Wednesday, 9 August 2017
Fascination - The Celluloid Dreams of Jean Rollin
Fascination - The Celluloid Dreams of Jean Rollin
by David Hinds Headpress
In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting a great deal from David Hinds surprisingly excellent book Fascination - The Celluloid Dreams of Jean Rollin... especially after ordering what I thought must be a thick, coffee table book and finding out when it arrived that, for the quite hefty price tag, it was a little paperback with only black and white pictures peppered about out here and there. However, as soon as I started reading it I found myself immersed in a look at Rollin’s work that, while not exactly exhaustive (and that’s understandable given the lack of availability of certain areas of this director’s work), does offer up some real insight into the cinema output of this famous French auteur which I had not, in some cases, considered in my own evaluations of Rollin’s work.
If you are not familiar with the films of Jean Rollin, he’s responsible for a body of personal work (I’ll get on to the other stuff in a minute) which is, mostly, about naked vampire women who tend to exist in unclear narratives which, while sometimes amateur in comparison to the production values found in a lot of other arms of the cinema, tend to offer up truly amazing moments of startling and surreal imagery that will usually linger in the memory way after the film has been watched. Starting with Rollin’s first feature Le Viol Du Vampire: Un Mélodrame en Deux Parties (aka The Rape Of The Vampire: A Two Part Melodrama) in 1967, Rollin has been presenting somewhat iconoclastic productions which have left him an outsider of the critical malaise left in the wake of his screenings. Even with his great start (depending on how you look at it) in having riots in the cinema with chairs being smashed and even, in at least one case, personal attacks on the street as a reaction to Le Viol Du Vampire... in much the same general reaction that audiences had to Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou back in 1929.
The author does a smart thing with such a large body of work as this director has produced, especially considering not much of his stuff, relatively, has been made easily available (some stuff is just completely impossible to get hold of... especially his later work). After a pretty cool introduction which includes his own entry point reminiscence into the world of Jean Rollin, he splits the book into three main sections (plus a few minor sections to cover things like Rollin’s short stories). The first, largest section is the one which will be of interest, I suspect, to most fans of his work. This deals with what he calls Rollin’s ‘personal films’... aka the ones the director actually wanted to make (with a determination in the face of continual hospital trips when he was trying to direct, in some cases) and which best express his intent. Films like his aforementioned debut and other Rollin classics such as La Vampire Nue (The Nude Vampire), Le Frisson Des Vampires (The Shiver Of The Vampires), Lèvres De Sang (Lips Of Blood), La Morte Vivant (The Living Dead Girl) and, of course, Fascination, are all included in here along with a host of others of this most important skein of his work and it’s mainly what this book is all about. Each film has the technical details, followed by a synopsis of the content and then an analysis of the key themes and critical reception of the film. Each little film subsection is also topped off with a quite useful round up by the author of the DVD or Blu Ray editions of the movie in question and which are the best ones to get, with details as to how censored they are in each version. Which is always helpful when you are reading books like this.
Hinds hits the nail on the head when speaking of the gothic element present in the director’s works. He compares Rollin to another cinematic auteur, Tim Burton, explaining that while Burton’s films are styled into the gothic by way of visually creating a spot on environment to do such a job, Rollin approaches a very strong gothic sensibility by another route. If Burton overplays the gothicism in the imagery, Rollin lets the gothic inhabit his world by a sense of the past creeping into these films until it dominates the tone of the rest of the movie. So he’ll start off in a modern world, for instance, like the two lady clowns involved in the car chase/shoot out opening at the start of Requiem Pour Un Vampire (Requiem For A Vampire) but the two girls (almost always two in those Rollin films, of course, being a somewhat recurring motif in his films and novels) soon stumble into a wordless narrative of ancient castle ruins and crumbling graveyards and it is within that environment that they (and we) spend the rest of the movie. It seems to be a common them in the majority (not quite all) of Rollin’s more personal cinematic delights and you will notice it as soon as you start thinking about the plots of many of his movies. La Rose De Fer (The Iron Rose), for example, where two lovers in a modern environment soon journey to an ‘olde worlde’ style gothic cemetery from which they can find no escape and are doomed to remain there for the rest of their lives.
The writer talks about this and other Rollin obsessions which make their way out into the world under the guise of his movies such as that stretch of beach at Dieppe which turns up in so many of his movies or the fact that the protagonists in pretty much all of his works, male and female alike, are ultimately doomed and bound to end the film in tragedy. However, since Hinds interviewed a fair few sources over the long gestation period from when he started writing this more than a decade ago, when Rollin was still alive (and interviewed by Hinds), and last year’s publication date, after the great director had shuffled off this mortal coil to join the endless parade of nubile vampires who we hope were waiting for him... he also gets a lot of interesting behind the scenes facts in here. So we get stories such as having to shoot scenes while held at gunpoint for the filming of Les Démoiaques (The Demoniacs), for example, or the awkward, less than agreeable actress who was tied to the burning boat for the end scenes of the same film and almost ended up drowning. All the good stuff is in this tome.
Another section of the book called Also Known As - The Pseudonymous Films tells of the movies he made for other people with not much interest or creative input from himself, often under an assumed name. So films such as Le Lac Des Morts Vivants (Zombie Lake) and Emmanuelle 6 are listed here, with much the same dedication to detail that the author followed in the prior section about the director’s unmistakably ‘auteur’ works. This is then followed by a less detailed section, mostly just quick technical details of each film only, of the director’s ‘other’ job as a sometimes hardcore pornography director. I actually do own one of these, an uncut La Comtesse Ixe but, alas, I haven’t had time to watch it yet since I picked it up from a Film Fair a couple of years ago. I will get around to reviewing it at some point, though. This is then followed by a small section detailing his short movies and, finally two interviews, one of a transcript of a conversation the writer conducted with Rollin himself and another with frequent Rollin collaborator/producer Lionel Wallmann.
All in all, I’m really quite pleased that I picked this one up because, despite my disappointment in finding that it was not a lavishly illustrated coffee table book filled with rare colour stills, it’s actually a treasure trove of information and it’s also rather good, I suspect, for people who are only just beginning to cotton onto this director’s work... because it tells you just which films you can ignore and which ones are not worth getting into (although, I confess, that two or three of this writer’s favourite Rollin films are actually my least favourite of this director’s truly startling output. I was a bit disappointed that the hardcore films were not treated with the same enthusiasm as the director’s more familiar works but I do appreciate, as I said before, that these can be extremely hard to get a hold of with little interest being given by 'home cinema' labels to find and restore these things. All in all, though, this proves to be an unexpected gem which should find its way into the consciousness of any admirer of the cinema of Jean Rollin and a worthy addition, as far as I’m concerned, to the NUTS4R2 library.