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Zones of Anxiety

Movement, Musidora, and the Crime Serials of Louis Feuillade

Vicki Callahan

Publication Year: 2005

The crime serials by French filmmaker Louis Feuillade provide a unique point of departure for film studies, presenting modes rarely examined within early cinematic paradigms. Made during 1913 to 1920, the series of six films share not only a consistency of narrative structure and style but also a progressive revelation of the criminal threat—a dislocation of both cinematic and ideological subjectivity—as it shifts realms of social, cultural, and aesthetic disturbance. Feuillade’s work raises significant questions of cinema authorship, film history, and film aesthetics, all of which are examined in Vicki Callahan’s groundbreaking work Zones of Anxiety, the first study to address the crime serials of Louis Feuillade from a feminist perspective. Zones of Anxiety merges cultural history and feminist film theory, arguing for a different kind of film history, a “poetic history” that is shaped by the little-examined cinematic mode of “uncertainty.” Often obscured by film technique and film historians, this quality of uncertainty endemic to the cinema comes in part from the formal structures of repetition and recursion found in Feuillade’s serials. However, Callahan argues that uncertainty is also found in the “poetic body” of the actress Musidora who is featured in two of the serials. It is the mobility of the Musidora figure—socially, culturally, sexually, and textually—that makes her a powerful image and also a place to view the historical blind spots of film studies and feminist studies with regard to questions of race, class, and sexuality. Callahan’s substantial focus on archival research builds a foundation for a host of compelling arguments for a new feminist history of film. Other studies have touched on the issue of gender in early cinema, though until now neither Feuillade’s work nor French silent film have been examined in light of feminist film theory and history. Zones of Anxiety opens up the possibility of alternate readings in film studies, illuminating our understanding of subjectivity and situating a spectatorship that acknowledges social and cultural differences.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

An evening’s screening of Louis Feuillade’s Juve contre Fantômas set in motion a rather remarkable sequence of events for me. The viewing produced an essay for a course on French cinema, and in turn an enthusiastic suggestion from the professor, Judith Mayne, that I pursue Feuillade’s films as a dissertation topic. ...

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Introduction: Writing a Feminist Poetic History through the Cinema of Uncertainty

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pp. 1-12

What would it mean to write a feminist history of the cinema? A number of studies have influenced my thinking on this question since I first began working on the crime serials of Louis Feuillade: for example, Sumiko Higashi’s Cecil B. DeMille and American Culture, Judith Mayne’s Directed by Dorothy Arzner, ...

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1. Louis Feuillade and the Cinema of Uncertainty: Scenes of Dislocation in Early Cinema/History

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pp. 13-44

This book is an effort to situate the crime serials of Louis Feuillade within early film history from an explicitly feminist perspective. To a certain extent, I will argue that a series of six films made by Feuillade between the years 1913 and 1920 can be read as one text. ...

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2. The Fantômas Series: Cinematic Vision and the Test of “Immediate Certainty”

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pp. 45-72

The opening moments of the first episode in the Fantômas film series (1913–14) feature a prescient bit of dialogue when the startled crime victim, Princess Danidoff ( Jane Faber), inquires of the well-dressed thief suddenly before her: “Who are you?” This question is, in effect, the distillation of the epic battle that is to be played out in the series ...

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3. “Qui? Quoi? Quand? Où?”: Interrogating Woman in Les vampires and Judex

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pp. 73-116

The recursive patterns of repetition and reversal are accelerated in Feuillade’s next film series, Les vampires (1915–16), where the blocks of activities and number of characters significantly multiply in a seemingly random fashion. Over ten episodes, Les vampires follows the exploits of Philippe Guérande (Edouard Mathé), ...

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4. Stigma and Stigmata: The Cries and Cure of the Fantastic Narrative

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pp. 117-144

With Judex, Feuillade’s serials make a decided shift toward a more strongly pronounced melodramatic narrative structure. This movement is logical in that melodrama, like the mode of the fantastic, is preoccupied with questions of knowledge and visibility. ...

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Afterword: The Cinematic Legacy of Feuillade and Musidora and a Different Way of Knowing

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pp. 145-152

Olivier Assayas’s invocation of Irma Vep in a 1996 film is but one of many repetitions of the Irma/Musidora character in cinema history. Indeed, the figure is one that haunts not just Feuillade’s texts but marks a significant strain of French cinema and can even be seen in other national cinema contexts (e.g., Fritz Lang’s Spiders, 1919). ...


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pp. 153-170

Works Cited

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pp. 171-180


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pp. 181-190

Back Cover

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p. 204-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780814337370
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814328552

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 24
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series