Les Vampires offers pleasures beyond the surrealist interpretation of – in the words of Louis Aragon – “a sexual revelation” and a glamorization of criminality. The series was meant to entertain and to distract people from their worries about a war dragging on and their beloved ones at the front. To this aim the crime story was sprinkled with comedy and a teasing defiance of authorities. In the role of the ostensibly silly Mazamette, an ex-vampire and assistant to the journalist who persecutes the bandits, the star comedian Marcel Levesque zestfully outwits his former mates time and again. The Vampires themselves seem an agile mix of the notorious Bande à Bonnot and the appealing Apache-gangs, which counterbalances their frightening exploits with an anarchistic and rebellious flavor. With their fantastic and obviously improbable tricks they expose the incompetence of authorities such as the police and crime fighters who tend to take them too seriously. As the elusive and sensual Irma Vep even Musidora contributed to the amusing aspects of the series. In each episode appearing in a new disguise, the actress was in charge of ‘informing’ spectators that they were watching Irma Vep, for which she deployed her trademark sidelong glance at the camera and the Apache-pose of placing her hands on her hips. These devices added playfulness and irony to the otherwise mysterious and disconcerting Irma Vep, and likewise created a crucial understanding between Musidora and the public, as the actress suggested in an interview on Radio Suisse Romande (18 November 1947): “I think I was able to establish a close relation with my audience. They used to say: ‘there’s a lot of blood, no doubt about it, but he kills to amuse us and not to scare us because in the end, they would laugh”.
After Fantômas in 2014, Gaumont undertook the digital restoration of Les Vampires, another Louis Feuillade serial (in 10 episodes) made between 1915 and 1916. The serial was a source of inspiration for Surrealists, who admired its narrative freedom and unbridled imagination.
The Éclair lab (Éclair Group) oversaw its restoration working with a nitrate duplicate of the film, a nitrate print and a more recent safety film print for any missing shots. Unfortunately, despite scouring film archives around the world through FIAF, we have been unable to find the original nitrate negative. For the 4K scanning we chose to work with the duplicate, using the later prints only when necessary (for missing shots or ones too damaged in the duplicate). The images were then restored so they could be put back on film. Since the materials available to us gave no indication about the film’s color, the restored version is in black and white. The original intertitles survived in the form of typewritten lists kept at the Bibliothèque du Film (Louis Feuillade archive) and were reintegrated in the 2015 version. The film was restored with the participation of the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée as part of a program for film heritage restoration and digitalization, and with the cooperation of the Cinémathèque française, which provided its materials.
Cast and Credits
Int.: Édouard Mathé (Philippe Guérande), Marcel Lévesque (Oscar Mazamette), Musidora (Irma Vep/Anne-Marie Le Goff), Jean Ayme (le Grand Vampire/le Grand Julot), Maurice Luguet (il direttore del giornale), Delphine Renot (Madame Guérande), Louis Leubas (le père Silence).
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Nicolas Seydoux (Presidente Gaumont)
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ASCENSEUR POUR L’ÉCHAFAUD
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Nicolas Seydoux (Gaumont)