Arthur #28


It’s always a red letter day when a new issue of Arthur Magazine appears and this one is especially good, featuring a substantial history of the creation and influence of pulp villain Fantômas (for which I helped source some photos) and an interview with extraordinary singer and musician Diamanda Galás. Lots more besides and as always it’s FREE in the US & Canada. If your local record store or coffee house isn’t carrying it (or you’re outside North America) you can subscribe or download the PDFs.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Another playlist for Halloween
Judex, from Feuillade to Franju
A playlist for Halloween

Judex, from Feuillade to Franju


Monsieur Wiley in yesterday’s comments reminded me of George Franju’s seldom seen Judex, a 1963 film based on the Feuillade serials of the same name. Louis Feuillade (1873–1925), as you really ought to know by now, was the director of the original Fantômas serials (1913–14) and also Les Vampires (1915–16), obvious forerunners of Diabolik with all their black-clad nocturnal prowling. Feuillade’s criminals were clebrated by the Surrealists, Blaise Cendrars, Jean Cocteau and others but the director received stern reviews from less liberal critics for apparently promoting immorality:

“That a man of talent, an artist, as the director of most of the great films which have been the success and glory of Gaumont, starts again to deal with this unhealthy genre (the crime film), obsolete and condemned by all people of taste, remains for me a real problem.”

Hence the arrival in 1917 of Judex (The Judge), possibly the first costumed avenger in cinema, with his broad-brimmed hat and cloak, secret lair and network of helpful circus performers. Fictional immorality is less of a concern these days which perhaps explains why Fantômas and Les Vampires were resurrected on DVD first while Judex only appeared recently. I must admit that it’s Feuillade’s criminals which have always interested me for the most part, even if (as with many silent films) the romance of the concept is often more attractive than the actual work. (There are exceptions, of course; the Lon Cheney Phantom of the Opera is far better than the book.) Feuillade and his writer, Arthur Bernède, produced a series of spin-off novels while the films were being made (you thought novelizations were a recent thing?) and this page has some nice reproductions of the covers.


Judex turned up again in 1934, in a film directed by Maurice Champreux before Franju gave his own twist to the character. Franju is most famous for his exceptional horror film, Les Yeux sans Visage (1960) which still packs a punch today; I saw it at a cinema several years ago and one notorious scene drew gasps from an unprepared audience. Nearly everything else of his, Judex included, appears to be out of circulation. Franju began his career as a maker of documentary shorts whose approach to the medium was inspired by the juxtapositions of the Surrealists. In the celebrated Le Sang des bêtes (1949), he contrasted scenes of day-to-day life in Paris with film of animals being killed in the city’s slaughterhouses. This attitude was carried over into his dramas—Les Yeux manages to be lyrical as well as horrifying—and was impressive enough for Jean Cocteau to declare he’d happily entrust his work to Franju. This perhaps explains why Franju’s work has been so overlooked since his death in 1987, both he and Cocteau were mavericks who don’t easily fit the usual narrative of French cinema history.


left: Une Semaine de Bonté (1934) by Max Ernst; right Channing Pollock as Judex.

Franju’s Judex was portrayed by an American stage magician, Channing Pollock, whose act with doves was put to use in the film. There’s a great scene of a masked ball (the only part of the film I’ve yet seen) with all the characters wearing bird masks that looks like a page from Max Ernst’s collage novel, Une Semaine de Bonté, brought to life. Senses of Cinema compares the remake with the original:

Franju sought in particular to recapture Feuillade’s sense of documentary and his playfulness. He reproduced with as much exactitude as possible the costumes and settings which Feuillade filmed in scrupulous detail. Feuillade’s street-scapes are now an invaluable documentary record, but Franju also paid particular attention to reproducing the elaborate interior designs and furnishings of the day, resulting in settings of quite extraordinary detail and clutter. Franju also sought, despite the playfulness, to avoid any camp satire of these elements by over-emphasis or any special attention being paid to them.

In the title role, Franju pulled off his most brilliant coup by casting the master prestidigitator of his day, near godlike in his handsomeness, Channing Pollock. Pollock’s skills as a magician were employed to produce a dazzling array of apparent magical occurrences involving, most particularly, disappearing doves, a plot device that Feuillade uses to enable the regular rescue of the heroine and others by Judex. Franju’s Judex is a far livelier, less sombre, more inventive and more mysterious character than that of Feuillade.


Francine Bergé as the villainous Diana Monti in Franju’s Judex (1963).

Edith Scob (the faceless girl in Les Yeux) played Jacqueline, the imperilled heroine, while Francine Bergé incarnates yet another cat-suited Feuilladesque villain. The cat-suits returned, along with the masks, in a further Feuillade homage, Nuits Rouges (1974), a feature film cobbled together from a French TV series. This page has stills from all of these and this site concerning French pulp characters (from which much of the information above was swiped) goes into more detail about the creation of Judex. There you can also read about other fascinating personages such as Belphegor, Phantom of the Louvre (another creation of Arthur Bernède), Ferocias and the Mysterious Doctor Cornelius.

And so to the inevitable question: how long do we have to wait for a Judex DVD?

See also:
Fantastic, Mysterious, and Adventurous Victoriana by Jess Nevins
Les Vampires at the Internet Archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Danger Diabolik
Boys Own Books
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé
Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren
La Villa Santo Sospir by Jean Cocteau

Danger Diabolik


More pulp madness as Mario Bava’s 1968 crime caper finally appears on DVD in the UK this week; a camp confection from an already very camp decade, although it pales beside the lurid excesses of Barbarella which was released in the same year. Both films were based on popular European comic strips, and both are connected by the presence of John Phillip Law, the sexiest (male) screen angel in Barbarella, and the star of Danger Diabolik. Barbarella’s adventures on page and screen managed to be equally frivolous whereas master thief Diabolik in the original fumetti (which is still running) was rather more serious, at least in serial adventure terms. Bava forgoes any attempt to treat his subject with a straight face, opting instead for the knowing action-comedy style that was popular during the Sixties, whether in post-Bond fare such as Our Man Flint or superior TV series like The Avengers.


Diabolik stands apart from his contemporaries, and from other campy comic spin-offs such as Adam West’s Batman, by being an anti-hero in a field over-stuffed with costumed vigilantes and sexist super-spies. Most characters of this type are descendants of deathless arch-criminal Fantômas, and Diabolik can perhaps be seen as a trendy updating of the Fantômas type, with his black leather bondage outfit and ultra-cool E-type Jaguar, probably the only car ever made in Britain that would impress style-conscious Italians. The comic strip was created in 1962 by two sisters, Angela and Luciana Giussani, a feat one imagines would be impossible in the male-dominated world of American comics at that time.


The fumetti Diabolik shuns firearms in favour of knife-throwing expertise, something that Bava ignores by giving him a mundane machine-gun. Bava had directed a very silly James Bond spoof, Doctor Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, two years earlier, and always had a great eye for aesthetics even when lacking an adequate budget. His horror films frequently outdid Hammer for Gothic atmosphere, and his strange science fiction/horror, Planet of the Vampires (1965), features a cast similarly sheathed in shiny black spacesuits. The clouds of coloured fog those astronauts encounter reappear as the coloured smoke Diabolik uses to evade his pursuers, while his underground super-pad is one of the more spectacular villainous residences, like something Norman Foster might design for Dr. No. It certainly makes the Batcave look shabby, although, as with all these underground complexes, you can’t help wondering who the hell built them and how they managed to escape detection while doing so. The plot of the film, such as it is, is some forgettable nonsense concerning Diabolik’s cat-and-mouse game with his chief adversary, Inspector Ginko. Michel Piccoli plays the inspector, and it’s surprising seeing the splendid Terry-Thomas as a government official who Diabolik embarrasses with “exhilarating gas” at a press conference. The film is embellished with a tremendously groovy score by Ennio Morricone.


One of my favourite comic strip heroes when I was a kid was Billy the Cat in the Beano, the adventures of a super-agile boy in a black leather catsuit (no eyebrow-raising, please). I always had a fondness for these kind of characters, and I’m sure I would have loved Danger Diabolik for the cat burglary and the Sixties’ zaniness had I seen it on TV. My only gripe now is I can’t quite believe that Diabolik is all that interested in his female companion, Eva, despite the scene where they have sex on a revolving bed covered in dollar bills. If he’d rescued Alain Delon’s taciturn assassin from death at the end of Le Samouraï he could find Eva a nice young man in Monte Carlo, after which Jef Costello (as Delon is named in Melville’s film) could whack the pesky Inspector Ginko, and the pair could live together in subterranean peace, at least until the next heist. We can but dream.

A tip of the hat to Mark Pilkington for alerting me to this one. Bava’s Diabolikal influence lives on via Roman Coppola’s 2001 homage to Sixties’ camp, CQ, and the Beastie Boys’ video for Body Movin’.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The persistence of memory

Cocteau at the Louvre des Antiquaires


Orphée aux points by Jean Cocteau (1950).

An exhibition of Cocteau drawings from the collection of
Dominique Bert opens today at the Louvre des Antiquaires, Paris.

Jean Cocteau (1899–1963): Collection privée de Dominique Bert
23rd March–22nd April 2007
Le Louvre des Antiquaires
2, Place du Palais Royal
75001 PARIS

Previously on { feuilleton }
La Villa Santo Sospir by Jean Cocteau





Fantômas was championed by the Parisian avant-garde, first by the young poets gathered around Guillaume Apollinaire, who, together with Max Jacob, founded a Société des Amis de Fantômas in 1913, and later by the surrealists. In July 1914, in the literary review Mercure de France, Apollinaire declared the imaginary richness of Fantômas unparalleled. The same month, in Apollinaire’s own review, Les Soirées de Paris, Maurice Raynal proclaimed Feuillade’s Fantômas saturated with genius. Over the next two decades, poets such as Blaise Cendrars (who called the series “The Aeneid of Modern Times”), Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau, and Robert Desnos, and painters such as Juan Gris, Yves Tanguy, and René Magritte, incorporated Fantômas motifs into their works. Pierre Prévert’s 1928 film, Paris la Belle, featured a Fantômas book cover in the closing sequence, and the Lord of Terror was adapted to the surrealist screen in Ernest Moerman’s 1936 film short, Mr. Fantômas, Chapitre 280,000. As the century progresses, Fantômas remained a minor source of artistic inspiration as the subject of cultural nostalgia.

Continued here.