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Film serials

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fori
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Film serials

#1

Post by fori » December 1st, 2019, 11:05 am

Film serials: underrated moment in cinema history or filmic garbage dump? Have you seen many film serials? If so, what is your take, which do you recommend? Louis Feuillade aside, are there any classics? Is there (or should there be) a film serial canon?

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#2

Post by fori » December 2nd, 2019, 4:58 am

Well I think they’re good. Haven’t found a classic one aside from Tih Minh yet though.

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#3

Post by OldAle1 » December 2nd, 2019, 12:05 pm

Would have replied earlier but not on my usual schedule - sorry. Carols singing with children is pretty weird in my world. Anyway, I've seen at least a couple dozen serials, including all of the Feuillade ones that are widely available - and I have Barabbas but haven't watched it yet. I love all the Feuillade stuff, and there's also the Russian Miss Mend which is a serial of a sort, though it's just 3 long parts rather than a bunch of short ones. Of course there are some of those early Lang films also, in that same category, and those are all pretty great.

But as to the most common and popular kind of serial - the American films, mostly made by Republic, Universal or Columbia in the sound era (I know very little about silent American serials, few still exist and I haven't seen any of them yet) - they're obviously quite a different thing, not "serious" or "art" films in any way like the European examples, just cheap thrill-rides for kids basically with VERY repetitive plots and cliffhangers at the end of every 15-minute episode. I personally love these things but would recommend them to almost nobody here unless I knew they were really into classic American cinema - and particularly the b-movie side - already. Also almost none of them are on any official lists, so an automatic turn-off for a good chunk of posters here. My favorites at this point are the 3 Flash Gordon (though each is weaker than the last), Buck Rogers, Captain Marvel, The Phantom Empire (really quite an influential film, the genesis of the singing cowboy genre), Undersea Kingdom and Drums of Fu Manchu. Most of what I've seen has been in the fantasy/sf area - though most serials cross lots of genre boundaries, one of the things I like about them - haven't seen much in the western or spy/gangster modes.

And I've made a list of American serials, since you can't really generate one easily on IMDb. As my header suggests, it's not absolutely complete, I've left out ones that aren't extant or don't seem to be, but I think it's got most of what one could conceivably see:

https://www.icheckmovies.com/lists/clas ... zzlehatch/

I'd definitely be interested in learning more about non-American serials apart from the ones I mentioned - I know there's a roughly 5-hour, 5-part Japanese film from the mid-50s for example but I'm not sure that it's technically a serial, or that there are any other Japanese films that are, and there are some earlier Chinese ones I think, but a lot of these are super-obscure and many probably don't exist anymore. Still it'd be nice to have a good list of those, or a site to gather information about them. Maybe there is one and I just haven't found it yet.

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#4

Post by fori » December 2nd, 2019, 11:45 pm

Wow thanks for this! I guess I forgot about some of these like Miss Mend. Was primarily thinking about the William Whitney sort of stuff, but you’re right, there is so much more. An amazing one I saw just this year is the 1988 version of A Dream In Red Mansions, which is easily the best adaptation, and one of my favourite films ever. I know there are a bunch of early Chinese serials, apparently Zhang Sichuan did one in 1926 (which I heard the Beijing film museum keeps some fragments of).

My first experience with film serials was with The Phantom Empire, which I saw on the same day as my first viewing of Tokyo Story. I didn’t know what to make of it, and probably still don’t. I’d love to do a massive deep dive and watch hundreds. There’s usually this pulp adventure element to the American and European ones which is so gratifying.

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