Edward Gorey loved films - especially films of the silent era - and especially the silent films of French filmmaker Louis Feuillade. Feuillade was reported to have made between 650 and 800 films by the time of his death in February 1925 at age 52. Of course, in the early days of cinema many films were no longer than 10 minutes long...but still...
Mr. Gorey was often quoted as saying that the films of Feuillade were an inspiration for his work. Feuillade's first film masterpiece is a 1913 series of 5 films collectively called Fantomas. This fantastic film serial adventure is available on DVD from Kino.com and is worth a closer look by all Gorey enthusiasts. Watch the film trailer at the bottom of this post.
Fantomas is a five film serial about a master criminal (Fantomas) and the detective (Juve) who hunted, caught, and kept losing the fiend. As with any great series, there are deceptions, femme fatales, explosions, train wrecks, dead bodies, and multiple disguises.
What is truly remarkable is how many of Feuillade's images populate the works of Edward Gorey. In the very first installment of Fantomas, the disguised villain appears in the hotel room of a wealthy woman who asks, "Who are you?" and is handed a blank calling card by the intruder! This blank card appears in every one of Mr. Gorey's books! Viewers will also find many other instantly recognizable Gorey motifs turning up in the films - distinctive potted palms and pattern-on-pattern decor in the interior sets, a host of 1913 touring cars, veiled mysterious women wrapped in dark clothing with only their heeled shoes peeking from the bottom of their wraps, men in top hats and frock coats. In short, many of the figures and places we have come to assume were England in Mr. Gorey's books are probably French.
It should be remembered that Mr. Gorey majored in French in college, and it is interesting to see such a direct correlation between these five films and Edward Gorey's distinctive visual style. Also, Mr. Gorey would have seen these films in actual theaters, before the days of video tapes, DVDs, or the internet - so multiple viewings were limited. He states in interviews that he has seen some Feuillade films only once, but that they are favorite films of his. That the films made such an impression on him is significant.