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DVD Slight Return: Fantomas

Submitted by admin on October 5, 2010 – 12:57 pmNo Comment

There was a time in the transition from records to CDs where long out of print music found its way to the shiny discs. Turn of the century and pre-WW II recordings once only available through archives could be bought alongside the latest pop sensation. Just a note, I have a record from 1903 and it’s heavy and thick like a plate and the grooves are only etched on one side. Someone must’ve had a light bulb go off and realized you could put music on both sides.

Likewise the availability of many silent films remained scarce, possibly lost or unseen save for rare art house or specialty cinema bookings. Now DVDs have paved the way for restored classics to find a new audience. One of the best examples would be the recent restoration of Metropolis soon to be released on disc in a version not seen since the silent era. From the same company, Kino International, also comes restored version of the five French Fantomas films of Louis Feuillade.

Made in 1913 and 1914 these films are like discovering the source of a gold vein. These are literally the prototype cloak and dagger, espionage and police procedural films. The master criminal Fantomas is pursued throughout the series by police inspector Juve, and an intrepid reporter named Fandor. Other colorful characters include American detective Tom Bob and the Grand Duchess who herself was once Fantomas’ lover.

The five films are Fantomas in the Shadow of the Guillotine, Juve vs. Fantomas, The Murderous Corpse, Fantomas vs. Fantomas and The False Magistrate. Fantomas is a master of disguise and some of the films open with his visage dissolving over and over into his various characters. Much of Feuillade’s technique can be seen in just about every genre film of this type made since.

All the films are restored with their original tinting. Additional bonus commentary on two of the films by film historian David Kalat adds a master’s class worth of facts about early silent and color cinema.
- Michael Bergeron

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