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.
“He’s a fascinating man. I can see why you’re so in love with him.”
I look at three early appearances of Lina Romay here.
“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.
“I knew it would be a commercial disaster, I knew it from the very beginning.”
My thoughts on Rollin’s divisive La Rose de Fer can be found here.
“Only love can save us from boredom and numbness.”
My review of 1972’s brilliant, albeit bleak, Sinner can be found here.
“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.
Edited to add, it can now be found here.
“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 Trois, La Comtesse Perverse, La Comtesse Noire, Lorna 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.
I’m afraid life has got in the way of late and my essay on the films Franco made with Soledad Miranda is taking much longer than expected. In the meantime, I’ve uploaded old reviews of two adult movies from 1981, Svetlana’s Bad Girls and Roberta Findlay’s The Tiffany Minx.
Updated to add ‘The Million Eyes of Soledad’ can now be found here.
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.
“Films are outmoded, don’t you agree?”
My first exposure to Jess Franco’s cinema came in 1993, when Succubus appeared as part of Redemption’s initial tranche of VHS releases in the UK. It would be disingenuous to say I remember my response to that first viewing, but I think there was a degree of bewilderment, perhaps even disappointment, and this may have been in part due to the film’s failure to deliver on the promises of its box art. How naive I was. It’s probably also fair to say I lacked the patience – or at least the experience – to cope with its ambiguities, its extended dream sequences and elliptical structure. Click here to find out to what extent that has changed.
“I am your friend. I have things to tell you, to explain to you, to show you.”
My review of Le Frisson des Vampires, which I tend to think of as the first fully-formed Rollin, can be found here.