I should point out, these are programme notes not essays - small explosions of ennthusiasm, intended to convey why we find the films exciting and hoping to kindle a fire of enthusiasm and excitement that might make you want to come along and see them for yourself. On the whole, the films we show are films we all love - though here and there we have disagreements - but all of us will fight our corners passionately.
If you're not a resident of Exeter or the surrounding towns, try double billing these films for yourself... for the most part they're available on DVD.
DANGER: DIABOLIK & JUDEX
Dir: Mario Bava & Georges Franju
Two distinctly European takes on the usually US dominated world of comic book/pulp novel adaptations. American movies in this genre tend to focus on the hero in a cape. Europe does things a little different. In the tradition of Fu Manchu, Raffles and Arsene Lupin, we bring you Diabolik and Judex…
Some people say that it is ‘Kitsch’. Some say it’s ‘Camp’. But the truth is, DANGER: DIABOLIK is neither. Camp and Kitsch suggest a certain ironic distance. They imply that if it’s cool, or if it’s funny, it is somehow in spite of itself; somehow unintentional. Anyone who has had the intense pleasure of watching a movie made by Mario Bava will tell you that if there’s one thing that is absolutely certain about his films it’s that he knew what he was doing. The man was a genius with a camera, able to create incredible movies on a pittance because he understood light and film and cameras. DANGER: DIABOLIK is not ‘Camp’ or ‘Kitsch’. But it is, perhaps, the definitive expression of ‘Pop’ sensibilities on screen.
BARBARELLA (made around the same time for vastly more money, and to vastly inferior result) looks like a pantomime by comparison. Big flat fakey stage sets that Roger Vadim shoots like a stage play; it is completely lacking in the kind of cinematic verve and technique that fills every frame of DANGER: DIABOLIK. Crash zooms, whip pans, spinning cameras, speeded up motion, incredible use of trick photography and miniatures (just watch the wide shot as Diabolik drives into his lair, it’s 99% painted onto glass, and if I hadn’t just told you, you’d never know)… the way he uses frames within the film frame to emulate the multi panel pages of a comic book (DIABOLIK is based on a popular Italian comic strip)… it is a joyous film, that revels in the possibilities of cinema and has as much fun as is possible with the material.
Does it take itself seriously?
Of course not. But that’s why it is so much fun. The film is so colourful you might want to wear shades. So sexy and cool, that even Connery as Bond doesn’t get a look in. And Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack is to die for. It’s wafer thin of course, no one is pretending otherwise, but it still manages to make more than it’s fair share of anti-establishment cracks at the Police and Government. It’s a glorious film. Pure entertainment. Legend has it (and it’s been confirmed) that Bava – so used to making miracles onscreen with no budget– was incapable of spending money. With $3,000,000 at his disposal, he made the film for $400,000 and handed back the rest. Producer Dino De Laurentis offered him the chance to make a sequel with the money he had left. But Bava hadn’t been entirely happy with the amount of pressure that had come with all the money: all the second-guessing and looking over his shoulder. A naturally shy man (a craftsman not an artist he might have said, but there are those of us who’d beg to differ) Bava retreated to the world of low budget movies where he was left alone to conjure magic on the screen with nothing but imagination. We’ll be showing more of Bava in the future, you can be sure. This is not his best, it’s just a taster. And it’s so much damn fun we didn’t think that it could fail. Like as not some of you will fall in love with this film and want to do as we have done… pass it on to others. I’m not sure there’s any higher praise than that.
JUDEX, in the meantime is a French take on the Super Villain/Masked Avenger, which started way back in the twenties as a serial made by the legendary Louis Feuillade, sort of in response to his earlier FANTOMAS and LES VAMPIRES. FANTOMAS especially (based on the pulp novels by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre, and much beloved of the surrealists) was focussed entirely on the heinous crimes of it’s amoral protagonist, an almost supernaturally slippery, and omnipresent villain, who stole and murdered his way through five films. JUDEX was made, somewhat in response to the lack of moral centre in the earlier works. The character of Judex being more of an avenger; he may do questionable things, but only to those who deserved it, in the name of righting wrongs.
In 1963 after the success of LES YEUX SANS VISAGE (EYES WITHOUT A FACE), Georges Franju wanted to remake FANTOMAS but couldn’t get the rights. Instead, he made JUDEX. But in the process, to make him more interesting, he made him stranger. Made the story and the details more magical. Not least by casting stage illusionist Channing Pollock to play the title part.
Franju’s film takes all the classic pulp elements, and adds lyricism and beauty, poetry and absurdity. The images sing, as they do in all his films.
Franju remains perhaps the most under appreciated of France’s great filmmakers. His part in French film history consistently underplayed. He co-founded the Cinematheque Francaise with Henri Langlois, but it’s Langlois’ name which is most mentioned, Franju often being missed out altogether. Best known for LES YEUX (and rightly so, since it is a masterpiece) he nonetheless made many other films, most of which remain unavailable even in his homeland. That JUDEX has found it’s way back into the world is something of a minor miracle. I can only hope it leads the way in seeing more of Franju’s films dug out from the vaults. He brought poetry and lyricism to generic storylines, and made the grotesque beautiful. LES YEUX SANS VISAGE will be showing soon, but in the mean time, enjoy this slightly lighter slice of the work of George Franju. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s a lot of fun. And the masked ball that introduces Judex, once seen, will never leave your mind.