Fantômas!

REIGN IN BLOOD
The secret mark that French pulp villain Fantômas left on the 20th Century

By Erik Morse

Early in 1911 popular French publishing house Fayard released the first of 32 monthly serial novels of Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre’s Fantômas. Subtitled ‘A Shadow on the Guillotine,’ this ultra-violent pulp tale recounted the exploits of the eponymous master villain as he reined blood and magick upon the boulevards of Paris. Pursued by police inspector, Juve, and his journalist sidekick, Jerome Fandor, Fantômas slaughters members of French high-society indiscriminately before stealing away with their wealth and, often, their very identities—in his travels between the Dordogne and Paris, Fantômas dispatches the Marquise de Langrune, her steward Dollon, Lord Beltham, Princess Sonia Danidoff, the famed actor Valgrand and a passenger liner full of travelers en route to South America. When Fantômas, alias Etienne Rambert, alias Gurn, is apprehended by Juve at Lady Beltham’s villa, he is brought to trial at the Palais de Justice, found guilty of murder and condemned to the guillotine. However with the aid of his mistress, Fantômas steals away from his Santé prison cell and fills the vacancy with an unsuspecting look-a-like who is left to the blade. When Juve discovers the ruse, he proclaims, “Curses! Fantômas has escaped! Fantômas is free! He had an innocent man executed in his place! Fantômas! I tell you, Fantômas is alive.”

Within months of its February debut, the Fantômas serial became a pop smash with the reading public, profiting no doubt from the French public’s unquenchable thirst for violence, mayhem and pulp. At 65 centimes a copy, sales for each volume reached easily into the hundreds of thousands. American poet and Fantômas enthusiast John Ashbery contends that the real success of the serial was its transcendence of class, education and sex, from “Countesses and concierges; poets and proletarians; Cubists, nascent Dadaists, soon-to-be-Surrealists. Everyone who could read, and even those who could not, shivered at posters of a masked man in impeccable evening clothes, dagger in hand, looming over Paris like a somber Gulliver, contemplating hideous misdeeds from which no citizen was safe.” Such was the popular reaction to the Fayard publication, Marcel Allain would later recall, with some hyperbole, “The adventures of Fantômas have surpassed those of the Bible.”

Nearly a hundred years later, we can see the frightening metastasis of the master of crime’s “brand”—from his beginnings amongst the Right Bank sophisticates who released him upon the world, to the marauding gangs plundering and murdering in his name, to the sacrificial cults who would congregate at the witching hour to reenact his sins. His transgressions—bold, fiendish and inexplicable—were the narratives of nightmares. Fantômas captured the imagination of his admirers and extended his influence through the artistic genealogies of Europe, leaving a catechism of excess, debauchery and violence to a brood as varied as Pablo Picasso, Andre Breton, Jean Cocteau, Georges Bataille, Alain Robbe-Grillet, James Joyce, Guillaume Apollinaire, Robert Desnos, Jean Marais, Alain Resnais, René Magritte, Francois Truffaut and the Mike Patton-Buzz Osbourne-Trevor Dunn-Dave Lombardo art-rock superband of the same name. In their major contributions to the century, the words and deeds of France’s supreme villain pullulate still more revolutionary achievements and still darker crimes.

Here, in this extended fait-diver, is the unedited, uncensored and untold history of the criminal of the century…

This article continues, for 9,500 more words, in Arthur No. 28 (March 2008), available for $4 from: The Arthur Store

C & D review records with Buzz Osborne (Melvins), from Arthur No. 30 (July 2008)

From Arthur Magazine No. 30 (July 2008), available from the Arthur Store for $6 postpaid.

Two dudes, who remain pseudonymous for their own protection, reason together about new records. They are joined this issue by Melvins’ BUZZ OSBORNE, pictured below at Arthur HQ with his pick o’ this issue’s litter…

ENDLESS BOOGIE
Focus Level
(No Quarter)

D: [listening to opening bomber] He’s inviting us over to smoke “figs” in his yard. Is that a misprint?

C: [pointing at band photograph] They’re in the backyard because these guys are too old too be smokin’ in the boys’ room. Another in a great history of smoking location songs.

D: That could be a Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio Hour!

C: And invitation songs. Remember that Paul Wine Jones song? “Me and the boys/gonna have a good time tonight/Gonna play some poker/Pork chops.” I miss Paul Jones. That guy rocked and had velvet hats to burn. Not that you should ever burn a velvet hat.

D: [musing over band photo, especially the longhair] What does that guy do all day?

C: When not masquerading as a hick savant guarding mama’s moonshine still? Apparently he’s one of the deepest psych record collectors on the East Coast.

D: [looking at band picture again] I would say he’s one of the top hair growers on the East Coast!

C: Endless hair never ends. Seriously though, a band like this only needs one True Believer. And this guy definitely qualifies, let me tell you!

D: [listening to singer squeal, squawk, mutter and grunt on “The Manly Vibe”] Brings back fond memories of Hasil Adkins talking about hot dogs and doing the hunch.

C: Yeah, if Hasil dug the Nuge instead of the King. This album is for everyone who’s ever thought George Thorogood didn’t finish the job.

D: [abruptly] Or that the Kings of Leon aren’t old enough!

C: … Anyways, I saw these guys play last week.

D: Well of the course the question is, Can they boogie endlessly?

C: Yes, they are quite capable, these Endless Boogiemen. And after the first song, which lasted about two and a half hours, the singer asked “Do I seem taller? I got some new shoes!” Where’d you get ‘em? somebody yelled. “He took a few seconds, and then answered: “I bought ’em at a store!” They’ve got cool t-shirts: just an infinity sign on black.

D: Can you understand what he’s singing?

C: He’s singing in tongues. This song is called “Steak Rock.” Which is about right. I bet the song is timed so that you can cook a steak in the amount of time it takes to listen to it. So where’s the barbecue at?

D: Not in my backyard, sadly.

C: This record should come with an order of peach cobbler.

D: [helpfully] And napkins!

C: …

D: [doorbell rings] We have a guest.

[Enter Melvins vocalist/guitarist Buzz “King Buzzo” Osborne]

Buzz: Gentlemen.

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