(aka - 5 Serials entitled 'A l'ombre de la guillotine / Juve contre Fantomas / Le Mort qui tue / Fantomas contre Fantômas / Le Faux Magistrat')

Directed by Louis Feuillade
France 1913-14

FANTÔMAS, the mysterious arch-criminal who holds Paris in the grip of terror, was first brought to the screen in this legendary serial by celebrated French cinema pioneer Louis Feuillade.

The creation of authors Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, Fantômas perpetrated the most appalling crimes in 32 hugely popular pulp novels and became a cult favorite of the avant-garde, including the painters René Magritte and Salvador Dali.

Feuillade’s serial was one of cinema’s earliest and most strikingly original crime dramas, starring René Navarre as FANTÔMAS, the master of disguise and leader of a vast army of street thugs, and Edmond Bréon as his nemesis, Inspector Juve. Beautifully restored by Gaumont and the Cinematheque Française, the five episodes of Fantô-mas are among the most fascinating and enthralling silent films ever made.

******

 

  Fantômas [1913-14] is the first great movie experience, Feuillade the first director for whom no historical allowances need to be made. See him today and you still wonder what will happen next...

Feuillade predicts a twentieth-century world to come. Even in the years of the First World War, he looked past the horrific clash of machine guns and cavalry, of mud and dress uniform, to an atmosphere of urban anxiety...

Feuillade's genius is simply measured: he saw that it was possible to achieve intense photographic naturalism and yet convey an imaginative experience of the world. Thus his films still involve audiences. They respond to the startling contrast of the mundane and the unexpected; and they are intrigued by the relentless criminal organizations in Fantômas and Vampires [1915]. All the roots of the thriller and suspense genres are in Feuillade's sense that evil, anarchy, and destructiveness speak to the frustrations banked up in modern society... As Alain Resnais has said, "...Feuillade's cinema is very close to dreams — therefore it's perhaps the most realistic." Not only has Feuillade's pregnant view of grey streets become an accepted normality; his expectation of conspiracy, violence, and disaster spring at us every day.

Feuillade managed this alertness despite all the impediments of the age: he was the son of a civil servant; educated at a Catholic seminary; four years in the cavalry. He worked as a journalist and ran a magazine before he began to submit scripts to Gaumont [Studios]. His energy was prodigious and when Alice Guy left Gaumont for New York he took her place as artistic director. He plunged into his serials and in a directing life of less than twenty years produced more than seven hundred films, despite service in the French army in 1915 and a wound sufficient for a discharge.

Fantômas and the Vampires were criminal gangs [sic] intent on gaining material and psychological power over a decadent bourgeoisie. Their names show how far they are destructive angels, dreaded and craved by their victims. And Feuillade's inventiveness — of plot, action, and visual revelation — has exactly the same inspiration as the gang's plans: a cheerful contempt for society that gains as much from Anarchism as it looks forward to Dada and Surrealism...It is worth emphasizing that, at the time, Vampires alarmed the authorities. The serial was briefly banned and Judex [1916] was Feuillade's attempt to reassure the trembling bourgeois. Tih Minh [1918], however, returns to organized malice, with the remnants of the Vampires in Nice planning world destruction, with England as first target.

The films themselves are still hard to see; only good anarchists have preserved Feuillade. [Good anarchists and Gaumont Studios, which fully restored all of the serials discussed here for the 1995 centenary of the birth of cinema.] The serials run between four and six hours, and they are dreamlike if only because of the endlessly regenerating plots. The action is hallucinatory, but the images are astonishingly concrete...Tom Milne has acclaimed the moment in Fantômas when a character in a box at the theater is shown conceiving an idea — to use the actor onstage as Fantômas to replace the real one in jail — in the same shot as we see the [actor on] stage behind her. It is this immediate appetite for the real world and the stirring up of fantastic events that makes Feuillade the most serious of the pioneers. He foresaw that people who went into the dark to participate in stories, no matter how sophisticated their world, were still primitive creatures.

Excerpted from David Thomson's A Biographical Dictionary of Film, Third Edition, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Posters

Disc 1 - Fantômas. Serial in three episodes. Released April 1913. Produced by Gaumont Studios. Directed by Louis Feuillade.
Film version of the first Fantômas novel, Fantômas.

Disc 1 - Juve contre Fantômas (Juve versus Fantômas). Serial in four episodes. Released September 1913.
Film version of the second Fantômas novel, Juve contre Fantômas.

Disc 1 - Le mort qui tue (The murderous corpse). Serial in six episodes. Released November 1913.
Film version of the third Fantômas novel, Le Mort qui tue.

Disc 2 - Fantômas contre Fantômas (Fantômas vs.Fantômas). Serial in four episodes. Released February 1914.
Film version of the sixth Fantômas novel, Le policier apache (The hoodlum policeman).

Disc 2 - Le faux magistrat (The false judge). Serial in four episodes. Released May 1914.
 Film version of the twelfth Fantômas novel, Le magistrat cambrioleur (The burglar judge).

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DVD Review: Artificial Eye - Region 2 - PAL

DVD Box Cover

   

CLICK to order from:

 

Distribution Artificial Eye Film Company Limited - Region 2 - PAL
The film contents of this release seem to be the exact same as the Gaumont edition re-released in November of last year in France. The Gaumont appears to have more extra features but they do not offer English subtitles:

Runtime

Disc 1 - 1:01:50 + 54:28 + 1:30:27 

Disc 2 - 1:10:51 + 59:46 (Plus 'Who is Fantomas" featurette at 23:30)

Total of Serials - approx 4 1/2 hours

Video 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 4.92 mb/s + Disc 2 - 5.30 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:  Disc 1

Bitrate: Disc 2

Audio Silent film with music in Dolby Digital 2.0
Intertitle translations English, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Artificial Eye Film Co. Ltd.

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• Featurette 'Who is Fantomas' (23:30) in English
• Louis Feuillade bio - text screens

DVD Release Date: February 20th, 2006

Transparent Double Slim Keep Case
Chapters: Most serials have 4 or more dedicated chapters

 

 

Comments:

I feel a bit cheeky putting this review out when I have not yet completed my viewing - BUT I can say that I am enjoying every minute of Feuillade's fantasy miracle so far (I'm about 3/4's through). I will continue to report here on my impressions when I have completed.



 

In regards to the image it looks exceptionally good considering the age of the production (over 90 years ago!). Perhaps even superior to both my Region 1 issues of Les Vampires and Judex. There are, of course, damage marks and the upper portion of the frame displays a occasionally visible line (see first 2 large captures). Title cards and text frames have been redone - there is an explanation of a missing scene - musical accompaniment audio may only be 2 channel but it sounds fabulous. I see fine trailing in some scenes but I can only surmise that it is due to the frame rate adjustment. The intertitle (an incidental) translations are optional - so you can really get in the mood by removing them totally. I am very high on this DVD release and am recommending quite strongly to any who are keen. For silent or serial fans it is essential viewing.

Gary W. Tooze

 



DVD Menus

Disc 2

 


Intertitle Subtitles Sample

 

 


 

Screen Captures

 

Disc 1

 

 


 

 


 

 


Disc 2

 

 


 

 

 


 

 

 

DVD Box Cover

   

CLICK to order from:

 

Distribution Artificial Eye Film Company Limited - Region 2 - PAL
The film contents of this release seem to be the exact same as the Gaumont edition re-released in November of last year in France. The Gaumont appears to have more extra features but they do not offer English subtitles:





 

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Mississauga, Ontario,

   CANADA

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