two hours is beyond laborious, and every cut away from Hagen to the little girl and her dad feels like Mundruzcó deliberately wasting your time.

Mouchette has a crappy home life and actively hates everyone at school, throwing clumps of mud at them every day after classes. Her dad shoves her around, prevents her from having any fun, and her mom is dying, leaving Mouchette to take care of the baby. Meanwhile trapper Arsene and groundskeeper Mathieu have a Rules of the Game rivalry going on, also a romantic rivalry for the local barkeep. Mouchette sulks silently, preoccupied with sex and death, is raped by Arsene during a rainstorm, has a series of unsympathetic encounters with the townspeople after her mother dies, then drowns herself.

Bresson: “It can’t be summarized. If it could, it’d be awful.”

Pay close attention to the words of a song sung at Mouchette’s school and you can detect references to the overall theme of the film:

Opens pre-credits on Mouchette’s mom crying alone, before we know who she is, “What will become of them without me?” Tony Rayns in the commentary says the movie is about the disappearance of a person from human society. Sound effects from footsteps and futzing about with props are prominent, like in Rivette movies, although sometimes looped audio (and even visuals in the final shot) is noticeable. Camera focuses on hands and bodies, moving away from downturned faces. It’s a short movie, setting up all the players and conflicts efficiently in its first ten minutes with spare dialogue. Adapted from the same novelist as Diary of a Country Priest.

Godard made the trailer, in which a voiceover says it’s “about the rape of a young girl – in short, a film that is christian and sadistic.”

Repetition:

RB: “Adolescents are more flexible than adults. They’re interesting because of their mystery, their inner force. What I find interesting is thrusting a child, a young girl, into a situation that’s terribly mean, even nasty, and seeing how she reacts.”

R. Polito:

Shooting on Mouchette started soon after Bresson finished Au hasard Balthazar, and Mouchette seems a combination of the suffering Marie and the donkey, Balthazar, much as the hunting (rabbits) and poaching (partridges) episodes once again analogue human and animal misfortunes.

This is the second obscure 1977 film on Rosenbaum’s top-1000 list that I thought I might not get to ever see until it showed up at a theater in my town with the director in attendance. The Ross sprang a whole Jon Jost retrospective on us with less than a week’s notice, and this was opening night. But after watching Last Chants, a whole week’s worth of similar movies didn’t sound like a party. Maybe if they played one per month I could summon the energy, or maybe if someone promised the others would be less bleak. It was an experience, though, and Jost was full of stories and game to tell them to the too-few attendees.

First surprise: the movie is shot in a series of very long takes, all of which Jost says were first/only takes except the finale (and only because the battery ran out). Second surprise: it’s a musical! Nobody bills it as a musical, but it’s full of original country songs (which comment on the story/themes) co-performed by Jost himself, and the narrative stops or slows down to let each song play in full. That’s pretty much my definition of a musical.

Light Industry summarizes: “Bates journeys with a young hitchhiker, then tosses him out of his pickup, argues with his wife, visits a local diner, hits a bar, has a one-night stand, and then finally encounters a roadside stranger,” whom he robs and kills. Rosenbaum calls it a “chilling portrait of an embittered, misogynistic lumpen proletarian (Tom Blair) driving through western Montana.” There’s a weird tension, because you buy lead actor Blair as Bates, but you don’t like or trust Bates, and the movie patiently follows him without really getting into his head. Definite highlight was a scene in a bar, Bates picking up some girl, another county song playing as the camera spins drunkenly around the room.

Happy SHOCKtober! The ol’ blog is running months behind right now, and I’ve posting things out of order, but here’s a vampire flick to kick things off. More to come… eventually.

It’s something like this: rich guy asks mortuary master for help reburying his father. But father is a vampire, kills the rich guy and puts everyone else in danger. Master is arrested for the rich guy’s death and his two assistants try to save the day: attractive young Chor, haunted by a female ghost, and comic buffoon Man, bitten by a vampire and trying to keep from becoming one himself. At the end, no lessons are learned, but the movie is much fun, so it got sequels. Even Master stopped caring about the plot early on.

I spent most of the runtime piecing together Hong Kong’s rules about vampires. They hop, I knew that much from Seven Golden Vampires. You can freeze them and make them obey orders by taping yellow paper with a phrase written in chicken blood to their forehead. You create a barrier/trap or injure the vampire by snapping straight ink lines with a string. Sticky rice (only a certain kind!) draws out vampire poison from bitten people, and damages full vampires. They have long hard fingernails, and standard vampire teeth, but their bite marks come in threes. Fire and certain wooden swords can kill them. My favorite: if you hold your breath, vampires can’t find you.

L-R: Man (Ricky Hui), Master (Ching-Ying Lam), Chor (Siu-hou Chin, later in Fist of Legend)

There’s also a local government baddie, Wai, the nephew of the slain rich man, who is hot for his cousin Ting Ting, but Chor and Man keep making him look ridiculous (including a weird voodoo mind-control scene) so he’ll have no chance. I’m not sure whether the movie kills a baby goat and a chicken or if those are effects/editing, but I’m sure it kills a snake.

“The rules have grown stronger than those who made them.”

Bob Dylan’s fabled hero Anthony Quinn is a mexican eskimo (MEXIMO). Eskimo culture in the far north is apparently a whole racial melting pot, with eskimos from Japan and China and Singapore and Guyana, and even white eskimos with skin makeup.

Peter O’Toole, in his first year in the movies, already knew how to behave like a star, insisting his name be stricken from the credits upon learning that he’d been dubbed.

Opens unpleasantly with a swimming polar bear getting speared. Later we’ll see more hurt or killed animals, not always sure which are real. A narrator condescendingly fills us in on eskimo culture: “in the age of the atom bomb they still hunt with bow and arrow … they are so crude they don’t know how to lie.” Then Quinn shows up, a giggling simpleton with a short temper, a strong hunter without a wife. At first he’s too cartoonish, overplaying the cultural differences, but it’s a charismatic film and you get used to the movie version of the eskimo way of life, so that halfway through when guns and white men first appear, it’s startling. And then the movie gets to its point, or at least what I assume Ray felt was its point since he loves to hide bunches of social commentary in his action-packed dramas, which is best represented by Quinn’s great line: “When you come to a strange land, you should bring your wives and not your laws.”

Narrator plays it like a Nanook educational film at times. Quinn has a friendly fight with a buddy, smashing his head through an igloo wall, but while returning home after an uncomfortable encounter with modern civilization (guns and swing music) he busts the skull of a white missionary because he refuses to eat their old wormy marrow. “One did not intend to kill … his head was too soft.” Peter O’Toole and some guy who freezes to death after falling into water chase Quinn, arresting him for the murder, but finally O’Toole lets Quinn go, using exactly the same method as John Lithgow did in Harry and the Hendersons.

Hits from the DVD commentary by Krohn and Ehrenstein:
Technically an Italian movie (hence the dubbing). Opens with plain white nothingness, a little bit of Antonioni creeping into Ray’s work already. “Swingin’ and swappin’ in the great white north.” Ray was in the arctic for a long time getting all these shots. Released in 70mm. Marie Yang plays the mother of Quinn’s bride, is not Anna May Wong as frequently miscredited, but another actress calling herself Anna May Wong (not the famous one) also appears. Refusing to sleep with someone’s wife can get you killed, just as [sleeping with someone’s wife] can here. All of ray’s movies are about “the impossibility of communication.” Quinn is a rare Ray hero who is not neurotic. Ray’s trademark anguish is missing. The Four Saints song “Don’t Be an Iceberg” plus second song “Sexy Rock” heard in the distance then over closing credits, because movies had to have theme songs back then. And Krohn recommends the John Landis movie The Stupids.

This post has been released under the Movie Journal Amnesty Act of March 2011, which states that blog entries may be posted in an unfinished state, since I am too busy to write them up properly.

Even in a year of crazy films like The Wicker Man and Touki Bouki, ain’t nothing crazy enough to sit with The Holy Mountain. This was the last of Jodorowsky’s fully-realized features until Santa Sangre (nobody, AJ included, seems to like The Rainbow Thief or Tusk).

Third shot of movie: Director/Alchemist with women who will soon be shaved:
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First half-hour is free-flowing. A Thief (who I didn’t realize never speaks) wanders with a deformed dwarf, getting beaten up and attending a toad-and-chameleon circus, while around them dissidents are executed, riot police hold a dead-animal parade, and priests pick up underage prostitutes. Finally the thief breaks into a mighty tower occupied by The Alchemist (Jodorowsky himself) who cleanses him, turns his shit into gold, and then introduces our other characters and their corresponding planets:
– Fon/Venus – narcissist who runs fashion & cosmetic companies, slave to his dad
– Isla/Mars – major arms manufacturer
– Klen/Jupiter – sex-obsessed artist
– Sel/Saturn – makes war toys to prejudice kids vs. countries we plan to invade
– Berg/Uranus – murderous bureaucrat
– Axon/Neptune – ruthless mohawked police chief with testicle collection
– Lut/Pluto – futuristic architect, designing sleep-chamber apartments
(I had to look some of those up – movie is sensory overload, I forgot stuff)

Three chameleons prepare to defend Mexico from the toad invasion:
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Kind of a Jesus/disciples thing, but is the Thief Jesus or is the Alchemist? They go through intensive spiritual training, then Alchemist leads them to the Holy Mountain atop which nine ancient immortals control our planet, with the goal of deposing them and becoming immortal themselves. Each traveler has a dream of their own bizarre death, but they continue to the table at the summit, where they find dolls in the seats. Sitting down, camera pulls back to reveal Jodorowsky’s lighting and sound crew, and he proclaims the truth: “We are images, dreams, photographs,” freeing them from the film itself.

Atop The Holy Mountain:
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Haven’t checked out the commentary yet (tried to listen at work, but of course it’s in Spanish), but in a modern interview online, Jodorowsky says he never killed animals for his movies – not even the rabbits in El Topo. That’s surprising, but I’ll take the guy at his word. He also says he became a feminist during the making of Holy Mountain, and indeed it’s hard to think of movies less feminist than his previous two. He’s a fan of Lynch, Cronenberg and Starship Troopers, and I wish him luck with his long-delayed Lynch-produced next movie.

Alchemist & Thief in chamber of mirrors:
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Cinematographer Rafael Corkidi shot The Mansion of Madness the same year. A few of the actors have popped up elsewhere… Lut/Pluto had a small part in The Exterminating Angel, Axon/Neptune was an Oliver Stone collaborator throughout the 90’s, and Fon/Venus plays the lead girl’s dad on the show Rebelde.

Our director:
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After Calvaire and Frontier(s), it’s the third movie this week with a hair-shaving scene.

“Send this by pneumatic tube, quickly!”

This is now the earliest feature film I’ve ever seen (and the next two runners-up are also by Feuillade). Really this is five movies, each a multi-part serial, so maybe it’s the five earliest feature films I’ve seen…


PART ONE: IN THE SHADOW OF THE GUILLOTINE

The criminal master of disguise Fantomas is introduced robbing a rich woman of her jewels in a clumsy-ass fashion… he gets caught in her house then just walks up, looks at her threateningly, and walks away with them. They couldn’t think of a better scenario for the opening of their movie? I guess it shows that he’s an imposing character, and his appearing-ink business cards are cool (see bottom of page). Then it’s on to introduce Inspector Juve with his funny mustache and his reporter buddy Fandor. A man has been found murdered, so Juve questions his widow (Lady Beltham), who it turns out is having an affair with Fantomas. When inspector and reporter discover this, they easily capture the criminal, who is imprisoned to await the guillotine. But through a convoluted scheme, the widow springs Fantomas – she flatters an actor celebrated for portraying Fantomas on the stage to agree to meet her, and pays off the incredibly dense prison guards to spring Fantomas to come meet her at the same place (with the understanding that he’d be returned to prison within an hour) and they do the ol’ switcheroo – but Juve notices before the actor can be mistakenly executed (in the novel he was too late).

The regular Feuillade style is apparent here – people with comical mustaches who look conspiratorially into the camera, lots of crime, outdoor scenes with actors in cool black capes, convoluted scenarios and a plot that seems to be making itself up as it goes, helping the cliffhanger feeling.

Some nice outdoor shots in this movie. Feuillade is fond of long walls. I like them too.
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The actor has all these admiring women, yet he sneaks off eagerly when he gets the letter from Lady Beltham? I guess her letter made her seem more “loose” than the ladies in his dressing room.
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Juve, triumphantly stymied. Fandor (on left) looks on.
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PART TWO: JUVE VERSUS FANTÔMAS

Opening credits are cool, showing the main actors crossfade into their characters-in-costume (in Juve’s case it’s changing into a hat, a fake mustache and a less-nice suit). At the start, Lady Beltham is presumed dead – but actually she’s organizing a gang of bandits who rob passengers on a train car then cause a train accident to cover up their crimes. Or was that another woman? Either way, our reporter is on the train and escapes with another passenger. He and Juve are lured into a gun trap, but they escape and tail the woman, getting her to lead them to Fantomas, who escapes by putting on his suit with false arms then simply running away, leaving Juve and Fandor each holding an arm. Brilliant! Okay, then Fantomas has a list of people he’s having mysteriously squeezed to death, so Juve wears spiked bands over his body when he goes to sleep and has Fandor hide in the room – wakes up being choked by a boa constrictor, ouch. Later, they’ve figured out where Fantomas hides out, so they storm the house and kill the boa (for real, on camera, uncool) but the criminal mastermind was hiding in a tank of water in the basement, escapes, and blows up the house!! Will the cops survive?? Great episode, action-packed.

great train robbery:
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wrestling a boa – notice the spiked suit:
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awwwwwesome closing shot – note sprocket holes:
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PART THREE: THE MURDEROUS CORPSE

Oh man, this is not gonna be a strong plot summary. I was tired, and I thought it’d be 50 minutes but it was 90. Wasn’t doing anything else while watching but somehow I still got confused. So Juve is missing presumed dead from the house explosion and Fandor is investigating stuff on his own. Fantomas I think is dressed as an old woman who trades stolen goods, or maybe that was an actual old woman, and Juve is made up as a retarded homeless guy who helps her out. A dude is framed for a murder, then killed in prison, then abducted from the prison… WHY this happens I never figure out, but Fantomas makes gloves out of the man’s hands (seriously) and commits a bunch more murders leaving the dead dude’s fingerprints behind. The cops are, of course, mystified, but Fandor comes across a list of the murder victims in the order they’re killed. He finally hooks up with Juve again, Lady Beltham reappears for a minute, probably some other stuff happens but our heroes end up tracking Fantomas to a house and cornering him in the one place where there was a secret trap door. Whoosh, through the trap door and our heroes are empty-handed (actually they got the skin-gloves). NOT as radical an ending as the previous part, and maybe a bit long and convoluted.

Fandor on the rooftops of paris:
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Juve (in disguise) approaches Fandor (studying list of victims):
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They’ve got him cornered! Note trap door and icky gloves:
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PART FOUR: FANTÔMAS VERSUS FANTÔMAS

Juve is arrested straight away on suspicion of being Fantomas (what, because he couldn’t catch the guy?). The movie is telling us that the written situations are more important than the characters, since our hero Juve sits out most of the movie, making Fandor the hero by default. Fantomas reappears as Tom Bob (seriously, that’s his name!), American Detective. Lady Beltham has remarried and become the Grand Duchess Alexandra. She organizes a costume ball to collect reward money for the capture of Fantomas, and Fandor, not thinking things through, goes to the ball dressed as Fantomas. So do a police captain and Fantomas himself. A Fantomas-fight ensues, the master criminal escapes and the captain is killed.

After Juve is finally released, he’s captured about ten seconds later by Fantomas’s men, who believe that Juve is really Fantomas and want their share of the loot that they’ve helped steal (Fantomas ripping off his own men is a running theme). Fandor is on top of the plot and helps bag the men, capture the loot, rescue Juve and even capture Fantomas, but F. slips the men by walking them into two holes in the ground, the silliest escape in the whole series. I’m starting to doubt that this is a planned five-part series which is building up to something… think it’s just a regular movie franchise that makes it up as it goes along (nope, turns out they are closely based on a series of novels).

Left: “Tom Bob” Right-center: blood leaking from hole in the wall, 70+ years before Evil Dead 2
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Fantomas vs. Fantomas at the costume ball:
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Juve, kidnapped, hears Fandor hiding in the barrel. People are always hiding in barrels and baskets in these movies.
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Juve fingers the crooked guard, an inside man who works for Fantomas:
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PART FIVE: THE FALSE MAGISTRATE

I was hoping for an awesome ending but it seems the series peaked with part two. The plot gets more ludicrous, with Juve voluntarily taking Fantomas’s place in a Belgian prison under the logic that F. was gonna break out anyway, and Juve’s men can just catch him at the border to France. Of course Juve’s men suck at catching Fantomas, so F. runs around impersonating a judge while Juve rots in jail for the first hour of the movie. Fandor buzzes around of course, but doesn’t do all that much… this one is mostly about the criminal, with his disguises and lucky breaks, ripping off the wealthy and his own gang members.

These gang members scammed a rich guy and his jeweler, no big deal. F. takes it a step further, killing the thief with the jewels in a horrible way (he is rung to death inside a giant bell), killing the rich woman’s husband then blackmailing her for more money. Fandor finally figures out what’s up, Juve is released and they corner Fantomas… but a few hours earlier, as the judge, he’d told the warden to release the master criminal Fantomas secretly at midnight because it would actually be Juve in disguise. Juve, unwittingly this time, helps Fantomas escape again!

Fantomas helps dude up into the bell where jewels are hidden. Dude throws empty jewel case down and Fantomas takes away the ladder. The next day at a funeral when the bell is rung, blood and jewels rain down on the crowd. Wiiicked.
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Note how the Belgian prison looks awfully like the French prison (above):
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Fantomas, as the judge, feeling the pressure:
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So is this one of the first great features of cinema? Does it meet expectation? Is it still a good movie today almost a century later? Is it as cool as that classic poster which now graces the DVD box cover? Well, no to that last one, but yes to the others. I still enjoy Judex better, but Feuillade’s crime serials are amazing fun, winking at the audience (sometimes literally) at times, getting cruel and serious at others, but always a good time to watch. And you can probably find someone who claims that they changed cinema forever… let’s see… yep, J. Travers says it introduces “not just the idea of a film series, but also [establishes] the crime thriller. The essential ingredients of film noir and the suspense thriller can be seen in this film which, remarkably, (when you consider when the film was made) still appears surprisingly modern.”

He qualifies the five movies: 1. most dreamlike and innovative, 2. best action, 3. most sophisticated, 4. most convoluted, 5. the weakest, comparatively mundane Each movie was divided into chapters with title cards – I didn’t realize each of these was a different serial episode! That means to see the complete Fantomas at the time of release, you would’ve had to go to the theater twenty-one times!

People are always mentioning how much the Surrealists loved these movies… I just read a whole website about it. Watched the bonus feature, wherein K. Newman immediately pronounces it “Phantom-ass.” Now I have to rethink the whole series, imagining Juve, wide-eyed, telling cops “this is the work of phantom-ass!” No wonder they eventually locked him up. Newman says the authors originally wanted to call it “Phant-o-moose” and now I think he’s just messing with us, under the “nobody watches DVD extras so we can say whatever we want” theory. Ahh, he says Diabolik was Fantomas-influenced – I can see that.

Edmund Breon (Juve) was in Les Vampires, took the 1920’s off, then appeared in fifty-some mostly British movies for the next two decades, waiting to die until after he’s been in Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World, a good move. René Navarre (Fantomas) was in movies through the 40’s, including a sound version of Judex. Georges Melchior (Fandor) barely made it into sound films. Renée Carl (Lady Beltham was in 180+ silent films – her only sound role was in Pépé le Moko (but last-billed).


“Did you folks in the audience just SEE that?”
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This just in: a great article by David Bordwell on the series.