Musidora

(1889-1957)
   Actress, director, and screenwriter. Born Jeanne Roques in Paris in 1889, Musidora got her start on the stage. She was a successful cabaret performer before making her debut in cinema in Raphaël Clamour's Les Misères de l'aiguille (1913). She was almost immediately afterward lured to Gaumont, where she made films almost exclusively under the direction of Louis Feuillade. She appeared in Feuillade's Le Calvaire (1914), Severo Torelli (1914), Le Sosie (1915), Union sacrée (1915), and Les Fiançailles d'Agénor (1916), among other films. Of course, her most famous films with Feuillade are those in the series Les Vampires, made from 1915 to 1916, a series of which Musidora's character, Irma Vep, was the undisputed star. She also starred in Feuillade's Judex series, which ran in 1917. She also starred in André Hugon's Les Chacals (1917), Johannes fils de Johannes (1918), and Mademoiselle Chiffon (1919), among other films.
   Musidora's influence on the cinema cannot be measured in terms of the mere number of films in which she appeared. Her role as Irma Vep in Feuillade's Les Vampires (1915) was an important precursor to the femme fatale, and she was one of the first obviously sexual and sexualized women to appear onscreen. That she often portrayed powerful, independent, working women is not insignificant, nor is the fact that her characters were inscribed as overtly threatening to the social order. Musidora often embodied onscreen the growing unease over the rapid changes in society as a result of modernity—the place of woman in society being central to those changes. She marks the beginning of a long trajectory of the exploration of these issues in cinema. Although she is not credited, it seems Musidora also contributed to the screenplays of several of the films in which she appeared. She also turned her hand to directing, making Pour Don Carlos (1920) and Soleil et ombre (1922), with Jacques Lasseyne, and directing Vincenta (1919) and La Terre des taureaux (1924) among other films. She disappeared from the screen in the 1920s, perhaps a victim of sound. She spent her time after cinema writing (she published two novels and a play) and publishing her memoirs. In 1951, she directed and appeared in La Magique de l'image, a retrospective on silent film dedicated to Feuillade.

Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. . 2007.

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