The Fantômas Films

Notes for Serial Killings: Fantômas, Feuillade, and the Mass-Culture Geneology of Surrealism, by Robin Walz

  1. Ado Kyrou, Le Surréalisme au cinéma, rev. ed. (Paris: Le Terrain Vague, 1963; orig. 1952). See also Yves Kovacs, ed., Surréalisme et Cinéma (1), special issue of études Cinématographiques, nos. 38/39 (1965); J. H. Matthews, Surrealism and Film (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1971); Linda Williams, Figures of Desire: A Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984); Richard Abel, "Exploring the Discursive Field of the Surrealist Film Scenario Text," in Rudolf E. Kuenzli, ed., Dada and Surrealist Film (New York: Willis Locker & Owens, 1987), 58-71; Steven Kovács, "The Poets Dream of Movies," in Sidra Stich, Anxious Visions, Surrealist Art (New York: Abbeville Press, 1990), 223-31. Return to article.

  2. Williams, xiii. Return to article.

  3. Kyrou, 63. Return to article.

  4. Williams, xii-xiv. Return to article.

  5. I borrow the term "stimulators" of surrealism from Maurice Nadeau, The History of Surrealism, trans. Richard Howard (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1989; original French editions 1944-48). While Nadeau focuses upon the "high" literary ancestry which Baudelaire, Jarry, Rimbaud, and Lautréamont bequeathed to the surrealists, I use the term to discuss a no less vital "low" cultural heritage of surrealism. Return to article.

  6. The five Fantômas films by Feuillade and their Gaumont distribution dates are: Fantômas (May 1913), Juve contre Fantômas (September 1913), Le Mort qui tue (November 1913), Fantômas contre Fantômas (February 1914), Le Faux magistrat (April 1914). Plot summaries of each of the films are presented in Richard Abel, The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 370-80. Reconstructed and more richly detailed film scenarios, in French and illustrated with movie stills, are assembled in "Spécial Feuillade Fantômas," L'Avant-scène, nos. 271/272, 1-15 July 1981, 27-92. Good general introductions to Souvestre and Allain's thirty-two volume Fantômas novels (Fayard, 1911-13), are John Ashbery, "Introduction," in Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, Fantômas (New York: William Morrow, 1986), 1-9, and Francis Lacassin, "Fantômas, ou l'énéide des temps moderne," in Souvestre and Allain, Fantômas, vol. 1, "Bouquins" series (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1987), 7-30. The original thirty-two novel series has been reprinted in Souvestre and Allain, Fantômas, 12 vols. (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1961-1965), and Fantômas, 3 vols., "Bouquins" series (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1987-1989). Return to article.

  7. Guillaume Apollinaire, "Fantômas," Mercure de France, 16 July 1914, 422-3. Return to article.

  8. Michel Décaudin, "Les Poètes découvrent le cinéma," Surréalisme et Cinéma, 77. Return to article.

  9. Prévert's original scenario for the film included many references to Fantômas, but the 1928 film footage was shelved and later assembled in 1959. See Yves Kovas, "Témoignages recueillis," Surréalisme et Cinéma, 54-5. On Moerman's Mr. Fantômas, see "Feuillade Fantômas," 23. Return to article.

  10. Collections of Fantômas-inspired writings are assembled in the "Documents" sections of Fantômas, vols. 1 and 2 , "Bouquins" series. See also "Fantômas? C'est Marcel Allain," special issue of La Tour de feu, no.. 88, 1965, and L'Insaisissable and Nouvelle revue des études Fantômassiennes, the quarterly and annual publications of La Société des Amis de Fantômas (Paris, 1991-current). Return to article.

  11. Littérature, nouvelle série, nos. 11/12, 1923, 24-5 Return to article.

  12. Littérature, nouvelle série, no. 9, 1923, 6. Return to article.

  13. As late as 1924, co-author Marcel Allain registered complete surprise that the avant-garde saw great literary merit in Fantômas. See, Pierre Scize, "49.280.000 lignes, c'est à quoi se monte la production d'un auteurs de Fantômas," Paris-Journal, 20 June 1924, 1. In the twenty-second Fantômas novel, Les Amours d'un prince, Souvestre and Allain lampoon "Littéraria," an avant-garde poetry journal they created for the episode. Information concerning business contracts and entrepreneurial motivations is presented in "Un contrat historique," Europe nos. 590/591, June/July 1978, 49-51, and Francis Lacassin, Louis Feuillade (Paris: éditions Seghers, 1964), 50. Return to article.

  14. Matthews, 15. Return to article.

  15. Lacassin, "Fantômas, ou l'éneide," 12. Return to article.

  16. Williams, 6. Return to article.

  17. Williams, 214. Return to article.

  18. Claude Vareille, L'Homme masqué, le justicier et le détective (Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1989), 144. Return to article.

  19. J.-B. Pontalis, "Between the Dream as Object and the Dream-Text," in Frontiers in Psychoanalysis: Between the Dream and Psychic Pain, trans. Catherine Cullen and Philip Cullen (London: The Hogarth Press, 1981), 49-55. L'Insaisissable is yet another title of Fantômas frequently invoked throughout the novel series. Return to article.

  20. André Breton, Les Vases communicants, quoted in Marguerite Bonnet, "L'Aube du surréalisme et le cinéma: Attente et rencontres," Surréalisme et Cinéma, 91. Bonnet regards this phrase, which Breton lifted from Murnau's Nosferatu, as a surrealist leitmotif for the cinema. Return to article.

  21. Georges-Albert Astre, "Surréalisme et Cinéma," in Surréalisme et Cinéma, 3-5. Return to article.

  22. Kyrou, 13. Return to article.

  23. The Freudian uncanny (Unheimlich) as a surreal aspect of film is discussed briefly in Kyrou, 270-1. In more depth, Hal Foster has argued that the provocation of the uncanny is the quintessential technique of surrealism, in Compulsive Beauty (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993). Return to article.

  24. This classic surrealist statement on convulsive beauty, drawn from Lautréamont's Maldoror, is quoted and discussed in Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 240-2. See also Foster, 21-9. Return to article.

  25. Nadeau, 69-76. See also André Breton, Anthologie de l'humour noir (Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert, 1972; orig. 1941). Bonnot and Landru received high marks on a literary value chart in Littérature, no. 18, March 1921, 24. The surrealists' enthusiasm for Germaine Berton's assassination of Action Française secretary Marius Plateau was featured in La Révolution Surréaliste, no. 1, December 1924, 17. Collected surrealist poems and essays to the parricide Violet Nozières are found in André Breton, et al., Violette Nozières (Bruxelles: éditions Nicolas Flamel, 1933). Articles by Jacques Lacan on the von Papen sisters' unmotivated murder of their employer appeared in the surrealist review Minotaure in 1933; see Alain Grosrichard, "Dr. Lacan, 'Minotaure,' surréalistes rencontres," in Regards sur Minotaure, la revue à tête de bête (Geneva: Musée d'art et d'histoire, 1987), 159-73. Return to article.

  26. The covers of all the Fantômas novels, as well as other titles in Fayard's "Livre Populaire" series, are reproduced in Alfu, Patrice Caillot, and François Ducos, Gino Starace: L'Illustrateur de "Fantômas" (Paris: Encrage, 1987). The Fantômas covers featured in Documents are reproduced in James Clifford, "Documents: A Decomposition," in Anxious Visions, Surrealist Art, 184. Return to article.

  27. Breton, "Manifesto of Surrealism," in Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbour: University of Michigan Press, 1972), 9. Return to article.

  28. Souvestre and Allain, Fantômas (Paris: Livre de poche, 1966; orig. 1911), 446. Return to article.

  29. Georges Sadoul, "Souvenirs d'un témoin," Surréalisme et Cinéma, 12. Sadoul recounts playing a game with Jacques Prévert, Raymond Queneau, and Yves Tanguy in which one person called out a title from one of the thirty-two Fantômas novels, and the others would recall how many murders the Lord of Terror committed in that particular episode. With regard to the Fantômas films, Sadoul confirms that interest lay exclusively with the serial, and not Feuillade. Return to article.

  30. Feuillade produced two additional silent film serials for Gaumont based upon the exploits of gangs of criminals led by arch-villains in Tih Mihn (12 episodes, 1918) and Barrabas (12 episodes, 1919). Return to article.

  31. "Au-delà de la mode! Au-delà du goût!" in Breton and Aragon, "Le Trésor des Jésuites," Variétés, special issue "Le Surréalisme en 1929," June 1929. While strictly speaking of Les Mystères de New York and Les Vampires, the proclamation applies to silent serialized thrillers generally. Return to article.