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Based on the phenomenally popular French pulp novellas, Louis Feuillade's outrageous, ambitious FANTÔMAS series became the gold standard of espionage serials in pre-WWI Europe, and laid the foundation for such immortal works as Feuillade's own Les Vampires and Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse films.
René Navarre stars as the criminal lord of Paris, the master of disguise, the creeping assassin in black: Fantômas. Over the course of five feature films (which combined to form a 5 1/2-hour epic), Fantômas, along with his accomplices and mistresses, are pursued by the equally resourceful Inspector Juve (Edmund Bréon) and his friend, journalist Jerôme Fandor (Georges Melchior).
This 2016 Kino Classics edition is derived from Gaumont s 4K restoration, presented in association with Eclair Laboratories and the CNC, as a centennial celebration of Feuillade's timeless thriller.
Special Features: Louis Feuillade: Master of Many Forms (a ten-minute documentary), Two rare Feuillade films: The Nativity (1910) and The Dwarf (1912), Two audio commentaries by film historian David Kala
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FANTOMAS was conceived on a grand scale. It breaks down into five films (IN THE SHADOW OF THE GUILLOTINE, JUVE-vs-FANTOMAS, THE MURDEROUS CORPSE, FANTOMAS-vs-FANTOMAS, THE FALSE MAGISTRATE) and runs for over 5 1/2 hours. It is full of disguises, surprises, several comic moments, a touch of the supernatural and surprising brutality. It's also a time capsule of settings and life before World War One which makes it invaluable as history. Rene Navarre and Edmond Breon as protagonist and antagonist give surprisingly restrained (and effective) performances considering that this film was made in 1913. Be warned, once you start it, it's hard to stop watching, even if you're not into silent films.
Although it was the first to be made, FANTOMAS is the last of three great Feuillade serials to make it to Region One DVD. LES VAMPIRES and JUDEX have been available for a few years now and if you haven't seen them you should check them out as well. Gaumont did the restoration back in 1998 and the film looks astonishing for its age. It was first released on Region 2 DVD in the U.K. by Artificial Eye back in 2006. This edition comes with an entertaining and appropriate music score as well as special features that include 2 short Feuillade films as well as commentary from film historian David Kalat. Thanks to Kino Lorber for finally making it available in the USA so that Americans can it enjoy it as well.
This 2 disc set has five movies that are from 58 to 97 minutes in length. The restoration looks great as the films have been beautifully cleaned. These are black and white films with tinted sequences. The orchestral soundtrack was also remarkable and added a great deal to the movies. There are also two commentaries by film historian David Kalat, a 11 min. documentary about Feuillade, as well as two short films by Feuillade, and an animated gallery of cover art from the Fantomas novellas.
If you are interested in the history of movies, this set is especially interesting because it was made at a time when film makers had just begun telling stories in films (as opposed to simply showing moving pictures of things moving). There is little or no cinematic technique in use. The camera is a passive, stationary observer of actors on a stage - no pans or other camera movement, no closeups except to permit the audience to read letters and telegrams. Incidentally, cinematic techniques begin to appear in the same director's 1915-16 series, "Les Vampires".
The films have been fully restored and nighttime scenes are tinted blue.
Highly recommended for cinema buffs.
Part One, "In the Shadow of the Guillotine," introduces the basic dynamic between arch-fiend Fantômas and the duo obsessively devoted to bringing him to justice, Juve of the Sûreté and his loyal sidekick, the reporter Fandor. Fantômas quickly demonstrates his defining characteristics, an uncanny ability to assume new identities and an utter ruthlessness. His exploitation of the character of Lady Beltham borders on the vampiric. The second film, "Juve vs. Fantômas" is a fever dream of pulpish delights including a train wreck, a gun battle culminating in an inferno, and a killer boa constrictor. It concludes with Fantômas blowing up the house with the two protagonists still inside and their fates unknown. Much of Part Three, "The Murderous Corpse," plays like a fin-de-siècle police procedural as the authorities step up their investigative efforts, and the subsequent film, "Fantômas vs. Fantômas," ratchets up the surrealism with a bleeding wall and a costumed ball attended by three guests dressed as Fantômas. The final film, "The False Magistrate," offers the viewer the best opportunity to observe the villain's methods as he assumes the identity of a judicial official and abuses the position for his own nefarious gains.
Modern viewers may find devoting five-and-a-half hours to watch a silent French serial to be unreasonable: the camera remains largely motionless and scenes play themselves out with only a modicum of edits. Those approaching Fantômas with patience and an open mind will be amply rewarded. Images become like a tableau and linger in the mind. Like Feuillade's other thrillers, "Les Vampires" and "Judex," "Fantômas" takes on the texture of a filmed dream, almost like an "Inception" made a century earlier. Identities are exchanged and abandoned with ease while motives and intentions remain unclear.
The films generally look exceptionally good for their age although portions of "The False Magistrate" are lost and replaced with descriptions and a still photograph. While visually pleasing, the musical score, drawn from a French music library, presents some minor issues. Many of the cues selected compliment the action on screen, but in other instances the music overplays the menace or the comedy. Also certain vocal pieces and occasional sound effects (gunshots, applause, etc.) are distracting and reminiscent of budget-priced DVD releases. The exemplary work done by composer Robert Israel on "Les Vampires" and "Judex" is greatly missed here. This is a minor quibble given the overall excellence of the restoration and the supplementary features included by Kino. In addition to a still gallery is an audio commentary by film scholar David Kalat on the first two films. Kalat provided one of the most informative and entertaining commentaries I've ever listened to for Image's release of "Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler" and he brings the same insight and enthusiasm to this project. Fuelliade's directorial versatility is demonstrated by a ten-minute film on his career and a pair of short films, "The Nativity" (1910) and "The Dwarf" (1912).
Overall it's a fantastic set that belongs in the collection of anyone with an interest in early cinema, pulp thrillers, or great storytelling.