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Irma Vep (1996): Revisiting Early Cinema's Dynamism

by Brett Service

In the stunning conclusion to 'Irma Vep', we see Rene Vidal's (Jean-Pierre Leaud) vision for his abandoned remake of Louis Feuillade's silent film serial, 'Les Vampies'. The viewers (both of the film and within the film) are surprised by the degree of experimentation in the remake, something not indicated or anticipated in the earlier on-set dalliances. We do get a sense of Vidal's ambition to re-animate Feuillade's serial without merely creating an immersive diegesis that resembles its original form. Vidal's attempt to recapture the vitality and experimentation of early cinema (and Feuillade's work in particular) is achieved through technical means available to early filmmakers (with the notable exception of the use of sound): scratching celluloid, manipulating exposure, crude animation techniques, editing ellipses with blank frames, superimpositions, multiple exposures, etc. The breakdown of the film itself testifies to Vidal's authorial crisis, but also suggests that Maggie Cheung's onscreen presence, like Musidora in the original, cannot be contained by mere representation.and requires an appropriate degree of formal innovation.


Irma Vep (1996): Vidal's Remake

In these final moments of Olivier Assayas' 'Irma Vep' (1996), we get a glimpse of Rene Vidal's (Jean-Pierre Leaud) stunning attempt to remake Louis Feuillade's 'Les Vampires' with appropriate vitality and experimentation.

from Irma Vep (1996)
Creator: Olivier Assayas
Distributor: Fox Lorber
Posted by Brett Service