What if cinema could be the doorway to another world? No, really. This is the central questioning pertaining Fabien Delage’s Fury of the Demon. It’s a documentary focusing on the film of the same name that caused panic in an art house screening a few years ago and is said by some to be a product of the occult in, and of, itself. This fascinating feature checks the myths and George Melies connection to see what the magic of the movies is really about.
At first, it is very hard to believe the entire feature is not a wind up. We are presented with an eminent list of often impossibly French, terribly sophisticated talking heads animatedly explaining about a screening that they attended that resulted in a riot. Critic Philippe Rouyer, complete in cocked dickie bow, exclaims that he hopes he “wasn’t a bastard” to anyone. But it seems the premise is entirely serious, because we’re soon to discover the fabled film’s link to none other than cinema’s founding father, George Melies, himself. From him, the film fleshes out discussions ranging from a possible previous (violent) screening of the film, to Melies flair for special effects, stage illusion and the occult itself via a detailed exploration of his involvement with Victor Sicarius.
The experts called on are admirable, ranging from the police in attendance at the disordered screening to spiritualism specialists, psychiatrists knowledgeable in mass hysteria and cinema experts ranging from highbrow journalists through to Rue Morgue’s Dave Alexander. A good level of detail is given by all, barring one howler where a contributor states “Fury of the demon is not just any random title. There’s definitely something demonic about it”, which in context is amusing rather than irritating. The commentary only flags into philosophical hyperbole as the film draws to a close, which, in a narrative sense can be forgiven because of the film’s overall conclusion. Indeed, one possible criticism is that the occult explanations given are a little tradition specific (focusing on the spirit model, if you must), but in the scheme of things this is hardly a concern.
A lot of effort seems to have gone into the preservation of authenticity within this narrative. Most of the visual drama is added through cuts to occult art and the only time we see fancy-spooky camera close-ups at odd angles is when the contributors are talking about the overt use of illusion to create atmosphere. The film deliberately shows its hand so you can concentrate on the argument itself.
Fury of the Demon works
wonderfully because it presents a little known aspect of the life of a man who
changed the world to an audience it expects to be intelligent. It doesn’t shirk
on detail and includes eyewitness accounts and those of officials involved in
the story. It’s damned demanding and you’ll need a notepad, but by God it’s
worth it. Now go get your camera.
FURY OF THE DEMON / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR AND SCREENPLAY: FABIEN DELAGE / STARRING: ALEXANDRE AJA, DAVE ALEXANDER, JEAN-JACQUES BERNARD, CHRISTOPHE GANS
Expected Rating: 9 out of 10