I am starting a new section in Newsletter: “Meet the Muse”, that honors cultural icons who influenced fashion, culture and the arts. The definition of Muse is generally attributed to a woman who is a source of inspiration, don’t be surprised to find guys and non-binary individuals in future posts.
So as our first post in this category, it’s only natural that we begin with a woman with the solipsistic name of “Musidora”. Born Jeanne Roques on February 23, 1889, Musidora , whose name means “Gift of the Muse”, was a silent screen actress, director and producer whose ghoulish exotic beauty captivated European audiences and served as a later inspiration for the likes of Theda Bara, Vampyra, Cat Woman and a dozen contemporary “Goths” such as Siouxsie Sioux and Courtney Love.
She is best known for her starring role as Irma Vepp in the silent horror serial “Les Vampires”, directed by Louis Feuillade, who was also a ground breaking film maker in his own right. Feuillade was a great supporter of her work and went on to collaborate with her on one more film. “Judex”. After that, Musidora spread her wings, producing, writing, directing and starring on 10 more of her own films. Two of those were based on books written by her friend, the French novelist, Colette. Sadly all of her films are lost with the exception of two: “Soleil et Ombre” and “La Terre des Taureaux”. Of her collaboration with Feuillade, only “Les Vampires” still exists.
But just looking at those few surviving images flickering on the screen, it’s easy to see how she seduced audiences back in the day and how she continues to seduce us now. Her mannerisms and affectations look strangely contemporary and she continues to be imitated and satirized in modern culture. Everyone from Diamanda Gàlás to Elvira imitated her look. She was even the subject of a Drag satire, “The Mystery of Irma Vep” by Charles Ludlam and a 1996 update “Irma Vep” starring Maggie Cheung in the title role.
Many filmmakers of note such as Luis Buñuel (Andalusian Dog) and Fritz Lang (Metropolis) credit her for inspiring their directorial style and the visual style of their films. The illustrator René Grau changed his painting style and began using only primary colors in her honor. So much was her influence that the French began referring to her as “La Dixieme Muse” (The Tenth Muse). Sadly with the onset of the talkies, Musidora’s acting career began to fade, but she did not let this minor detail stop her; She continued to write, produce and direct until her death in 1957.
So the next time you apply thick dark eyeliner, enjoy an Ann Rice novel or consider wearing all black, remember the great debt that we owe to the Mother Muse of All Goths: Musidora.
Would you like to see more of Musidora? Click on the images below to see her as Irma Vep in “Les Vampires”.
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