This is Carnal Cinema

My Primary intention for this blog, as stated on the ‘about’ page, is to write appreciations of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco, two directors whose work has been important to me for a quarter of a century now. While I’m not yet sure what form these pieces will take, I am fairly confident they will be challenging to write. In the case of Rollin, whose most compelling films seem more concerned with evoking states in the viewer than adhering to cinematic conventions, I suspect the work either resonates or it does not. In the case of Franco, the challenge is even more daunting: how does one even begin the evaluation of a director with more than 150 films to their name and a career spanning more than 5 decades? I think the only sensible answer is ‘in pieces’.

Perhaps inevitably given its length, Franco’s career can be broken into identifiable chunks. We have the black and white films made at the beginning of his career, the films produced by Harry Alan Towers, by Robert De Nesle, Erwin Dietrich, and so on. I think this is the basis on which I will approach the task. For me, Franco’s most interesting films date from about 1968 to 1975, a period in which he directed approximately 50 films, including those made with the aforementioned Towers and De Nesle, with Soledad Miranda and, thereafter, Lina Romay. This is where I’m going to focus my attention, for the time being at least. I’m not going to call it a plan, but it might be the first step towards one. Perhaps I’ll warm up by listing some of the key films from this period for those who want to play along at home.

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Possessed by Jesus

 

“You are like some mysterious, compelling character from the pages of a fairy tale.”

This may be my last post for a little while. Fittingly, it feels like the end of a chapter. My review of Lorna . . . The Exorcist can be found here.

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The Sadist of Eurocine

 

“We must know evil to be able to fight it.”

As stated elsewhere, my first exposure to Franco’s cinema came in the mid-nineties, when Redemption Films released a slew of key titles on VHS. Sadly, the UK was subject to severe censorship during this period and a number of those releases – A Virgin Among the Living Dead and Female Vampire, to name but two – suffered cuts as a result. Worse still, two films – namely, Demoniac and Sadomania – were banned outright. I’m working on a review of the former – better known as Exorcism these days – at the moment. In the meantime, my long overdue introductory essay can be found here.

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Updated to add that the review of Exorcism can be found here.

The Curse of Frankenstein

 

“You’ve always fascinated me – yet at the same time you frighten me.”

Much later than anticipated, my thoughts on three monster movies Franco directed at the beginning of the seventies can be found here.

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Virgins & Vampires

 

“I started shooting for my personal pleasure exclusively, since the others had rejected me.”

My first exposure to Rollin came in 1993, when Redemption released Requiem for a Vampire on VHS. I’ll have a review of this signature work up in the next week.

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Edited to add, it can now be found here.

Jess the Francophile

 

“I am a shadow among the shadows.”

Franco directed approximately 30 films between 1971 and 1974, the overwhelming majority of which were funded in whole or in part with French money. This is the period in which he worked extensively for Robert De Nesle, in which he renewed his working relationship with Marius Lesoeur of Eurocine.

I will be covering this period with three essays, which will breakdown as follows:

Christina on the other side of the mirror ’ will deal with A Virgin Among the Living Dead and The Other Side of the Mirror.

Robert De Nesle and The Monsters from Hell’ will deal with Dracula Contra Frankenstein, The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein and La Fille de Dracula.

‘La Comtesse Romay’’ will look at Plaisir a TroisLa Comtesse PerverseLa Comtesse NoireLorna the Exorcist and probably Exorcism.

I may supplement these with reviews of individuals films which do not sit easily within these groups, such as The Demons and Sinner, perhaps even The Lovers of Devil’s Island.

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A Certain Tendency of French Cinema

It occurs to me that building a blog around the careers of two directors could be seen as a tacit acceptance of auteur theory, of the idea that the director is in a sense, the author of the film, its principle creative force. Of course, film is an inherently collaborative artform. Even a renaissance man like Franco, who has been known to write, direct, score and operate the camera, could not work in isolation. Films are made by groups of people.

They are also made, in most cases, as commercial propositions. They are financed by people who hope to see a return on their investment, in most cases. One doesn’t need to dig too deeply into the filmographies of our principles to find examples of producers requesting specific content to increase a film’s saleability, sometimes in specific territories.

The producer’s role often extends beyond even that, to hiring a director to helm a particular project, and this nudges us towards my point. If we accept the Franco and Rollin are (were) auteurs – that their films bear their mark, either in content, execution or both – are they always auteurs, in all circumstances? Should we treat Rollin’s pornographic films – which were made pseudonymously in order to pay the bills – with the same seriousness as his core filmography, whatever that may be? It’s difficult. Franco made numerous films pseudonymously, as a hired gun, in genres for which he had disdain. Do we ignore those?

In the general sense, as a fan and a cinephile, minor works are of interest, regardless of the production history and / or circumstances in which they were made. In practical terms, well, that may be a different story. It was never my intention to cover every Franco film – how could I – but on some level I had intended to cover every Rollin. I think it’s more likely I’ll take my lead from Virgins & Vampires – indirectly from Rollin himself – which means I will not be covering the Michel Gentil films but I will look at Phantasms.

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