Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fantômas Strikes Again

For several years now, I've had the pleasure of playing intermittent but unusually thoughtful e-mail tag with David White, a VW reader who -- like more than a few of our readers, I'm proud to say -- makes a living in the creative arts. David, who is a playwright affiliated with the Passage Theater Company of Trenton, New Jersey, shares with me a special passion for French crime fantasy of the early 20th century -- the books about such characters as Arsène Lupin, Belfagor, Les Vampires, and of course, Fantômas -- and the films made about them and others by the likes of Louis Feuillade and Georges Franju.

For much of our correspondence, David has expressed a desire to add a book of his own to this bat-wing of world fiction, and I'm happy to announce that his first novel, FANTOMAS IN AMERICA, has just been published by Black Coat Press (imprint of Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier, authors of the indispensible McFarland reference work FRENCH SCIENCE FICTION FANTASY, HORROR AND PULP FICTION). It was added to today.

FANTOMAS IN AMERICA has the distinction of being the first new Fantômas novel to appear since the last of the Marcel Allain novels, FANTOMAS JOUE ET GAGNES ("Fantômas Gambles and Wins"), was serialized in French newspapers in 1938. Allain originally conceived the character with collaborator Pierre Souvestre, with whom he wrote no less than 32 lengthy adventures between February 1911 and September 1913. (And I think VW has a punishing schedule!) Souvestre was killed in the first World War, and Allain (who subsequently married Souvestre's widow) resumed the adventures of the "Genius of Crime" in 1925, writing only eight more novels between then and 1938 -- that, David tells me, lack the verve and imagination of the original classic 32.

David's novel picks up in 1917, four years after Fantômas disappeared during the fateful cruise of the mega-ship Gigantic in the last Souvestre/Allain novel, LE FIN DU FANTOMAS? ("The End of Fantômas?")... and is partly based on FANTOMAS, a now-lost Fox Corporation film serial of 20 episodes directed by Edward Sedgwick, originally released in 1921. Some sources credit Boris Karloff among the production's supporting players, but this may be a mistake based on the resemblance of lead actor Edward Rosenman (who plays Fantômas) to Karloff in the print ads. David was able to learn about the obscure American serial by winning a rare pressbook on eBay, which provided chapter synopses for only a limited number of the film's chapters; thereafter, he was free to imagine the rest, which he managed to do by introducing as characters not only Sedgwick and Rosenman, but other characters from the silent screen such as D.W. Griffith's scrappy street gang of 1912, the Musketeers of Pig Alley. There are many other secreted pop cultural references too, including some more recent ones, but I'll leave the pleasure of discovering them to you.

The book contains approximately 50 illustrations culled from the rare Fox Corp. pressbook, making FANTOMAS IN AMERICA as pertinent a non-fiction purchase for devotées of silent film fantasy as it surely is as a bold continuation of a wonderful literary tradition.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.