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Silent Sunday Nights - May 2013
Remind Me

Judex, Prologue - Part III

A serial in twelve episodes. Prologue; Episode 1: The Mysterious Shadow; Episode 2: The Atonement; Episode 3: The Fantastic Dog Pack; Episode 4: The Secret of the Tomb; Episode 5: The Tragic Mill; Episode 6: The Licorice Kid; Episode 7: The Woman in Black; Episode 8: The Underground Passages of the Chateau-Rouge; Episode 9: When the Child Appeared; Episode 10: Jacqueline's Heart; Episode 11: The Water Goddess; Episode 12: Love's Forgiveness.

Morales and his partner-in-crime, Diana Monti, are scheming to get their hands on the wealth of Favraux, a corrupt investment banker. Posing as the governess Marie Verdier, Diana has insinuated herself into Favraux's household and has seduced him with her charms. At the same time, Amaury de la Rochefontaine, a dissolute aristocrat who needs cash to pay off his debts, is courting Favraux's daughter Jacqueline, a young widow, in order to gain access to the Favraux fortune. When Pierre Kerjean--a victim of Favraux's phony investments and now a destitute tramp--request's Favraux's assistance in locating his missing son, Favraux turns him out rudely and later runs over him with his car. A mysterious figure named Judex sends Favraux a letter ordering him to give over half his fortune to the Public Assistance Bureau to atone for his crimes. When Favraux refuses, he is apparently killed by an embolism while toasting his daughter's engagement. Jacqueline then receives a letter from Judex directing her to give all of her father's estate to the Public Assistance Bureau. Devastated by the knowledge of her father's crimes, she complies with the demand, and as a result must send her son Jean to be raised in the country while she struggles to earn a living. In the meantime, we learn that Favraux is in fact alive, held prisoner in the castle of the black-caped Judex and his brother Roger. Diana Monti, Morales and Aumaury de la Rochefontaine, together with the bumbling private detective Cocantin, try to locate Favraux in order to prove he is alive and get a share of his estate, kidnapping Jacqueline and then Little Jean to gain leverage over Judex. Moreover, Judex's plans to mete out justice are complicated by his growing love for Jacqueline.

Today Louis Feuillade (1873-1925) is regarded as one of the most important French directors of the silent era, arguably eclipsing the more self-consciously arty style of directors like Louis Delluc, Germaine Dulac and Marcel L'Herbier. Coming from a devout Catholic family in the south of France, Feuillade studied in a seminary then enlisted in the military before starting a career as a journalist. Intrigued by the rapidly growing film industry, in 1905 he signed up with Gaumont to write scripts, directing his own films within a year. Remarkably prolific, he directed an estimated 700 films, most of them short or medium-length. They included chase comedies, prestige pictures on religious and mythological subjects, realistic "slice of life" dramas, and the successful comedy series "Bebe" and "Bout-de-Zan." Rene Poyen, who plays "The Licorice Kid" in Judex, starred in the Bout-de-Zan series. Similarly, Marcel Levesque, who plays the private detective Cocantin, previously appeared in Feuillade's La Vie drole series.

Feuillade's reputation, however, rests mainly on his crime thriller serials: the five Fantomas films (1913-1914), Les Vampires (1915), Judex (1916), La Nouvelle Mission de Judex (1917), Tih Minh (1918) and Barrabas (1919). While the Fantomas films were adapted from the popular novels by Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain, the stories for the subsequent serials were created by Feuillade himself, often improvised on the spot. The first two, Fantomas and Les Vampires are noteworthy for their diabolically clever, almost superhuman villains. Their subversive undercurrents, combined with the realistic settings and dreamlike logic of their plots, bore a great influence on Surrealists such as Andre Breton, Louis Aragon and Luis Bunuel. The hero of Judex, in contrast to the previous films, is squarely on the side of justice; this reversal was Feuillade's (and Gaumont's) concession to complaints that the earlier serials glorified criminality. Les Vampires, for example, was initially banned by the Paris police.

At the same time, Feuillade is important for his contributions to the development of film language. He is best known for his use of staging in depth--that is, playing with foreground versus background and setting up complex arrangements of characters within a single shot. However, in films such as Judex he also makes effective use of analytical editing techniques such as "invisible" cuts on action within a scene to guide the viewer's attention. His relatively fluid direction and his keen eye for locations--whether the streets of Paris or the beautiful old mill in which Jacqueline is held captive by Diana Monti and Morales--make his work eminently watchable even today. The critic David Thompson describes Feuillade as "the first director for whom no historical allowances need to be made."

Like Feuillade's previous serials, Judex was a great popular success; Judex's long black cape even started a fashion craze. However, the film is undeniably dominated by Musidora whenever she appears on screen. Born as Jeanne Roques, Musidora (1889-1957) is best known for her delicious villainy in Les Vampires and Judex--making her, after Theda Bara, the screen's most recognizable "vamp" figure. But during her lifetime, she also earned recognition as a stage actress, screenwriter, film director, journalist and feminist activist. Unfortunately, very few of her films survive today. In 1974, the Musidora International Festival of Women's Films was established in her honor.

The score for Judex, composed by Robert Israel for this edition and performed by the Robert Israel Orchestra, consists mainly of orchestral arrangements of pre-existing pieces chosen to reflect the mood established on screen. Such compilation scores were common practice during the silent era; for example, Joseph Carl Breil's score for The Birth of a Nation (1915) incorporated such well-known pieces as Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries." In this instance, the main theme for the character of Judex is taken from the French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan's Concerto for Solo Piano, Numbers 8-10 from the Twelve Etudes, Op. 39 (1857). Alkan (1813-1888) was regarded as one of the great piano virtuosos of his day, though his compositions have been neglected compared to his contemporaries such as Franz Liszt. In recent years, pianists like Marc-Andre Hamelin have been drawing greater attention to Alkan's remarkable--and extravagantly difficult--piano repertoire. In addition to works by other French composers (Frederick Rosse, Felix Fourdrain) classical music buffs may recognize the warhorses "Solvejg's Song" from Edvard Grieg's incidental music to Peer Gynt and Franz Schubert's "Piano Sonata in A Minor, D. 845."

Director: Louis Feuillade
Screenplay: Arthur Bernede and Louis Feuillade
Photography: Andre Glatti and Leon Klausse
Production Design: Robert-Jules Garnier
Principal cast: Rene Creste (Judex); Edouard Mathe (Roger de Tremuse); Musidora (Diana Monti/Marie Verdier); Jean Devalde (Morales/Robert Kerjean); Louis Leubas (Favraux); Yvette Andreyor (Jacqueline Aubry); Olinda Mano (Little Jean); Marcel Levesque (Cocantin); Rene Poyen (The Licorice Kid); Gaston Michel (Pierre Kerjean); Yvonne Dario (Countess de Tremeuse); Georges Flateau (Amaury de la Rochefontaine); Juliette Clarens (Gisele).

by James Steffen