10 July, 2006

A "Hidden Gem" from Jess Franco now on German DVD...

Can you take 644 minutes of Jess Franco?! Well, if you can you may want to check out Galileo Medien's 8 disc THE JESS FRANCO COLLECTION (Digipack). A R2 PAL boxset which includes BLUE RITA, BARBED WIRE DOLLS, WOMEN IN CELLBLOCK 9, JACK THE RIPPER, VOODOO PASSION, ILSA: THE WICKED WARDEN, LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN and, my personal favorite of these, WOMEN WITHOUT INNOCENCE aka FRAUEN OHNE UNSCHULD, promoted on this set as WICKED WOMEN. Confusing enough for you? Actually, this is one of the prime examples of a genre related to the WIP, the Women- -In-Peril subgenre. FRAUEN... was one of a series of film produced between 1975 and 1977 by Erwin C. Dietrich's Elite Films, a Swiss-German company known for a wide variety of exploitation matter at that time. Dietrich was a prolific producer(and sometimes director under his Manfred Gregor/Michael Thomas signatures) of this product and became a wildly successful distributor as well. His sometimes partner, the cinematographer Peter Baumgartner, also appears in FRAUEN as a wily, humorous police inspector. According to Dietrich, Baumgartner also worked on the post production of many of these Franco films, including editing and dubbing. Dietrich's own DVD line of Franco films VIP's THE OFFICIAL JESS FRANCO COLLECTION come from Elite's vaults, are rigorously cleaned then impeccably transferred under Baumgartner's close supervision. Having the DP of a film actually do a hands-on supervision of a DVD is of course the ideal way to go and these transfers are among the very best looking Franco DVD's to be had. If this 8 disc set contains the same transfers or are taken from the same Elite/Dietrich elements, they may be worth the price of admission for those who don't already own these titles already out on THE OFFICIAL JESS FRANCO COLLECTION while those, like me, who may not be able to afford it just for FRAUEN, may hope that a single of it will appear soon or later from either company. And can someone explain what exactly is the difference between THE JESS FRANCO COLLECTION and THE OFFICIAL JESS FRANCO COLLECTION in terms of Dietrich's involvement? Now, onto the film under examination...

FRAUEN OHNE UNSCHULD/WICKED WOMEN (1977) is a kind of erotic (some might say sleazy) crime melodrama in which the heroine (Lina Romay) is always on the edge of complete hysteria. Franco has said he made this film specifically to showcase Lina Romay's acting talents and she really lets it rip. Hair cropped short, in constant psychiatric restraints, put upon by murdering home invaders, lesbian inmates, a mad doctor and a killer who would be at home in Mario Bava's BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, she screams her way into madness and takes the long way back to sanity. Our lost heroine is studied in hyperrealistic closeup and is saved by the film's cinematographer; her smile toward the end is one of the most liberating moments in Franco's long, twisted filmography. Brimming with eccentric camera angles, dangerous curves and a jet black humor, FRAUEN/WICKED WOMEN delightfully evokes the 1950's melodramas of Douglas Sirk with a large dose of Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND. A highly recommended title off the beaten Jess Franco path...

The promotion for this on the sazuma site notes that the Digipack titles are 16X9 Anamorphic, DD 2.0, include interviews, Making Of...documentaries and are presented with both German and English language options. Here's hoping that also means German w/ English subtitles, but none are noted on the site.

Robert Monell

3 comments:

Uwe Huber said...

Hi Bob, some notes about the Galileo set: The same masters as with Dietrich's Jess Franco Collection (VIP) were used. One difference is the Galileo set is in PAL while the VIP discs are NTSC. Another difference is that the Galileo set is completly bare bones (Sazuma is wrong in mentioning extras). Language options are German & English only (no French, Italian or Spanish options like on some of the VIP discs), exept for WICKED WOMEN, which is in German with English subtitles only (not a bad thing, I would say). Greetings from Germany.

Adam Williams said...

This boxed set, which folds out in a most unwieldy way, uses the same transfers as seen on Dietrich's "Official" releases. However, none of the bonus features are present on this set. WICKED WOMEN is just as tack sharp as the other films, revealing a great amount of care in the lighting. The first scene in the psychiatric ward is stunning in its use of color and depth, with the rows of beds covered in pale green blankets leading to two arched windows displaying a bright blue sky and plastic-looking trees. This DVD is so vivid that shots using a shallow depth of field look three-dimensional in their separation of foreground and background. A scene in the ward at night uses what looks to be a high-angle crane shot--- an extravagance rare in Franco's films. And with the endless mirrors in the head doctor's bedroom, the Douglas Sirk comparison is spot-on.

As for the rest of the film, I found it to be enjoyable but missing a certain emotional resonance that I look for in Franco's works. Perhaps it is the German line-deliveries (is this the best language to see this film in?) that have a detached quality. With the black-cloaked killer, missing diamonds, and red herrings WICKED WOMEN felt like a throwback to the pulp-mystery of the Edgar Wallace krimis.

Robert Monell said...

Welcome to Uwe and Adam and many thanks for the additonal info on this set. I'm especially please WICKED WOMEN has English subs. Franco's films seem to work best for me in French or Spanish because of his cultural predilictions. Special thanks to Adam for the kind of visual analysis which we strongly favor here. At his most interesting, Franco's compositions can be endlessly fascinating and certainly unique, evoking his encyclopediac knowlege of cinema history and sophisticated aesthetic sense, which is why all the old fuzzy video presentations are not a way to form a valid judgement of his work. I'm sure a single disc of this presentation will happen sooner or later.