Depending which way you look at it, French crime thriller Les Vampires is a series of 10 relatively short films or an incredibly long film (six and a half hours!) chopped into instalments. Either way, it appeared in 1915 and 1916, directed by Louis Feuillade and starring the cat-suited Musidora (born Jeanne Roques) as the anagrammatical Irma Vep.
While aimed at a mass audience, Les Vampires abounded with technical and stylistic innovations. Feuillade’s vision influenced the commercial experimentation of Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock as well as the resolutely avant-garde films of Luis Buñuel. Along with Theda Bara, Musidora embodied a new type of female in moving pictures, the “vamp“, while also making an impression on the Surrealists. She turns up in poetry by Robert Desnos and the movement’s two leading lights, André Breton and Louis Aragon, wrote a play for her in 1928. In the prologue to the unproduced piece The Treasure of the Jesuits they claim that “it is in Les Vampires that one will have to search for the great reality of the century. Beyond fashion, beyond taste.”
Berlin’s Scharf-Gerstenberg Museum has been screening Les Vampires over several weeks, with piano accompaniment. With a world class collection of Surrealist works the museum forms an appropriate setting for Feuillade’s influential work, and the last three parts of the series will be shown this Thursday (21 June, when the nights start getting longer…).
Of course you don’t necessarily need to be in Berlin to see this groundbreaking film/series; you’ll find all 10 parts below. Having only seen small extracts to date, I’m aiming to watch an episode a day but if you feel your productivity is reaching dangerously Stakhanovite levels do feel free to gobble it down whole.