Irma Vep, The Last Breath
color, sound, 4-channel, 33:13, 2013/15
Irma Vep, The Last Breath is a multichannel video project based on Musidora, the French silent film actress, and the character she is best known for, Irma Vep from the film Les Vampires (dir. Louis Feuillade 1915). It’s a piece about living in the shadows, criminal anxiety and the relationship between the artist and her creation, both fictional and real.
Irma Vep and Musidora are played by Zackary Drucker (TRANSPARENT) and Flawless Sabrina (THE QUEEN), two artists whose identities transgress the border of art and life. Together they have developed a relationship that documents a cultural evolution of gender.
Musidora was an early 20th century feminist who took control of her career, not only acting, but also producing/directing films and theater. She was an artistic force of her time, producing several works by her lover Colette and having many documented affairs with both men and women After financing dried up for her projects she lived in relative obscurity until her death in Paris, 1957. In her later years she worked the ticket booth of the Cinematheque Francaise, where few people ever knew that the woman selling them their movie tickets was France’s beloved vamp of the silver screen.
In Feuillade’s film Irma Vep is not really a vampire but part of a gang of underground jewel thieves. She spends much of the film in black catsuit slinking around hallways and scaling rooftops as she robs upper class Parisians. She is a trickster; cunning and vulnerable, a woman alone among many men.
Irma Vep, The Last Breath takes up motifs from the silent movie such as gazes, affected body language and the figure of the masked woman. It’s shot on a starkly illuminated set that makes space for anxious projections of desire on the void that is Irma Vep – a space between genders, between vamps of the silent era and the contemporary queer – smashing the shiny veneer to reveal dark, subconscious layers of fluid identity.
Director/Editor: Michelle Handelman; Cinematographer: Edward David; Performers: Zackary Drucker, Mother Flawless Sabrina; Camera Assistants: Diana Eliazov, Lily Henderson, Deville Cohen; Costumes: Garo Sparo, three ASFOUR; Makeup: Michael Gwaltney; Still Photography: Laure Leber; Production Design: Michelle Handelman and Nadja Verena Marcin; Additional Performers: A.K. Burns, Tori Sparks, Marti Domination; Choreography: Tori Sparks; Production Assistants: Nadja Verena Marcin, Lilly McEllroy, Dominic Cloutier; Production Interns: Jiemin Liao; Julia Aeschbach Gladstone; Molly Einhorn, Courtney Price.
Irma Vep, The Last Breath is made with the support of a 2011 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship.