LES VAMPIRES (1915-16) B/W "silent" serial in 10 episodes; total running time: approximately 7 hours; dir: Louis Feuillade
w/Musidora, Edouard Mathe, Marcel Levesque, Jean Ayme, Stacia Napierkowska, Louis Leubas, Fernand Hermann, Delphine Renot
From the TCM Viewer's Guide, Now Playing: "TCM is proud to offer the television premiere of Les Vampires (1915-16), a ten-part serial directed by French filmmaker Louis Feuillade (1873 -1925). These films, once believed lost, were recently restored to their full length complete with titles. According to USA TODAY, '... the film has gotten a complete overhaul, including a new orchestral score compiled and directed by Robert Israel. Ace film restorer David Shepard also has given this still-entertaining landmark mood-switching color tints and historically correct fonts on the title cards.' So strikingly stylized that it often seems surreal, the serial tells of a gang of Parisian jewel thieves called 'Les Vampires' who are led by an arch-villainess known as Irma Vep (her name is an anagram of 'vampire'). To play the smoldering vamp, Feuillade cast the French music-hall star Musidora (1889 - 1957), whose raven hair, black costumes and seductive ways were a deliberate contrast to the innocent blonde heroines of American adventure serials such as The Perils of Pauline. Reflecting the mood of World War I audiences, the serial is filled with a sense of dread as its characters slip through a series of disguises, disappearances, violent deaths and unexpected resurrections. The serial was the inspiration for the 1996 French film Irma Vep, a satire starring Maggie Cheung as an actress chosen to star in a remake of Les Vampires."
From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films : "The plot of this 'series-film' (whose true heroine is Musidora in molded black-silk tights) was improvised by Feuillade during production. Unlike the usual serial films (such as the contemporary Exploits of Elaine ) the episodes did not appear weekly but at intervals of two to five weeks. The first and second parts were released on November 13, 1915 and the last on June 30, 1916. After their initial screenings, they were presented elsewhere in weekly episodes. Stylistically, Les Vampires is a blend of realism, fantasy, and comedy. It also reveals a singular poetry in the use of landscapes. Though largely ignored by intellectuals, Les Vampires was much admired by such people as [Louis] Aragon, [Andre] Breton, and [Paul] Eluard, the future founders of surrealism. Aragon wrote in 1918: 'I could defend these thrillers as being as significant of our era as the novels of chivalry, the precious novels, or the free-thinking novels. I could talk of the exaltation we are going to find, youthful and free of literary prejudices, when the Tenth Muse, Musidora, plays across the screen the weekly epic of Vampires.' Aragon and Breton wrote in 1928: 'One day it will be understood, that there was nothing more realistic or poetic than the serial film that was formerly the joy of strong spirits. It is in The Exploits of Elaine ... and Les Vampires that that the grand reality of our century will be found. They are beyond fashion, beyond taste.' The episode (L'Evasion du mort) in which the guests at a ball are sealed in a room and gassed could have inspired [Louis] Bunuel when he made The Exterminating Angel .... Since he began, Bunuel has proclaimed himself a disciple not of Feuillade (whose name he didn't know) but of his films, which he greatly admired."
Individual episodes: Descriptions are taken from the TCM Viewer's Guide, Now Playing:
Episode 1: La Tete coupee: "... a crusading journalist attempts to track down the Vampires before they swindle a rich American heiress." 31m
Episode 2: La Bague qui tue: "... the Vampires sentence their archenemy to die after already killing his lover." 14m
Episode 3: Le Cryptogramme rouge: "... Irma Vep attempts a deadly mission to retrieve the Vampire's secret codebook from their archenemy." 40m
Episode 4: Le Spectre: "... Irma Vep disguises herself in order to steal a large sum of money." 30m
Episode 5: L'Evasion du mort: "... the Vampires are robbed setting off a feud between themselves and an enemy gang." 36m
Episode 6: Les Yeux qui fascinent: "... Irma Vep is kidnapped and hypnotized by an enemy." 54m
Episode 7: Satanas: "... Irma Vep becomes her one-time enemy's mistress and the couple is forced to surrender to Satanas." 42m
Episode 8: Le Maitre de la foudre: "... Irma Vep is mistaken for dead while Satanas is captured by the police." 50m
Episode 9: L'Homme des poisons: "... the newest Vampire head wages chemical warfare against his archenemy's family." 49m
Episode 10: Les Noces sanglantes: "... Irma Vep marries the Vampire's leader after a poisonous party." 58m