While watching the blu-ray of Les Vampires (Kino, 7/14) it’s impossible not to see the influence this 1915 serial had on every film and director that came afterwards, not the least of which was Fritz Lang (starting with his 1919 The Spiders). Louis Feuillade had an eye for conspiratorial intrigue and international crime rings. All ten episodes (over 400 minutes) unwind in silent black-and-white splendor, with a score performed by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
Les Vampires (LV) follows the exploits of a hotshot reporter who tracks down a sinister syndicate that specializes in high-dollar robberies. Just the thought that at the turn of the previous century a charismatic hero would be a newspaper employee, as opposed to later incarnations of courage like the private detective, the cool anti-hero, or the man-on-the-run, brings a smile to a wizened face. LV also introduced the world to the ultimate femme fatale, Irma Vep, an anagram of the word vampire. By the way, there are no actual vampires involved in the story, although the baddies like to don costumes and wear masks.
Here’s some of the action that occurs: the plot in Episode 1 involves a head in a box; in Episode 2, a woman named Marfa dresses like a bat (Hello, a generation before Detective Comics #27, and a few years before the Broadway play, The Bat, which itself was filmed notably as The Bat Whispers in 1930) and dances what could be kindly called a “batdance,” before being dispatched by Irma Vep; subsequent betrayals and coups by rival gangs for the head of the Vampires; the introduction of a comical side-kick; incredible stunts and subterfuge; and crime plotting.
I remember sitting in a writing seminar years ago, where screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker told how the producer of a film told him that in no way would he make a film that ends with a head in a box. The name of that film was Se7en.
Make no mistake, Les Vampires pleases fans of classic cinema easily enough, but also provides a spellbinding crime thriller that contemporary audiences onto which audiences can latch.
On the B-side a couple of releases from Anchor Bay temporarily turned my blu-ray living room into a drive-in. Breathless (8/14) uses Texas trailer trash as a setting for a bloody crime; Gina Gershon toplines with support from Ray Liotta, Val Kilmer and Kelli Giddish. This is really Gershon’s show and she connives her way through her husband, bank robbery loot and lipstick. Skyjacked (7/31) provides terrorist airplane suspense in the mode of Executive Decision (although not quite on the same flight path). While Skyjacked nominally stars Randy Couture it was really the performances of Vinnie Jones and Dominic Purcell that vaulted it onto my list.
Virginia (Entertainment One, 8/21) searches the souls involved in a small town scandal. Jennifer Connelly playing a single mom, who may have a few screws loose, puts up with a decades-long affair with the local sheriff (Ed Harris) and protects her son from the real identity of his father. When the lad starts dating the sheriff’s daughter (Emma Roberts) all kinds of hell break loose including political shenanigans, a bank robbery and a romance that’s possibly tinged with incest. Written and directed by Dustin Lance Black.
Essential Games of the Texas Rangers (A&E, 8/14) contains four games on four discs. One game, Nolan Ryan’s seventh no-hitter (May 1, 1991 against Toronto) defines edge-of-your-seat suspense. Yes, you know the winner and the outcome but the elements leading to the ninth inning are stretched with baseball anxiety. The way Ryan strikes out the entire second inning is sports poetry in motion. When Nolan fans the last batter it’s jaw-dropping how fast the batter is swinging at nothing.
Titanic: 100 Years in 3D (A&E, 8/14) makes the cut to sit on my 3D self next to Avatar and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Converted films to 3D have no interest to me for obvious reasons yet this 45-minute documentary was shot using 3D digital cameras during a 2010 expedition. Sure, there are the usual historical recreations but the fruit of the documentary is the stunning 3D photography of the boat at the bottom of the ocean that just won’t go away.
All discs reviewed on blu-ray except for Virginia and Essential Game of the Texas Rangers.