Louis Feuillade short films (1908-1916)

I now have the Artificial Eye edition of Les Vampires, which has a few additional shorts by Feuillade as bonus material. Shall we look at what he got up to when he wasn’t making seven-hour serials? Let’s do that.

The Roman Orgy (1911): Kicks us off in literally colourful style, with the print on offer here coming complete with stencil tints. Surprising what a feeling of class such a thing imparts, especially to a production like this which, though only eight minutes long, looks like it was trying to be a “big” production. We’re in the reign of the infamous Elagabalus, who feeds people to the lions at the slightest provocation and similarly surprises his banquet guests with them too before the Praetorian Guard lose their shit. Somewhat florid but nice-looking, especially with the colour enhancements.

Awakening of the Artist (1916): A skit which also features on the American DVD under the title “For the Children”. Shows an assortment of Feuillade’s Vampires cast rushing to the Gaumont studio so a pretty bad joke can be cracked by Bout-de-Zan at the end. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what the point of this was supposed to be (apparently it’s excerpted from a compilation film of such skits to raise money for war orphans). At least it’s only two minutes.

La bous-bous-mie (1909): Which IMDB dates to 1907, but the film’s title card dates to 1909. So do other sources, but I’ve also found one that attributes it to at least one person other than Feuillade, so… whatever. This finds Feuillade (?) in somewhat broad comic mode, as Mme Ducardon finds herself kind of bowled over by a new dance called the bous-bous-mie when she sees it performed in the music hall, and her enthusiasm for it gradually spreads to all those around her, even the gendarmes who throw her out of the hall and the neighbours who come to complain about the noise of a party she’s hosting. The film “offers a compelling exploitation of imitation and viewer contamination”, at least according to the aforementioned source that credits the film to Étienne Arnaud and/or Émile Cohl rather than Feuillade, all of whom would probably be surprised to learn that they were doing more than just presenting an arse-shaking good time.

The Legend of the Spinner (1908): Feuillade depicts the classical legend of Arachne, who pisses off the goddess Athena with her weaving skills and is transformed into a spider for her efforts, albeit in this version it appears to be at the hands of Poseidon who does it to irritate Athena (who will now always fear spiders, which will now always sping a finer thread than her). The overall piece is reminiscent of a perhaps marginally more technically refined, if also markedly less jolly, Georges Méliès; there’s one sequence where Athena dispatches Arachne to Poseidon’s realm that I’m still trying to work out how it would’ve been achieved. Probably my favourite of these five shorts.

A Very Fine Lady (1908): In which Feuillade stretches one joke possibly a little further than it was able to go, but cute anyway. Essentially, the very fine lady of the title goes walking down the street and turns the head of pretty much every man she passes, whereupon cue a string of accidents and pratfalls (and jealous wives) until a pair of gendarmes finally get her safely covered up. As I said, it’s one joke, but it’s only four minutes and doesn’t really outstay its welcome too badly.

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