Sog.: by the novels of Pierre Souvestre e Marcel Allain. Scen.: Louis Feuillade. F.: Georges Guérin. Int.: René Navarre (Fantômas), Edmond Bréon (l’ispettore Juve), Georges Melchior (Jérôme Fandor, giornalista di “La Capitale”), Renée Carl (Lady Beltham), Jane Faber (la principessa Sonia Danidoff), André Volbert (l’attore Valgrand), Naudier (il secondino Nibet), Maillart. Prod.: S.E.G. Société des Établissements Gaumont. DCP. D.: 352’ (Fantômas: 59’, Juve contre Fantômas: 64’, Le Mort qui tue: 95’, Fantômas contre Fantômas: 60’, Le Faux magistrat: 74’). Bn e col.
Cinephiles, crime fans, avant-garde artists, and mass audiences have found Louis Feuillade’s great installment-film Fantômas (1913-1914) anxiety-provoking, even hallucinatory. The delirious imagery and plot twists are felt to harbor a demented poetry and made Apollinaire and Magritte and Resnais and Robert Desnos tremble.The conventions of the genre, all the disguises and elaborate schemes engineered by the Genius behind the scenes, the cascades of coincidence and the hairbreadth escapes, aren’t merely enjoyable in themselves. They show how little plausibility matters to storytelling. And in order to make the whole farrago of traps and conspiracies flow along, you need a filmmaker who can hold our interest with swift pacing and ingenious narration.We should celebrate Louis Feuillade’s triumph in creating a fine piece of cinematic storytelling. To appreciate it, we need to watch – really watch – what he’s doing. Craziness must be treated matter-offactly, and Feuillade’s sober technique takes all the wild developments in its stride. Nothing fazes Fantômas, or our director. In the lurid tales of Allain and Souvestre, Feuillade found sensational material. He had fine actors. He had luminous prewar Paris as a backdrop. And he had at his fingertips all the resources of tableau cinema. The whole mixture creates a lively cinematic experience. Watching films like Fantômas and Ingeborg Holm and The Mysterious X and many others from 1913, we can still be bowled over by their exquisitely modulated storytelling. If Feuillade is less baroque than Bauer and less poignant than Sjöström, he’s also more brisk, laconic, and playful. David Bordwell
Gaumont entrusted the Éclair laboratory with the original negatives of the film on nitrate, one reversal duplicate and two positive copies. After careful comparison the original negative was chosen and the images were scanned at 5K resolution (and resized at 2K for the restoration and distribution), which had exceptional definition. The negative has been adapted, for the missing or damaged shots, from the positive copy and – as a last resort – from the reversal duplicate. The re-editing of the negative is based on the previous restoration from 1995, as well as precise chronological accounts of five episodes dated 1913 and destined for retailers, which also inspired the text on the intertitles. Compared to the 1995 version, the number of intertitles and captions had been drastically reduced, once it had been decided to position the intertitles exclusively corresponding with the edges of the original negatives. Wet-gate scanning deleted the superficial defects. Then came the more precise work, involving digital correction techniques. Finally, following the instructions found on original elements of nitrate film, the nighttime scenes have been dyed dark blue, to make it easier to understand the parts filmed in full daylight (unfortunately there was little information on colours, and we did not have a sample colour from the time available, to colour the whole film and restore it to the way it looked when it was released). It is the current digital instruments that have done Fantomâs justice, reviving its modernity and its documentary and narrative beauty. Agnès Bertola