Monday, April 23, 2012

Human Vampires

Up until that particular 50-or-so minute mark in Feuillade's Les Vampires, the eponymous gang is claimed to be a menacing band of no-gooders who behead patrol policemen, poison stage performers, create fraudulent identities and commit a double-homicide before making one of the most spectacular (yet graceful escapes) in the history of cinema (The Great Vampire's touchdown via-a-pipe at the end of 'The Severed Head'; shot in a single, unbroken take, is as fluid as Assayas's post-post-modern imagining eight decades later). Suddenly, however, in the third chapter, 'The Red Codebook', an intertitle announces revelry in the Vampires' camp - which then bleeds into the ensuing shot: Dr. Nox and Irma Vep scheme in the foreground with squinty eyes and grouchy noses as the great criminal-club transforms into a sea of casual normalness ('see, they aren't even wearing latex masks and suits!') behind them. Abruptly, Feuillade severs the film that will follow the intertitle from the film that precedes it - the vampires will no longer be a menace, but petty criminals who do what they do because they must - not because they want to. It sets up a grand narrative idea as well - Guerande will now wage an equal war, not an impossible one - as his humiliating defeat at the end of the first chapter would have had us believe.

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