Musidora 1889-1957

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MUSIDORA 1889-1957
(Jeanne Roques)


Born Jeanne Roques, February 23, 1889, in Paris, France; died December 11, 1957, in Paris, France; married Clément Marot (a physician), April 20, 1927 (divorced, 1944); children: Clément Marot, Jr. Education: Studied art at Académie Jullian, Atelier Schommer, and École des Beaux Arts. Hobbies and other interests: Painting.


Actor, film director, and author. Actor in vaudeville, 1910-12; joined acting troupe Théâtre Montparnasse, beginning 1912; worked for film studio Gaumont, beginning 1914; founder of film production company La Société des Films Musidora, 1919; freelance writer, beginning 1926; freelance journalist, beginning c. 1927; worked in film preservation with company Cinémathèque Française, beginning 1944. Film acting credits include Les Misères de l'aiguille, 1913, La Petite réfugiée, 1914, La Bouquetière des Catalans, 1914, Severo Torelli, 1914, Le Calvaire, 1914, Tu n'épouseras jamais un avocat, 1914, Les Fiancés de 1914, 1914, Le Furoncle, 1915, Union sacrée, 1915, Fifi tambour, 1915, L'Escapade de Filoche, 1915, Triple entente, 1915, Le Sosie, 1915, Le Roman de la midinette, 1915, Le Fer à cheval, 1915, Les Vampires, 1915, C'est pour les orphelines, 1916, Le Colonel Bontemps, 1916, Les Mariés d'un jour, 1916, Les Fourberies de Pingouin, 1916, Les Fiançailles d'Agénor, 1916, C'est le printemps, 1916, Le Poète et sa folle amante, 1916, Judex, 1916, Si vous ne m'aimez pas, 1916, La Peine du talion, 1916, Lagourdette, gentleman cambrioleur, 1916, Les Chacals, 1917, Mon oncle, 1917, Débrouille-toi, 1917, La Jeune fille la plus méritante de France, 1918, La Geôle, 1918, La Vagabonda, 1918, Johannes, fils de Johannes, 1918, Vincenta, 1919, Mademoiselle Chiffon, 1919, Pour Don Carlos, 1920, Sol y sombra, 1922, La Tierra de los toros, 1924, Le Berceau de dieu, 1926, and La Magique image, 1950. Codirector of La Flamme cachée, 1918; director of La Vagabonda, 1918, and La Magique image, 1950; director and producer of Vincenta, 1919, Pour Don Carlos, 1920, Sol y sombra, 1922, and La Tierra de los toros, 1924. Also director of and actress in the incomplete film Minne, 1916.


(With Germaine Beaumont) La Maillot noir, 1917.

(Adapter, with Eugenio Perego) La Vagabonde (screenplay), 1918.

Vicenta (screenplay), 1919.

Pour Don Carlos (screenplay), 1920.

(With Colette) La Flamme cachée, 1920.

Soleil et Ombre (screenplay), 1922.

Arabella et Arlequin (novel), [Paris, France], 1929.

Paroxysmes (novel), [Paris, France], 1934.

Auréoles (poems), [Paris, France], 1940.

(And illustrator) La Vie sentimentale de George Sand (play), [Paris, France], 1946.

Souvenirs sur Pierre Louys, Muizon, 1984.

Contributor to periodicals, including Cahiers du Cinéma, L'Ecran Français, Pour vous, and Ciné-Mondial.


One of the most famous stars of the French silent cinema, Musidora became famous for playing France's first screen vamp, Irma Vep (an anagram of "vampire") in Louis Feuillade's 1915-16 film series, Les Vampires. She played its femme fatale, appearing in each of its ten semi-independent episodes in a different disguise—both male and female. In addition, her sexy villainess wore a provocative black leotard and expressed an unashamed sexuality. Musidora was consequently embraced enthusiastically by popular audiences as well as by the surrealists who appreciated her subversive androgynous eroticism. Musidora was also something of a Renaissance woman: in addition to her work as a film actress, she was a novelist, poet, dancer, painter, songwriter, and playwright. Yet very little historical attention has been paid to Musidora's offscreen film roles, despite the fact that she became a film director in the mid-1910s when very few women had such opportunities. When she died, she left behind seven unpublished screenplays and several films that she directed or codirected.

Musidora had rather auspicious roots: Her mother was a feminist who started the journal Le Vengeur in 1897, which was devoted to feminism, sociology, and the arts. Clearly influenced by her mother, after she gained fame in Les Vampires, Musidora earned a reputation for her flamboyant lifestyle and avant-garde friends, including Colette, Germaine Dulac, Louis Delluc, André Breton, Marcel L'Herbier, and other surrealists.

Musidora's early forays into the arena of film directing involved collaborations with the legendary French writer Colette, with whom she worked on three films—Minne, La Vagabonde, and La Flamme cachée. Musidora's first directorial effort was an adaptation of Colette's Minne, based on The Innocent Libertine, in which she also starred. It was reportedly based on Colette's life, though it never was finished and its footage no longer exists. More films followed, including LaMaillot noir, which she wrote in collaboration with Germaine Beaumont, and in which she revisited the vampire image she had created for Feuillade. La Vagabonde (1918) was a pivotal film for Musidora because it was both popular and well received by critics. She also starred in and adapted it with director Eugenio Perego; the scenario was written by Colette. With La Flamme cachée she collaborated with Colette on the script, and the production was the first from her own company, La Société des Films Musidora. The film was a four-part drama that Musidora starred in, adapted, edited, and directed (with Roger Lion), from a scenario by Colette. Musidora's recollections of the film were published in L'Ecran Français in 1950; she described it as a story of a student (played by Musidora) who marries a fellow student who is a millionaire, despite the fact she loves another man who is poor. Hoping to change her life and be with her true love, she tries to compel her husband to commit suicide, but she dies in an explosion after offending her lover.

In 1919 Musidora made and starred in Vicenta, from her original script. Between 1920 and 1923 she collaborated with Jacques Lasseyre on the direction of Pour Don Carlos and Soleil et Ombre. In 1924 Musidora wrote a feminist screenplay for La Tierra de los toros, which she shot in Spain. While in that country, Musidora reportedly determined to prove that women were courageous enough to be given voting rights—by demonstrating her own bravery in the bull ring.

In 1926 Musidora was celebrated as the "queen of the cinema," but her film career came to an end with the arrival of sound, except for the 1951 compilation short film La Magique image, which included clips from her early films. After she retired from filmmaking, she became a journalist, writing several articles about cinema, and she wrote fiction and poetry as well. In 1946 she began working at the Cinémathèque Française. In France, Musidora's legend as a woman with a charged sexual persona endures today. In the 1970s feminists began to acknowledge and embrace her achievements as a brave filmmaker, and in 1973 the Musidora Association was founded. In 1974 the association organized the first Musidora International Festival of Women's Films, where Musidora's only surviving film, Soleil et Ombre, was screened. According to the Musidora Association, the primary goal of the festival was to make the point that films made by women actually existed.



Cineaste, fall, 1999, Royal S. Brown, review of Les Vampires, p. 49.

Entertainment Weekly, October 30, 1998, "Vintage (Les Vampires)," p. 124.

Interview, May, 1997, Graham Fuller, "Viva the Vamp! Shots in the Dark (Remake of Film Les Vampires, "p.80.

Camera Obscura, May, 2002, Vicki Callahan, "Screening Musidora: Inscribing Indeterminacy in Film History," p. 58.

Velvet Light Trap, spring, 1996, Vicki Callahan, "Zones of Anxiety: Movement, Musidora, and the Crime Serials of Louis Feuillade," p. 37.


Internet Movie Database, (July 30, 2006), career and biographical information on Musidora.*