Thursday, May 5, 2016
Louis Feuillade | 13 films
a feuillade sampler
Louis Feuillade (writer and director)
Le Récit du colonel (The Colonel’s Account) / 1907
Une Dame vraiment bien (A Very Fine Lady) / 1908
Le Printemps (Spring) / 1909
Possession de L’Enfant (Custody of the Child) / 1909
La Feé des grèves (The Fair in the Surf) 1909
L’Orgie romaine (The Roman Orgy) 1911
La Tare (The Defect) / 1911
Le Trust, ou les batailles de l’argent (The Trust, or the Battles for the Money) / 1911
Le Coeur et l’argent (The Heart and the Money) 1912
La Hantise (The Obsession) / 1912
Erreur tragique (Tragic Error) / 1912
L’Agonie de Byzance (The Agony of Byzance) / 1913
Bout de Zan vole un éléphant (Bout de Zan Steals an Elephant) / 1913
by Douglas Messerli
Watching Kino International’s Gaumont Treasures Volume 2 the other day, I was struck, as so many have been, by the range of director Louis Feuillade, who in his lifetime directed over 800 films.
Feuillade’s best works are his more realist social and family dramas. Possession de l’enfant (Custody of the Child) from 1909, for example, concerns a kind of Kramer vs. Kramer situation in which the husband is given custody of the child after a divorce; yet the child, despite his father’s evidently wealthy showering of gifts upon his offspring, misses his mother who, on a visit to her mother-in-law steals the child, hiding him in her small apartment until the father goes to the police to demand the child be returned to him. Yes, the ending, where, after both mother and child plead with the recalcitrant man, the couple is rejoined for the sake of their son, is highly melodramatic; but the work, nonetheless, seems freshly current after more than a century.
Other dramatic works such as Erreur tragique (Tragic Error) of 1912 concern love and jealousy, particularly when a young married man believes he has discovered his wife as a passing figure in a movie, arm-in-arm with another man. Le Trust, ou les batilles de l’argent of 1911 might almost be seen as a precursor to Marcel L’Herbier’s great adaptation of Zola’s novel Money with this movie’s rubber barons and kidnapping of secret agents.
La Hantise (The Obsession) of 1912 concerns a loving woman’s obsession with a crooked palm-reader who warns her that she will soon lose someone very close to her. Soon after, indeed, her husband is about to sail the unsinkable Titanic, and when the newspaper announces that the ship has gone down after hitting an iceberg, her son becomes deathly ill. For a long while he appears that she may lose both of those she loves most—until news comes that her husband and been saved and her visiting grandfather (in a scene missing from the meticulous restoration of these films) tricks the fortuneteller to once again retell his grand-daughter’s fortune, discovering in the process that the fortuneteller is a money-grubbing fake.
When one young woman is cured, she asks only for a picture of her “saint.” However, when she finds herself as a flower-seller in the very same Paris café where the new institution head once worked, that woman’s former lover discovers the photograph and travels south to blackmail his ex-mistress. When she refuses, he publishes a revelation in the local paper, which ends in the bourgeois board members immediately forcing her resignation. Attempts to find other employment end quickly when she can provide no references; and for a few remarkable moments in this dark drama, she considers suicide, moving for an instant to the ledge of her poverty-stricken apartment as she readies to jump. When the sun hits her face, she falls back into the dark confines, determined—so we are told by an intertitle—to help with the sickly Asians to who no else dares minister. Critic Richard Roud described this film as “one of the earliest and most beautiful” films in Feuillade’s “Life As It Is” series.
I look forward to seeing more of Feuillade’s works, which set new heights for very early French and international cinema.
Los Angeles, May 4, 2016