#4. Les Vampires (1915-1916)

les-vampires-posterMy first relationship was in the eighth grade with a girl named P. She was in ninth grade and would walk over to the middle school at day’s end for long talks and awkward kissing. I think I went to her house four times. It was a pretty quaint relationship. She was Catholic and blonde with hair down to her waist and she intimidated me by having read everything Edgar Allen Poe had published. We had our first kiss on August 24, 2004, while watching Donnie Darko (which I realize, in retrospect, probably set a tone for things), and all throughout our two-month relationship I gave her a really hard time about having blown her neighbor, a guy named Z., who was not only tall and bearded and older than I was (a student in her own grade), but happened, also, to be the older brother of a kid in my own class; this younger brother was, himself, cool and tall and bearded, and older than I was. Insecure about my comparative inexperience, I tried to compensate by making it into a virtue. P. and I reminisced and laughed about it at World of Beer a few months ago, twelve years after the fact, and she told me I don’t still have to feel bad about that. But I do. The way we finally broke up after two months was she called me really late on a Tuesday night in October and said, “Would you hate me if I asked that we go on a break?” I told her I would, but then I didn’t.

I was weirdly forward with her toward the end of our relationship, mostly about my myriad terrors regarding sex (which I think are mostly still an issue), and she in return was really forward with me about her own stresses (which were mostly familial). We’d write these rhapsodic professions of love back and forth through AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) almost every night. Tried to see who could love the most innocuous detail about the other. I remember finding something remarkable about how she blinked, and the shape of her nose’s tip.

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A man, starring in Les Vampires, falls asleep at his desk — 101 years later, I, a man watching Les Vampires, fell asleep at my own.

When she and I first started dating I was constantly asking her friends for advice about how to conduct myself, forever afraid that I’d say something stupid and fuck things up. By the end, however, we’d pretty much figured out the whys and hows of one another. We argued a lot, and were constantly bitching about one another’s faults, but we were also more inclined to see each other’s charms after a while, the interesting quirks.

Maybe this is also the case with Les Vampires. If I were to go back and watch those first couple episodes that launch this ten-part serial I think they’d make a lot more sense than they did the first time around because now, after watching all seven hours, I have a better idea of how to watch it.

Les Vampires is a serial, the likes with which Annie Wilkes was inclined to take umbrage and pleasure, so its ten episodes, or segments, were shown that way (i.e. episodically) over the course of a year. This apparently opens the door for debate about whether Les Vampires is a movie, exactly, or something between that and TV. The ten episodes follow Philipe Guerande (Edouard Mathe) and his friend Oscar-Cloud Mazamette (Marcel Levasque) who are constantly getting tangled up with a gang of criminals called The Vampires. Nobody turns into an actual vampire before the end of the serial. There’s this deceptively promising sequence in the first hour, though, where an actress, dressed as a bat, spends a good forty seconds thrusting her crotch and chest at a sleeping woman. Such was Paris.

vampires-gif

I’ve never used the word “cheeky” but it fits here in describing some of the capers (another new word) that go on in Les Vampires. Something that seemed consciously hokey is that our protagonist, Guerande, is a reporter. His sidekick Mazamette is not. Best as I can recall, Mazamette has no job. And yet they both carry guns and the police are constantly deferring to their authority when it comes to capturing the Vampires. Very rarely are the gun-wielding journalist and his unemployed sidekick questioned for their shootings and chases.

I do honestly think that the episodes might have become more endearing (better?) toward the end of the series, especially as the character of Mazamette gets more and more screen time – but I’m prompted to question my impression of this because, with a seven-hour runtime, you develop a relationship to the thing you’re watching. You become better-acquainted with the sensibility behind it. I was so baffled by the first four episodes that I had to consult the Wikipedia summary as they unfolded in order follow along. With the last three, however, I was pretty much able to make sense of the story just by watching it. I don’t know, though, if this is because I was finally getting savvy to the style of the thing, or because it was actually becoming more coherent (which I realize now, in the fourth draft of this essay, was the point I was trying to make with that opening anecdote about my first girlfriend – was I getting better, becoming a more confident boyfriend, or were we just learning more about each other?).

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Loyal & Unemployable: Mazamette

“Charming” is a word I think I’ll be using pretty often in describing the silent era. There’s also something like pride, or an inclination to applaud, whenever the filmmaking gets ambitious or particularly creative. Like in episode six where we get three storylines juggled pretty coherently along with one genuinely exciting shot, featuring a bull).

While I dig the memory of this movie quite a lot (way more than I enjoyed the experience of actually watching it, over the course of four days), and while I can see that it rightly holds its place on the List, I would definitely only recommend this movie to diehard cinephiles. Like, borderline fetishists.

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