The Sunday Intertitle: Night at the Museum

Bloody hell, he is, too! He’s Rene Navarre, alias Fantomas, here cast as “Chantecoq, King of Detectives”.

“I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.”

(I’d love to see a movie with the King of Detectives vs the King of the Beatniks from THE HYPNOTIC EYE.)

Just as M. Vidocq turned from crime to detection, proving that it takes a thief to catch a thief, so Navarre has converted from being the terrorist master of disguise, to cop monarch Chantecoq.

BELPHEGOR, a four part serial from 1927, is a little slow-moving by the standard of these things, with much time spent on various characters’ domestic arrangements rather than running around the Louvre firing pistols at ghosts (in the inspirationally-named ┬áRoom of Barbarian Gods). But it has atmosphere, romance, and lovely art deco rooms. The hero’s wallpaper is thrilling, and if you run a bar code scanner over it you’ll find out what it cost.

Veteran director Henri Desfontaines’ four-part serial has a funereal pace for a thriller, but striking compositional sense and art direction. The effect is exactly as dreamlike as we Feuillade fans might wish it to be. There’s the masked phantom of the title, a sinister hunchback in Dickensian muttonchops, disguises, escapes, a historical flashback, and an unusual example of product placement. The story was originally serialized in Le Petit Parisian newspaper, and the hapless hero is himself a reporter for that organ. Instead of merely placing the product in the story, the publisher placed the story in the product too, creating a potentially infinite reality regression of the kind you get when you stand between two mirrors. Vertiginous.

Since there are four episodes, each nearly an hour, but only about half an hour’s worth of plot, interesting padding is devised. Random characters at various times see Belphegor, the Phantom of the Louvre, even when he isn’t there. In episode one he appears inside a loudspeaker broadcasting news of his criminous exploits, and also superimposed over a newspaper article. He’s clearly less a man than a media-spread terror meme, like Bin Laden.

BELPHEGOR later became a sixties TV show with Juliette Greco (acclaimed) a comic strip, an animated series, and a Sophie Marceau mess — it’s also a major influence on Luc Besson’s intermittently forgivable LES AVENTURES EXTRAORDINAIRE D’ADELE BLANC-SEC.

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8 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Night at the Museum”

  1. Good as Greco is, I still recommend Michael Bartlett’s version in She Married Her Boss.

  2. [...] BELPHEGOR, a four part serial from 1927, is a little slow-moving by the standard of these things, with much time spent on various characters’ domestic arrangements rather than running around the Louvre firing pistols at ghosts (in the inspirationally-named Room of Barbarian Gods). But it has atmosphere, romance, and lovely art deco rooms. The hero’s wallpaper is thrilling, and if you run a bar code scanner over it you’ll find out what it cost.  [...]

  3. However mediocre the Luc Bession ADELE might be, the comic book version by the great Jacques Tardi is a genuine classic. Not sure about the availability in the UK, but there are very nice versions being published by Fantagraphics in the US.

  4. Oh, they’re available. I would strongly suspect Tardi was influenced by serials of the Fantomas school — Belphegor is a late example of the genre. And of course by Max Klinger’s The Glove –

    http://uncannyuk.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/uncanny-pic-max-klingers-pterodactyl/

  5. I’m very fond of Alan Rudolph and The Moderns. “I just bumped into Maurice Ravel in the men’s room. He didn’t recognize me, thank God.”

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