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Louis Feuillade had enjoyed enormous success during the silent era with his action/adventure serials involving master criminals such as Fantômas and master crime fighters. Georges Franju’s Judex, made in 1963, is a remake of the 1916 Feuillade production of the same name. It’s a movie that really does seem to come from another era – you have to keep reminding yourself that this movie came out after the first of the James Bond films. Franju’s movie is deliberately archaic, and once you get used to the feel of it its considerable charm starts to win you over. It has the touches of the surreal that you expect from the director of Eyes Without a Face, and it really is unlike any other movie of the 1960s. The convoluted plot involves a crooked banker (is there any other king of banker one may ask), his beautiful daughter, a masked-avenger style crime-fighter called Judex, and a remarkably appealing and very sexy (and very wicked) female criminal named Diana Monti. She gets to wear an extraordinary array of costumes, ranging from typical 1914 women’s clothing to black catsuits and at one point she even gets to dress up as a nun. Francine Bergé’s performance as Diana is the highlight of the movie. The great crime-fighter Judex is played by an American stage magician named Channing Pollock, and his magic act plays an important role in the movie, especially in the memorable masked-ball scene early on. Audiences whose ideas of pulp cinema are derived from Quentin Tarantino may find Judex a little slow and disappointingly lacking in mindless violence. This is a movie that has to be accepted on its own terms – it’s an arty, surreal action/adventure movie and if you can get your head around that concept then it’s a fascinating viewing experience. - princeplanetmovies.blogspot.com/
Amongst early pioneers in film, Louis Feuillade, who made his famous serials between the lead-up to World War I and his early death in 1925, produced ür-texts of almost incalculable impact on subsequent architectonics of film and popular culture. For many French and German directors, in particular, his style is almost endlessly resonant: his example gave immediate birth to Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock. Feuillade’s style moved beyond the theatrical wonderment of Georges Méliès to embrace a perfervid blend of realism and make-believe, utilising the realities of the then-contemporary Parisian landscape and filling it with bizarre emanations of the fantastic, populated by figures accumulated from tropes of gothic fiction and stage melodrama, and the evolving science fiction and detective genres. He did so with a deadpan grace that made him an immediate ancestor for the surrealist movement, which would bloom in the following few years, and captured, in several senses, the birth of modernity. More than that, the tensions within Feuillade’s work seem to capture an innate dissonance in the nature of film, poised to be both a tool for capturing the world as it is, and yet ripe for subverting reality and delighting the eye with wonders and perversities that take on totemic power. The images and driving ideas of his serials have been sustained and transmitted through innumerable tributes and imitations, both drawing from and contributing to the common lore of pulp heroism and comic-book super-heroism. As such, it’s arguable something of Feuillade’s spirit trickles down to us even in such contemporary product as V for Vendetta (2005) or The Dark Knight Rises (2012), where the source material owes its definite debts, however distant, to Feuillade’s fantasias of masked avengers and cat-suited femme fatales dancing over rooftops and reigning over a cityscape transformed into a psychic playground.
Eyes Without a Face (1959), named after a Feuillade work and remixing themes from fairy tales and 1930s horror films, he decided to remake the silent master’s 1916 serial Judex. Some New Wavers made fun of him for crawling back into historical daydreams, and yet Franju has been proven smartly anticipatory of where popular fantasies were heading. Within a few years, a surge of pop-art-hued superhero mockeries would hit screens big and small, long before comic-book progeny would begin to invade multiplexes. In turn Franju would provide some inspiration to other filmmakers, especially horror directors like Don Sharp, whose The Kiss of the Vampire (1964) was immediately indebted, and French underground gothic auteur Jean Rollin. Franju’s touch is far more delicate, however, than most of his followers, and certainly more so than the blockbuster fare he anticipated. His film’s closing title reads, “Dedicated to Louis Feuillade – In Memory of an Unhappy Time: 1916,” a reminder that many of the most disturbing fantasias well out of the most troubled of eras. Franju’s take on Feuillade’s material both looked back to the hazy dawn of modernism and anticipated an oncoming age of moral destabilisation, rebellious countercultures, and anarchic subcultures.
Georges Franju's Judex is an arch, playful tribute to the serials of the influential silent filmmaker Louis Feuillade. Franju shuffles through the plot of Feuillade's lengthy serial of the same name, about an adventurer named Judex (Channing Pollock) whose revenge against the corrupt banker Favraux (Michel Vitold) unleashes a complicated series of schemes. The film is defined by its complex twists and turns, its melodramatic indulgences: a wronged father (René Génin) who's searching for his missing son; the fiendish femme fatale Marie Verdier (Francine Bergé) who faces off against Judex; the plots centering around Jacqueline (Edith Scob), the daughter of Favraux; the incompetent detective Cocantin (Max Montavon), who seems more comfortable as a babysitter than an investigator. The film opens with Favraux being blackmailed by Judex, who threatens to expose the banker's many crimes if he doesn't give his ill-gained fortune back to his victims.
Fittingly, Franju opens with an iris-out, and will close the film with an iris-in, only the most obvious of his nods to his inspiration. Franju sets his film primarily in the same kinds of gritty, realistic locales favored by Feuillade, who loved shooting on the streets and in scenic exteriors. The texture of the image here is grainy and dark, tending toward shadowy nighttime scenes where cloaked figures skulk through the abandoned streets, framed against the moon, heading out on mysterious errands. Franju is riffing on the magical, playful qualities of Feuillade's classic serials, and the imagery is lush. Judex's grand entrance in particular is stunning, set at a costume ball where he arrives in a massive bird mask, his outstretched, upturned palm holding a seemingly dead bird before him as he weaves through the revelers, with Franju's camera bobbing behind him. He then proceeds to perform a series of magic tricks for the assembled guests, pulling scarves from his sleeves and turning them into doves, which then flutter around the room. And, foreshadowing one of the film's central twists, he even brings the dead bird back to life with a gesture, allowing it too to fly off his palm into the audience. It's an amazing introduction, establishing the film's basic theme, its tribute to the magic and mystery of the cinema, the sleight of hand by which the filmmakers can divert the audience's attention and create startling effects.
This scene establishes the sense of low-key fun at the film's core, its predilection for toying with genre elements. This is especially true of the gleefully evil femme fatale Marie, the film's best character — and its best performance in Bergé, who really projects the slinky, haughty evil of her versatile seductress/criminal. Stalking through the night in her tight black jumpsuit and domino mask, she seems like a master criminal, which makes it easy to miss the fact that all of her schemes actually don't go so well. In one of the film's most delightful inventions, when she's breaking into Favraux's house, her henchman is snared by a handcuff trap that unexpectedly pops out of a desk, right at the spot where the crook had his arm resting to pick a lock. Marie is actually foiled at every turn, often by the unflappable Judex, who drifts around with his black cape flopping behind him and a black hat on his head.
Franju's approach to this story is inherently anti-logical, infusing Judex's adventures with a laidback, drowsy surrealism. The spectacle of the bird-headed hero performing magic tricks is absurd enough, but more subtle is the way the film utterly rejects the idea of death, allowing characters to pass fluidly between states. Characters are constantly being declared dead, sometimes even buried, only to suddenly come back to life, as though they had merely fainted and were able to recover: the convention becomes so familiar that when the villainess actually seems to remain dead after falling off a building at the denouement, it's startling. Franju's characters defy death, not because of any narrative logic — these resurrections are never explained — but simply because the magic of cinema and the strange anti-logic of this film allows it. Similarly, Franju creates complex shots where the camera starts from the distinctive Feuillade static camera angle, at a medium distance from the action, only to begin flowing into the scene, creating new compositions. This fluid camerawork suggests the technological limitations of Feuillade's cinema only to replace it with the more sophisticated possibilities available to Franju. At other times, he achieves striking effects with the editing, as when he cuts from Jacqueline walking up a staircase in her home to Marie walking up one as she schemes against the other woman.
The film's pacing is languid despite all this plotting, allowing plenty of time for Franju to explore the texture of the images, the vibrant characters, and the subtle jokes embedded in the mise en scène and performances. Perhaps the best sequence is the denouement, which keeps escalating as Judex and Cocantin engineer a showdown with Marie and her lover. It's a rich scene, though the action is less important than the whimsical touches, like the way the detective acquires a young sidekick who imitates his idol's every move, parroting his shuffling gait, the way he folds his arms behind his back, the way he nervously paces while waiting for Judex to save the day. At the scene's climax, a circus suddenly pulls up, owned by one of a Cocantin's friends, an acrobat (Sylva Koscina) who thrusts herself into the middle of the action by climbing up a sheer brick wall to the top of the building, where she rescues Judex from the clutches of the villains. Before she does, however, she pauses at the top, smiling and waving as she looks down at Judex's masked henchmen clustered below, looking up with the white eyeholes in their masks seeming to glow in the dark. She finally winds up stealing the show from the titular hero, even getting the final battle with Marie. The villain in her tight black jumpsuit and the acrobat in an equally form-fitting white outfit: light and dark, white hats and black hats, good and evil, all the movie conventions about heroes and villains inscribed in the clothes of these two women.
Franju's Judex is a compelling tribute to the silent cinema and the conventions of classic, pulpy genre storytelling. This film takes what might've been a straightforward story and infuses it with a moody visual sensibility and a subtly surrealist perspective that really locates the magic and mystery in these well-worn genre archetypes.- seul-le-cinema.blogspot.com/
Don’t know why I assumed this was not a good movie. I’d seen screen captures from the DVD (some of the same ones I’ve got below) and somehow I still thought it was possible to make a bad movie using those images. It is not. This was astounding.
In a daring but successful shout-out to Feuillade, the story (set in 1910 or 20) is ridiculous. Plot threads do not weave together as in a tapestry of grand design. Each scene seems to have been thought up after the last one was finished filming. This is not a weakness, but adds to the movie’s dreamlike effect.
Master criminal Judex’s evil plans aren’t very broad-ranging in this story. He’s stalking rich guy Favraux acting as his servant, sends a letter demanding Favraux surrender half his fortune or he will die the next night. Next night at the costume ball (seen above), Favraux does die.
But he’s not dead! Imprisoned by Judex!
Daughter Jacqueline is left alone in the house!
She is easy prey for Marie, the swinding ex-governess of the house who returns to steal Favraux’s valuable papers and kidnaps Jac. when she interferes.
But Jac. is rescued by Judex’s dogs!
There’s a private eye named Cocantin (seen below reading Fantomas), originally hired by Favraux, and somehow still involved.
Can he stop Marie?!? Who can??
Ha, not really. Marie has captured Jac again, has her tied up atop a building along with Marie’s accomplice, a man who found his long-lost father earlier after Favraux tried to have the father killed, but that’s another story. Highlight of the movie here, Cocantin is wondering how to get atop that building when a circus caravan rolls past. Why, it’s the circus of his old friend Daisy, an acrobat who easily climbs the building!
Rooftop fight! Marie grabs the gutter! Will she fall??
I think the only actor I knew was Edith Scob as Jacqueline – just saw her as Mary in The Milky Way. Sylva Koscina (Daisy) was in some MST3K-approved Hercules films. Francine Bergé (Marie) was later in Mr. Klein, Rivette’s The Nun and Roger Vadim’s La Ronde remake. Channing Pollock (Judex) was a magician with only a few other film roles. René Génin (Pierre Kerjean) had appeared in Renoir and Carné films in the 30′s. This movie was co-written by Feuillade’s grandson, heh.
G. Gardner with Senses of Cinema:
Franju sought in particular to recapture Feuillade’s sense of documentary and his playfulness. He reproduced with as much exactitude as possible the costumes and settings which Feuillade filmed in scrupulous detail. Feuillade’s street-scapes are now an invaluable documentary record, but Franju also paid particular attention to reproducing the elaborate interior designs and furnishings of the day, resulting in settings of quite extraordinary detail and clutter. Franju also sought, despite the playfulness, to avoid any camp satire of these elements by over-emphasis or any special attention being paid to them.
In the title role, Franju pulled off his most brilliant coup by casting the master prestidigator of his day, near godlike in his handsomeness, Channing Pollock. Pollock’s skills as a magician were employed to produce a dazzling array of apparent magical occurrences involving, most particularly, disappearing doves, a plot device that Feuillade uses to enable the regular rescue of the heroine and others by Judex. Franju’s Judex is a far livelier, less sombre, more inventive and more mysterious character than that of Feuillade. - deeperintomovies.net/