The unique fate of Musidora, star and first vamp in the cinema, in the comic strip

First there are his large, sunken eyes. They suggest terror, indicate a threat or be attractive. It’s the time of cinema without words where the audience is mostly the actors’ game. Musidora will use his eyes but his body to burn Paris. Dressed in a black silk jumpsuit that follows the contours of her figure as much as possible, she embodies the evil woman. She becomes the hypnotic Irma Vep, an anagram of vampire. Paris trembles in a soap opera with episodes (today we will talk about a series), The vampires, which fills dark rooms. Cinema, a new art, replaced it. We are in 1915, Poilus is already in the trenches.

Picture of Musidora in 1919. (Friends of Musidora)

Before becoming a vampire, Musidora was born Jeanne Roques in 1889 in Paris, around the same time as the Eiffel Tower. “Dream whatever you want”, his mother told him in the comic Musidora, there used to be a cinema by screenwriter Arnaud Delalande and designed by Nicolas Puzenat. His family does not know the fate. But Jeanne was determined. He wants to be an actor, his dream is to be an actor. She becomes Musidora, a stage name she borrows from a novel by Théophile Gautier. We see him playing comedy at the Odéon and the Châtelet. She will dance at the Folies Bergère. In costume or sometimes naked, he performs in music hall, poet, singer, author and painter. A close friend of Colette, he would become the muse of the surrealists. Mother of war, free woman, Musidora has a thousand talents, a thousand lives.

Musidora in her dressing room at the Folies Bergère in 1914. (Les Amis de Musidora)

In the cinema, he will experience his greatest success in this erotic-criminal character of Irma Vep in The vampires. A series of films by Louis Feuillade with ten episodes from 1915 to 1916. Sensual and brutal, Irma Vep appears bold, fierce and disruptive. Musidora was attracted by the French during the war where everything was turned upside down. He will continue with another soap opera Judex and become a producer and then a director. It will start with Colette’s adaptations. And while a romantic wind blows his destiny, he destroys himself in Spain after falling in love with a bullfighter who leaves him for a Russian star. The transition to sound cinema did not suit him. He will end his career with the 7th art at the Cinémathèque française in Paris. He was “responsible for the documentation service and press relations” from 1942 to 1957, the year in which he died.

Musidora will play Irma Vep, mistress of crime, in ten episodes of Les Vampires directed by Louis Feuillade.  (Delalande & Puzenat / Robinson Editions)

Arnaud Delalande and Nicolas Puzenat correctly placed Jeanne Roques in her time. they wisely parallels the life of the actress at the beginning of the cinema, a period marked by the Great War. Musidora, there used to be a cinema not a carved and intimate portrait like the author Catel did in the comics with Joséphine Baker, Alice Guy or Olympe de Gouges. The authors chose to make it a fresco, the reflection of a strange woman in a time not so much.

Musidora in the costume of Irma Vep, godmother of war recognized by Poilus.  (Delalande & Puzenat / Robinson Editions)

Musidora continues to haunt the screens today. A TV series by Olivier Assayas, Irma Vep, aired since June 7 on OCS. Eight episodes originally commissioned by American platform HBO. A choice cast with Jeanne Balibar, Hyppolite Girardot, Vincent Lacoste (the actor of Riad Sattouf in The Beautiful Children), Vincent Macaigne and Alicia Vikander playing the lead in a black leotard. The series tells the story of a broke American star who arrives in Paris to star in a remake of the original series, The vampires. A tribute to cinema with humor, full of references, including quotes translated by Musidora. A work that, in its own way, celebrates the independent actress who became a legend on the big screen. Before Catwoman, the DC Comics feline who would be in the comics and then in the cinema, the new femme fatale wore black.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander plays Irma Vep in Olivier Assayas' TV series.  (HBO)

Musidora, Once in the Cinema by Arnaud Delalande and Nicolas Puzenat. Robinson Edition. 15 euros.

The website of Friends of Musidorasweet madmen loves the actress to learn more about the life of Jeanne Roques.

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