Yeah, the shooting style is very typical of the period, at least at first blush. It can feel pedestrian to modern audiences, especially set beside the more jarringly dynamic montage the Soviets introduced several years later. But many critics laud Feuillade as a master of the long take and deep focus staging, a lineage to later include Renoir, Welles, Antonioni, Angelopoulos, Tarr, and the more recent wave of slow cinema in East Asia. He didn't advance the grammar of cinema, but he refined the existing grammar to an unusually high degree.
Bordwell has written in-depth about this, including this essay
and the first section of Figures Traced in Light
, his book about cinematic staging. (Even if 20 pages is a bit much for you, it's worth reading the first page of that essay to get a sense of his argument.)
Rosenbaum is another champion. This article, as the note at the beginning indicates, is a little out of date
, but it helps contextualize Feuillade and highlights his unique value (best read if you've seen it already, since there are spoilers). Granted, if you didn't take to the film, I'm not sure his enthusiasm is likely to convince you, but it's a nice summary of Feuillade's merits. His focus is less technical than Bordwell's, more trained on Feuillade's premodernist sensibility and poetics, noting the influence on Lang and Hitchcock. This segment taps into the point I made in my previous post:
Such confusion is always purposeful in Les vampires, where nothing is ever quite what it seems. Shot largely in the streets of Paris and its suburbs, in dingy shacks and basements, and in ornate Belle Epoque interiors, the film revels in the familiar and the everyday, only to explode with unexpected eruptions that transform this peaceful world into a charged universe of unlimited evil and corruption. As critic Annette Michelson has suggestively described this process, “Haussmann’s pre-1914 Paris, the city of massive stone structures, of quiet avenues and squares, is suddenly revealed as everywhere dangerous, the scene and subject of secret designs. The trap-door, secret compartment, false tunnel, false bottom, false ceiling, form an architectural complex with the architectural structure of a middle-class culture. The perpetually recurring ritual of identification and self-justification is the presentation of the visiting card; it is, as well, the signal, the formal prelude to the fateful encounter, the swindle, hold-up, abduction or murder.”
I would also argue that Feuillade's shooting style - static, prolonged takes in carefully staged space - is fundamental to the peculiar effects of his cinema. If you have two characters talking in a room and cut to the villain plotting nearby, it's almost like they inhabit two different worlds; if you watch the characters talk, see them leave the room, and watch the villain emerge from the curtains in their absence, that has an altogether more seamless and unsettling effect. It creates a continuity that makes the sudden shift in atmosphere all the more compelling.
I'm not even sure if I'm trying to convince anyone to like Feuillade - I just want to explain why I do. Feuillade is an acquired taste that requires a very particular sensibility, and a thoroughgoing familiarity with silent era aesthetics certainly doesn't hurt. But it falls sharply within my own peculiarities of taste, and I really like this idea that he's an origin point for an alternative strain of cinematic aesthetics, a fusion of Méliès and the Lumière brothers, applying a fantasist's whims to a documentarian's reality.