Dreams & Visions

Whenever we have had a laptop at our disposal for the last two or three weeks, we have ended our days by taking it up to bed and watching an episode of Les Vampires. This was a series directed by Louis Feuillade, and made for Gaumont in the middle of World War I (1915-6). It is a crime thriller, in which an intrepid young reporter for the Mondial is pitted against a gang of master criminals known as Les Vampires. Don’t ask about the plots. The criminal crew is liable to change without notice (no less than four Chief Head Vampires are successively unmasked and destroyed, probably on account of asking for a raise). The one constant is Irma Vep (note anagram), played by Musidora, in constant danger of falling flat on her face, dragged down by the weight of her mascara. Irma is very wonderful. She abseils down buildings, leaps off cars, seduces anyone she has a mind to (including, almost, Our Hero), she is a mistress of disguise. She sings apache songs, can do a very (un)respectable can-can, and impersonate a ballerina. You keep thinking she’s dead but she isn’t. Apart from Irma, there are car chases, which have a particular charm when the vehicles are moving at 20 mph, rooftop chases, train-top chases, mysterious gases, secret formulae, grand hotels, divas with jewels, American millionaries, sweet young things, Apache dance-halls … and as if that were not quite sufficient, a scene in which a French officer in the Peninsular war fights and kills a bull with his cavalry sabre (this was an out-take from a discontinued historical epic which Feuillade couldn’t bear to part with: the Chief Head Vampire was therefore constrained to ‘hold his fellow hotel guests spell-bound with a reading from his grandfather’s memoirs’. So There). The dreamlike inconsequentiality of Les Vampires has been a wonderful way to end the day, but alas, last night, Irma Vep was finally, fatally shot, and that was the end. Next we will go onto Fantômas, but it hasn’t got Irma Vep in it, alas. A significant part of the charm of the whole thing is, of course, the mise-en-scène: the drawing-rooms and ball-rooms, the way the houses were organised — 90 years ago, now. Another additional interest is that it became almost immediately obvious that Irma and the gang lived again in the imagination of the late Edward Gorey. Detail after detail evoked his drawings, or rather, the other way round. Irma is almost every Gorey villainess that ever was by turns, except for the ones that are specifically New England. The little high cars are Gorey cars; the smart society ladies dressed, as he dressed them, by Poiret. There’s even a ballet-dancer dressed as a bat.

12 Responses to “Dreams & Visions”

  1. The German Guest Says:

    Apart from the fact that - no offense - I’ve never really understood what people find in the common walking corpse, I was amused to read the verb “to abseil” - which seems to denote exactly what it does in the German “abseilen”, right? Reminds me of English influences on Hebrew; guess what Israelis call the plural of blocks, as in city block? Right, “blockim”.

  2. Jane Says:

    Les Vampires aren’t actually vampires: it looked as if in Episode I Feuillade was in two minds about this, but by episode II he had decided that they were merely terrifying, secret and sinister Master Criminals. ‘Abseil’ became part of the international vocabulary of climbing, & from thence entered the English language.

  3. will Says:

    You do at least get Lady Beltham next.

  4. Jane Says:

    We’ve started Fantomas. As for Lady Beltham …. werllll, it’s just not the same, innit? Not enough mascara for a start, and so far she has shown not the slightest sign of abseiling down ANYTHING. Or doing a can-can, or dressing up as a bat.

  5. The Man From Maryport Says:

    Curious Mountaineering Fact: Americans don’t abseil, they rappell. I assume this must mean early American climbers spent their time in the French Alps & the Brits in the German-speaking bits of Switzerland?

  6. The Barbadian Latinist Says:

    Blog readers are warned not to confuse this with another DVD offering called _Les Vampires_, Made in 2000, this is billed as “A darkly erotic tale of sapphic blood letting and vampires.”

  7. Jane Says:

    Or with Oliver Assayas’ _Irma Vep_ (1996), starring Maggie Cheung — though unlike the bloodfest unearthed by the Barbadian Latinist, this sounds as if it might be rather fun in an introverted sort of way.

  8. the tropical godfather Says:

    I WANT TO BE IRMA VEP!!!!! Or, at the very least, a ballet dancer dressed as a bat…

    Can anyone help?

  9. Jane Says:

    You’ll have to fight it out with the slinky Maggie Cheung … vitriol-loaded syringes at dawn?

  10. The Man From Maryport Says:

    I’m grateful to the Barbadian Latinist for the thumbnail review of ‘Les Vampires’ 2000. Sounds like an absolute must-see . . .

  11. the tropical godfather Says:

    I have a lot of werewolf in my ancestry, so Maggie Cheung better watch out.

  12. carol Says:

    Well petals, I can only say I got to Buffy before ye! (For non-watchers, the best and most adictive TV drama out of the USA since Twin Peaks). And furthermore, I finished enjoying a revisit of the final episode of the final series (the seventh) in Leeds on Friday night, and the maternal telly broke down completely on Saturday. Oh what fun that wasn’t…

    I shall think fondly of you from my Sussex fastness over the next month. I have doubts concerning the midge-potential of the moat, but will bear up thinking of the itchness those nasty Norman invaders in their chainmail must have experienced. And take TWO pots of tiger-balm to repel anything that lurks, hovers, importunes or growls in the undergrowth. Bye!

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