laughingrat: Keaton in front of a movie camera, giving us the high sign (High Sign/Movies)
[personal profile] laughingrat posting in [community profile] classicfilm

If the first of the five films is any indication, Kino's complete set of the recently restored Fantomas films is a masterpiece of restoration. A previous experience with Image's edition of Les Vampires, from roughly the same time period, suffered from poor visual quality, making it difficult to watch. The same restoration crew that worked on Fantomas also worked on Kino's new edition of Les Vampires, and I'm eagerly awaiting my own copy to see just how improved their version will be.

As far as the films themselves go, Fantomas in the Shadow of the Guillotine (the only one I've seen yet) bears the usual marks of its time--stationary cameras, no close-ups, straightforward storytelling--but is nevertheless lively. It roughly adapts the first Fantomas novel, although it leaves out a great deal in the interest of time and pacing. For contemporary audiences, who would have been as familiar with Fantomas as modern audiences are with the Joker, there would have been little need to build up the character as a sinister, brilliant, omnipresent figure of menace. The film could skip that buildup and pare the original novel's sprawling plot into a series of brief episodes leading to the surprise finish.

Viewers unfamiliar with films of this period may be surprised, and hopefully delighted, by the range of features and body types present in the cast. None of the actors is particularly handsome or beautiful, and the actresses are all considerably larger and more solid-bodied than those we see in television and film today. Their features are expressive and distinctive, but not pretty, not even in the case of Lady Beltham (Renee Carl), mistress of Fantomas and "the most beautiful woman in Paris." In more ways than one, these films are a window onto a different world.


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