Le cryptogramme rouge
(Handbill distributed in Paris in November 1915)
As documented in MENNESKETS AFVIKLING, there is no such thing as historical evolution, no gradual secularization. When Roman rationalism seemed to have conquered the world, Christianity came along.
Similarly, in the heart of the British Empire, the Gothic novel was born. Then the Great War came, proving once and for all the gross irrationality of rationalism.
Prohibition resulted, not in temperance, but crime, not morality, but immorality in the “roaring” twenties. Today, the most important political factor is the revival of a religion, Islam.
And far from adopting the ritual overalls of their parents, young maidens dress as vampires. In fact, only this year I was awarded the GOLEM, which is sort of a Goth Oscar.
Of course, as always, society is ranting about its youth, having recently proposed to put wayward children in electronic chains. And just as the Soviet Union had no homosexuals, Denmark has no subculture.
And that, of course, is what BATHOS is all about. It’s a magazine for those, whose delving into a mythological past has reached a conscious level.
They need to see the roots of their predilection, five decades, five centuries and five millennia ago. After all, before there were Goth girls, there were scream queens and vamps.
She’s always there, from CYBELE to VIRTUAL DOMINATRIX, slave of a god and Mistress of Man. When the lights were going out all over Europe, she came out of the shadows, no longer merely a seductive NANA, but a female FANTOMAS in her black cat-suit.
Her name was a riddle or an anagram like IRMA VEP (VAMPIRE) or THEDA BARA (ARAB DEATH) and she was seen roosting on – presumably male – skeletons. And so she became the main character in the granddaddy of all adventure films, the movie serial, LES VAMPIRES.
These “vampires”, however, were not of the Lugosi type, but modelled on a gang of anarchists named after their leader, JULES BONNOT, a kind of BELLE EPOQUE BAADER-MEINHOF. Master criminals were a recurrent theme in the literature of the times, and like the “public enemies” of America, they were often regarded as heroes.
Nor can the claim of the MABUSE series (vide BATHOS #94) of being an antifascist treatise really be taken seriously. The confusion, however, is understandable.
These super-villains felt obliged – as the name of one of their number, JUDEX, suggests – to employ any means at their disposal to bring down a society, which they considered to be corrupt, and can thus be seen as anarchists, socialists or, if one so prefers, Nazis. The style of these movies was in fact as anarchistic as their somewhat unclear message, leading more than a few critics to see LES VAMPIRES as the watershed of avant-garde cinema.
It was profoundly surrealist, the mystery frequently suggesting the supernatural. This, after all, was also the age of Freud the Demonologist, hypnosis and spiritualism.
When this approach is combined with a cinematography not yet bound by the sound stage – in a way, talkies set the industry back twenty years – we get not only a record of the Paris of 1915, but the magical city portrayed in ABATTOIR. Like CESARE, the vampires flee over the rooftops after having broken into the boudoirs of the bourgeoisie.
They may gain entrance through any window or chimney, just as it seems that every house is riddled with secret passages. Nor can we know for sure that the person in the room with us is not a member of the elusive gang.
However, as opposed to movies with greater pretensions, the action never stops, thus heralding the more simpleminded movie serials of the forties. It’s sometimes hard to believe that this movie is close to a century old!
It could only have been realized by a director, who avowed: “Un film n’est pas un sermon, ni une conférence, encore moins un rébus, mais un divertissement des yeux et de l’esprit. La qualité de ce divertissement se mesure à l’intérêt qu’y prend la foule pour laquelle il a été créé.”
Nor is THE SHOOTER anything but a routine DOLPH LUNDGREN vehicle. And yet its simpleminded message that politicians must be killed says more about the State of the Union than all the editorials of the Washington Post combined, just as the truth about twentieth century America is not to be found in TODAY AND TOMORROW, but in LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE.