It’s taken a while, but Kino has finally imported Gaumont’s fine 1999 release of Louis Feuillade’s first serial, “Fantomas.” Unlike the Gaumont and the British Artificial Eye releases, the Kino version has replaced the French intertitles with English translations (rather than just supplying subtitles) — a drawback for Francophones and strict constructionists but probably a necessary step toward getting that crucial TCM sale. The image quality beats anything on the public domain market by several kilometers, though, and while the music is what’s called a “needle-drop” job — assembling bits and pieces of library scores — it’s surprisingly effective at times. David Kalat contributes an enthusiastic commentary to the first two of the five features, tracing the figure of the super-criminal from Dr. Moriarty to Dr. Mabuse (I wonder if another source might be Gaston Leroux’s 1908 “Le Roi mystere,” in which a faceless master villain also operates in a meticulously described Belle Epoque Paris).
My New York Times review is here.
Now that “Judex” is out through Flicker Alley and “Les Vampires” can still be found through Image, here’s hoping for a home video release of Feuillade’s 1918 “Tih Minh,” which has also been restored by Gaumont but remains tantalizingly unavailable.