Thursday, August 31, 2006

From the vault


His name was Fantomas. By day, he was a wealthy, suave and sophisticated French playboy, always surrounded by elegant (and seemingly available) women. By night, he became a cunning, almost supernatural jewel thief. Always one step ahead of the police.

If you grew up in Cuba in the 1960s, as I did, then you’d know what I am talking about.

Fantomas was a series of French films starring Jean Marais as Fantomas (aka Fandor) and Louis de Funes as his nemesis, the bumbling but likeable Commissioner Juve.

For some strange reason, the films found their way to communist Cuba during that crazy decade when the entire place was turned on its head by a man called Fidel Castro.

In all, there were three films in the series: the original Fantomas (1964), Fantomas se desencadena (1965) and Fantomas contra Scotland Yard (1966). Each and every one was a huge hit in Cuba.

As I recall in my new book, Child of the Revolution: Growing up in Castro’s Cuba (what do you mean you don’t have a copy yet?), my brother and I would wait anxiously for the next Fantomas instalment to make its way to the Teatro Hernandez in sleepy Banes. It was the same in every town on the island.

I think there were probably three principal reasons for this:

1. The films were devoid of any political message whatsoever. They were pure escapism, in bright, capitalist Technicolour ... unlike most films shown at the time, the majority of which were in black and white and boring and very, very long. And made in communist Russia.

2. The special effects were quite impressive. For the mid 1960s, anyway.

3. Fantomas opened a little window into a world most Cubans of my age could only dream about at the time. A world of abundance, of fast cars, fashionable restaurants. A world of no queues, no shortages, no “voluntary” work on weekends … and no four or five hour speeches from El Comandante en Jefe.
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2 Comments:

Blogger Enrique said...

creo que el nombre de Fantomas pertenecio tambien a la epoca de los 70... De chiquito mencionar el nombre de Fantomas era aterrador. se le temia mucho a ese personaje. El comediante Frances louis dde funes hizo muchas otras peliculas comicas y yo pude ver muchas de ellas en el cine de cuba . El era mi favorito me hizo reir bastante. El fue considerado como uno de los mas grandes comicos en la historia de Francia.De alguna forma esas peliculas fueron exhibidas en las pantalla del cine.
Louis de Funès de Galarza (fyˈnɛs) (July 31, 1914, Courbevoie, France, – January 27, 1983) was a French actor who is considered by many to be one of the giants of French comedy. His acting style is remembered for its high energy performance, a wide range of facial expressions and an engaging, snappy impatience.

He was enormously successful in several countries for many years — France, but also Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, and the Soviet Union — but remained almost unknown in the English-speaking world. He was only noted in the United States in 1974 with the release of The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob. In a 1968 poll, he was voted France's favorite actor. [1] Many of his most successful films such as those in the Gendarme of Saint-Tropez series were pure slapstick, and although de Funès could play serious roles with a good deal of subtlety he was particularly known for his grimacing and outrageous facial contortions as he expressed anger, contempt, and astonishment.

De Funès as the Gendarme of Saint-TropezBorn to a Spanish family, de Funès was not a success in his early life, always being fired from his modest jobs. He became a pianist and played in bars, his musical talent later being showcased in films such as Le Corniaud and Le Grand Restaurant.

De Funès began his show-business career in the theatre, where he enjoyed moderate success. He became better known as a comedian in films, however, becoming a star with such films as Ah! Les belles bacchantes and Le Mouton à cinq pattes. In a number of these films he co-starred with the major French actors of the time, including Bourvil (in La Grande Vadrouille and Le Corniaud) and Jean Gabin (in Le Tatoué and Le Gentleman d'Epsom). At the age of 49, he unexpectedly became a major star with the success of Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez. For many years, La Grande Vadrouille was the largest grossing film in French history. Even during his career as a movie star, de Funès continued to play theatre.

De Funès as Rabbi JacobThe characteristic de Funès role in many of his films was that of a middle-aged or older man with a propensity to hyperactivity, bad faith, and uncontrolled anger. Along with his short height and his Jerry Lewis-like facial contortions, this hyperactivity produced a highly comic effect, especially in contrast to Bourvil's roles of calm, stolid, good-humoured men. In de Funès' successful lead role in a cinematic version of Molière's The Miser (L'Avare), these characteristics are greatly muted but are visible nevertheless percolating just beneath the surface.

In his later years, De Funès suffered from a heart condition after having suffered a heart attack for straining himself too much with his stage antics. He eventually died of a massive stroke.

His remains are interred in the garden of his wife's castle; a variety of rose has been named for him (the Louis de Funès rose).

One of his sons, Olivier de Funès, pursued an acting career alongside him before giving up and becoming an Air France pilot.

[edit]
Filmography
1982 : Le gendarme et les gendarmettes
1981 : La soupe aux choux
1979 : L'avare
1978 : Le gendarme et les extra-terrestres
1978 : La zizanie
1976 : L'aile ou la cuisse
1973 : Les aventures de Rabbi Jacob
1971 : Sur un arbre perché
1971 : Jo
1971 : La folie des grandeurs
1970 : Le gendarme en balade
1970 : L'homme orchestre
1969 : Hibernatus
1968 : Le gendarme se marie
1968 : Le tatoué
1967 : Le petit baigneur
1967 : Oscar
1967 : Les grandes vacances
1966 : Fantômas contre Scotland Yard
1966 : Le grand restaurant
1966 : La Grande Vadrouille
1965 : Les bons vivants
1965 : Le gendarme à New York
1965 : Fantômas se déchaîne
1964 : Une souris chez les hommes
1964 : Le gendarme de Saint-Tropez
1964 : Le corniaud
1964 : Fantômas
1963 : Faites sauter la banque!
1963 : Carambolages
1963 : Pouic-Pouic
1963 : Des pissenlits par la racine
1962 : Le diable et les dix commandements
1962 : Nous irons à Deauville
1962 : Les veinards
1962 : Le gentleman d'Epsom

Hubieron otras peliculas en la decada del 70 que el gobierno exhibio aparte de las peliculas aburridas de guerras todas rusas...

estuvieron las peliculas de Ichi el samurai ciego, la vida sigue igual de julio iglesias, alain delon y sus peliculas, Terrence hill los angeles no comen judias, Fantomas, el hombre anfibio , de las que recuerdo.

5:00 pm  
Blogger Luis M Garcia said...

Enrique,

You have now reminded me of a couple of other popular films in the late 1960s or very early 1970s: the Samurai films of Toshiro Mifume; plus Jean Paul Belmondo in "The Man from Rio" (El Hombre de Rio). Also very popular.

5:12 pm  

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